Dwayne Haskins sports the features of a young man who turned 22 just nine days ago. The chubby cheeks of the self-proclaimed “mama’s boy” give way to a shadow of a goatee. His words are soft yet confident.
The feel of revival that comes with a first-round quarterback has engulfed the Washington Redskins as excitement swirls around the budding prospect. There’s a fine line, however, between patience and a desire to turn Haskins loose.
The Ohio State product is not only young in age, but also in football experience. He played just 22 collegiate games and started only one season, though it was a phenomenal campaign in which he was named Big Ten offensive player of the year after leading the nation in passing yards and touchdown passes. Of the 16 quarterbacks selected in the first round since 2015, Haskins played the fewest games in college.
The Redskins hope their new quarterback is a fast learner because the No. 15 pick will have an open competition with veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy to win the starting job.
“The mental part of it is the big thing,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “Physically, he has all the tools, without a doubt.”
Haskins impressed in the first two days of rookie minicamp. The Buckeyes ran an up-tempo, shotgun scheme, so Haskins must get familiar with taking snaps under center and calling plays from the huddle. The terminology is foreign and more complicated, going from four or five signals in college to 15-word calls in a scheme with West Coast tendencies. He must get the team lined up, organize protections, go through expanded progressions in the passing game and refine footwork. The team has only given Haskins about 20 percent of the playbook as it looks to take things slow.
Gruden is preaching patience, but there’s a lot to master before the Redskins travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener on Sept. 8. And there’s no time for a slow start with the Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, New York Giants and New England Patriots in the first five weeks. Even if Haskins picks things up quickly, Gruden could decide that facing four playoff teams from 2018, including the Super Bowl champs, is a bit much to handle for the rookie — particularly with the coach needing to win now.
“We’re not trying to fast-track this guy,” said Doug Williams, vice president of player personnel. “If it does happen that way, that’s one thing. When we drafted this kid we didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re sticking you right in there.’ That’s not something we do. We’re going to have patience with him.”
The impressive physical stature — 6-foot-3, 231 pounds — already was known before Haskins stepped into Redskins Park. He has showed off the big arm and the accuracy that led to 4,831 passing yards, 50 touchdowns and a 70.0 completion percentage. There was the expected inconsistency from a rookie as fundamentals are drilled and redrilled. The work between the ears probably will be the biggest determining factor for where he lands on the depth chart.
Haskins plans to make up ground with a dedication to film study, something in which he took pride at Ohio State.
“It is hours and hours of film,” Haskins said. “Just me taking responsibility of learning what every play is and how every play is different and how different tags are for different things, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but I’m looking to put the work in.
“It’s challenging. You want it to be challenging. Like the biggest thing is applying the meetings to the field. We’ve put in 50 plays so far, so there’s a lot of stuff going into it. It’s just fun to be able to throw the ball around again, and you’re going to make mistakes, but the biggest thing is rebounding from them.”
“I just don’t like defenses,” Haskins added, “so I want to able to be the most prepared to rip them apart.”
There’s no question Haskins carries himself like an elite quarterback. The confidence dripped during sprawling media sessions and in his gait and body language around the practice field. There’s no substitute for experience, though, and there’s only one way to get it.
Williams pointed to Mitch Trubisky taking the Bears to the playoffs in his second season despite just one year starting at North Carolina. Trubisky still played nine more games in college than Haskins, but the point was that limited college experience is not a concern for the organization.
“I think it’s where you are, who’s handling you and the whole team that you’re on that makes the difference,” Williams said. “Not 13 games.”