The other day, Coach Jay Gruden announced he will probably sit one quarterback in each of the team’s preseason games in the hope of giving proper time to the two others fighting for the starting spot — as well as the fourth quarterback, Josh Woodrum, whom the team needs to prepare in case something happens to the first three.
“We’ll just figure it out,” Gruden said with a chuckle. “Hey, you got the first quarter, you got the second quarter, you got the third, fourth quarter. You aren’t playing.”
He didn’t seem pleased with this plan, but he didn’t seem dismayed, either. What else can he do?
The Redskins play their first preseason game Thursday night in Cleveland, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear leader. Gruden said he keeps hoping everything “will pan out” and “the cream should rise to the top.” The team published a depth chart, which Gruden dismissed as “words on a piece of paper,” that lists Colt McCoy as the starter with Case Keenum as the backup and Dwayne Haskins as the third-stringer. The rotation roughly mirrors the rotation in practice, but not completely.
The closest thing to a separation within the group came Monday when McCoy limped slightly off the field and was held out of the final period of practice for what the team called “precautionary reasons.” McCoy skipped a scheduled session with reporters that Keenum and Haskins attended, but nobody seemed concerned about McCoy’s status. Still, this is what passes for news in the Redskins’ quarterback battle these days.
A former quarterback himself, Gruden has talked a lot in recent months about his desire to be fair to each of the men fighting for the starting job. He fretted Monday that he isn’t giving his quarterbacks enough chances to shine, but he knows there’s no other way he can do this.
“There might be a day where one of them might struggle on the five or six reps he had in seven-on-seven, where if he had 12 reps in that seven-on-seven period, he might have got himself out of the funk and finished really well,” Gruden said. “Unfortunately, we have to sub in the next guy, so you’ve got to really hone in on your reps as a quarterback because you’re not going to get as many reps as you normally would if you were the No. 1 guy.”
This could be challenging — if the men fighting for the job were bitter about this arrangement. But if anything, Keenum and Haskins seemed to accept it as a necessity of their situation. Keenum recalled being in battles for a backup position with other teams in which he and the player he was competing against would practice on alternating days. He would take all the second-team snaps one day and then sit and watch the other.
“I did not like that at all,” he said.
“I’ve competed in this league for a long time, and I’ve had to share reps everywhere I go,” he added. “Do I want to have them all? Yeah, I do. I want to take all the reps, but I know I have to stand behind and I’ve got to pretend I’m in the rep.”
Haskins described himself as “just having fun with” the quarterback competition, understanding that he is fighting against two players who have eight to 10 years of experience. He figures this is an advantage, because he can ask them — along with Alex Smith, who has offered some advice to Washington’s passers while recovering from his serious leg injury — how to handle certain situations. Like Keenum, he didn’t complain about the way the team is handling the daily battle, maybe because, as a first-year player, he doesn’t know any other way.
“Finding a rhythm is hard when you don’t go as often as a one or a two,” Haskins said. “[I’m] just trying to figure out ways to hit a stride and keep getting better . . . whether it’s throwing extra after practice, staying longer after a meeting or whatever it is necessary for me being ready to play."
Thursday’s preseason opener against the Browns may change a lot of things. With actual live action against another team, with a pass rush pouring in, a lot might be learned about each of the men fighting to be Washington’s starting quarterback this year — and the daily battle might not be as even as it still seems now.
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