As training camp turns to that time of the summer when football teams make those roster decisions that can affect the franchise for years to come, the Washington Redskins appear to be moving closer to a consensus as to who will begin the season as their starting quarterback.
In recent days, Coach Jay Gruden has dropped hints that he is nearing a selection, hoping out loud that an obvious choice will become clear in the next week. Even if it doesn’t, he has been working toward picking a player to build around sometime around next Thursday’s third preseason game at Atlanta.
That places more importance than normal on Thursday’s second preseason game against Cincinnati, which the team will play without veteran quarterback Colt McCoy, who is out for the second straight week.
Based on the way the Redskins have used McCoy, Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins in training camp and the way the three have performed, it appears that Keenum is emerging as a slight favorite to start the season opener at Philadelphia, with McCoy his closest competition and Haskins still needing time to adjust to the NFL.
“It’s just a matter of the experience level of those two guys,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said this week of Keenum and McCoy.
In many ways, McCoy is the biggest question of the three. Having been with Gruden for all of the coach’s five seasons in Washington, he knows the offensive system the best. Gruden is comfortable with him, and running back Adrian Peterson gently endorsed him for the job Tuesday.
But McCoy is still recovering from offseason surgeries on the bone he cracked in his leg in December. He didn’t play in the preseason opener after limping off the practice field a couple of days earlier and has been ruled out of Thursday night’s game as well.
“The most important thing is to get him where he’s stable mentally and physically,” Gruden said this week. “That’s the most important thing, and while he’s figuring that out and getting better.”
But the more time McCoy misses, the more opportunities Keenum and Haskins have to build chemistry with the team’s top playmakers. Keenum started the Cleveland game with what amounted to the team’s second offensive unit and led the Redskins to a touchdown despite the struggles of the left side of an offensive line that remains unstable as a result of left tackle Trent Williams’s holdout.
Gruden seemed impressed with both Keenum and Haskins against Cleveland, though for different reasons. He praised the way Keenum was able to handle the pressure, and two throws of more than 40 yards he made to wide receiver Robert Davis, the second of which went for the touchdown. But he also liked the way Haskins was able to process the flood of complex routes and pass protections the coaches threw at him during the game.
“We asked a lot of him,” Gruden said of Haskins in the first game. “Probably more so than a lot of other quarterbacks in their first year.”
Still, Haskins was intercepted twice against the Browns and seemed unable to avoid some pass rushes, which is something the Redskins coaches expected from a rookie quarterback. Given that the staff believes it has an excellent defense, a deep pool of running backs and more skill at receiver than many outside the franchise believe, they continue to pair the experienced Keenum and McCoy with the top offense more than they do Haskins.
“If anyone was expecting it to be different at this point, they were setting some pretty unfair expectations for Dwayne,” O’Connell said.
But, O’Connell added, Haskins has absorbed the offense well and has been the enthusiastic, engaged player they expected him to be when he was drafted with the 15th pick in April. He might have struggled in the summer’s first weeks, yet the coaches also see the growth that gives them optimism that he still has the chance to catch up to Keenum and McCoy.
“He’s attacking it every day, and as things start to click for him, that can close, there is no doubt,” O’Connell said.
The clock is ticking, however. Gruden’s early-camp joke that he might not name a starting quarterback until the night before the season opener in Philadelphia is not practical. His timetable seems to be a lot sooner, and what happens Thursday night could go far in helping him make a final decision.
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