“We’ve played three games. There’s 13 games left in the season. The season’s not lost. It’s not over,” Gruden said during a particularly raw moment on a Tuesday conference call after Monday night’s 31-15 loss to Chicago dropped Washington to 0-3. “I know everybody wants to say, ‘It’s over,’ and, ‘The season’s over; go ahead and play Haskins.’ But we feel confident we can turn this thing around.”
Gruden added that he continues to think Keenum gives the team a better chance to win than Haskins, but many fans and league observers would love to see Haskins start Sunday at the New York Giants, who already have benched longtime starter Eli Manning in favor of their top draft pick, Daniel Jones. Haskins was taken nine picks after Jones, so the two are often linked.
But the Giants already declared this a rebuilding year by letting go of several high-priced players and former top draft picks, including Redskins safety Landon Collins. Jones always seemed destined to play early this year. Gruden is fighting for his job in a season that owner Daniel Snyder and team president Bruce Allen did not want to throw away.
While Gruden said Monday night that he does not believe his job is in immediate danger and he won’t make any drastic moves such as firing assistants, he has also maintained that Haskins isn’t ready to start. He defended the more experienced Keenum, who has played well at times, pointing out that Keenum is second in the NFL with 86 completions and fourth with 933 passing yards.
But Keenum had five turnovers Monday, with three interceptions and two lost fumbles. And while the 0-3 start is hardly all Keenum’s fault given the Redskins have allowed at least 31 points in every game, he hasn’t been able to lead the team back in the second half, either.
Even if Gruden were to bench Keenum, there is no guarantee he would start Haskins. Colt McCoy, Gruden’s longtime backup with the Redskins, is expected to return to practice this week after dealing with complications from a series of offseason surgeries on his right leg. The coaches had all but named McCoy the starter in training camp before his leg started to hurt. McCoy won’t have enough practice time to play Sunday, but Gruden left open the possibility that McCoy might start in the future.
“If we feel like Dwayne gives us the best chance to win in a coming game, we’ll definitely put Dwayne out there,” Gruden said. “If we feel like it’s Colt, when he gets healthy, it could be Colt. But right now we feel like it’s Case Keenum, and we’re going to move forward with him this week.”
So for now, Haskins waits. He was clearly behind McCoy and Keenum in training camp, but that was to be expected because they were longtime NFL quarterbacks and Haskins started only one season at Ohio State. In the summer, Haskins had regular chances to play with the starting unit during practice. Those opportunities have dwindled, Gruden said, because the team has to give Keenum most of the snaps.
“He’s learning in the classroom,” Gruden said of Haskins. “This is new for him, as it is for every rookie quarterback in the NFL that’s playing right now. Some of them are doing fine. Some of them are struggling a little bit. Right now, I think Dwayne’s on pace. He just needs to continue to sit back and learn and continue to develop.”
And Gruden doesn’t want to take time to develop Haskins if the team’s postseason hopes are not dead. He talked Tuesday about the hope he still sees for this season. After watching video of the Bears loss, he saw opportunities that were lost and said he believes they won’t be missed in the future. He likes the way the team kept fighting after falling behind 28-0 and said, “We have a strong locker room down there and are doing some good things.”
“There’s a lot of fight left in those guys,” he added.
He expressed surprise that the defense has allowed opponents to convert a stunning 63 percent of their third downs, which ranks worst in the league. He said he expected this team to be more like the one last year before quarterback Alex Smith broke his right leg — one with a defense that kept opponents from scoring touchdowns and an offense that would protect the ball and position the team to win a field-position game.
That has not happened.
“I still have a strong feeling the defense will get better and play better moving forward,” Gruden said.
And that’s a big reason he isn’t ready to play Haskins — at least not yet.
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