While Haskins is clearly more comfortable, he said a fear of failure continues to drive him.
“The fear of not reaching the potential that I know that I can,” said Haskins, who was drafted 15th in April’s draft, “and that’s something that motivates me every day in the weight room, in meetings and on the field. Going into every game I get the opportunity to put my helmet on, and that’s just something I take pride in, as far as knowing where I want to be, knowing where I can be, knowing where I’m at right now and what needs to be done to get there.”
In announcing his decision, Callahan said that the team, which sits in last place in the NFC East with a 1-8 record, needed to get Haskins some experience. The rookie has been in limbo for much of the season, with calls from fans to play him after the team stumbled early and former coach Jay Gruden and then Callahan insisting he wasn’t ready. There were questions about how well Haskins had learned the playbook and whether he eventually would be able to handle the responsibilities of a pro quarterback.
He showed growth during his first start, however, two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills, improving his handle on presnap responsibilities and avoiding turnovers while throwing for 144 yards on 15 of 22 completions. And in some ways, growing pains were expected for Haskins. Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, the former coach at Indiana, said before the season that there would be a substantial learning curve for Haskins, going from just one season starting in Ohio State’s offense to Gruden’s West Coast-style scheme.
“He’s certainly physically and mentally equipped to do it,” DiNardo said during the offseason. “… Again, it’s a one-year starter, not in a huddle, not running the West Coast offense. That’s a lot to ask that guy.”
Haskins said the experience he gained in the Buffalo game and in the second half against the Minnesota Vikings in relief of an injured Case Keenum was much needed. It has allowed him, he said, to speak more authoritatively to veterans in the huddle and approach the game with additional confidence.
“It’s just more intense [than college],” Haskins said. “Laser focused, knowing that you’re the franchise of the Washington Redskins now, everyone is watching what you’re doing. How you handle yourself, how you walk in the building and how you walk into a meeting, that’s all very important for the guys who want you to lead them.”
The Redskins are expected to open up the playbook more as Haskins gets more comfortable. The offense has been run-heavy since Callahan took over, but Haskins will need enough passing opportunities for the team to get a thorough evaluation of him. Callahan said that if Washington can be more effective on third downs — it ranks 31st of 32 teams — it would extend drives and allow the offense to throw more.
The Redskins’ offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in three games, and Haskins will certainly be tested by a Jets defense led by coordinator Gregg Williams, who used to coach in Washington and is known as an aggressive play caller. He figures to show Haskins some looks he hasn’t seen before.
“He’s going through the steps that a lot of young quarterbacks go through,” Jets Coach Adam Gase said. “You’ll see those times where things look smooth, good and comfortable. Then you’ll have your moments when you’re in that position of a coach where you kind of know there’s a little bit of a development stage you have to go through. There’s mistakes that need to be made, and you learn from them.”
The move to make Haskins the starter represents a key turning point as the Redskins build a foundation for next season. Haskins was drafted to be the face of the franchise, and he has begun to carry himself differently as he embraces the role. Running back Adrian Peterson said Haskins is “light-years” ahead of where he was when he first joined the team. It is a big transition, but Haskins said it’s not unlike what he endured as a first-year starting quarterback at Ohio State.
“It was always having to get older guys to respect me,” Haskins said, “and being able to get older guys to know that he’s young, but he’s still going to lead us. That’s just a process. That’s earning trust. That’s spending extra time in the film room, spending extra time in the weight room, spending time before practice and after practice so that they can see I’m taking it serious and working on my craft. That’s something that I take very much pride in, and I’m hoping that starts translating with the guys in the locker room.”