In Miami, Washington’s second-year quarterback threw to Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson, along with Denver Broncos first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and Buffalo Bills wideout Stefon Diggs. He connected with Kansas City Chiefs wideout Mecole Hardman in Virginia and threw routes to Antonio Brown and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in Maryland. And he most recently traveled to UCLA to work with Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.
In between, Haskins spent ample time working with his own receivers, including Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims Jr., Kelvin Harmon (before he injured his knee) and Antonio Gandy-Golden.
“I think I met up with everybody, and I’d probably do it all again if I could next year,” Haskins said Tuesday. “It was a great experience this offseason being able to meet with some NFL legends and some superstars. And of course my guys like Terry and Steven want to be just like them and just try to elevate our game and get better.”
Over the past seven months, as Haskins has adjusted to a new coaching regime, a new playbook, a new play caller and many new faces around him with Washington, he has embraced the first challenge posed to him by Coach Ron Rivera — to prove he can be a better leader and a more committed quarterback.
“Dwayne getting all the receivers together in the offseason has been a big change,” tackle Morgan Moses said. “Seeing his change, knowing that he’s going to be the number one QB . . . has probably been the most impressive thing that I’ve seen from a rookie guy that pretty much everybody had written off.”
Haskins’s most obvious change was physical: He shed weight and appeared lighter on his feet in workout videos he posted on social media. But his biggest challenge is yet to come as he prepares for a quarterback competition in an altered training camp setting.
Originally, his top contender was slated to be Kyle Allen, a third-year quarterback who is familiar with the offense and much of Washington’s coaching staff from his time with Carolina. But as veteran Alex Smith works his way back from a compound leg fracture, Haskins’s competition might look a bit different. Smith was placed on the physically unable to perform list to start camp but could be activated at any point.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is not only make sure we’re divvying up the reps as evenly as possible, but we divvy up who they work against,” Rivera said. “This could be a very interesting challenge for us because of Alex Smith. If Alex is healthy and continues to get healthy and we do activate him, he’s going to be in the throes of this competition.”
Despite Rivera’s reluctance to outright appoint Haskins as the starter earlier in the offseason, the quarterback’s work this offseason has reinforced the presumption that the job is his — unless, perhaps, Smith really does look like the Smith of old.
As a rookie, Haskins adjusted to two different play callers in Jay Gruden and Kevin O’Connell, started seven games and came off the bench for two others. As a starter, he totaled only seven touchdowns and took 25 sacks, but over the last five games, his completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating improved.
The trials and successes of Year 1 provided Haskins a foundation that has benefited him as he transitions to another new system.
“I just think having learned an NFL offense last year has helped me so much going into this year and being used to having long verbiage and understanding concepts of what we’re trying to get done that are similar to last year,” he said. “Being a little more mature and being a little older, finding out ways of what worked for me last year and what didn’t, I feel a lot better heading into this next week of training camp and a lot better than I did last year heading into training camp.”
Unlike the West Coast system Washington ran last season, Scott Turner’s Air Coryell offense is geared more toward stretching the field vertically with deep passing attempts and is dependent on good timing and rhythm between the quarterback and his receivers. The playbook uses words to label protections and numbers to designate routes, but the play-calls are typically shorter than those in the West Coast offense, making it easier on a young quarterback who was accustomed to using hand signals.
“This offense is kind of an in-between both of them, having some tempo variances and being able to have one or two keyword plays, and then there are some plays where you have to tag some stuff a little bit in the number system,” Haskins said. “I just like it because it’s something new, being able to learn something and try to master it. And then of course, Coach Turner having his father be Norv Turner, and watching how explosive his offenses were when he coached in the NFL and how Scott wants to attack defenses, I’m looking forward to seeing how he calls plays. Just getting to know him and how aggressive he is in his play-calling, I feel like this offense and the system I’m in really fits me.”
Although Washington’s training camp is still in its ramp-up period, the pads come on Aug. 18 and the coaching staff has laid out several items on its checklist for the quarterback competition: decision-making, accuracy, toughness, the usual. Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, however, has stressed the mental side of the game and a mastery of the language.
For Haskins, his mentality was at the heart of his offseason regimen.
“I think mostly it’s just a mentality going in every day to handle your business both on and off the field,” he said. “Just having a certain presence and confidence when commanding an offense and when commanding a huddle. Having learned that going into the last couple games of the season last year, I’ve been just trying to master that same edge that a Tom Brady or Drew Brees has when he steps into a building — you know he’s there. Not necessarily having been named [a starter] right now, but our offense needs a guy who’s going to take ownership and lead, and why [can’t] that be me?”
Zampese was among the many who followed Haskins’s offseason travels through his social media accounts. When he saw Haskins working with Newton, the coach encouraged Haskins to ask any question he could about the offense Newton ran for nine seasons with Carolina.
Haskins did, of course — at every stop.
“[Cam] saying just, ‘Be yourself’ — it sounds cliche, but just going through what he went through in Carolina and in college for him, he’s been through a lot,” Haskins said. “Just hearing from him … and what was important for him for his growth … then asking T.O. and Chad, who have worked with some really great quarterbacks in the past: ‘What’s this guy like? How’s Carson Palmer? How was [Donovan] McNabb when you were with McNabb?'
“Just being able to have those conversations, sharing those moments … and then of course having Terry and having Steven and having Kelvin, guys who are my age who are trying to figure out life as well, just figuring out the importance of knowing we have each other and we’re able to bounce off of experiences and what we learn from certain things.”