“I think Dwayne is going to truly see how to prepare for a game as a starter,” Rivera said during a video news conference with reporters Monday, which included his most pointed comments yet about Haskins’s shortcomings, along with his acknowledgment that the coaching staff is still trying to figure out whether its franchise quarterback is on the roster.
“Hopefully Dwayne will take it that way, that this is an opportunity to learn and to grow, and then who knows?” Rivera added. “He may get his opportunity again shortly. But he’s just got to be ready and prepare as if he’s really one play away.”
Washington was forced to shuffle its quarterbacks after losing Kyle Allen to an ankle injury early in its loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Allen suffered a dislocated ankle and a small fracture, and he will require season-ending surgery.
Smith took over and led Washington on four scoring drives while totaling 325 passing yards and throwing his first touchdown pass since his devastating leg injury two years ago. But he also threw three interceptions, two of which ended the team’s hope of a late score to tie or win.
Although the loss dropped Washington to 2-6, it remains in second place in the division, and Rivera believes Smith affords his team the best chance to stay alive in the NFC East race.
“We’re in the same situation,” he said. “Nothing has really changed in the NFC East other than we’ve lost the tiebreaker now to the Giants. … It’s still a close race.”
But Rivera is also hopeful more comes out of Smith’s promotion than a few wins. Throughout his 15 years in the NFL, Smith has become known for his work ethic and mentorship of young quarterbacks — including those who have later taken his job, such as Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
When Smith was cleared to play this season after his lengthy recovery from 17 leg surgeries, Rivera lauded him for his leadership with Haskins, Allen and practice-squad quarterback Steven Montez. He described Smith as both a sounding board and an example of how a starting quarterback should work and approach the game, from his early arrival to the facility, to his communication with coaches and other quarterbacks, to his study and practice habits.
“It’s really about how to prepare, how to take what you’re getting, the information that you’re getting, how to disseminate it, how to put it together and then take it and transfer it onto the field — how to do those things,” Rivera said when asked what Haskins might learn from watching Smith. “Again, by example — coming in early, meeting with the coaches, meeting with the other quarterbacks, having discussions, talking about what you’re seeing and what you’re not seeing, and just studying and preparing. … I think that’s vital for a young quarterback to have those kinds of examples.
“ … A lot of times guys will rely on their great talent, and that talent will get you by for a while. But there is a point in everybody’s career where everything catches up to talent, and the only thing that separates it is the guys that work the hardest.”
As Washington moves forward with Smith and Haskins, its options to fill Allen’s spot in the quarterbacks room are limited, in part because of the NFL’s stringent coronavirus protocols. If it signs a free agent or plucks someone from another team’s practice squad, that player will probably have to undergo six days of testing before he can begin to practice with the team, ruling him out for Sunday’s game in Detroit. The only quarterback on the practice squad is Montez, an undrafted rookie.
The bigger question is one Rivera and his staff have yet to figure out: Who will be the long-term starting quarterback?
“That’s the question we have to answer as coaches: Is our franchise quarterback here? Is he on the roster? Is he being developed? Or is he somewhere else?” Rivera said. “And, again, we’ll continue to go through that and look at it and evaluate it and see exactly where we are.”
Allen, whose recovery is expected to last roughly four months, will be an exclusive rights free agent next year, which means he could be back on a minimal salary. Smith has two years left on his deal but, with no more guaranteed salary after this season, the cost of moving on would be amenable if the team chose to do so.
Haskins has two years left on his fully guaranteed rookie deal, but that’s about the only certainty he affords the team. In the coming weeks, Washington may find some answers.
“We’re hoping to see a guy that’s got a talented arm, that’s a good pocket passer, that has the ability to make all the throws, but does he put it all together?” Rivera said. “Does he sit there and say: ‘Okay, this is what I’ve studied, this is what I’ve learned; now I’m taking it to the field. This is what I see out there that’s happening, and this is how I’m going to react.’ ...
“That’s what we want to see. Those are things that he’s got to continue to grow on and become a more astute player and student of this game. He’s got the skill set. I’m telling you, the arm is legit. Now let’s see him put it all together. That’s what I’m hoping to get out of Dwayne these next few weeks as we go forward for the rest of the season.”