“Felt great out there today,” Haskins said. “Just the atmosphere of just going out there, being a leader, talking to the guys. Just having fun. That’s the most important thing I had today out there, having fun. . . . I’m pretty levelheaded most of the time, but when I score a touchdown, I just let it go.”
Haskins was the center of attention Thursday night as the Redskins sat all of their starters, with the only stakes being the last few roster spots when NFL teams cut down from 90 to 53 players Saturday. There wasn’t much pressure on the Ohio State product after Coach Jay Gruden named Case Keenum the starting quarterback for the regular season Sunday. But this was Haskins’s first chance to start a game as a pro, and he finished the night 10 for 17 with 104 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in one half of football.
Haskins’s development has been steady, but it has been clear throughout training camp that the rookie is raw. The biggest issues haven’t been physical but rather the finer points of playing the position in the pros: getting in and out of the huddle quickly, making the correct adjustments at the line and communicating them clearly, and gaining a complete understanding of the playbook.
Haskins displayed clear improvements in those areas Thursday.
“He had good energy,” Gruden said. “Communicated the offense well to others. Made some nice plays. Hurried a couple of them. Had some pressure. Overall, thought he moved the ball. Had a nice touchdown there, touchdown drive. . . . I was happy with the way he played today.”
The first drive was shaky as the team went three-and-out, but the next drive was a little better. Haskins hit wide receiver Cam Sims for 12 yards on the left side and scrambled for five yards on a play that was called back for a penalty.
The third series, however, was Haskins’s crowning moment of the preseason. He went 4 for 5 on the eight-play, 75-yard drive, with the lone incompletion a drop by Cam Sims. He hit Robert Davis for 14 yards on a skinny post, and 6-foot-8 tight end Donald Parham snatched a 25-yarder that Haskins threw high to clear a trailing linebacker. Tight end J.P. Holtz then worked free for 24 yards to set up an impressive seven-yard touchdown pass to Steven Sims. On the play, Haskins ran a play-action rollout to his right and threw a bullet on the run, with Sims diving to grab it before it hit the turf.
“This goes into it,” Haskins explained, “calling the play, getting the motion across, reading the defense, throwing the right pass, making a great play on the ball. It’s all the little things that go into making a play like that. It’s a whole bunch of excitement because you work on that play like 10 times since Wednesday. . . . You just want to make it happen in the game.”
The score gave Washington a 7-3 lead with 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter. More importantly, though, the outing showed that Haskins has progressed from the summer.
“I know I can play,” Haskins said. “The biggest thing is keep progressing as far as getting to the line of scrimmage, calling the play fast and calling it right and precise and make sure the guys hear me, have great body language on and off the field. And just making the throws and making the right reads and getting the right timing.”
While Haskins had a strong showing, he wasn’t competing for a spot on the roster or a starting job. Others were.
The wide receiver competition may be the closest on the team; the Redskins probably will keep just six. Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson Jr., Trey Quinn and rookies Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon are all considered certain or likely to make the roster, which may leave just one spot up for grabs. Robert Davis and Cam Sims might be the strongest candidates, but Davis had a quiet outing (one catch for 14 yards) while Sims struggled (three drops and just one catch for 12 yards).
Steven Sims, an undrafted free agent out of Kansas, may have done the most to help his roster standing, with the touchdown catch and kickoff returns of 41 and 39 yards.
“Dwayne kind of helped me with that [touchdown],” Steven Sims said. “Cam came open first, so I know Cam’s kind of mad about that. It really should have been Cam’s touchdown. But Dwayne trusted that I would come open, and I did. . . . I feel like I did a good job, the best job I could do. I gave it my all. Left it all out there. Just got to wait and see.”
Gruden added: “He’s a little fireball. Fun to watch him. Every time he gets the ball in his hands, it’s exciting.”
An injury could affect how the final 53-man roster is constructed. Outside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy left the game with a concussion. He should still make the team, but the Redskins may need to keep one more outside linebacker than originally planned if he isn’t cleared to play against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener Sept. 8.
The defense as a whole didn’t exactly shine. It allowed Ashburn native Trace McSorley to throw for 171 yards and a touchdown while completing 15 of 27 passes. McSorley got the start but is competing to make the Ravens as the third quarterback behind Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III. His 24-yard touchdown pass to Jaleel Scott with 3:52 remaining in the second quarter gave Baltimore the lead for good.