But two rocket-like throws to wide receiver Darvin Kidsy do not make for much in professional football, and Haskins’s debut quickly dissolved. He is a rookie quarterback, after all — one with just one year of experience as a college starter at nearby Ohio State — and he often looked as uncertain in Thursday’s 30-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns as he has for much of training camp.
On four second-quarter drives, mostly run with a mix of players from the team’s second and third offenses, Haskins was intercepted twice — once for a touchdown — and almost fumbled into the end zone on a sack inside the 5-yard line. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 117 yards playing in the second and third quarters. He did not have any touchdowns, the two interceptions blared from the stat sheet, and he was sacked for a 13-yard loss on his final play when Browns safety Juston Burris stormed through the line, lifting the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Haskins off his feet and throwing him to the ground.
Later, Haskins called the experience “different” — a comparison to playing in college. He blamed himself for making mistakes on the passes that were intercepted and said he was still sore from the hard sack near the goal line but nonetheless called his night “fun.”
“I think there were moments that he looked very good. Obviously there were a couple throws there that he wished he had back, but for the first start in the NFL, the first opportunity to play, it’s not going to go perfectly,” said Redskins Coach Jay Gruden, who added, “He sees what he’s doing. He’s just got to make sure his receivers are on the same page.”
For now, it appears the rookie remains behind in the Redskins’ quarterback battle, a three-person training camp fight that also has included Colt McCoy (who did not play Thursday) and Case Keenum, who started Thursday and handled relentless pressure from a swarming Browns pass rush enough to throw two deep passes to wide receiver Robert Davis. The first turned into a 43-yard pass interference penalty. The second was a 46-yard touchdown on which Davis — coming back from a gruesome knee injury in last year’s training camp — raced wide open down the right side of the field.
It was a solid if unspectacular performance from Keenum, especially considering how Gruden sat almost all of his starting players, meaning Keenum was playing with mostly backups while facing the Browns’ starting defense for much of the time he was in during the first quarter.
Then again, it’s hard to judge any of the Redskins’ quarterbacks given the volatility of the offensive line in front of them. Left tackle Geron Christian and left guard Ereck Flowers were overwhelmed by the Browns’ starting defensive front. But they also struggled against Cleveland’s second-team defense, raising serious questions about how functional Washington’s offense can be if star left tackle Trent Williams’s holdout continues into the season.
With Williams continuing to send occasional signals through intermediaries that he does not want to return to the Redskins, the line looked as ragged Thursday as it has against its own defense in training camp. Two players who are contenders to win the starting left guard and left tackle positions, rookie Wes Martin and newly signed veteran Donald Penn, played against Cleveland’s third team Thursday, and the line held up better when they were there.
Really, the most positive thing for the Redskins in their preseason opener was the way a lot of their second- and third-team defensive players played, even against some of the Browns’ starting offensive players. No one appeared to jump out more than two rookies who were final-day draft choices, cornerback Jimmy Moreland and inside linebacker Cole Holcomb.
Moreland, who dazzled in offseason workouts and minicamps, showed why he may soon work his way into a key role in the Redskins’ secondary. Despite having a quiet training camp, Moreland came alive under the lights of his first professional game, knocking away a pair of passes in the end zone and twice forcing fumbles of Browns players near the goal line.
Holcomb, who entered the game earlier than anticipated, after presumed starter Shaun Dion Hamilton left with a chest injury, had a quarterback pressure in his first series, then saved a touchdown when he raced across the field to knock Cleveland wide receiver Rashard Higgins out of bounds at the 2-yard line.
But the highlight plays were far less frequent for Washington’s offense, and the Browns were able to move well enough against the bottom of the Redskins’ defensive roster in the fourth quarter to pull away with a late touchdown drive, then punctuated the exhibition victory with an 86-yard punt return for a score by Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi. And while the score was irrelevant, the statistical dominance was not. Cleveland had 23 first downs to Washington’s 12, and its 327 passing yards looked enormous when matched with the Redskins’ 189.
Still, Washington came out of the game without an injury to a significant player beyond Hamilton, and that might have been the biggest news of all, given the way running back Derrius Guice tore his ACL in the first game of last year’s preseason. Guice didn’t play Thursday, and no one seemed to mind. Haskins will presumably get better, and an offensive line can eventually be fixed, but a season-ending injury in the first preseason game was not a nightmare the Redskins wanted to experience again.
“We’re at the very, very beginning here,” Gruden said. “This is preseason Game 1, and next week we will get some more players in there and be more cohesive, and by Game 3 hopefully we will be a lot better.”