The eye, then, is drawn to Dwayne Haskins, young, broad-shouldered, wide-smiling, all the tread still on his tires. Case Keenum is here, the free agent gunslinger on his sixth team in six years. Colt McCoy is here, the career backup who knows the system not only better than the other quarterbacks, but likely better than he knows the English language.
And here is Haskins, bigger than either of them, stronger than either of them, more enticing than either of them, already granted Theismann’s old No. 7. Camp just started, and the most intriguing question Thursday is the same as it will be Friday is the same as it will be a month from now: When will Haskins start?
“He’s been preparing for this since he was 10,” said Brian Mitchell, the old running back and kick returner.
That’s not just something for Mitchell to say, flippantly, and we’ll get to why in a moment. Just know this: There are very few words that can make football in July seem interesting, but two of them are “rookie quarterback.” Teams don’t take a quarterback with the 15th pick in the draft so the fan base can have patience preached to it. There are areas of concern all over the field for this team, coming off back-to-back 7-9 seasons, and exactly what sort of line Haskins would be playing behind — particularly with left tackle Trent Williams’s holdout officially underway — is foremost among them.
But ask what stands out about Haskins, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and the answers are consistent and encouraging. It’s not his body. It’s not his arm. It’s not his accuracy.
“It’s still early,” Coach Jay Gruden said, “but it’s the poise factor.”
“The main thing I want to point out about Dwayne,” running back Derrius Guice said, “is he’s very mature.”
“He’s calm,” veteran tight end Vernon Davis said.
Which gets back to Mitchell’s point: Put all that together, and he’s prepared. Years ago, Mitchell took over Art Monk’s football camp for kids. One year, this big ol’ boy rolled in.
“He was about 11 or 12, and I thought, ‘Cool, we got an O-lineman,’” Mitchell said. “And he says, ‘Coach, I’m a quarterback.’ And then he started slinging balls all over the place.”
That kid was Dwayne Haskins, preparing to compete for the job he’s trying to win now — a decade earlier. He prepared at Bullis School in Potomac. He prepared at Ohio State. He hasn’t yet thrown a competitive pass as a pro, yet all that background makes him seem like an old pro at 22.
“He’s got a great demeanor about himself,” Gruden said. “I don’t think he lets one play affect his next play, which is very, very important for a quarterback in the National Football League.”
Thursday wasn’t the day Haskins was going to be named the starter for the Aug. 8 preseason opener at Cleveland, much less the regular-season opener a month later in Philadelphia. But it was the day the dissection of whether he deserves a shot began. I’m not going to get into breaking down Haskins’s performance play-by-play. (Okay, fine, he seemed to check down rather quickly and dump off to his backs, and his one deep ball to rookie wideout Kelvin Harmon was caught, but out of bounds.) But there are people responsible for doing just that, and it’s important.
“I think we just have to play it out,” Gruden said Thursday, a day after he said naming a starting QB “might come down to the wire. It might come down to Saturday before the Philly game.”
If the competition is that close as camp begins, then the reps are going to be monitored extremely closely over the course of the team’s stay. Here came Haskins Thursday, settling under center to face the first-team defense. What does that mean? How will he do? If that happens for more snaps in a week, does it mean he has moved ahead of Keenum and McCoy?
Easy now. Deep breaths. It’s July.
Gruden might be the only coach in the league entering camp with three potential starting quarterbacks on the roster. It’s far from an embarrassment of riches. It’s a logistical problem — with everyone on the outside wanting to read into every move. There might be a day, Gruden said, when two guys take the majority of snaps and the other seems left out, but that could flip the next day. Read into the division of labor at your own peril.
“Obviously, that’s the No. 1 challenge that we have as a staff going into this season,” Gruden said, “is to make sure we get these guys the reps and give them ample opportunity to show that they’re the starter.”
Yet the only truly interesting starter against Philadelphia would be Haskins.
“He’s very consistent,” Guice said. “He’s in the playbook hard. He knows what’s going on. It’s good to see guys like Case and Colt McCoy come in and know exactly what to do, and then see Dwayne come in behind them and know exactly what to do.”
If that’s what teammates are saying when the opposing defense belongs to Cleveland or Cincinnati or Atlanta or Baltimore — Washington’s four preseason opponents — then it’ll be determined. Haskins has the ability to take this decision out of Gruden’s hands, to make it for him. He’s not there yet. But he has only practiced once.
After that first session ended Thursday at noon, Haskins headed to a far end of the field and found a group of kids. He signed jerseys. He signed balls. He signed cards. He did not speak to reporters Thursday — that comes Friday. But he signed and signed and signed.
“You the man,” one fan yelled. “You stayed! Last man signing.”
Haskins took a few strides back across the field, 100 yards and more to the safety of the locker room. He waved to another group of fans, and started to jog.
“Haskins, get that ‘C’ on your chest,” the fan called after him. “Get that ‘C’! That’s a captain right there!”
It’s July. It’s the first day of training camp. It’s that time when the most provocative words in football are “rookie quarterback.” Forget all the other quarterbacks in camp, be they able-bodied or accomplished or not. Dwayne Haskins can determine who will start for Washington Sept. 8 in Philadelphia. He’s been preparing to do it since he was 10.