Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera finally said what his actions had suggested all along: Dwayne Haskins is his starting quarterback.
Rivera informed the other players of his decision Wednesday, but it’s not a surprising announcement considering Haskins has worked exclusively with the starters during training camp.
Kyle Allen has worked with the second unit and Alex Smith has yet to take any snaps while in full pads during a full-team situation. When Smith did get work — whether in 7-on-7, 9-on-9 or 11-on-11 with shells and no shoulder pads — it was with the No. 2 offense.
But with Smith trying to complete a journey from a gruesome leg injury in November 2018 to a roster spot, Washington needed to see him in a full-pad workout before it could have him compete for the starting job.
For Rivera, naming Haskins reminded him of a situation with then-rookie Cam Newton in 2011 with Carolina. After being hired in January, Rivera let Haskins know what he wanted to see in the offseason, starting with becoming more of a leader.
“I made a commitment 10 years ago to another young quarterback and just told him: ‘Hey, you know what, I’m choosing you because I believe in you,'” Rivera said. “That’s really how I feel about Dwayne. He’s lived up to his part of our conversation in January. Because of that, I’m living up to mine.
“He deserves the opportunity. He’s going to get my support. Hopefully we can ride it as long as I rode it with Cam. You want to be able to have that guy and have that guy in place.”
Rivera said he had wanted a true competition during camp by starting Haskins one week and Allen the next, but the loss of preseason games altered those plans. Rivera said it was then important for Haskins to get as many snaps as possible with the starters.
“When I got drafted here, I wanted to show that I was the franchise QB here,” Haskins said after Monday’s practice. “… I wanted to show this coaching staff how much I love the game, how great of a leader I want to be, how I can be reliable in situations and make the right plays and get some wins.”
Washington selected Haskins with the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft, but he joined a team with a coaching staff that needed to win immediately and had preferred taking other players with that selection. Haskins needed time to learn not only the nuances of the position at an NFL level — such as calling plays in the huddle — but also the offense and being comfortable with protection calls.
He struggled early, but he finished strong. In his first four outings, Haskins posted a combined 14.4 Total Quarterback Rating with two touchdowns, six interceptions and a 54.1 completion percentage. In his last three games, he posted a 58.1 Total QBR with five touchdowns, one interception and a 67.1 completion percentage.
Haskins worked out two to three times a day during the offseason, focusing on all aspects of his game — from getting into better shape to studying film and working on his skills. Haskins reported to camp at 218 pounds — 19 less than when he was drafted.
“Just growing up and being more mature,” Haskins said. “Being two years removed from college, you kind of know what works for you and what doesn’t. Just trying to figure a workout regimen that works for me and a plan for me to take place to show that I’m ready to go. I did that this year, and I think it’s showing on the field.”
Rivera liked how Haskins handled his situation, and how he exuded more confidence.
“There’s a certain aspect of being the face of the franchise in terms of being the starting quarterback that you have to deal with,” Rivera said. “He has to carry himself a certain way. He has to deal with on-the-field issues the same way he deals with off-the-field issues. I thought he’s done a great job. I think part of it, too, is developing who he is not just physically but mentally.”
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who worked with Newton in Carolina, said Haskins impressed him with his arm.
“He’s a natural passer. He’s got a quick trigger,” Turner said. “He doesn’t need a lot of space to do it. Some of the plays that he made in tight quarters throwing the ball, that’s kind of what jumped out to me over the course of this camp.”
Rivera has harped on mainly wanting Haskins and Allen to make good decisions. For Haskins, that meant quickly learning the playbook and what to do with only three weeks of on-field time to this point. Rivera said Haskins gradually improved, especially when it came to how fast he was playing.
“He began to speed up,” Rivera said. “While things were happening fast, he was just a tick behind. And all of a sudden, he was even with everything. Now all of a sudden, he’s ahead of everything. Those are the things that you’re looking for when you’re watching guys. Is he speeding up? Is he picking up the nuances of what the defense is showing? Is he wrapped into them in a timely fashion or ahead of it to where he’s almost anticipating it?”
Haskins said he notices a change in trusting his drop and not rushing in the pocket.
“Now I feel like I’m more confident, more patient,” Haskins said. “I have a better understanding of the concepts and what defenses are showing me so I’m able to attack them most effectively. So, that’s one thing I feel like I’m showing, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with in the last couple weeks.”
But Washington knows it’s one thing to show it in August during practice. The team needs him to show it during the season.
“I told him today: ‘Now the real work starts. Now you’ve got to gear up,'” Turner said. “‘We’ve got to bring it every week and you’ve got to play better so you’re playing your best football at the end of the season.’ You don’t just stop getting better because he was named the starter.”
Rivera hopes Haskins can duplicate the success of Newton, who entered as the top overall pick and is a different quarterback because of his size and his mobility. He led Carolina to the playoffs in his third year and the Super Bowl in his fifth.
But Rivera sees similarities.
“First of all, it’s the desire to win,” Rivera said. “That to me is one of the overriding things that they both share. Their work ethic. They both have worked hard in their offseason. That to me is a delight — that you have a guy that’s willing to commit to the preparation of it and it’s not just about showing up. Probably the biggest difference to me is Cam is big, Cam is thick. Dwayne to me is still young and dangly and still filling in. But Dwayne and him have the same type of ball. They throw a good football, and it’s a catchable ball.”