Just because Dwayne Haskins couldn't get on the field with his Washington teammates for off-season workouts this year doesn't mean he wasn't busy.
Haskins worked out with veteran NFL quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton and talked to Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens, Odell Beckham Jr. and Chad Johnson to gain as much experience as he could going into his second season. Good thing, too, because for all the organizational changes from the name down, Washington's 2020 season on the field is about the new coach figuring out what he has — or doesn't — have in Haskins as a franchise QB.
“The next step is just proving myself right with the work I put in this off-season ," Haskins said. “All the sacrifices, extra time I spent off the field in the classroom, I just want to see that pay off. No statistical reasons or trying to win any trophies or anything like that. Just being the best quarterback, best teammate, best leader that I can be. I just worked on doing that every day and getting better, and hopefully that leads to some accolades and success down the road.”
Down the road is the focus for the team formerly known as the Redskins, and it starts with Haskins. The previous regime drafted him 15th overall in 2019 to be the guy, but new coach Ron Rivera wasn't part of that.
Rivera acquired Kyle Allen from the Carolina Panthers, the team he coached for nine seasons, and inherited veteran Alex Smith, who is close to completing an improbable comeback less than two years after breaking his right leg. Yet all eyes are on Haskins, who will get the first shot at showing what he's got.
“You watch him go through his progressions, his reads, and he does some things that he needs to do, and then a couple times you see him not going through his progressions, not keeping the right tempo or pace to it,” Rivera said. "He’s still learning and growing. We’re pretty excited about that.”
Haskins is learning new offensive co-ordinator Scott Turner's system on the fly after the pandemic prevented organized team activities and minicamp from happening in person. QB coach Ken Zampese knows the basics are there and now wants to see the 23-year-old Ohio State product memorize the playbook and become an expert at running it.
It's a new offence for Haskins, though he does have seven pro starts of experience to build from.
“I don’t think you ever at this point in people’s careers want to totally rebuild completely,'" Turner said. “A lot of play in this league is confidence. Obviously, you have to have this skill set that we all believe Dwayne does, but it takes a while for guys to truly believe that they can do this and that they can play in this league."
After throwing seven interceptions to go along with seven touchdowns during rookie growing pains, Haskins now has that confidence to command a huddle with the expectation of becoming a leader.
“Our offence needs a guy who’s going to take ownership and lead and, why not that be me?” Haskins said.
LONG ROAD BACK
Smith is 36 now and almost good to go after breaking his right tibia and fibula in gruesome fashion in November 2018. If he can protect himself to absorb hits, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick will play again — with a brace on that leg.
“I’ll be a little different, but that’s no different for any aging quarterback in general, and now obviously throw this injury in the mix and yeah, I’ve got to feel what I can do,” Smith said. “I figure out a part of that every single day, what I can do, what I’m capable of."
Rivera keeps saying owner Dan Snyder brought him in to change the culture. Other steps have been taken: firings of three members of the front office amid sexual harassment allegations, and hiring new team president Jason Wright.
Rivera has a very specific job of weeding out bad habits from the past few losing seasons and making it clear to players what he expects.
“Some of the guys right now, they’re struggling to get past what they’ve been through the last couple years and buy into what we’re trying to teach and preach now,” he said. “When you see that on a guy’s face, you can pull him aside and ask: ‘What puzzles you? What bothers you? Think about it this way. Think about this.’”
No off-season workouts made it a challenge for Rivera to learn about his new team, for Haskins to get snaps in an unfamiliar offence and for several additions on each side of the ball to begin jelling. Now, Rivera also must undergo treatments for squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, during a pandemic.
He just doesn't want to keep harping on it.
“I’m fine,” Rivera said. “I’m going to work through this.”
DEL RIO'S NEW D
Jack Del Rio would become interim coach if Rivera needs to step away, but his first job as defensive co-ordinator is to remake a unit that has struggled for years. Gone is high-paid cornerback Josh Norman and the 3-4 defence ; in is No 2. pick Chase Young as a pass rusher in Del Rio's 4-3, and Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller as new pieces in the secondary.
Veteran safety Landon Collins wants to see this defence stick together if injuries take their toll. Darby thinks it's possible to make some big plays.
“You can play aggressive to certain things and you can have your eyes back on the quarterback on certain things,” Darby said. "I love it a lot. And you’ve got the front that we have, which will cause pressure."
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press