We’ll take a break from the ongoing “the Washington Redskins medical staff told Trent Williams to ignore what turned out to be a legitimate Cancer diagnosis by misleading him and saying that the malignant growth on his head was nothing to be worried about” melodrama, and turn you back to the standard Washington Redskins-related melodrama du jour: the early onset development of quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
In the case of Haskins, we’re way-too-familiar with the oft-repeated refrain regarding why — despite the fact that so many rookie quarterbacks are starting earlier and earlier for the respective NFL teams, if not from Day 1 outright — the Redskins have been so reluctant to name Haskins as the team’s “official” starting quarterback.
“He’s Not Ready.”
Those have probably been the three most incendiary words in our nation’s capital, this side of “President Donald Trump.” We hear it over and over again. The coaches — be it the deposed Jay Gruden or the seat-warming Bill Callahan — say it publicly. Assistant coaches, team officials, and even current teammates, say it off-the-record. The media repeats that statement back to us ad nauseam.
But regardless of what we’re being told, if we’re being totally honest with ourselves as Redskins fans, you simply cannot have watched Haskins in his scant few appearances this year and come away discouraged — if not alarmed — at how unready he looks. Those few flashes of brilliance he demonstrated during the preseason seem to be all but forgotten, considering what he’s looked like in “real” game action.
So how is it that a quarterback prospect, whom many respected draft analysts pegged as a top 25 talent and someone who could be a quality starter at the NFL level, could look so terribly in over his head?
Or, put more succinctly: WHY is he “not ready” ?
It’s been said that, in any argument between two parties, there are three things to consider: one party’s account of the present circumstances, the other party’s account of the present circumstances, and the truth (the latter of which falls somewhere in the middle of the former two).
Those who believe that Haskins shouldn’t be starting — and I, admittedly, was one of them, a least until this Redskins team looked totally devoid of hope this season — have some credible arguments.
Haskins came into the NFL having started for only one year at the collegiate level, in an offensive system that’s substantially different than the one he’s being asked to learn in Washington (much more on that in a moment). The track record for quarterbacks who’ve enjoyed success in the NFL with only one year of experience of starting experience in college is scant, at best. His shortcomings in learning when (and when not) to force throws, maintaining consistent footwork, and generally being raw in his overall development as a quarterback, were well-documented.
But, most of that is pretty standard fare when you’re talking about the majority of quarterbacks coming out of college, especially with the preponderance of “spread”-based offenses and the ability to get away with simply being one of the best athletes on the field.
The scary stuff, however, is the whispers of Haskins immaturity, work ethic (or lack thereof), and potentially even a sense of entitlement. If you read between the lines of multiple comments made publicly, the ideas that Haskins has to emerge as the guy who’s constantly got his nose in his playbook, obsesses over watching film, and develops the reputation of being “the first one in and last one out” of the facility — and can’t simply assume that he can just bide his time before he’s handed the starting job.
In regards to the latter, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Haskins really is wired with the same “ultra-obsessive Type-A” mindset that we’ve traditionally associated with guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and/or Drew Brees (among others). Let’s say that Haskins was doing literally everything possible on his end, within reason, to beat out the below-mediocre veteran quarterbacks on the Redskins’ roster (Case Keenum and Colt McCoy) and earn the starting job.
The question then becomes: are the Redskins coaches holding up their end of the deal?
Indulge me in the following thought experiment. As the son of first-generation immigrants to the United States, I can speak three other languages in addition to English. I’m generally proficient in one of them, and have limited proficiency in the other two. But even with the aforementioned multilingual background, if I was asked to develop even an elementary proficiency in speaking and understanding, say, Cantonese or Russian, it’s still going to be very difficult for me.
Now, let’s say it was my job to develop mastery of either of those languages. The two best methodologies for me to eventually achieve that would likely be to 1) study my ass off towards doing so, and 2) work with a (capable) teacher who can help accelerate my learning curve, by either creating a curriculum designed to ease me into speaking in bits and pieces at first and continue to build from there, and/or contextually relate the languages I already know to concepts in the new language.
If you haven’t caught wind of the metaphor already: it’s been said that Gruden’s offense — which the Redskins are still running — is one of the most intricate, complex, and difficult offenses to learn. Keenum likened learning the offense to “learning Portuguese,” because the latter of which is considered to be one of the more difficult languages to learn.
In terms of the two mentioned methods for learning this new language, there might be something of a mixed bag when it comes to the “studying your ass off” component with Haskins. It’s quite possible he still has some immaturities to overcome, in terms of learning how to approach the job as a “professional.” But also let’s not downplay the fact that Haskins isn’t even 22-and-a-half years old yet; tell me how much of a bastion of maturity you were at his age. Further, there are very credible people who follow this team who will tell you that Haskins puts in a respectable effort, asks the right questions, and generally demonstrates the right attitude needed for someone with his age and inexperience.
But what’s far more certain is that Gruden and his coaching staff — including what remains of it under Callahan — have done next to nothing when it comes to the “capably teaching” part. To use the same metaphor, what this coaching staff did was the equivalent of throwing a Russian dictionary at the 22-year old version of me, dismissively saying “Good luck kid,” and two months later, asking me to move to St. Petersburg and completely fend for myself.
You can’t diagnose Haskins’ current underdevelopment without acknowledging a degree of coaching neglect, or even malpractice. The entire concept of being a teacher or coach is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your students, and match those with your teaching style and curriculum.
When applied correctly in the NFL, this idea has proven to be successful with a myriad of young quarterbacks who were considered to be “in need of further development.”
* Cam Newton became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards because of how then offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and then quarterbacks coach Mike Shula heavily borrowed elements of the offense Newton played in at Auburn.
* Robert Griffin III had one of the most dominant performances from a rookie quarterback in 2012 because of how liberally Kyle Shanahan borrowed elements of the offense Griffin ran at Baylor University.
* Andy Reid’s offense in Kansas City is chock-full of Air Raid concepts that were or are familiar to Patrick Mahomes, with the latter having played in said offensive scheme at Texas Tech.
* Guys like Russell Wilson, Jared Goff, and Dak Prescott, among others, were able to enjoy success early on in their careers, thanks to offensive schemes who stripped out the “bells and whistles” early on, and basically put training wheels on their offensive scheme, before they were able to pedal some version of the offense from the onset, before they were ready to pedal on only two wheels.
But because the Redskins coaching was (and probably still is) playing with a far-fetched “win now” mindset, they continued to hammer the proverbial square peg that was Haskins into the round hole of their preferred offensive scheme. And that’s why all the “red flags” that were highlighted about Haskins — little experience in working through multiple progressions, using his arm talent to overcome bad decisions with the ball, and having sloppy footwork that manifests in inaccurate throws — have started to rear their ugly heads.
His duress comes from his discomfort in what he’s being asked to do, without anyone doing anything to make him feel more comfortable.
In the end, the current predicament with Haskins is really just another symptom of this totally dysfunctional Washington Redskins’ organization.
The coaching staff was operating under a “win or get fired” mandate, so any patience in Haskins’ development was thrown out the window. The staff was handed that mandate by an oblivious front office, whose top decision-makers (Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen) refuse to acknowledge the talent deficiency this team has. And while the team’s top brass demanded that the team contended for a playoff spot in a brutally competitive NFC, they effectively snatched away control of one of their most valuable team-building assets: their first round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. While the coaching staff would’ve absolutely used that pick on a player who could’ve helped them under their “win now” edict, the front office had other ideas — which, of course, stood in complete contrast to what they were asking of their coaches.
I will die on the hill that, in the days leading up to this past Draft, Snyder approached his college personnel department, effectively mandated that they’re going to draft Haskins — no matter what — if he was available at #15 overall. It’s been all but reported that Snyder was in the Redskins “War Room” on Draft night, ensuring this happened. After the Redskins picked Haskins at #15 overall, despite the fact that the majority of coaches and scouts preferring to use that pick somewhere else, he basically turned the Draft over back to the rest of the front office (and actually allowed them to do their job).
And I throughly believe that Snyder issued such an edict with the belief that a successful African American quarterback, who played high school football in the area, and enjoyed huge success at a “brand name” program, could do wonders in terms of reinvigorating the rapidly-declining local interest in this organization (note: I’m NOT making this about race; don’t forget that African Americans make up the single largest racial demographic in the District of Columbia).
In other words, if you believe the Redskins used a first round pick in the top half of the 2019 NFL Draft on Haskins for purely football reasons, you’re completely fooling yourself. That’s the pièce de résistance in all of this: is somehow believing their coaching staff should somehow be able to contend for a playoff spot immediately, and somehow also develop Haskins — a process that was sure to require a long-term approach — at the same time, even though the coaches had no intention of using any portion of this season to develop a quarterback who’d be starting long after they were all inevitably fired.
Therein lies the sad reality of this entire situation. If the Haskins era turns out to be (yet another) catastrophic failure for this organization, it’s because of directives and decisions made without any long-term view in mind, or without any real focus on improving the product on the field — like virtually everything else that’s happened under Allen and Snyder.