HOFFMAN: Why Redskins' patience with Haskins is smart... for now

Craig Hoffman
September 25, 2019 - 11:49 am
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The calls for Dwayne Haskins have come in every form but one. They came in the form of “Let’s go Haskins!” chants at FedEx Field. They have come from every corner of the internet. They have come in literal calls to our radio station by expert guests and fans alike. 

The call has not come from head coach Jay Gruden and that is the only call that matters. The question, of course, is why?

The answer is not that Case Keenum is good at playing NFL quarterback in Gruden’s system. He was unimpressive during the spring and won the job by default thanks to Haskins uneven and largely uninspiring performance and Colt McCoy’s injury during the summer. He was terrific for a half against Philadelphia before entering a slide that culminated in five turnovers on Monday night. 

“I think the most important thing is that we have some continuity,” Gruden said after the Redskins' loss on Monday. “I’ve made this point before, we’re not going to be perfect but we need to be better. I think that we can get better. Otherwise, if I didn’t think we had a chance to get better, then I would make a change. I feel like Case has the tools to become a very efficient quarterback in this offense to get us some victories here moving forward.”

That’s partially true. Keenum can get better within the system but he is who he is. He’s Case Keenum, bottom tier NFL starter who can win some games but is never going to grow into a franchise quarterback.

This is about Haskins, a quarterback with seemingly unlimited upside but a very steep learning curve. The Redskins goal is to maximize his growth and the first step is understanding where he is.

Haskins played in thirteen games at Ohio State. That means fourteen games ago in his football life he was playing high school football. Forget comparing him to Daniel Jones, a four-year starter at Duke. Haskins has played half the high-level football of the Gardner Minchew.

So what is missed by that lack of experience and why is sitting the best play for Haskins? 

College defenses aren’t very complex. A team might play three or four coverages. The best schools actually have to do less because they simply have better talent. The same is true offensively by the way. Jones had to do more at Duke because he didn’t always have the best players. Haskins always lined up with the best players. Arguably his third-best college receiver has turned into Washington’s best wide receiver in Terry McLaurin.

By contrast, NFL defenses are extremely complex. The Giants ran at least four different coverages in their first five passing plays last week against Tampa Bay. Two were different variations of Cover 1, including a zone blitz where New York had only two down linemen and players constantly dodging in and out of the line of scrimmage pre-snap.

Deciphering who is coming and who is not and what is happening behind the rush in coverage is really hard. Haskins has never had to do it and he doesn’t have the escapability of Kyler Murray to overcome it.

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This is why sitting for a few weeks is the right move in the eyes of the organization. It’s just not about raising the team’s chances of short-term success. It’s about Haskins not playing too early and becoming confused, trigger shy and losing confidence. He is a first-round pick. First-round picks are investments. Investments don’t always pay off right away.

Of course, Haskins is going to have to play eventually and make the mistakes every young player makes. The difference between him making them now versus in three weeks is his ability to learn from them. 

If he plays now, he is an explorer without a map or at best an incomplete one. Could he go explore a little bit? Sure! It might work. He could operate some portion of the playbook, and if he plays he’d certainly do some good things. However, if he continues to sit in meetings over the next few weeks, he gets to fill in his map without live bullets flying around him. No dents to his confidence nor any damage to his body. In other words, he’s learning while Keenum is exposed to a potential ass-kicking on each play.

As it was paraphrased to me this week by someone in Ashburn, “We can show him a coverage on tape and ask him what it is and he can not know because it doesn’t matter yet. He’s never seen it before, but now he can put himself in that situation and ask what he would have done and be prepared to see it when he does play. If he goes out there with 15 on the playclock and gets to the line and has no idea what’s staring him in the face, there are real consequences.”

This is about protecting Haskins as much as anything. They would love for him to be ready. He’s just not.

This job is hard. It’s probably the hardest in pro sports. He has the physical tools to be great at it, but physical tools don’t make good quarterbacks. Processing speed does and Haskins inexperience means he hasn’t seen a lot of NFL looks on film, nevertheless on the field. They’d like for him to see a few more on film before throwing him into the fire and that is a more than reasonable desire. 

That’s in part because of a final factor that aligns with the argument of waiting a few more short weeks: the schedule.

Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago are all talented defenses with monster fronts that create a ton of pressure. Having Haskins start against those fronts when he’d never seen anything more complex than a preseason defense would have been a catastrophically bad idea. The Giants are well-coached defensively, though they don’t have the talent to be quite on that level.

New England in Week 5? Different story. Rookie quarterbacks are 5-23 against Belichick. That is a .179 winning percentage. The stat lines are equally ugly. Subjecting Haskins to that when you don’t have to seems like a bad idea. He should take NFL 101 before the doctorate level Patriots Studies.

Making waiting even wiser is the soft landing spot of the Dolphins the following week. If there was going to be a change made, that seems like the logical spot to do it and it always has been. 

By Week 6 we’d know if this team was going to be competitive. We clearly know that answer, barring a historic turnaround, to be no. We’d also know how Keenum was playing, which barring a significant reversal, is not very well. The coaches would also know how Haskins was coming along, and that part is still the external mystery.

It seems the time we all find out is coming soon, but it is this insider’s opinion that it should not happen yet for the above reasons. It probably should happen in Miami, but that can’t really be announced or leaked at this point. Imagine Jon Allen hearing, “Yeah we’re punting on the season and as soon as we sacrifice the next two games, we’ll see what the kid’s got.” 

And you thought he swore a lot after the game on Monday?

Gruden has to support Keenum right now. Not just verbally, but in how he approaches meetings, practice and game planning. The starter may go from Keenum to McCoy when the latter is healthy and ready to play, but when Haskins has learned enough in the classroom it will be time for him to hit the field. That time is just not now.

As for Haskins role in all this? Keep learning. Take every mental rep. Ask questions. Learn the answers. Dominate practice so that it’s obvious a move has to be made. 

In other words, keep drawing that treasure map. The adventure is coming.

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