PRESS BOX: Washington fans should be patient with Haskins

Illustration by Marisa Stratton

Ben Malakoff, Contributing Writer

Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins returned to D.C. for his second season with a brand new playbook and offense. Expectations were still extremely high from a fan base who saw the team win only three games last year. For those reasons alone, fans should stray from calling the young quarterback a bust too soon.

Washington made moves in the offseason to expand its defense –– including signing cornerback Kendall Fuller –– yet barely any veteran offensive talent was brought in to help. Since 2010, the starting QB has changed 22 times. 

From Robert Griffin III to Kirk Cousins, all the way to Mark Sanchez, the Football Team only made the postseason twice in that span, losing both games. After years of failure, Washington decided to play the long game and draft a potential starting quarterback in the first round, Haskins from Ohio State University. 

Haskins’ first season in the NFL, while highly anticipated, was not pretty. Veteran quarterback Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury in the 2018 season, leaving the competition wide open between Haskins, Colt McCoy and Case Keenum, who eventually won the job. 

However, following the trend of Washington quarterbacks before him, Keenum did not last long and was benched in Week 4 against the New York Giants. Haskins made his first NFL appearance during that game, where he threw just 107 yards and three interceptions. There were some bright spots in Haskins’ performance, but it ended as a disappointing game for the team.

The rookie quarterback played in one more game before being named starter in Week 9 against the Buffalo Bills, where he threw for 144 yards. After a bye week, Haskins was named NFL rookie of the week after throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15. A week later, after suffering an ankle injury, Haskins was shut down by head coach Jay Gruden for the year.

Now entering 2020, Gruden has been fired along with most of his staff. Team owner Dan Snyder hired Ron Rivera as the next head coach, and Rivera brought in Scott Turner to take over offensive coordinator responsibilities for the first time in his career. In training camp, Haskins was named the starter and a team captain.

Haskins can rely firsthand on second year receiver and former Ohio State teammate Terry McClaurin. Next up are wide receivers Steven Sims, who is in his second season, and Dontrelle Inman, the most tenured of the group in his seventh pro season. But the team lacks in offense without any tight end standouts. Former quarterback and journeyman Logan Thomas is starting in the position, and rookie players, including running back Antonio Gibson, are more of a toss-up on the field.

With no preseason for Haskins to adjust to the new offense, Washington has started 1-2. Haskins has thrown four touchdowns and three interceptions. Those are not standout numbers, but they are close in comparison to those of second-year Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions.

Taking into account the adjustments and a lacking offense, the potential is still there for the young quarterback. He is completing difficult in-coverage throws. Haskins is criticized for his poor decision making and slow foot movement in the pocket, but he can improve. Washington’s QB coach Ken Zampese, who coached three-time pro-bowl QB Carson Palmer in his early days in Cincinnati, should develop these skills in Haskins. 

Fans know Rivera and his staff are looking to make Washington’s team centered around its defense. Washington drafted its fifth first-round starter, Chase Young, in the 2020 NFL draft. This takes a lot of the pressure off Haskins to be the elite QB that some want. In turn, Washington only needs Haskins to be a QB who is slightly above average and will not make game-costing mistakes.

This might be hard to accept for some Washington fans. The league views quarterbacks as huge superstars, and there hasn’t been one in D.C. since Robert Griffin III’s rookie season. But now comes the time to accept that Haskins does not need to be elite, and it is the defense’s job under Rivera’s staff to meet him halfway. Fans need to give Haskins at least the rest of this season to develop, work on mechanics and learn how to be a winning NFL quarterback.

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