The conversations this offseason were different almost immediately. Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins mapped out what he needed to do, then he relayed his desires to those who have helped him for years.
They heard a difference; then they saw one.
The Redskins, of course, hope to see those changes where it matters most: on the field. Regardless, Haskins felt he needed to change his approach.
“I won’t necessarily say it’s just about football, it’s with everything in life,” Haskins said. “I’m going to deliver, it’s never a question about that.”
That desire to change was evident after his rookie season to those who have worked with him since he was in high school.
“As soon as the season was over he was like, ‘I need to approach this differently,'” said Bryson Spinner, a former NFL quarterback who also works with players at the position.
“We talked a good bit in February,” said quarterback trainer Quincy Avery, who has worked with Haskins. “A lot of guys aren’t as honest with themselves and aren’t as critical of themselves as he was in that conversation. I was happy about that. I thought, ‘He’s ready to roll.'”
During coach Ron Rivera’s introductory news conference in January, he said he wanted Haskins to become more of a leader. Haskins had an understated presence in the locker room last season. He’s friendly but reserved. That’s how he approached the protests following the death of George Floyd. Rather than immediately tweeting about what was happening, Haskins said he wanted to do something. So he marched at a protest in Washington, D.C., on June 6.
These are positive signs following a turbulent rookie season. Due to an organizational split, there was controversy from the moment Washington selected Haskins with the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Redskins owner Dan Snyder and then-president Bruce Allen led the decision to select him. The coaches and other front-office members, convinced Haskins was not ready to contribute immediately, felt they didn’t need to draft him at 15.
Multiple sources said last offseason Haskins needed to do more work on his own. And it was clear to others that he landed in a bad spot — with a team whose coach, Jay Gruden, needed to win immediately. Haskins, with only 14 starts in college, needed extra attention and patience to be developed.
He started poorly; he finished strong. But Haskins saw what needed to happen. The result: He changed his diet and cut his weight to 218 pounds, down from 227 at season’s end and 237 when he was drafted. Haskins posted videos of him working out, in Florida and in Virginia, and his body was noticeably changed.
Becoming a leader
“I just wanted to be a man about my business and that’s on and off the field,” Haskins said. “Not that I wasn’t prior, but now turning 23, still being young and growing, whenever there were questions about immaturity or lack of whatever it was, I was going to change that [perception] whether it was true or not. I needed to do that for me. I applied pressure with everything I did this offseason, with my body and how I studied, and it’s making a big difference.”
“People might say, ‘He didn’t work hard.’ Throughout his career, people have known him as a hard worker, but the details and other things required to be an NFL quarterback are a little different than the things required to be a great quarterback at other levels. I see that maturity and him getting ready to take the next step of understanding the little details, how to take care of your diet, how to take care of your body, how to be mentally prepared so he can be successful on Sundays.”
In Haskins’ first two outings with Washington, both in relief, he completed a combined 12-of-22 passes for 140 yards and four interceptions. In his last two outings, both starts, he completed a combined 31-of-43 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns.
“If he had come in and just dominated in the NFL last year, he might have taken longer to understand what was necessary to be an elite-level pro,” Avery said. “[His rookie struggles] put him in a situation to catapult him into the future.”
One member of the Redskins’ organization said he was pleased Haskins pushed himself into making these changes, and it would have happened whether or not Washington had made a coaching change. Spinner echoed that sentiment.
“[Haskins] knows this is a big year because of the narrative last year … The communication changed. He was talking to us more consistently about what he wants to do within the workouts and giving us ideas. He’s very mature beyond his years,” Spinner said.
Coaching staff encouraged
As Haskins lost weight and re-shaped his body, he also worked on short-area quickness via agility ropes and other drills. He’s not going to scare opponents with his scrambling, but Haskins showed mobility last season and this can help him extend plays.
Avery connected Haskins with a sports psychologist for several phone sessions. Because Redskins offensive coordinator Scott Turner spent the past two years at Carolina, Spinner and Haskins went through all of the Panthers’ film. They broke down the routes they like to throw and paired them up with the style of receivers Washington has — Carolina’s DJ Moore is a smaller, faster receiver similar to the Redskins’ Terry McLaurin, for example. And, because Spinner spent time with four NFL franchises, he was familiar with the offense and could recognize plays and concepts.
The Redskins’ coaches have seen the videos of Haskins working out, but those reveal only so much, considering there’s no defense. However, they do provide clues.
“You can tell he’s putting the work in away from the meeting time,” Turner said. “You guys, I’m sure, have all seen the pictures. It looks like he’s in great shape.”
McLaurin, who played with Haskins at Ohio State, says the QB is having fun again. “I feel like a lot was thrown at him his first year and I’m not making any excuses for him at all, but I feel like just his focus is great right now.”
Turner said he can measure the progress through quizzes as they watch film via videoconferences. They’ll ask about the coverages and Haskins will shoot back the correct answer, also letting him know the clues he detected to guide him.
Haskins said he’s still learning the offense, but, having been in one NFL offense already, he can translate the terminology easier. The West Coast system last season was all about words — sometimes up to 16 in one play. Turner’s system is numbers-based.
“The concepts are the same, the reads are the same, just told differently,” Haskins said. “It’s easier to regurgitate and be able to play faster because the offense we were in last year was West Coast and it was a lot of tags and a lot of longer playcalls in the huddle.”
Rivera is encouraged by Haskins’ approach. The young QB has texted him often, sometimes late at night, about various football questions. They spoke on the phone last week, discussing Haskins’ progression.
“He is really taking what he and I talked about to heart,” Rivera said of their initial talks in January. “You see those things you are looking for.”
There’s a reason.
“I want to be the face of the franchise,” Haskins said, “and I’m working to do that.”