Heading into the offseason, Washington‘s quarterback situation, after losing Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to injury, was dire. Jay Gruden explains how he came up with a gameplan to rebuild the position—and how he landed on Dwayne Haskins. Also, Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril reflect on the Seahawks’ championship years, how the NFL is searching for talent in the U.K., the true value in rookie minicamps and more.
RICHMOND, Va. and TAMPA, Fla. — Putting it this way is oversimplifying, for sure. But Redskins rookie Dwayne Haskins is eavesdropping.
When Washington forms the huddle for 7-on-7, with Colt McCoy in at quarterback, there’s an eighth helmet leaning in. Same thing when Case Keenum is taking the snap. And while it definitely looks weird—Haskins standing a yard stick short of his teammates, sticking his nose in there, taking the quarterback’s call—there’s a clear purpose to what the 2019 draft’s No. 15 pick is doing.
“At Ohio State, I took a lot of mental reps the first two years,” says Haskins, who redshirted in 2016, and backed up J.T. Barrett in ’17. “When I wasn’t playing, I was back behind the quarterbacks as if I was in the play. I’m just hearing the play call, envisioning it as if I was calling it in the huddle, listening to it—the verbiage, the cadence of it. And on the line of scrimmage, it’s like I’m the quarterback, I’m watching him where he starts his read at, where he starts his protection, and going through the play in my head.
“I just do that, instead of standing behind the coach, 15, 20 yards back. I’d rather be 10, 12 yards back, right behind them, where I can see the whole thing. And I feel like even though I’m not playing in that rep, I feel like I’m actual getting that rep, because I’m taking it mentally.”
To be clear, Haskins wants to start Week 1, but he’s going to have to beat out Keenum and McCoy (who’s still dealing with issues from his broken leg suffered in December). However Haskins had to wait his turn for the starting job in college, so he’s ready for any outcome to Washington’s quarterback derby, now in its final days. And just as important, in each scenario, there’s a plan that he’s executed before.
He and the rest of the Redskins are going to know soon, since Gruden has said he hopes to make a decision after the third week of the preseason. Washington hosts Cincinnati in the second week of the preseason and goes to Atlanta for the third exhibition game, and then it will be decision time.
“It’ll come probably sooner than later, because you’d like to get that guy ready to go,” Washington head coach Jay Gruden says. “I’d like to hopefully make that decision after the third preseason game, so we can get two weeks to get ready for Philadelphia with the starter.”
Of course, that Haskins, McCoy and Keenum are stuck in this state of limbo is not unusual. What is unusual is that this year, there are only two quarterback battles like this one. We’re here to give you the rundown on both.
My 21-day, 20-team NFL training camp swing is complete, and I have a small break in my calendar coming up (Conor Orr is writing this week’s MMQB, and I’ll be back for next Thursday’s Game Plan). But today I’m going to get to all your questions, including some good ones on…
• Trent Williams’s situation in Washington, and his market value.
• Andrew Luck’s calf/ankle.
• The Texans and Jadeveon Clowney.
• Whether new Jets GM Joe Douglas would not wait, and go get a corner now.
• The effects of Patriots’ coaching turnover.
But we’re starting in Virginia and Florida, where the NFL’s two open quarterback competitions are driving towards looming conclusions.
The Redskins and Dolphins are the only teams that haven’t named starting quarterbacks yet, and that is, first, a commentary on the health of the position league-wide. I’m not sure quarterbacking’s ever been in a better spot at the game’s highest level, especially when you consider what’s coming into the league from the college game over the next couple years.
And second, it opens an interesting window into where these two teams are—the Dolphins at the beginning of a building process, and the Redskins on the other end of the spectrum, with jobs potentially on the line this fall.
Miami has taken the stance that, amid perception (and the reality) that they’re playing the long game, it will do what’s best for the team right now, even if that costs them a longer look at 22-year-old Josh Rosen. I can understand it. Coach Brian Flores is fighting the widespread idea that this is a throwaway year. That’s a tougher sell if players know that the best guy didn’t win the job, or think the competition is rigged.
But the truth is, because Flores and GM Chris Grier are working towards longer-term stability, this a decision that figures to reverberate well past what it means for Week 1, 2 or 3. Given that, here are a few things to consider.
• Ryan Fitzpatrick’s experience in the offense (he played in it in Houston under Bill O’Brien) gave him a significant head start in the spring and going into camp. He’s also endeared himself to the locker room, as a smart, personable leader. Basically, he went in and did what everyone in Miami figured he would.
• More to the point, if coach Brian Flores had to make a decision on, say, Aug. 4, then my sense is that Fitzpatrick would’ve been the clear choice. At that juncture, it’d have been hard to sell the locker room on anything else.
• Rosen came on in the days leading into the preseason opener. And the staff liked how he played against Atlanta—and in particular how he responded after throwing a pick in the game, leading a 70-yard drive to a field goal at the end of the half.
• Rosen’s progress continued early this week. So here on Wednesday, he took a significant chunk of first-team reps for the first time as a Dolphin, which was, indeed, a reward for the progress he’d made over the days leading up to the Atlanta game, and how he came off the game, too. He’s flashed before. The difference now is he’s started to string good practices together.
• While the gap has closed some, Fitzpatrick is still ahead. But there’s no question that Rosen has adjusted to a really demanding environment, laid out by Flores and his staff, and is results that were slow to come at first are accelerating.
I don’t think there’s necessarily a timetable for a decision, nor an internal push to see Rosen in a certain amount of games to better make quarterback plans for 2020. Miami believes it’ll know, one way or the other, what it has in Rosen by the end of the season, which of course could factor into how the Dolphins draft next April.
That first rookie minicamp—when players arrive at their new workplaces for the first time—can reveal flaws that scouts or coaches couldn’t see in college players on tape. Other times, there are revelations of potential they missed.
In the Redskins’ case, the May arrival of Haskins was neither.
“The physical talent you see guys have on tape, sometimes it shows up that first weekend of rookie minicamp, and you’re like, ‘Man, that guy’s talented but we’re going have to work on this, this and this,’” Redskins OC Kevin O’Connell says after Saturday’s practice. “With Dwayne, it was the arm talent, his ability to throw the football, we all walked in after the first rookie minicamp practice and said, ‘He checked all those boxes, from arm strength to accuracy, fundamentals, the skill set to throw the football.’
“That showed up on tape, and it was immediately there when he got here. So that was the first thing I remember noticing, and telling him, ‘Man, you’ve got the physical ability.’”
Because O’Connell is close with Ohio State coach Ryan Day—they worked together in San Francisco on Chip Kelly’s staff in 2015—he also knew what Haskins needed to work on.
That’s why Haskins’s idea to eavesdrop on the huddle matters. More than just being willing to work on his deficiencies, he has a plan for how to go about it. So if you put this together, the coaching background and player’s self-awareness, there’s a pretty clear picture already, between all of them, on what the quarterback needs to be chipping away at.
Commanding the huddle. Ohio State would huddle on the sideline at the start of drives, but after that, Haskins barely ever had to spit out a playcall. So Haskins is paying close attention to that when he’s listening to McCoy and Keenum.
“It’s very rhythmic to decipher, the pronunciation of words, the emphasis on certain tags on the play,” Haskins says. “At first, I was just calling the play off of remembering, trying to hear the play and say it right back, so I wouldn’t forget it. Instead of just being like, ‘here’s the formation,’ you have to make sure the guy knows the formation, then look at the line call and protection, and then go to the receivers, ‘zero is this, x-one is this, here’s the tag, running back, you have this.’ So it’s like a whole flowing of a phrase. ... It’s like an art. It’s pretty cool, especially when I got used to it—I’m calling it out, looking guys in the eyes, and I get a good break, and it gives reassurance that I can go to the line of scrimmage and call it.”
Snap-to-setup. Gruden liked Haskins’s demeanor in the pocket coming out and how tall he stood back there. But because he played almost exclusively from the shotgun in college, there’s absolutely been a learning curve with his footwork. And like any quarterback, there’s been work to do on what happens before the snap, too.
“Matching up your feet with the play concept, whether it’s play-action, seven-step drop, maybe it’s a quick five, three-step drop out of the ’gun, maybe it’s a rock-and-throw, quick five out of the ’gun,” Gruden says. “We’re just making sure we keep hammering those down so the feet match the concept of the play, so we can anticipate throws and be on time, and not late to certain things, or too early to certain things. And then also handling the protections, we change protections at the line a lot in this day and age, audibles and all that.
“He’s learned a lot and done a lot so far. There’s a lot more we can do but I’ve been impressed what he’s been able to do so far in being able to retain it.”
That, again, matches what Haskins’s reputation was coming into the NFL. At the beginning of last year at Ohio State, calls were coming in from the sideline. By the time he tore through rival Michigan, to the tune of 62 points, he was actually handling a lot of protection calls at the line, a sign of how much he’d progressed in three months, and his capacity to apply what he’s learning.
Risk management. The interceptions from the first preseason game of the season, of course, wenot great for Haskins’s chances of winning the job.
Gruden said the first one was a combination of a shaky decision by Haskins and shaky playcall on his part—“based on where the linebacker was, [the throw] should’ve been down the field more.” The second one was a feel thing, per Gruden. Haskins should have waited on the throw, rather than anticipating it and letting loose. Had he, he might have seen his tight end get jammed, which threw off the timing of the route.
Knowing where to place the ball on specific calls, and which calls to be patient on, and which to anticipate, are things, of course, that all young quarterbacks have to learn.
“Those are things we can clean up,” Gruden says. “But I like the way he came out in the third quarter, had a nice drive down the field and had a great throw on a scramble to Cam, and Cam just couldn’t get his hands on it. There’s a lot to like about what he did. But obviously the two interceptions, we gotta correct. And there’s a couple protection things with the line where we didn’t have a chance, because we blew a couple. We have to fix those.”
Gruden is confident the fixes will come with time. But if Haskins is going to win the job, time is running short.
So does the 21-year-old quarterback know where he wants to be at this point in his NFL career? His answer said plenty about his ambition, and his understanding for his current place.
“I’m nowhere near close,” he says. “I want to be a Hall of Fame-type of guy. That’s a process. I know that. I know it’s not going to happen overnight. I mean, I see flashes in myself every day, where I feel like I’m getting it. And then, you have one bad play, and you tell yourself, I just gotta keep pushing. It’s just a process.”
And he then remembered that at this time last year, Ohio State hadn’t even named him starter there yet. Since, he’s broken school records, traveled to New York for the Heisman ceremony, won Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships, and gone in the top of the half of the first round of the NFL draft.
That was a process, too, that involved little things like standing behind the offense before he ever started a game and envisioning what it would be like when he got his shot. It worked out pretty well the last time, which is good reason for Haskins to believe it will again. And that’s regardless of whether he’s starting, redshirting, or somewhere in between this year, which is understood by everyone.
“This is a one-year business,” Gruden says. “We have to figure out ways to be productive now. Landon Collins and these guys didn’t come here to try and develop a quarterback. They’re here to win, and whoever gives us the best chance to win will do it. And if that’s Dwayne, and we have to get him ready, so be it.”
For his part, Haskins feels ready for either outcome, mostly because neither would be new.
Let’s get to your mail …
From Clark Kent (@007ClarkKent): What’s going to happen with Washington LT Trent Williams’s saga?
I wish I could answer that, but I can say a few things definitively. One, Williams’s problem with the team goes deeper than money. Two, he’s had people explore his legal options, as to the team’s handling of his medical situations. Three, the Redskins aren’t keen on the idea of trading him. Jay Gruden said that for now, he’s approaching Williams’s situation like it’s an injury—“That’s the only way you can handle it.”
“I’m optimistic, but I’m realistic too,” Gruden says. “We have to get the guys ready who are playing, we have to get Geron [Christian] ready, we have to get [Donald] Penn ready or we have to move [Ereck] Flowers back to left tackle. We have to have one of those guys ready to go, and that’s just the way it is. But obviously, I’m very hopeful he comes back, because he’s one of our best players.”
On one hand, I think he could be a little tough to move. Most teams would need to clear cap space to acquire him, and to exacerbate that issue, he might demand a new deal—and that’s before you even get to the high-end capital it’d take to pry him. On the other, so many teams are desperate for offensive line help that I wouldn’t rule out someone taking a big swing at some point, similar to how the Cowboys took a chance on Amari Cooper last October when they figured out their plan at receiver post-Dez Bryant wasn’t getting it done.
From Kyle (@suavestish): Is Evan Engram a possibility at WR this year considering Golden Tate’s four-game suspension? And the Giants’ lack of talent at the WR position?
Hey Kyle—first of all, yes, I’m with you on the idea that Engram will pick up some of the work that the Giants planned on giving Tate in September. While the Giants have multiple guys adept in the slot (Sterling Shepard, too), Tate was probably going to see a lot of work there, and Engram’s actually more of a big slot than a receiver to begin with. So it’s not idea, but it’s not like the Giants don’t have contingencies.
As for the overall talent at the receiver spot, I’d agree that it’s not great—they’ve taken fliers on Broncos washouts Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler, among others, but I wouldn’t be overly worried about that. When a team is going through the kind of rebuild the Giants are, you want to build up the lines of scrimmage and find your quarterback first, and GM Dave Gettleman has been working on that.
Which is to say, I don’t mind that receiver is the spot at which the team will be patient.
From Matt Kardos (@mattkardos): Do you see the Jets being able to possibly trade for a solid CB before camp breaks? Given the lack of initial depth in tow and the recent hamstring injury to Trumaine Johnson only weakening the position, it has to be a huge concern for GM Joe Douglas.
Matt, the Jets would love to be in better shape at corner, but I don’t see Douglas giving away draft picks for short-term fixes right now. And I’m not sure it’s going to be a great market for buyers at that position this summer. If there’s one common theme I got over my camp trip from contenders, it’s the need for, and potentially aggressive trade market associated with corners. The issue is the few that have depth at the position won’t be keen on giving it up. New England, New Orleans, Dallas and the L.A. Rams are three teams that corner-needy clubs have been eyeing as potential trade partners. But with demand outpacing supply, you could surmise prices could be high.
So if you’re Douglas, and you’re trying to build out long-term, I’d say that’d probably be a tough market to involve yourself in.
From Coldwater (@king_of_fillory): How long does it look like Andrew Luck will be out of action for?
Coldwater, I don’t know, and I wish I did. When I talked to him in late July, it seemed like he was annoyed with the injury, but not debilitated by it. It’s not hard to see that, since, both Luck and the team have grown a little frustrated by it. And part of that is because a lot of the mechanical work he’s done was aimed at injury prevention—he’s trying to make sure he’s using his whole body when throwing the ball—and yet, here we are.
I’d also say I’ve learned through covering this Colts regime that they’re pretty honest about these things, and that’s why it’s bothersome that the injury has evolved the way they say it has. Two weeks ago, Luck knew his ankle was an issue, following months of identifying the problem as a calf injury. High ankle sprains, in particular, are no good. And you can throw what Jim Irsay said about the bone problem into the mix.
When I was told over the weekend that they’d give Luck’s injury time to calm down, that illustrated to me that they’re concerned with whatever the problem is getting worse, which isn’t the best place to be three-weeks-and-change from the opener. Maybe this will all be a lot of noise for nothing. Or maybe it’s going to continue to be a problem. We’ll see.
From Ryan (@tugboat31): Will the Jets defense be enough to lead them to a wild card if Sam Darnold is as good as advertised?
There’s a lot to like about the guts of the Jets defense, Ryan—right up the middle they’ve got Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, Avery Williamson, C.J. Mosley, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye—all guys in which the team invested either a lot of money or a high-end draft pick. So Gregg Williams has talent to work with. And questions to answer on the perimeter of the front and the secondary.
The team isn’t going to fix a corner or an edge-rusher deficiency in August. Those guys don’t grow on trees and are hard to find in March and April. Barring a massive swing at someone like Jadeveon Clowney, those spots are going to have to be managed through 2019. The good news, though, is that Williams is capable of covering up deficiencies creatively, so I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he finds a way to sneak this unit into the top 10 in total defense.
With that and a step from Darnold (who’ll benefit from playing for Adam Gase), how far does that get the Jets? I’d say right in the range of .500. I’d still be surprised if, even under those conditions, they make the playoffs.
From Jason (@jaygouveia20): Any thoughts on the Eagles this year?
Jason, I love where there talent is. And I’ll take you back to what Douglas said when asked about his decision to leave Philadelphia in June.
“Obviously, a really tough decision to leave Philadelphia because I really feel like that franchise, that football team, they're firing on all cylinders,” Douglas told me. “It’s as deep of a team as I’ve ever seen there, and that’s including the ’17 team. There’s a lot of good going on, and that made it a really tough decision.”
I think it’s illustrated with some of the young guys they have coming up at positions that are already well-stocked—like Dallas Goedert at tight end, or Miles Sanders at tailback—as proof of where the Eagles are. I haven’t done any final set of picks yet, but I’m leaning towards taking Philadelphia to make it to Miami next February.
From Texans Siri (@TexansSiri): What is the asking price for Clowney? If a team trades for him, does it have exclusive negotiating rights until free agency opens in March 2020, and could that team franchise tag him again to control him until a deal can be reached?
Siri, I don’t know what the asking price would be right now. What I can tell you—and I’ve found some disagreement on how available he was pre-draft—is that rival teams in the market for a pass-rusher were under the impression that they could probably have landed him for a second-round pick in April.
Could the Texans get that now? It’d be harder for reasons relating to your questions.
By rule, a team trading for him wouldn’t be able to sign him to a new deal until after its season ended. The window to extend him would be from that point in January/February to mid-March, with all the injury risk already taken by the player, and no real reason at that point for him not to go to the open market. A team, yes, could tag him again. But that’d cost somewhere between $18.53 million and $20.55 million (depending on whether or not he wins a grievance on being classified as an end and not a linebacker).
On top of that, it’d be hard for any team to take a lump sum of $15.44 million (the LB number) or $17.13 million (the DE number) on to its cap at this point in the calendar.
To sum this up, a team trading for Clowney has no way of getting assurances past this year, outside of an expensive franchise tag that would give Clowney the leverage to ask for a Khalil Mack-level deal six months from now. Which is to say, a team would really have to like him as a player to take that on and flip a pick or two to the Texans. And if you’re Houston, you’d probably want to do better than the third-round comp pick you’d likely get just keeping him for ’19 (and getting him ’19 production), and letting him walk next year.
From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): Finish this sentence: Daniel Jones will start __ games for the Giants this year?
Craig, I’ll give you some facts first. From 2008-18 (that’s 11 draft cycles), 32 quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Fifteen started right away, and 28 had started games by the 10th of rookie year. Only two were real, honest-to-God redshirts—Tennessee’s Jake Locker, and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (who started a meaningless Week 17 game for the Chiefs). The commonality? Both teams contended into December.
What that should tell you is that, really, team success is the biggest determining factor on any veteran’s ability to keep a first-round quarterback on the bench. So not only does Eli Manning have to play well to hold off Jones, he needs his team to do the same. Otherwise, the Giants will likely wind up like most in this spot—wanting to get a look at the young guy, and get him some experience, to start the process of planning for his second NFL season.
I’ll say Jones starts six games this year.
From Chris Hart (@Who_Harted): Do you think the exodus of coaches from New Englad manifests on the field in any noticeable way? Slower development of DL, WR, etc.?
Chris, I think you’re on the right track with that. I don’t think scheme will be a problem. Jerod Mayo is a capable apprenticing coordinator, and any bumps can be smoothed out with Bill Belichick there as a backstop. Obviously, Josh McDaniels is one of the league’s most accomplished offensive coordinators. And the team is stocked with vets on both sides of the ball. Those guys will be fine.
Where I think it could hurt them down the line is in the area that you mentioned—player development. The Patriots have had a nice pipeline over the years of guys who’d take some time to come around at first, but then hit their stride around Year 3 (Malcolm Butler, James White, Marcus Cannon and Logan Ryan were good examples as backups on the 2014 championship team). That’s a credit to the players themselves, of course. But it’s also the position coaches finding a way to get the most out of them.
Thing is, that’s probably something that you don’t see a resulting affect from for at least a year or two. But if there’s one area of concern with the Patriots’ staff attrition, I’d think it would be there. And it’s certainly possible that guys like Mayo, new secondary coach Mike Pelligrino and new outside linebackers coach DeMarcus Covington prevent it from happening.
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