- - Friday, August 16, 2019


NFL action – or at least the facsimile known as exhibition football – returned to FedEx Field Thursday for the first time since December, when Philadelphia laid a 24-0 whupping on the Washington Redskins.

Philadelphia will be the opponent in three weeks, when the regular season begins and everything matters. By then, the details of preseason game No. 2 will be long forgotten, as will roughly three dozen players who suited up in the ‘Skins 23-13 loss against Cincinnati.

But there is one memory worth savoring, a treat that made attendance worthwhile, Members of the sparse crowd have bragging rights for life.

Facing third-and-8 from his own 45-yard line, rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins took a shotgun snap shortly before halftime and dropped back. Pressure came pouring in from his blind side, with a pair of Bengals rushers blazing past either side of left tackle Geron Christian Sr.

Christian picked up the blitzing cornerback, which gave linebacker Germaine Pratt a clear lane to the passer. Haskins was being enveloped in a bear hug around the waist as he cocked his right arm. But the rookie hung in, stood tall, and delivered a beautiful strike, hitting Robert Davis in stride at the 20-yard line.

Davis had beat his man by several strides and pranced into the end zone untouched. It was Haskins‘ first NFL touchdown and he reacted as such, skipping to the end zone for a celebration and congratulations.

“It was exhilarating,” Haskins said. “It was fun. I will never forget it.”

Coach Jay Gruden was pleased with the quarterback’s protection call, which provided just enough time. “He did a good job of standing in there,” Gruden said. “It’s not easy to plant your foot and throw the ball 65 yards, knowing you’re going to get hit.”

Gruden noted that Haskins offered a lot to like, and a lot to clean up. The coach is most concerned at the moment with presence and presentation, how Haskins handles the offense at the line and in the huddle. The rest is a matter of funneling natural talent into the ‘Skins scheme against opposing defenses’ counterattacks.

“He showed some flashes and a couple of balls I think he rushed a little bit,” Gruden said.

Haskins‘ final numbers were an improvement compared to his debut. Last week against Cleveland, he was 8-of-14 for 117 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. Against Cincinnati, he was 7-of-14 for 114 yards, the TD, three sacks and no picks. His QB rating was 101.5 versus 44.9 the week before.

The incremental progress is clear. The talent has been evident from the start. The thought of starting him in the season opener remains tantalizing, even as seemingly every former ‘Skins player advises otherwise.

Granted, going with Case Keenum or Colt McCoy is the safer play. The risk of catastrophe would be lower.

But so would the chance of great reward.

McCoy is hurt (surprise) and has yet to play this preseason. Entering his ninth NFL season, we know exactly what to expect and it’s nothing to get excited about. Keenum also has eight years in the rearview mirror; we have the book on him and it’s not a bestseller.

Considering that Gruden is coaching for his job, he likely would detest going through Haskins‘ growing pains, taking lumps that the next coach would avoid. If Washington is strictly in win-now mode, I get it.

The thing that disturbs me, however, is the notion of Haskins being so fragile that early struggles would lead to career-long mediocrity (at best) if he starts too soon. To hear some commentators’ warning, he’d crack like Humpty Dumpty and never be whole again.

I don’t think Haskins is that delicate. The NFL annals are replete with examples of first-year starters who laid an egg. Some kept on clucking and some turned golden. None were necessarily “ready.”

But you can’t tell who will flounder evermore and who will eventually prosper just by looking at them.

“It’s fun to watch him right now,” Gruden said. “He’s a work in progress and he’s going to continue getting better and better.”

Haskins was better in his second exhibition compared to his first. Theoretically, he’d show improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 as well. By that logic, the quicker his era begins, the quicker he’ll be better.

Gruden believes probably he doesn’t have time to wait.

But a little patience early could lead to a bigger payoff, sooner rather than later.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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