When Jay Gruden was in one of those Jay Gruden moments of honesty right after the Washington Redskins drafted quarterback Dwayne Haskins out of Ohio State in the first round, he blurted out, “We have quarterback competitions going out the ying-yang right now.”
When your owner decides the quarterback you draft with the team’s first selection, it can provoke moments of honesty.
But that was nearly three months ago. Gruden has had more than enough time to live with Dan Snyder’s latest hand-picked quarterback, and the coach is on board with the quarterback competitions “going out of the ying-yang” as training camp opens in Richmond.
“We need to give these guys ample opportunity at every position: outside linebacker, inside linebacker, safety, corner, receivers, running backs, tight ends, linemen,” Gruden told reporters Wednesday on the eve of the opening of camp. “We got to give these guys opportunities to make plays and see which one is the best. It might come down to the wire. It might come down to Saturday before the Philly game. Who knows, but I feel confident in every one of our quarterbacks. They have a skill set that is beneficial to help this team win games. It comes down to which one will give us the best chance to win week one against a division rival.”
That’s not as easy as it sounds. Quarterback debates are nothing new in Washington — it seems to be part of the franchise DNA. Actual competitions are a little less common.
A competition with three quarterbacks? That is even rarer.
The last time Gruden presided over a quarterback competition here, it was a secret battle, allegedly among three quarterbacks — Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy, even though Gruden, in his famous Indianapolis hostage video at the 2015 combine, declared Griffin the starter one month after he said there would be an open competition for quarterback.
Why the secrecy?
“I didn’t want to come to every press conference and [answer] who was starting,” Gruden told reporters after naming Cousins the starter following the third preseason game in 2015. “We put it to bed. We named Robert the starter. We gave him the first reps with the guys but when you do that, you still have to compete. There’s still competition. We just wanted to put all the distractions decide, play football, let these guys go out and compete and they did that and all three did some great things like I said. I’m confident with all three of them but I feel the best with Kirk and that’s where we’re going.”
The reality was a lot more complicated than just the burden of honesty. There was a sales pitch that then-GM Scot McCloughan had to make to Snyder to convince him to allow his football people to bench Griffin. Cousins was an easier sale than McCoy, who the coach may have preferred — if it had been up to him.
McCoy was upset that he was kept in the dark that there was a competition for the starting job following Gruden’s declaration of Griffin being the starter back in February. I asked him in November 2015 if he was aware there was an open competition for the job. McCoy answered, “I’ll just say that I didn’t know. … That’s a hard question to answer without just being straight forward and blunt. Did I know that it was a competition like that? No. No.”
Now, supposedly, there’s another quarterback competition. This one is all out in the open. Between now and perhaps that Saturday before the season opener against the Eagles on Sept. 8 at Lincoln Financial Field, Haskins, McCoy and Case Keenum are going to have to get enough work in practice and preseason games for Gruden to make his judgement — if indeed the head coach is going to be the judge.
The “quarterback competitions going out the ying-yang” reference Gruden made may have been meant for the competition for who decides the Redskins starting quarterback this season.
Either way, Gruden has his work cut out.
It will be a challenge to get all three contenders enough repetitions in practice — given the limited time available for such work, less than in years past thanks to the collective bargaining agreement reducing practice time. When asked about giving each one of the three even reps in practice, Gruden answered, “It will be close.”
The limited work opportunities would seem to favor McCoy, who has been here for all five of Gruden’s seasons since 2014, and who is very much respected and admired not just by the head coach, but the locker room as well.
Gruden has said repeatedly that he is very comfortable with McCoy running his offense because McCoy knows the way Gruden wants it run. Keenum came here in a trade in March and is still learning the offense. Haskins is a rookie who started 13 games at Ohio State, and presumably would have the most to learn of the three.
If all three get the same amount of work, it figures that McCoy has the edge.
Of course, there is far more at play here — factors that may have little to do with what each quarterback can do on the field. But this time Gruden, if he indeed has a spine, will have a hard time looking McCoy in the face if he is excels in camp but is passed over yet again.
In addition to their history, it appears that the Redskins nearly crippled McCoy after he suffered a broken fibula in early December. They tried to rush him back for the final game of the season, and now, three surgeries later, despite the team’s best efforts to try to cripple him, McCoy is ready to take the field in Richmond and compete.
That is, if there is a real competition.
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