- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Morgan Moses notices a difference. When the Washington right tackle is in the huddle listening for his quarterback to echo the play call, the plays are no longer mumbled, stumbled or jumbled. Now, the voice booms, spitting out the code clearly and concisely in a matter of seconds.

Dwayne Haskins, quite literally, is starting to speak up.

“You talk about a QB — you want him to stand tall, his shoulders tall, you want him to stand confident,” Moses said, “and I feel that with Dwayne.”

Haskins’ expectations this offseason went beyond learning a new playbook, losing weight and arranging workouts with wide receivers all across the country.

When coach Ron Rivera took over, he challenged the 23-year-old quarterback to become a leader after a rookie season that, in many ways, was about figuring out how the NFL worked.

But for his second year, Haskins was told that becoming the face of a franchise isn’t just about the work done on the field — it was about the way he conducts himself off it.

The conversation touched a nerve with the young Ohio State product.

Quarterback, after all, has always been linked to leadership on a footb all team, and it’s a position that Haskins had played since childhood. But leadership at the NFL level — that’s different.

Rivera tasked Haskins with setting an example for a locker room full of grown men — many older than him.

“You have to be able to sit down and look at yourself in the mirror,” Haskins said Tuesday, “and say ‘What did I do well and what did I not do well, what do I have to improve on and what do I have keep improving on and what are my areas of weakness … and how do I make those weaknesses my strengths and how do I make my strengths even stronger?’

“That’s something I worked on this offseason as far as self-awareness.”

Haskins said he looked at the way elite signal-callers like Tom Brady and Drew Brees command respect. When they walk into the room, Haskins said, the rest of the team knows they’re there. “I’ve been trying to master that same edge,” he said.

For Haskins, that means carrying himself with the confidence — swagger, even — expected of a starting NFL quarterback.

Even if Rivera has yet to officially give him the job.

Haskins said part of answering Rivera’s challenge meant making some changes in his personal life — though he declined to give specifics.

Self-awareness wasn’t always Haskins’ strength as a rookie.

During his first win, Haskins missed the final snap of the game because he was busy taking a selfie on the sidelines with a fan. There were other challenging moments, such as when his knowledge of the playbook was questioned.

But Haskins learned valuable lessons near the end of last season. As his play dramatically improved in the final weeks, he said he started to gain confidence and began to feel more in command in the huddle.

Those games gave him insight into what it takes to be a successful NFL-level starter.

In the offseason, Haskins said he tried to make more “calculated decisions,” on everything from choosing the right workouts, to working with top receivers and thinking about where to spend the offseason.

The coronavirus pandemic, in particular, meant that Haskins had to be aware of when and where to throw, he said.

The whole process was about trying to lead by example and all along, he said he hoped teammates and others would notice.

The plan appears to be working.

“Seeing his change and development over the years has probably been the most impressive thing that I’ve seen from a rookie guy that pretty much everybody had written off,” Moses said.

Added Rivera: “He’s being very professional about the way he’s handling himself.”

The test, of course, will be for Haskins to translate everything he’s learned onto the field. He’ll have to be just as commanding on game-days as he appeared to be in the offseason. And he’ll have to the production to back those demands.

But on Tuesday, with a week still before Washington puts on pads for the first time, Haskins seemed comfortable.

He remembered the advice that coach Ryan Day gave him at Ohio State: Leadership was about having more than “one club” in his bag.

There are different personalities on a team, and the job of a leader is to be able to relate to any of them in different moments, Haskins said.

“You have to be versatile in how you lead and also gain that respect,” Haskins said. “If you don’t have respect, no one’s going to listen to you or really follow you, so that’s all I’ve been trying to do is earn that.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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