Dwayne Haskins taking 'baby steps' to win starting job

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins' future was on display Monday.

During a workout, it looked like this: Quarterback Dwayne Haskins, taking a snap from under center, rolling to his right and stopping to throw a deep out to the left side with the receiver (Monday it was Cam Sims) catching it in stride. The presence. The big arm. The ease of the throw. Haskins is already displaying the traits that led him to be the 15th pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

The present, though, could look like this: Case Keenum, a smaller, physically less-gifted passer making smart throws here and there and mixing in a deep ball. One deep pass Monday hung up and was defended, but his ability to move was evident and it's hard to fully appreciate what his improvisation skills and experience will mean come September.

Of course, Haskins could be the present and the future -- the father of team president Bruce Allen once coined the phrase "The Future is Now." But two weeks ago, coach Jay Gruden said he's using this time to see if Haskins will be a serious competitor in training camp for the Week 1 job. And Colt McCoy, when healthy in training camp, will enter the competition. For now, it's about little steps for Keenum and Haskins -- both of whom are new to the Redskins.

"They have to learn the system first, then go out here and participate in practice and then produce and make the right reads and throws," Gruden said. "It's going to be a process. It's the very, very beginning."

Haskins (6-foot-3, 231 pounds) looks the part and has what scouts and coaches refer to as "special arm talent." Keenum has been a scrapper who keeps surviving to advance in the NFL. Even when he was producing for Minnesota two years ago, there were always questions about coach Mike Zimmer's commitment to him as the starter. After one season in Denver, Keenum was traded to Washington.

On Monday, Haskins threw one pass that was tipped and intercepted. Otherwise, he threw on time and in rhythm. His passes led targets into more yards when available. There's so much for Haskins to learn, starting with the rest of the offense. He hasn't come close to learning the entire playbook yet; they've been focused on adding details to the plays he does know. Haskins' football intelligence has always been a strength.

"I know what I'm doing with my eyes in the right place," Haskins said. "When you know where your eyes are supposed to be, it makes it a lot easier being able to read safety keys and read protections. You play fast when you know what you're doing. Like I said, it's all in the makings of watching film, studying after hours, and playing. When I'm on my P's and Q’s, I feel pretty good about it."

But Haskins not only needs to learn the Redskins' offense, he also has to learn new terminology; how to read an NFL defense; how to call plays in the huddle, something he didn't have to do at Ohio State. Keenum just needs to learn a new offense, one that he says has some similarities to what he ran in Minnesota.

"Very quarterback-friendly," Keenum said of Gruden's offense. "I'm trying to soak it up, all that I can, and apply what I've known in my experience and what I've known and done before. I'm coming at this with a fresh start."

Keenum and Haskins met at the Super Bowl -- before Keenum was traded to Washington. Keenum said last month he was excited to work with Haskins. And Haskins said being around Keenum, McCoy and still-injured Alex Smith will help. Haskins -- who is well aware of how Smith helped Patrick Mahomes as a rookie in Kansas City -- had not yet met Smith as of Monday.

"I feel like it's going great. I've got to take baby steps since I'm still a rookie and it won't happen overnight," Haskins said.

In truth, this is only a short-term competition. At some point, it will be Haskins' job for the long term -- neither McCoy nor Keenum is signed beyond 2019. It's up to Keenum or McCoy to postpone the start of Haskins' tenure.

"We have to grade them based on production out here every day," Gruden said. "Every day is a new grade, every day you see how they're developing, see how they're getting better, see if they're making the same mistakes over and over. But it's a process; this is the first time Dwayne has had a chance to call plays in a live huddle and go after a live defense, and this is the first time Case has had a chance to do that with the Redskins terminology."

Gruden doesn't expect perfection. He's just going to monitor the situation.

"Somebody is going to rise, I would think," he said. "... I'm sure it will be a good, lengthy competition."