Dwayne Haskins' first start features growth, room to improve

BUFFALO -- As he stood at the podium answering questions Sunday, Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins projected something different than he had 10 days earlier. Perhaps it was a sign of growth; perhaps he just felt better about how he handled his first start, even if it had come in a touchdown-less defeat.

In Minnesota, following a struggle in relief, he spoke so low to reporters he could barely be heard from 5 feet away. The defeat and his own performance had dragged him down. On Sunday in Buffalo, he wasn't upbeat, but wasn't downcast. He liked a lot of what he did in the game, yet understands there is room for improvement. He was even-keeled, as teammate Terry McLaurin told him last week that he needed to be.

Interim coach Bill Callahan said he didn't yet know if Haskins would start after the bye week against the New York Jets. But, for the Redskins, Sunday represented a start. Haskins completed 15 of 22 for 144 yards in a 24-9 loss. There weren't any interceptions -- which was good; there weren't any touchdowns -- which didn't help.

"As the game went on I got more and more confident," Haskins said. "I was seeing the field better and better and there were things I saw before it happened. That's a part of playing quarterback and getting reps. I want to play natural and instinctive. I felt that going into this game. Hopefully I keep going the rest of the season."

Haskins showed some of what the coaches want: He ran a cleaner huddle and played with poise. It might be a low bar, but keep in mind this is someone many in the organization felt needed to sit all season. However, with Case Keenum sidelined because of a concussion -- and with no desire to play Colt McCoy, a quarterback many veterans would prefer -- they turned to Haskins.

One veteran said that even though other players might prefer another quarterback who could help them win now, he would understand and support the move. At 1-8, that makes sense.

"I don't want to step on nobody's toes," said another veteran, guard Ereck Flowers. "[But] I'd be fine with [Haskins]. I'd be fine with anybody, but a lot of people are excited for him. We want to see him do very good. Given the opportunity to prepare during the week he'll get a lot better."

To an extent, that's what happened in Buffalo.

"I thought he was really efficient in a lot of areas," Callahan said. "He managed the offense well. I like how he functioned in the pre- and post-snap. His reads were clean. I'm sure there he'd want a couple plays back, but overall he didn't force a lot of throws. It was a pretty efficient day."

Haskins didn't challenge Buffalo down the field, with only one pass that traveled 20 yards in the air -- an underthrown ball on a deep out. He said with a single-high safety playing deep, there weren't many great chances to do so. The Redskins were conservative, partly by design to help Haskins. One player called a lot of their plays "Day 1 installs." They wanted to make Haskins comfortable.

"We just wanted to manage the ball," Callahan said. "Not to be conservative, but just be effective and be efficient."

Haskins made a good throw against a blitz to receiver Paul Richardson on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter, throwing it almost sidearm around a free rusher. He picked up another third down with a nine-yard run. But they also want him to keep improving in protections, a tough but necessary area for a rookie. The Bills sacked him four times, once in part because of a free rusher -- Haskins later said he needed to slide the protection that way. He just didn't think he'd blitz. He also overshot an open Trey Quinn in the fourth quarter for what would have been a long gain.

"It wasn't all perfect," running back Adrian Peterson said, "but for a first start he did good. You can tell he was dialed in."

The coaches wanted him out of the huddle quick enough so he wasn't always snapping the ball late in the play clock; the ideal time was between six to 10 seconds. Only a few times did they snap it with one or two seconds left. They wanted him to look players in the eyes and project confidence.

Richardson said he liked that Haskins would look them in the eye. He liked that Haskins would talk to them on the sidelines about what they saw on a particular coverage -- whether it was man or zone; whether they felt they could win against a certain look.

"I got a lot of respect for how he handled it," Richardson said. "The fact that he was aware and trying to make his presence felt, you respect that out of a quarterback. That means he has a lot of confidence right now."

Callahan said he liked how Haskins transferred what he learned in the classroom onto the field. He also had a number of people in the organization giving him encouragement throughout the week, or letting him know what he needed to do. Before the game, Peterson told him to "own it."

Haskins is not a boisterous person and therefore is not always a big presence. But his energy was evident in pregame warm-ups, the way he greeted teammates or threw the ball or danced on occasion to the music or how he simply walked. He looked confident. There's a reason he said he felt that way.

"More laser-focused, more intense," Haskins said. "Something I took pride in and made it important."