Starting quarterback Case Keenum received an off day on Wednesday, meaning that for the first time in his career, Dwayne Haskins took all of the first-team practice reps. And while Haskins returned to the backup role Thursday and will assume that responsibility on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, interim head coach Bill Callahan viewed the session as a "major step" for the first-round rookie.
"it’s invaluable for a backup to take starting reps, especially at the beginning of the week in terms of putting your plan together and laying it out there and making all the adjustments, whether it’s new communication, new formations, handling the shift-motion game," Callahan said. "I thought he did a really good job today, so his growth is starting to show in practice and also in his preparation. He’s in earlier, he’s out later, so it’s all coming to fruition."
In speaking to the media Friday, Haskins said the session went great and that he enjoyed "running the show" without worrying about being replaced. Offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell liked what he saw, too, highlighting Haskins' ability to get the offense in and out of the huddle and adding that he did a "really, really good job overall."
Since the New York Giants game, when Haskins threw a trio of interceptions in relief of Keenum, O'Connell said Haskins has gained a better understanding of what it means to be a backup while still working to develop into an NFL starter. In O'Connell's mind, Wednesday's practice was indicative of that shift in mindset.
"After that Giants game when he got in there a little bit -- I think he feels the urgency of the next phase for him which is his preparation," O'Connell said. "Not wasting a minute in his preparation for not only the 49ers this week, but just his daily routine, his daily practice habits, what he’s doing with [quarterbacks coach] Tim [Rattay] and coach [Matt Cavanaugh] out there on the field, what he’s doing after post-practice. All of those things are helping him capitalize on his work day."
Keenum aiming to be sharper, especially on third down
A run-heavy game plan limited Keenum to 166 passing yards against Miami, though he did connect with Terry McLaurin for touchdowns of 25 and 33 yards, respectively, and also hit the rookie wide receiver for a lengthy gain on third down late in the game. On another play, McLaurin dropped an on-target pass for what would have been a significant pick-up.
Still, Keenum completed just 13 of his 25 passes in the 17-16 win. The Redskins also completed just two of their 11 third downs, bringing their season conversion rate to 23.44%. Only the New York Jets have been worse.
Keenum admitted in his weekly press conference Thursday that he must improve in both areas, especially going up against the 49ers' top-ranked passing defense (150.0 yards allowed per game).
“In a few of my progressions my eyes were in a bad place," Keenum said. "They mixed up some looks, did some stuff disguising some things, but still that’s no excuse. I need to be sharper, especially on third down. The way we were able to run the ball and get to the third downs we had, we need to make sure we convert and stay on the field. When our defense is playing like that, we’ve got to keep them on the sideline."
Chris Thompson, Vernon Davis out vs. San Francisco; Josh Norman questionable
The Redskins will be without two of their offensive weapons Sunday against the 49ers: running back Chris Thompson and tight end Vernon Davis.
Thompson, who is the team's second-leading receiver with 27 receptions for 276 yards, will sit out the Week 7 showdown with a toe injury he suffered against Miami last weekend. Meanwhile, Davis will miss his third straight game after sustaining a concussion versus the New York Giants on Sept. 29. Davis has caught 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown so far in 2019.
The offensive game plan "always changes without [Chris Thompson]," O'Connell said Friday. "Since I got here, he’s definitely been a safety net for me in a lot of ways because I always know he’s going to be there in protection, I always know we can try to work him in in the pass game and he’s very, very good in some aspects of our run game.'
Luckily, the Redskins view preseason signee Wendell Smallwood as a versatile player who can fill in for any running back if needed. Smallwood is prepared for the increased opportunity.
"I've just been doing a bunch of everything," said Smallwood, who enters Sunday with 11 offensive touches for 58 yards. "I do whatever Chris does, I do whatever [Adrian Peterson] does. I turn around and do it right behind them. Just learning the whole offense and not boxing myself by doing just what Chris does or just what AP does. I've been trying to do everything so that way if somebody steps out or somebody goes down, I'll be able to do it."
Elsewhere, the Redskins will turn to tight ends Jeremy Sprinkle and Hale Hentges in Davis' absence. And if Norman cannot play because of a thigh/hand issue, the team will likely move cornerback Fabian Moreau to the outside and slide seventh-round rookie Jimmy Moreland into the slot.
Callahan singles out a pair of reserves
Throughout the week, Callahan took some time to highlight two players who have made positive contributions recently.
On Monday, Callahan singled out Jeremy Reaves for his special teams prowess in place of the injured Deshazor Everett, who missed the Miami game with an ankle injury. The Redskins activated Reaves from the practice squad the day before the game, and the second-year free safety played 87% of the special teams snaps against the Dolphins. With Everett ruled out for Sunday's game, expect that percentage to be similar against the 49ers.
"He came in, stepped in as the personal punt protector, made all the calls, put everybody in the right spots, covered not only in the punt, but also in the kickoff cover and made a tackle inside the 20. That was really impressive," Callahan said of Reaves. "You’ll see him go down the field, you’ll see him cut the blockers, he’ll swerve, he’ll slip and he makes a big-time play. ... He was ready mentally with Deshazor’s injury and boom, he came in and answered the bell and really lifted our team."
Later in the week, Callahan chose to highlight middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. In a season-high 32 defensive snaps against the Dolphins, Hamilton recorded two tackles (one for loss), a quarterback hit and a pass breakup. He also recorded his first-career interception in the third quarter, helping set up a short field goal that put the Redskins ahead, 17-3.
"This morning we came out of the special teams walkthrough and I grabbed [Hamilton] and was visiting with him because I was impressed by the play he made in the Miami game," Callahan told reporters Friday. "He didn’t make the tackle on a pursuit play on a screen, but he came out of left field and you could see him flash across the screen. If you get a chance to watch that play, you’ll see it. It’s an impressive looking play. You can see his talent, see the speed, the range and the playmaking ability. So those are aspects that he has, just becoming a more consistent player and becoming a more productive player with his opportunities, I think he’s taking advantage of that."