CLEVELAND -- The 27-yard completion on the run to Darvin Kidsy. The strike in between two defenders down the left sideline. The laser to move the chains on third and long.
In his professional debut, Dwayne Haskins had moments where he looked like a first-round quarterback. He also endured his share of rookie mistakes, including a pair of interceptions in a 30-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the preseason opener.
Such is life for the 15th overall pick in the 2019 Draft. The Redskins have lauded Haskins' potential while understanding that adjusting to the NFL -- especially having started just one year at Ohio State -- can be an arduous process. On Thursday night, he took the next step in his development.
"There were moments that he looked very good," Gruden said. "Obviously, there are a couple throws there that he wishes he had back. There are a couple things with the protections that we need cleaned up. First start in the NFL, first opportunity to play -- it’s not going to go perfectly.”
In a performance that spanned most of the second and third quarters, Haskins completed 8 of his 14 passes for 117 yards and two picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He also showed off his mobility both when scrambling to escape collapsing pockets and when keeping the ball on a run-pass option.
Case Keenum, the second of three players competing for the starting job, began the game under center was responsible for the Redskins' first points of the season with a 46-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Robert Davis. Josh Woodrum played the final frame, while Colt McCoy did not play at all.
"It was good for [Haskins] to get the first one under his belt," Keenum said. "I thought he made some great throws. I thought there were some issues we had with our protection. When you feel like you should be protected and you still get blasted, to get back in the pocket and trust those guys -- because they’re playing their tails off -- and keep throwing the ball, slinging it like he did, I thought that showed a lot of poise.”
Haskins called his first NFL experience “different.” No longer was he at Ohio State, setting single-season school records with 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards passing. This was the pinnacle of the sport, and for nearly two quarters Thursday night Haskins took center stage.
“Just the atmosphere of the game, it was fun. I had a good time.”
With a larger audience came increased exposure, magnifying the highs and lows Haskins has experienced throughout training camp.
His opening series included a pair of first-down completions to Kidsy that highlighted his arm strength and precision. The second throw was particularly impressive.
"It was a go route, Cover 2," Haskins said when asked to explain the 32-yard dime. "The corner had eyes on me and tried to undercut my deep ball, so we'll take the upper one and go for the shot."
His second series, though, lasted just one play and resulted in six points the other way. Haskins admitted his fatal flaw -- he should have hit Byron Marshall over the top on the wheel route instead of trying a back shoulder throw -- and owned his mistake afterwards. But that did not prevent linebacker Mack Wilson from hailing in the interception, then rumbling 40 yards and into the end zone.
Haskins' performance was not much better to close out the half, as he took two vicious sacks and threw his second pick on a seam route intended for Matt Flanagan. But to Gruden, these are fixable issues. The first-round quarterback just needs to make sure he's on the same page as his receivers.
Coming off of a pair of turnovers, Haskins redeemed himself by way of a long scoring drive to begin the second half. The 14-play possession included several rushing plays -- one of which was a Haskins keeper -- as well as a third-down conversion through the air. Haskins appeared calm and poised throughout, determined to "get points on the board." He nearly delivered with six.
Facing 3rd-and-11 from the 17, Haskins spun out of trouble and rolled out to his left with multiple defenders in pursuit. He then contorted his body downfield, flicked his wrist and sent a missile towards the left edge of the end zone where only Cam Sims could catch it. The ball tipped off Sims' hands but was certainly catchable, at least according to Haskins.
“I was hot. I told [Sims] we'll get it next week."
While the misfire sent Haskins back to the sideline, his latest possession did not go to waste. Kicker Dustin Hopkins converted a 35-yard field goal moments later, bringing the Redskins within 17-10 and signaling progress for the first-round rookie.
"The big thing is that after [Haskins] struggled, we’ll take a look at the pictures, talk through what happened, and move on to the next series," Gruden said. "That’s our big thing. We don’t want to wallow around in the misery. We have to make sure we correct what we just saw and move on. Here’s what we’re expecting next series, and go from there. He put together a nice drive to start the third quarter, I thought. There’s some positives to take away.”