Kelvin Harmon and Dwayne Haskins Jr. spent this past offseason working out together at Mamba Sports Academy in California, where they talked at length about what it would be like to be NFL teammates.
The chemistry and familiarity were already there; Haskins and Harmon grew up in New Jersey, attended similar 7-on-7 camps and crossed paths throughout the recruiting process. And while Haskins attended Ohio State and Harmon chose to play at N.C. State, the duo converged at Kobe Bryant’s multisport training center to prepare for the NFL.
“We hung out, and I caught a lot of balls from him during that time for like six months when we were training,” Harmon said. “That definitely helped us out now."
That connection is paying dividends for the Washington Redskins as they search for offensive continuity. Haskins is coming off his first-career home start against the New York Jets last week, and he looked for Harmon more than any other receiver. The result was six targets, five receptions and 53 receiving yards for the sixth-round rookie, which were all career highs in his first-ever NFL start.
“Having known both of them for years before even coming to the Redskins is really great for our relationship as a quarterback and receiver,” Haskins said about Harmon and former college teammate Terry McLaurin. “They come to me to talk about anything, I talk to them about anything and it’s really great because we have a great relationship.”
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Harmon is perhaps the most physically imposing wide receiver on the roster. That size benefits Harmon in a multitude of ways, Haskins said, from blocking to running routes to making contests catches. He’s tall enough to highpoint the ball over defenders and big enough to box out smaller cornerbacks on underneath routes.
Interim head coach Bill Callahan touched on his size and physicality Wednesday before rattling off several more compliments: good hands, large catch radius, ability to run the short and intermediate routes and gain separation in man coverage.
“He has all the traits and skills you look for in a wide receiver,” Callahan said. “Now it’s a matter of grooming him and his techniques against the week-to-week competition that he’s schemed against, the type of corners he’s going to be faced up against.”
Take a look at practice photos from Thursday's practice for the upcoming Jets home game.
Harmon said he’s leaned heavily on wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard for help simplifying the game and easing the nerves associated with being a rookie in the NFL. He used to text Hilliard constantly in the months after he was drafted, asking questions and receiving tips in hopes of expediting his development. “He probably will text me a little too much,” Hilliard joked during training camp, “which I enjoy.”
Harmon said the messaging has died down since the season started. His thirst for information is now satisfied on the practice fields, in the meetings rooms and by talking to coaches and teammates, such as veterans Paul Richardson and Vernon Davis as well as fellow rookies in McLaurin and Haskins.
McLaurin’s emergence has been particularly inspiring for Harmon as he attempts to carve out a role in the Redskins’ offense.
"It definitely gives [you] confidence being able to feed off of each other and knowing that we’re young but we can still go out there and get it,” Harmon said of McLaurin, who leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. “To see him have success as he's doing, that definitely builds my confidence knowing eventually I’m going to be I'm playing with a guy on the other side who's gonna be tearing a defense up. We're gonna make it easier for each other."
While McLaurin has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best rookie receivers, Harmon had to take a “little bit of a longer route,” according to Hilliard. Through seven weeks, there was one game during which Harmon played more than 25% of the offensive snaps. During that stretch, he caught just six passes for 57 yards.
But over the past two games, Harmon has played a much more offensively. Despite making one catch in Week 9 against Buffalo, his 53% of the snaps were more than Richardson, who is listed ahead of him on the team’s depth chart. Two weeks later, Harmon made his first-career start in the place of the injured Richardson and hauled in five of his six targets, showcasing his reliability for a team in need of another consistent pass-catcher.
"He plays fast and he plays physical," offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell said of Harmon. "The game is never too big for him as long as he knows what to do. He handles his roles with detail. ...For the most part I think he’s caught the ball really well, and he’s finished with the ball in his hands."
In praising Harmon, O'Connell described a play from the fourth quarter of the Jets game. It was 2nd-and-10 and the Jets were bringing a blitz, which did not give Haskins much time to figure where to go with the ball. Luckily, Haskins recognized the blitz and knew Harmon was running a slant on the left side, making for an easy pitch and catch that Harmon eventually took for a 12-yard gain. On the next play, Guice rumbled his way for a 45-yard touchdown.
It's unsure how Harmon will be used going forward, especially since Richardson is on track to play this week against the Detroit Lions. Harmon is a solid blocker on the outside, which means he'll likely be used a lot when the Redskins decide to run the ball. As for his receiving potential, he's prepared for any and all responsibilities he's given.
"It's a blessing to get an opportunity to go out there and play and fill my role," Harmon said. "It was good going out there and seeing the [quarterback], the [offensive coordinator], everybody trust me to give me those targets, those opportunities."