Dave Choate: Is Dwayne Haskins starting the year as...well, the starter? It’s hard for me to imagine Case Keenum holding him off for a whole year, but what have been your impressions of the rookie?
Andrew York: The Redskins understood Dwayne Haskins was a very raw (but talented) prospect when they drafted him and Jay Gruden has repeatedly stressed the need to be “patient” with him. He only started one year at Ohio State and is still learning many nuances of the QB position, like calling protections at the line, cadence when calling plays, footwork, etc. At the same time, his arm talent is amazing (he can make throws our other QBs can’t), and he has all of the intangibles (work ethic, intelligence, charisma) of an NFL QB. All of this has played out in the practice reports we get from beat reporters and what we have seen in preseason games. In his game against the Browns week 1 of the preseason, his very first pass was a flick of the wrist that was perfectly thrown and sailed over 30 yards for a reception. At the same time, he threw 2 interceptions in that game, was slow to read the field, and later admitted that several of the unblocked rushers he faced were due to calling poor protections based on the defensive front. However, he is progressing very rapidly, already seeming to perform much better in his second preseason game than the first. The Redskins have a tough defensive schedule to start the season, facing the Eagles, Cowboys, Bears, and Patriots in the first 5 weeks. I think it might makes sense for the team to start Case Keenum week 1, but eye either our week 6 matchup against the Dolphins or our week 11 matchup against the Jets (which follows our week 10 bye) to put Haskins in. A lot will depend on his development though, which is hard to predict.
Dave Choate: Tell us a little more about the offense around him. Is Derrius Guice going to be ready or is this the Adrian Peterson show? Any exciting receiving options?
Andrew York: Guice has not played in any of the preseason games so far, but Jay has said he will make his debut this week against the Falcons. I expect he’ll only get very limited work this week, and Adrian Peterson will be the primary back early in the season (and AP looked good in his debut last week). However, I would expect the team to increase Guice’s workload as the season goes on and to employ a running back by committee, which Jay seems to favor over having a feature back.
In terms of pass catchers, Jordan Reed has been one of the NFL’s best receiving TEs when healthy, and has looked good so far in practice (but don’t expect him to play much in the preseason). Vernon Davis has also proven an underrated pass catching TE, who (like AP) hasn’t lost his speed, despite his age. Our WR corps is deep and young, but unproven, and we don’t have a WR1 along the lines of Julio Jones.
Instead, we have many mid-to-late round role players as well as 1st round pick (probably fair to say “bust”) Josh Doctson. Two WRs may be worth paying attention to in this game. Terry McLaurin was drafted in the 3rd round by the Redskins this year and played with Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State. He hasn’t been able to play much in the preseason due to a tailbone injury, but he possesses 4.3 speed and it’s possible he plays against the Falcons.
Robert Davis (relative of the former Panthers’ LB Thomas Davis) was drafted by the Redskins in the 6th round in 2017 and is a size/speed mismatch who fell due to playing at a small school and very raw route-running ability. But he has developed well since joining the team, and despite recovering from a devastating knee injury sustained last offseason, has bounced back to play and score a TD in each of our first two preseason games.
Dave Choate: I don’t know if it’s a touchy subject, but what happened with Trent Williams and how does that situation end? Are fans pro-ownership here or is there a sense that there’s something off with the way the team handles injuries?
Andrew York: The Trent Williams situation is complicated, all the more so because neither he nor the team has come out and directly said what his demands or problems are. The story that emerges from piecing together 2nd and 3rd hand reports and making some inferences is the following. Team doctors noticed a growth on Trent’s scalp about 2 years ago, determined that it was probably benign, but told him he should get it checked out in the offseason. They made some appointments for him that he didn’t keep because they made it sound like it wasn’t a big deal. He finally got it checked out this offseason by his own doctor, who told him it could be skin cancer and they need to operate right away. They removed the growth and a biopsy revealed it to be “precancerous”.
Now Trent is angry at the team’s medical staff because he doesn’t think they communicated the gravity of the situation to him and his life could have been in danger. The team maintains that they told him to get it checked out and set up appointments, which he didn’t keep. In addition to all of that, it is possible that Trent wants a new contract, since he is under contract for 2 more years at less than the current market rate for LTs (though he signed a front-loaded deal that payed him very well the past few years). However, people who have spoken directly to Trent seem to indicate his holdout is more about the medical scare than his contract, and he will not play for the team unless they fire their medical staff. I want to reiterate though, many of these details may be wrong, as much is based on indirect reporting.
Fans are split on the issue. On the one hand, most of us hate our owner Dan Snyder and Team President Bruce Allen and are not willing to give them any benefit of the doubt in a player dispute. On the other hand, Trent has been one of the highest-paid LTs in the NFL for several years now, and fans wouldn’t have much sympathy if he’s really just upset that he finally fell out of the top 5 highest compensated LTs (especially given his recent injury history). If his gripes really are medical, it’s hard for fans to judge because we don’t know all the details of the situation, but he doesn’t gain much favor with fans for saving his trade demands for after the draft, when his holdout will cause maximum damage to the team by giving them few options to replace him. And if the speculative story I constructed above is correct, then Trent deserves at least some of the blame for not keeping appointments the team made for him.
Right now, I think a bit more than 50% of fans think that we should trade Trent if he doesn’t want to be here, and a bit less than 50% of fans think we should do everything in our power to get him back. Fans are aware that the Redskins have been one of the most injured teams in the NFL for several years now, but the team invested millions of dollars into state of the art rehab and injury-prevention facilities last offseason and hired an independent research group to investigate our injury situation this offseason and make recommendations, and the group determined that our injuries were more the result of bad luck than anything else. It reminds me of the Ravens a couple of years ago, who went through several years of being one of the most injured teams in the NFL, then regressed back to the mean without making significant changes (firing medical staff, etc) because the injuries were just fluky.
Editor’s Note: Andrew followed up to say he thought Washington would trade Williams “grudgingly” in the next two weeks.
Dave Choate: Defensively, this team looks really intriguing from the outside. Who are the names to know here, and will we see any of them Thursday night?
Andrew York: The Redskins run a 3-4 defense, and 4 of the starters in our front 5 are 1st round picks. That includes DE/DT Jonathan Allen, DT/NT Daron Payne, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, and OLB Montez Sweat. Those 4, along with Matt Ioannidis (a late round gem at DE) will all be very interesting to watch. We would hope that they do a good job of stuffing runs up the middle while also getting pressure on the QB, and they looked pretty ferocious in limited action against the Bengals last week. Last year, teams (starting with the Falcons) learned that they could run on the Skins by simply running around the DL because our ILB were too slow to seal the edge, so Redskins fans will be watching to see if our new starting ILB corps do a better job of stopping runs around the edge. The Redskins also made a major FA acquisition this offseason signing safety Landon Collins, who looked good in limited work last week against the Bengals. And of course, former Panther Josh Norman is still playing CB for us, starting opposite promising converted WR (now CB) Quinton Dunbar. All of these players should be starting this Thursday. In addition to those starters, backup rookie slot CB Jimmy Moreland has been making some plays in the preseason, so Redskins fans will be looking forward to seeing him play with the 2s.
Dave Choate: What kind of season are you expecting from Washington? Is this a playoff team in an uncertain NFC East?
Andrew York: I think most Redskins fans recognize that we are a longshot to make the playoffs this year, especially if we are forced to play without Trent Williams. However, we were 6-3 and leading our division last year when Alex Smith went down to injury. Given that we managed that record largely due to our defense and running game (despite rather uninspired QB play from Alex Smith and even fewer weapons at WR), I think many fans are still hoping that we can have repeat success with what should be an improved defense and running game. If we can just get adequate play out of Case Keenum or if Dwayne Haskins develops quickly in his first year, we could perform better than most people are expecting. Either way, I think the most important measure of success for many Redskins fans will be Dwayne Haskins’ development. If he looks like the talented franchise QB we think he can be by the end of the season, then the season is a success regardless of record. Any wins on top of that are just gravy.