LANDOVER, Maryland – Dwayne Haskins had no sense of fear, no signs of any flinching, when he uncorked the 55-yard touchdown bomb under pressure. Linebacker Germaine Pratt of the Bengals was breaking free, wrapping an arm around the rookie quarterback from behind as Haskins located a free receiver deep down the left hash.
The Bengals safeties had faltered, fooled by the rookie's hard count, receiver Robert Davis was a stride behind them, and Haskins coolly delivered a strike right in stride. If anything, he made it look easy, not being able to fully stride forward, under less-than-perfect conditions. It could not have been any prettier. It captured his abundant arm talent, and poise, and it stood out like a beacon on a night of often brutal football filled with penalties by two teams, the Skins and Bengals, who are probably a lot closer to a full-blown rebuild than either would like to admit.
It was what Haskins did with his mind and his mouth that was, at this stage of his development, even more impressive than what he did with his arm on the TD throw.
"I was more proud of what happened pre-snap than anything," Haskins said after the game. "I did a hard count, showed rotation late, put the protection in and that was picked up. I still got hit but Rob did a great job of getting open. It was quarters coverage and I seen the (defensive back) back-peddling pretty slow, so I said, alright, we're going deep. I wasn't even worried about getting hit."
Coach Jay Gruden said: "The best part I liked was Dwayne handled the protection and did a great job."
For generations of football fans in these parts, beaten into apathy by a perpetually stumbling franchise, it showed hope of what might be to come. Might the Skins finally – after churning through high picks like Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell and RGIII and still not far removed from the Kirk Cousins saga – have a young, talented quarterback to build around? Haskins certainly flashed, and while he still has much to learn and the nuance of protections and checks and adjustments will most surely lead to him starting the season on the bench … it won't be for all that long (I'm still thinking around Week 6).
Haskins acquitted himself well, looking left and to the middle before taking off and running for positive yards when there was nowhere to go with the ball on his first drop back. Then he just missed a big gain on a nice play-action, again moving his eyes but just throwing the ball a little high (no issues with the velocity on that one, however – his ball oozes zip). Haskins entered late in the first quarter and went the rest of the way, going 7-for-14, missing a few open receivers down the right sideline later in the game, and was under pressure quite a bit, settling for one intoxicating highlight in the end.
"Dwayne shows flashes," Gruden said. "There were a couple of shots he rushed a little bit and didn't put enough air under it. But this is all a process for him. It was good to see him get out there and take some hits here and there and have him do the protections and get the running game going, call the plays. It's just the presentation that I am interested in right now."
With Williams trade inevitable, OL a massive concern
As I first reported back months ago, left tackle Trent Williams is entrenched in his position that he will never play for the Skins again, and if anything, the front office's ham-handed approach to his holdout has only exacerbated things. He does not trust this team's brass or its medical team, and a trade is inevitable. Numerous contending teams are interested, and the situation with Williams, based on everything I have heard, is past the point of no return. Oh, and in the meantime, Washington's offensive line is a total mess. Erick Flowers at guard next to Donald Penn (who was getting abused by guys who likely won't make the Bengals in the second half) at left tackle might get a quarterback or two maimed around here. It has to be a massive concern at this point.
Finley impressive; could he see more action than we thought?
I left Bengals camp -- and my conversation with coach Zac Taylor -- with the distinct impression he thought rookie QB Ryan Finley could be special. The kid certainly was Thursday night. He entered the game late in the first quarter backed up to his own end zone, and coolly led a 90-plus yard drive. He completed a great pass on third-and-long to start the drive, sensing pressure, sliding up away from pressure. He continued to carve the defense primarily in the middle of the field. He had a nice rhythm and tempo, found a few secondary receivers, showed nice mobility and very much looked the part, leading another scoring drive in the second half. On the night, Finley, who seems like the obvious No. 2 QB now with Jeff Driskell likely headed to a hybrid role, went 20-for-26 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. In what could be a lean year, and with a possible rebuild looming should the Bengals be as bad as I suspect, and with Dalton nearing the end of a very tradable contract, I can't help but wonder if the fourth-round pick seems more action that most would have expected this season.
Bengals' OL concerns growing
Of course, the Bengals' offensive line woes might be even more significant than Washington's, which in and of itself could prompt a QB change. Injuries and retirement have wiped out what was already a suspect unit. How comfortable would you be behind the grouping of Cordy Glenn, Michael Jordan, Trey Hopkins, John Miller and Bobby Hart? There were a bunch of early flags against the unit, including some holds that staved off serious pressure on the QB. "We had way too many penalties," Dalton said, with the flag-fest continuing for both teams well after that starting QB left the field. Even when 2018 first-round pick Billy Price slides in at center – and his health has been a concern since before he entered the league – there has to be massive concerns about this unit. There were multiple false starts (and six penalties on the starting unit in the first quarter alone) and against exotic defenses like the Steelers and Ravens, and with the Browns bolstering the defensive line, well, good luck.
More notes from Bengals-Redskins
- Lot of buzz about tight end Jordan Reed. He has been a story of Skins camp, and look for him to get a preponderance of targets early in the season. Of course, health has always been an issue with him, and concussions in particular, but regardless of the QB he is primed to start the season on a tear.
- With the Bengals still without starting receivers A.J. Green and John Ross – another huge area of concern for this team – it was more Cody Gore and Josh Malone with the starting offense. They had several young receivers flash throughout the night – albeit largely against backups – and are doing more with less given the injury situation. "We've been impressed by the receiver groups as a corps," Taylor said.
- Derrius Guice may have a hard time being ready for anything close to a heavy load early in the season. The Skins had massive plans for him last year after grabbing him in the second round, but he tore his ACL in August of last year. Guice's comeback has had some setbacks and he still is not cleared to play. With Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson in the fold, I wouldn't anticipate Guice in anything close to a featured role for a while.
- It might become a moot point due to the potentially ugly state of the offense, but I am very high on Washington's defense. Recent drafts have resulted in an influx of size and speed and this should be a top-10 unit. When they weren't committing a bevy of personal fouls on the opening drive they swarmed the Bengals' first-string offense, with safety Montae Nicholson returning a deflected Andy Dalton pass 96 yards for a pick-six on the opening drive. Problem is, with this offense, will it really matter?
- The Bengals' kickoff return team showed very well. They had a few big returns early in the game, and returned a punt for a TD late in the game, as well. Is that more on them, or a Skins special teams unit that has been brutal this summer? Time will tell.
- I sincerely hope this is the most inconsistent and maddening performance by any NFL officiating crew this season. If it's not, heaven help us all. Both coaches were repeatedly baffled by the decisions, for good reason.