Redskins Quarterback camp battle
By Josh Edwards
The Redskins face difficult choices at Quarterback this preseason.
With the start of Redskins training camp in Richmond Virginia last week, one of the league’s most intriguing quarterback battles officially began. On the first day of camp Head Coach Jay Gruden confirmed that the three contenders, veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy and rookie Dwayne Haskins, would split first-team reps three ways until a starter surfaced.
Earlier in the off-season, senior VP of player personnel Doug Williams admitted that the decision to name a starter would be a group one. In the same breath he mentioned himself, Gruden, owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen. Three distinctly unique quarterbacks and a convoluted collective decision making process making for a fascinating camp battle. Let’s take a look at the protagonists for the leading role in D.C.
The case for Case: Case Keenum
Years on Team: 0 (acquired via trade March 2019)
Career Stats: 54 starts (24-28), 12,661 yards, 64 TDs, 42 INTs, 62% CP
Before drafting Haskins in April, the Redskins made a pro-active QB move to ensure they had at least one signal-caller on the roster not recovering from a broken leg (McCoy & Smith). They sent a 7th round pick to Denver for Case Keenum, who was surplus to requirements following the Broncos signing of Joe Flacco from Baltimore. Keenum finished last year in Denver with a disappointing 6-10 record, throwing 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Despite such a poor season out west, Keenum has the significant advantage of experience. Though he will have to learn Jay Gruden’s offense from scratch, he has started double the amount of games as McCoy (54 to Colt’s 27). His experience is also objectively more meaningful, highlighted by leading Minnesota to a 13-3 season in 2017 before losing to eventual Super Bowl champs Philadelphia in the NFC title game. Keenum finished that season with 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 7 picks. Though buoyed by a fantastic defense and run game, Keenum was consistent and effective. Relative to McCoy and the rookie Haskins, he certainly has the most impressive resume.
Gruden’s scheme is a good fit for Keenum too, who is mobile and confident in a quick release, West Coast-esque offense. Though not a sexy proposition, given the lack of proven receiving options and the likely reliance on the run, it’s probably Keenum’s job to lose over the course of the next month.
The teacher's pet: Colt McCoy
Years on Team: 5 (signed in free agency April 2014)
Career Stats: 27 starts (7-20), 5,958 yards, 29 TDs, 26 INTs, 60.5% CP
Jay Gruden has made no secret of his admiration for Colt McCoy over the years. Prior to the start of the 2018 season Gruden would have been happy enough rolling with McCoy following Kirk Cousins’ departure. However, the front office traded for Alex Smith without consulting Gruden.
Despite Gruden’s respect for McCoy he has had a poor career as a starter, winning just 7 of his 27 starts, while completing 60.5% of his passes with a TD-INT ratio of 29-26. He has also been blighted by injuries, many of which have been due to a penchant for aggressively extending plays with his legs and a risky but endearing no-fear attitude. Last year, when Smith went down his broken leg, McCoy made a promising start. His first pass was a touchdown to TE Jordan Reed and the Redskins offense looked like it had finally been sparked, if only temporarily.
The following week against Philadelphia, McCoy broke his right fibula after an ill-advised scramble led to a Malcolm Jenkins sack. Just like that, his season was over before it really began. Coaches and players alike were visibly upset by McCoy’s injury. The well-loved Texan having once again lost the opportunity to secure the starting job for himself.
Much of Gruden’s love for McCoy is due to his command of the offense and scheme fit. A gunslinger with the ability to extend plays (occasionally to his detriment), McCoy is unafraid to make the throws in to tight windows to which Kirk Cousins was so adverse, much to Gruden’s frustration. Despite his record, proneness to injury and concerns over his rehabilitation from the fibula break, Redskins fans shouldn’t rule out the possibility that McCoy is finally given his starting opportunity if Keenum and Haskins fail to adequately impress.
The future is... now?: Dwayne Haskins
Years on Team: 0 (drafted 15 overall, April 2019)
College: Ohio State
Career Stats: n/a
Coaches are already impressed with Maryland native and 1st round pick Dwayne Haskins. His arm strength and accuracy were on show during rookie minicamp and former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams praised his patience and poise. Newly promoted OC Kevin O’Connell openly commended his work ethic and attitude. Gruden was positive too, citing ‘wow plays’ and pocket presence. For Redskins fans, many of the compliments felt in direct contrast to the team’s last 1st round QB Robert Griffin III, who cast a magic spell over media and fans in his rookie offseason despite underlying concerns about playing style and attitude.
Nevertheless, Haskins only played one season of College Football at Ohio State, and has to learn a brand new and complex pro-style system. He has a long way to go in a short off-season to show enough promise to displace the veteran competition. There are also concerns about how Haskins handled pressure at Ohio State. He had a 90.4 passer rating with a clean pocket but just 56.7 when pressured.
It is definitely a case of when, not if, Haskins takes the reins. Across the league the jury is out as to when is best to start a rookie quarterback. For example, Kansas City might be regretting sitting Patrick Mahomes in his rookie year given his transcendent talent. Even if Haskins surpassed all expectations, the Redskins are a long way from making a deep playoff run, so what’s the rush?
Patience the better part of valour for Washington
The smart money is on Case Keenum starting Week 1. Throwing any rookie QB into their first NFL start in such a hostile environment as Philadelphia on the road is probably not worth the risk. Dallas, Chicago, the Giants and New England follow the opener, in a difficult 5 game opening stretch for the Redskins. McCoy might be Jay’s golden boy but returning from his injury might limit his opportunities in Richmond and the organisation won’t want to risk having to bring in further quarterbacks because they rushed Colt back too early.
Another reason why Keenum could be the more likely choice is the state of the Redskins offensive line. Trent Williams still hasn’t reported for camp and if Jason La Canfora’s report is to be believed, he has vowed never to play for the team again. This raised the terrifying spectre of the team starting former Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers (gulp). However, the addition of Donald Penn this last week does offer some small light at the end of the tunnel for the quarterbacks.
However, if Williams returns and Haskins can prove a confident command of protections and terminology throughout camp, there is enough reason to think that Gruden and co. will brave an early baptism of fire, even if it means a limited offensive scheme to begin with. If there isn’t much to choose between the three, there’s a strong argument that blooding Haskins earlier gives the team as much chance of success as any other available option, even if the floor is lower.
Don’t expect the Redskins to rush the announcement, but some clues will be forthcoming soon enough. Gruden is honest and affable and talks transparently about how his players are progressing in camp. All eyes will be on Richmond in the coming weeks and, for once, it might be worth watching pre-season games. Barring injuries to any of the quarterbacks on the roster, we’re in for a captivating ride.
Image Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports