ASHBURN, Va. -- The little kid in the front row quickly raised his hand, only to be ignored by the coach. Three times in a row. At this invite-only camp for quarterbacks, the coach would show a picture of a defense, quizzing the quarterbacks on the pre-snap read. The pattern went like this: The middle-schooler's arm shot up first; the coach called on one of the many older quarterbacks in the room.
But Dwayne Haskins, the youngest quarterback in the room, persisted. And the coach finally relented. So on the fourth time, after posting another picture, the coach finally called on Haskins.
"It's quarter, quarter, half, coach," he said, correctly identifying the secondary's coverage.
"You can tell the kid is sharp, he's engaging and has a great personality." Doug Williams, Redskins senior vice president of football operations
Nearly a decade later, that same mind was what attracted the Washington Redskins to Haskins in their pre-draft meeting. The team liked his skill set on film, but his brain convinced them, despite only 14 college starts, Haskins was worthy of being drafted 15th overall.
To overcome the lack of experience, and to be ready to play as a rookie, Haskins must be mentally sharp. At their early-April meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, the Redskins put Haskins through the same work as the other top quarterbacks who visited. They gave him a set of eight to 10 plays, broke for an approximate 90-minute lunch, and then had him write them out on a whiteboard. How did he do?
"Easy," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "Effortlessly. He's a bright guy."
It's a vital skill because teams add different concepts and formations every day. Also, Haskins didn't call plays in the huddle at Ohio State, and that will be a big part of his adjustment to the NFL.
Though Ohio State didn't run exactly the same concepts as the Redskins, there was crossover: Both teams run a lot of shallow crosses; both use run-pass options; there were similarities in play-action.
"They do a good job with different concepts that we run, so it was good to dissect those concepts," Gruden said after the Redskins' second rookie minicamp practice on May 11. "'This is how we read it, how did you read it?' A lot of the same thought process goes into it. Those concepts he's comfortable with we will carry and feature more."
In the rookie minicamp, for example, the Redskins installed about 50 plays. Each day they would give the quarterbacks a set of plays, then 30 minutes later run them on the field. At times, Gruden said, Haskins stumbled with the terminology or forgot the protection. They need to know what he can handle.
"It's not like we gave him a cheat sheet before he got here," Gruden said. "This is something we want to challenge him and see how he translated the meeting to the field. He did a pretty good job."
Gruden did say it's not as if Haskins must master all of this before he plays. They can help by having him use wristbands for wordier plays; they can use more no-huddle; or they an have signals called in from the sideline at times.
"It's our job to make it easier," Gruden said.
That includes with protection calls.
"At Ohio State, they're far along as far as protections and schemes, so he's got a good base foundation," Gruden said. "Now we just have to expand because we obviously see more fronts and a lot more blitzes that he's going to have to learn."
But Gruden said the most important thing from that April meeting was what Haskins told them he did at the line. Often, college teams get in formation at the line and after seeing the defense, the coaches will then signal in plays. It cuts down on what the quarterback must do.
"I wanted to make sure coaches weren't doing everything for him as far as protection," Gruden said. "How much did you have at the line to call the play? Change the protection? The route concept? I was OK with his answer. He did a lot himself without the help of the coaches. Some quarterbacks just look over there and one coach signals the receivers, one coach signals the line so the quarterback just snaps it and goes. But at Ohio State they do a little bit of everything."
Indeed, Ohio State coach Ryan Day -- the offensive coordinator last season -- said Haskins excelled during their classroom quizzes. He liked how Haskins "stayed focused for a long period of time." As the season progressed, they placed more responsibility on him at the line.
"He got more comfortable with that," Day said. "It was just a matter of what he can handle and still allow him to play and be himself."
The Redskins also learned in April how concisely Haskins can explain plays.
"He's very good, very detailed," Gruden said. "He gets to the important part of the play, and he can express what he means without going into too much fluff. There's no fluff with him. He's very basic, but he's very thorough in what he knows."
The coaches want Haskins to understand the formation, splits and little things such as why they want to target a certain area to run the ball. How does he need to adjust motions based on those calls and the defensive formation?
"All those things he handled very well," Gruden said. "... He had solid answers for everything. He understood what the breakdowns were and what the protections were and the holes and how to protect himself. That's the big thing."
'I just don't like defenses'
Haskins can move in the pocket, but he's not a mobile threat like an Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or fellow rookie Kyler Murray. So Haskins must be adept mentally, allowing him to make better pre-snap reads and quicker decisions. Friends recall how, when he was in fifth grade, he loved watching film and studying the game.
"It slows the game down," Haskins said. "I take great pride in that. At Ohio State, it made the games very easy. Of course, being able to make the adjustments to the pros is very different. Me being able to study as much as I can and learning the plays in great detail as far as how to read it from different adjustments and coverages, different protections, different reads. It's a lot of stuff that goes into one play that a lot of people don't know."
It's not just that he loves watching film.
"I just don't like defenses," Haskins said. "I want to be the most prepared to rip them apart. That's what I like about it."
In April, it was only the Redskins' coaches sitting in the meeting with Haskins. At the NFL scouting combine, the 15-minute session included members of the front office. There, he impressed them by how he recalled plays from the season, drawing them on the whiteboard.
"You can tell the kid is sharp, he's engaging and has a great personality," said Doug Williams, the Redskins senior vice president of football operations.
Quincy Avery has worked with Haskins since his junior year of high school and helped him prepare for his pro day and the combine. That included on-field and classroom work. Avery said he likes how detailed Haskins is -- in his work and his questions when talking to top quarterbacks.
"Everyone asks the overarching questions, but with him it's like, 'Where do I put my eyes? How did you manipulate that guy in order to move to find a window over here?'"Avery said. "Even down to the cadence: 'What are you trying to do with your cadence?' It's not just what are you doing, but also why did you do it like that: 'OK, so what are you trying to see? OK, that makes sense.' That helps make him special."
That's what the coaches and camp directors saw in the young Haskins at that two-day camp at Rutgers University long ago. There were pro coaches working the camp, such as Al Saunders. There were kids getting ready to receive college scholarships, like Matt Barkley and Tom Savage. And Haskins stood out.
"I was like, who is this kid?" said Garrett Shea, a former college football player and coach who helped organize activities at that event. "He had the skills on the field and to this day, he is one of the quickest, smartest players I've had a chance to witness. I walked away thinking, 'This kid has the mind of a quarterback.'"