The situations are a little different — Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins aren’t competing for Washington’s starting quarterback job the way Smith and Patrick Mahomes were in Kansas City — but as he did with the Chiefs, Smith has seemingly welcomed the chance to mentor his rookie teammate, Haskins.
Similar beginnings forge bond
In a story by ESPN writer John Keim posted on Tuesday, Smith and Haskins discussed their relationship.
While Haskins said the other quarterbacks in Washington “have great insight” (Colt McCoy and Case Keenum are also on the roster), he and Smith have several things in common that helped forge their bond.
Smith entered the NFL in 2005 as the No. 1 pick, with San Francisco drafting him over Aaron Rodgers; Haskins wasn’t drafted by the New York Giants in the top 10 earlier this year, and Washington selected him over a player at a different position who may have had an instant impact.
Smith was just 20 when he was drafted; Haskins was 21. Both played for Urban Meyer, Smith at Utah, Haskins at Ohio State.
“All the quarterbacks here have great insight,” Haskins said. “Alex, I feel, is more relatable with his story compared to mine. The things he has been through will be easier to help me than somebody else. He's being more hands-on as the season goes on. He's been a great resource.”
Tuning out the noise
Haskins was criticized for some on Sunday, when he took a selfie with a fan behind the bench and missed the final snap of the game, a kneel-down; he said he didn’t know there was still time on the clock when he began celebrating his first win as a starter.
But any criticism from random Twitter critics may not have reached Haskins. He’s learned quickly to tune out the noise, which began on the night of the draft, when there were stories that not everyone in Washington’s brain trust wanted him.
He now only gets notification from those he follows on social media.
“I found myself digging into a hole and I decided to be positive for me and have better energy in what I'm looking into, what I'm reading, what I'm allowing myself to be in my world,” Haskins said.
Smith is allowed in, as is Doug Williams, franchise legend and vice president of player personnel, as well as coaches and the other quarterbacks.
Offering guidance for off-field things
As Smith continues to come back from a devastating broken leg suffered one year ago this month and which has required 17 surgeries, his mentorship of Haskins isn’t done on the field or film room as it was with Mahomes and, before that, Colin Kaepernick.
The focus is on off-field things: maximizing time, or dealing with the pressure that comes with being a first-round pick.
One example: Smith told Haskins to lift weights on Tuesday, not Wednesday. The reason? Quarterbacks get the game plan on Wednesday, so Haskins will have more time to study and prepare for the coming game.
“There’s such a big learning curve on how to prepare, how to practice. That was a shock for me,” Smith said.
So Haskins is at the facility by 8 a.m. on Tuesday, an hour earlier than he had been arriving previously. He lifts and watches film, and on Wednesday he devotes more time to studying the voluminous game plan.
“It helps with knowing more situational stuff and having more confidence because you went over the play instead of six times, maybe eight or nine times,” Haskins said. “It's watching a protection one more time or going over this concept again and then going against it vs. a different coverage you might not have talked about before. You're more prepared.”
McCoy was a third-round pick and Keenum was undrafted. Smith knows what he dealt with and felt as a No. 1 pick.
“As a young kid, with the pressure and stress, it can be overwhelming at times,” he said. “I haven't sensed that with Dwayne, but I know that's what it was like for me. It wasn't until I could move past that and enjoy the process and welcome it and bring it on and it flipped that mentality.
“When I was young I carried a lot of weight and it was burdensome because it's hard," Smith said. "It's a tough position to play as a young kid. You have to flip the mentality and enjoy the challenge. There's a time to grind and a time to compete and have fun, so for me ... finding that balance was critical for me. I think I'm helping him with that.”
‘Why not use him as a resource?’
One of the biggest on-field transitions for Haskins has been play calling. He said he called fewer than 10 plays a game in the huddle last year at Ohio State.
“The biggest thing that's changed for him, especially the last month, is command in the huddle, taking ownership,” Smith said.
Haskins is learning to vary his cadence, how to use a dummy count, how to use a quick count.
Smith also reminds his young teammate that sometimes there are setbacks; improvement is not always a linear thing. Some games are better than others.
“You've got to keep a level head when you evaluate through that, but you just want to see growth. You want to see development, especially with all those little situations,” Smith said. “I definitely took my lumps. Just being a sounding board for him, what it's like. When you get to be at this level there's so many little things that add up.
“He's big and strong and can spin it; good feet, accurate. You just want to be able to see him use those things so, yeah, mastering all those little things situationally so you can play fast.”
Haskins welcomes all of the advice.
“The biggest thing with Alex is just how to be a quarterback,” he said. “Everyone says I know how to, I've been playing quarterback since I was 10 years old. But no one has all the tricks of the trade and the keys to everything. It's good to hear from someone I respect, someone I watched growing up, and he's willing to extend himself to me. Why not use him as a resource?”
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