Previewing the Washington Football Team
Second-year QB Dwayne Haskins will be the starter, and his improvement should determine Washington's success
Last year: 3-13, fourth place in the NFC East. Missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Coach: Ron Rivera (1st season; 76-63-1 with Carolina).
Dates with the Birds: Sept. 13 at Washington; Jan. 3 at Philadelphia.
Top offensive players: QB Dwayne Haskins (119-203 passing, 1,365 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INT in 9 games, 7 starts); WR Terry McLaurin (58-919, 7 TDs); RG Brandon Sherff (3-time Pro Bowl selection); WR Steven Sims Jr. (34-310, 4 TDs).
Top defensive players: DE Ryan Kerrigan (25 tackles, 5½ sacks in 12 games); DE Chase Young (16½ sacks in 12 games for Ohio State); DT Jonathan Allen (68 tackles, 6 sacks); LB Thomas Davis Sr. (112 tackles with the L.A. Chargers); S Landon Collins (117 tackles).
What they are saying: So much depends on the development of Haskins in his second year. He started only one season at Ohio State and fewer than half the games last year.
“I’ve watched him improve his decision-making; he’s got the skill-set,” Rivera said about Haskins after announcing he would be the starter. “He’s got a quick arm, he’s got quickness as a quarterback in terms of decision-making and getting in that position to throw the ball and deliver a good ball.”
Haskins saw action in one game against the Eagles and showed promise. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 261 yards with two TDs, no interceptions, and a 121.3 passer rating in a 37-27 loss in December.
Haskins won’t have great offensive weapons. McLaurin, his former Ohio State teammate, was among the most pleasant surprises last year as a rookie, but other receivers will have to step up. A big blow came when second-year receiver Kelvin Harmon of Palmyra (N.J.) High and North Carolina State was lost for the season with a torn ACL in June.
With the release of Adrian Peterson, one player to watch is rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who was used more at receiver in college at Memphis but showed big-play ability in training camp.
Still, if Washington is to improve, its defense will have to carry the load, especially in the early going. Washington should have one of the NFL’s better defensive lines.
Adding the 37-year-old Davis, who played well for years under Rivera with Carolina, brings veteran leadership.
The secondary is a question. Collins makes a lot of tackles, but he has been suspect in coverage.
Ronald Darby, who had trouble staying healthy during his three seasons with the Eagles, adds depth at cornerback.
Conclusion: Washington probably won’t move out of the cellar and will go only as far as Haskins can take them. There will probably be a lot of 17-14 games for a team that must prove its offense can be competitive.