ASHBURN, Va. -- The conversations take place all the time, whether at their lockers or in between meetings. Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith provides snippets of wisdom to rookie Dwayne Haskins. And it's rarely about the X's or the O's.
This week's topic, of course, might include Haskins taking a selfie with fans instead of being on the field for Washington's final snap. Haskins said he thought the game was over. But he already knows what he should do in the future and Smith's guidance will help focus him on matters of greater importance.
Sunday's reaction to his selfie actually highlights a lesson: Tune out the noise.
Social media was around in Smith's rookie season of 2005 but the volume was far lower. Still, like Haskins, he was young when drafted -- Smith was only 20; Haskins was 21. Smith did have more starting experience -- 25 games to 14 -- and can share what's ahead if the right approach is taken. Haskins is starting to understand.
The two had a similar NFL start. Smith was the first choice in the 2005 draft, chosen instead of Aaron Rodgers. Haskins was the 15th pick, chosen instead of a player more ready to help at a different position.
Smith, still rehabbing after breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg a year ago, went from injury prone to bust to longtime solid NFL starter. Haskins is trying to reach the same destination, and there's a blueprint Smith can provide.
"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."
Keeping a clear mind
Tuning out the noise is something Ohio State coach Ryan Day preached in college; it's something Redskins quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay reiterated in the spring.
"The more I played, I realize the stuff that I read, the stuff I pay attention to, has an effect mentally and emotionally on me," Haskins said. "... I don't want to know about that stuff anymore."
The Alex Smith Report is back! Alex and Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael breakdown the challenges involved with being a rookie QB and what he has seen from Dwayne Haskins Jr. so far.— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) November 19, 2019
🔊: https://t.co/srmHdnJdXl pic.twitter.com/sZmTAClZVm
He's had to endure a lot already, starting on the night of the draft when reports surfaced about a divide in the Redskins' organization about taking him.
"My understanding is that everyone in the building wanted me. Other coaches wanted positions of need more than quarterback. That's something I can't control," he said. "The guys that made the decisions picked me and I'm here. Of course I try the best I can to ignore that stuff."
Haskins said he now only gets notifications from those he follows on social media, cutting down what he sees.
"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," he said.
Smith has been let in; Haskins also seeks out others such as Doug Williams, the Redskins senior vice president of player personnel, as well as his coaches and the other quarterbacks.
Smith also shared his knowledge with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Then, Smith did it through competing on the field and by watching film together while preparing for a game plan. They could see what it took.
With Haskins, it's different. Smith focuses less on X's and O's and more on maximizing his time, or helping him with the pressure of being a high pick.
"As a young kid, with the pressure and stress, it can be overwhelming at times," Smith 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."
Sometimes that means just having a little fun at practice. Smith said he'll often razz the quarterbacks during some throwing drills, teasing about their accuracy or their juice -- or lack of it -- on certain throws.
"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."
Smith told Haskins, for example, to lift weights on Tuesday rather than Wednesday. The quarterbacks get the game plan on Wednesday, so by lifting Tuesday, he has more time to devote to studying. A game plan for one week might be thicker than a college playbook for the season. Every week in the NFL, there will be new packages for third down or the red zone, for example.
"There's such a big learning curve on how to prepare, how to practice. That was a shock for me," Smith said.
The result: Haskins now arrives at Redskins Park at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, an hour earlier than he had been before this advice. He lifts and watches film, and then on Wednesdays devotes more time to studying.
"It helps with knowing more situational stuff," Haskins said, "and having more confidence because you went over the play instead of six times maybe eight or nine times. ... 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."
Smith also played for Urban Meyer when he coached at Utah; Haskins played for him at Ohio State. Smith knows what Haskins was taught and what he knows. He could help Haskins relax and learn how to command a huddle, for example.
Haskins said he called perhaps eight plays a game in the huddle last season 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 has had to learn to vary his cadence and also how to use a dummy count, trying to get the defense to tip its hand. They also use a quick count and sometimes the trigger could be a color or the second color.
"It wasn't like something I didn't know how to do," Haskins said. "It just wasn't my best thing. ... Now I have to call every play and I'm getting better with that and with emphasizing certain words in a play."
It's all part of the learning curve. Smith also reminds Haskins that there's not a linear progression to improvement. A lot depends on the matchup that week, how favorable it is against their offense.
"You've got to keep a level head when you evaluate through that," Smith said, "but you just want to see growth. You want to see development, especially with all those little situations."
The goal isn't to overload Haskins with information, but to share when applicable.
"I definitely took my lumps," Smith said. "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 is paying attention.
"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?"