Ron Rivera praises Dwayne Haskins, but not ready to commit

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ASHBURN, Va. -- During Ron Rivera's introductory news conference as the Washington Redskins' new coach, he pegged quarterback Dwayne Haskins as a potential franchise guy. What Rivera didn't do, however, is say Haskins is that guy right now.

Rivera wasn't about to proclaim anything about Haskins being the Redskins' starter in 2020. He finished the season as the starter, thanks to a coaching change, injuries to others and the team being out of the playoff race early. Now Haskins is back in a prove-it situation.

"We're going to have an interesting set of circumstances that we'll go through as we go through the OTAs and into minicamp and then training camp," Rivera told ESPN following his news conference last week. "But one thing that I will do ... once we feel comfortable, is to go ahead and make that decision so we can go forward and give these guys the opportunity to develop."

Rivera earlier made clear what he wants to see from Haskins.

"He's going to have to step up and become a leader," Rivera said. "All the great ones have become leaders and they've become leaders whether they're rookies or they're 10-, 12-year vets."

Rivera does know that Haskins finished strong; in his last three games Haskins posted a total QBR of 59.6 and a passer rating of 109.5 with five touchdowns and one interception.

He also helped the Redskins beat Carolina in Rivera's last game as the Panthers' coach. Rivera was fired two days after that game.

When assessing the Redskins' quarterback situation, Rivera also pointed out Case Keenum and Colt McCoy -- who are pending free agents.

Keenum would be open to returning; McCoy most likely will leave. And Rivera mentioned Alex Smith, who still wants to play but remains in recovery after suffering a broken fibula and tibia in November 2018.

The Redskins also have the No. 2 pick in the draft, and Rivera's former starting quarterback -- Cam Newton -- might be available this offseason. But Rivera stuck with those currently on the roster when discussing Washington's quarterback situation.

"These are guys that have played quality football, including Dwayne," Rivera said. "Dwayne has played some pretty good football for the limited times he did play this season. But we're in a good situation with the three veteran guys, with Dwayne that's still growing and learning."

When Jay Gruden was hired as the Redskins' coach in 2014, it was repeatedly mentioned that he was hired to help Robert Griffin III's development. Griffin had one great season and one filled with negative anonymous stories and unsteady play. Before Gruden's introductory news conference, word spread how excited he was to work with Griffin. The Redskins clearly wanted an offensive-minded head coach to maximize the young quarterback's development. This time, they opted for a defensive coach in Rivera, and his comments about Haskins suggest work remains.

"He can become a franchise-style quarterback. It's a process, though," Rivera said. "I'm not going to say it's going to happen overnight."

In Rivera's first season with Carolina, the Panthers drafted Newton No. 1 overall. He started every game as a rookie. As Rivera said, they had a plan for Newton. With Haskins, the Redskins don't know yet who will be coaching him -- will Kevin O'Connell stay as the offensive coordinator? O'Connell worked even more closely with Haskins over the final month. O'Connell has interviewed twice with Rivera, but he could opt for someone else -- notably his quarterbacks coach in Carolina, Scott Turner.

"What we're trying to do right now is to develop that plan for his development as we go forward," Rivera said. "There's a couple good veteran quarterbacks that [will] get some opportunities to play as well. We won't know until we get ready to open up in September, so until then, everything is just a process. We can't get ahead of it; we've got to stay to the plan and make sure we're preparing ourselves properly to win football games."

Haskins endured quite a bit as a rookie, from division within the organization over drafting him at No. 15 overall, to when he should play. A staff that had to win immediately knew Haskins would take time to develop and that colored its view of the situation; it wasn't an ideal spot for a rookie quarterback, who needed extra attention.

Internally, there was disappointment over Haskins' approach in the spring and summer, prompting one member of the organization to respond, "Mars" when asked how close he was to playing. But as the season unfolded, numerous sources say his approach improved as he saw how the extra work paid off on the field.

Now Rivera wants those leadership skills developed in the offseason, too. It's not about being vocal.

"You've got to step up, you've got to be where you need to be, you've got to do things you're supposed to do," Rivera said. "That's all going to start with your offseason, how you prepare yourself, how do you get yourself ready. That's probably one of the biggest things that we've got to do and not just with him, but every one of our players."

While Haskins' growth as a leader will be critical, Rivera also recognized his skills.

"He's a young man that has potential in terms of his athletic ability, his smarts, his intelligence as a football player," he said. "We saw some quality growth until he was injured."

Haskins did not play in the season finale because of a high ankle sprain. One game that Rivera pointed to for growth involved a poor performance from Haskins for three quarters. But he led two late scoring drives for a 19-16 win against Detroit.

"That was an excellent job and it showed that he started to get a grasp and the feel of how to do things," Rivera said.

Now Haskins must do something else: Impress his new coach -- starting now.