To Dwayne Haskins Jr., leading in the NFL is like golf.
High school and college football were not as complicated, Haskins said, which makes sense considering everyone is close to the same age and in a similar situation. Leading in these environments is more like miniature golf, where one club (the putter) would be sufficient.
Leading at the professional level requires different strategies based on a variety of factors, just as golfers use different clubs to get the ball from the tee box to the hole. There are rookies, 10-year veterans, established starters and those looking to prove themselves. Leaders must be able to relate to everyone and in every situation.
After finishing his rookie year strong, Haskins believes he can be the offensive leader the Washington Football Team needs as it enters a new era. Now it's time to prove it.
"Just being a quarterback, being a leader, you have to be versatile in how you lead and also gain that respect," Haskins said Tuesday. "If you don't have respect, no one's going to listen to you or really follow you, so that's all I've been trying to do is earn that."
A big part of leadership in Haskins' mind is self-awareness, so he began the offseason with an honest assessment of his strengths and weaknesses. From there, the plan was simple: turn his weaknesses into strengths and make his strengths even stronger.
Over the next several months, Haskins made sacrifices to achieve those goals. He transformed his body, spent more time watching film and sought out a who's who of wide receivers to work out with.
He also met up with fellow NFL quarterback Cam Newton, who spent eight years in a system similar to the one Haskins will orchestrate in Washington.
"That was a great conversation I'll probably hold for the rest of my life," Haskins said.
Haskins aimed to make a difference outside of football as well. Following the death of George Floyd, he spoke out about social injustice and even attended protests in Washington D.C. to “be a part of the difference.”
During one of their first meetings, head coach Ron Rivera challenged Haskins to be a leader on and off the field. Rivera believes the 23-year-old has "taken that to heart."
"He's competing, he's doing the things we need him to do, he's being very professional about the way he's handling himself and he's really been very thoughtful in terms of his actions," Rivera said Monday. "So that's one thing that's been a big plus, it really has. I've been really pleased with what we've got from him."
Haskins' teammates have noticed his growth as well. When defensive end Ryan Kerrigan first saw Haskins in the locker room, Haskins' lean physique immediately stood out to him.
Tackle Morgan Moses has seen a more confident signal-caller with better body language. Haskins may have mumbled through play calls at times last season, Moses said, but that's not the case anymore.
"He looks great," guard Brandon Scherff said of Haskins. "We're excited for him. He's doing a great job on walkthroughs for us, communication-wise he's picking it up on the fly, and he's doing a great job. We've seemed to be doing pretty good and just stacking days on top of each other."
Haskins did not mention awards or accolades when discussing his 2020 expectations. He just wants to be "the best quarterback, best teammate, best leader" possible and hopes individual success will come along with that.
Haskins has not even been named the starting quarterback yet, but he entered training camp with that mentality. He knows how hard he worked this offseason, and he's ready for the rest of the team to see for themselves.
"It's just a mentality going in every day to handle your business both on and off the field, just having a certain presence and confidence when commanding an offense and when commanding a huddle," Haskins said about acting like the starter. "Having learned that going into the last couple games of the season last year, I've been trying to master that same edge that a Tom Brady or Drew Brees has when he steps into a building and you know he's there.
"Not necessarily having been named [the starter] right now, but our offense needs a guy who's going to take ownership and lead. Why not be me?"