The past nine days have been a whirlwind of vindication for Dwayne Haskins Jr.
Both decisions were the result of Haskins rising to head coach Ron Rivera’s challenge for him to be a leader for the franchise. He put in extra hours, transformed his body and worked out with his teammates to be the “franchise-style quarterback” Rivera said he could become.
After putting together a strong training camp, Haskins is primed to lead Washington's offense against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. He can't bask in his own accomplishments, though, because as offensive coordinator Scott Turner told him after he was announced as the starter, "Now the real work starts."
"'Now you've got to gear up,'" Turner said. "'We've got to bring it every week and you've got to play better so you're playing your best football at the end of the season.' You don't just stop getting better because he was named the starter."
After dropping 11 pounds and 7% body fat this offseason, Haskins reported for training camp with simple goals: master the offense, be a trustworthy and accountable presence in the locker room and show how much work he put in over the summer. On Aug. 31, which served as the unofficial end of training camp, Haskins felt like he had done "a pretty good job" of meeting those standards.
By all accounts, his coaches agreed with him. Although he was working in the offense for the first time, Turner could tell Haskins had put in the time to learn the system.
"He's just gotten more and more confident. The decision making, it's sped up and it's improved. I feel like he's in a good place right now. He's playing fast. Obviously, the next test is going and playing in an actual game. But, we're excited for that and it's time."
The regular season has arrived, and his coaches believe Haskins is prepared for the moment. When training camp started, Rivera noticed Haskins was slightly behind when reading the defense. He slowly improved, and by the time camp had finished, Rivera said Haskins was ahead of everything.
"I've watched him improve his decision making," he said. "He's got the skillset. He's got a quick arm. He's got quickness as a quarterback in terms of decision making and getting himself into that position to throw the ball and deliver a good ball. That's the thing you look for in terms of development of young guys."
Haskins said his energy and control of the offense are "way better" than they were in his first-career start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 9 last year. He feels a difference in his demeanor, which has made him more comfortable in trusting himself.
"Just me having more confidence in myself to go do what I need to do to be the leader of this football team and this offense and having a coach that believes in me is something that's propelled me to have even more confidence out there on this field," he said. "Just trying to find ways to make plays and win games, and I feel like we're doing a great job figuring out ways to make those things happen. Hopefully it comes out on the field Sunday."
During Washington's last matchup against the Eagles in Week 15, Haskins completed 19-of-28 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 26 yards. Haskins said the game "doesn't matter at all" to him, but he does want to build on what he was able to do with his arm and legs.
"That's something I felt like I've been trying to improve on in training camp, and I'm looking forward to playing competitive sports this week and getting after that defense."
Haskins is familiar with many of the players on the Eagles' defense. He knows cornerback Darius Slay from when Washington faced the Detroit Lions last year, and he mentioned the Eagles' disruptive defensive front of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, among others.
Still, there will be factors Haskins cannot account for regardless of how much he prepares. When those moments come, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese has "all the confidence in the world" Haskins can handle them.
"We'll play the game and we'll find out. It'll be a test for a lot of different things for all of our guys. I know we have a very solid group in our room, very resilient and very supportive. He'll have a great supporting cast when he gets to the sideline, I know that."
The night before the game, Zampese said he and Haskins will go over third-down situations, red zone plays and other things to expect against the Eagles.
Zampese will not say too much, though. He wants to the physical talent and reactionary ability that Haskins has worked on for months to take over.
"'Hey, let's get some sleep and then have some fun the next day and execute,'" Zampese said he'll tell Haskins. "'Do what you're here to do.'"