PITTSBURGH — Speaking for the first time since his release from Washington, former first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins said he has one primary goal as he attempts to reboot his career with the Steelers.
“I just wanted to prove to the coaching staff and my teammates how much I love football,” Haskins said Thursday. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here and showing them that my mind is in the right place and I’m willing to work to be able to show my talents and be able to work and earn a spot here.”
Haskins landed in Pittsburgh a month after his in-season release from the team that drafted him No. 15 overall in 2019. Haskins signed a one-year, $850,000 deal with the Steelers in January after he passed through waivers unclaimed.
Haskins’ brief tenure in Washington was tumultuous as he collected fines for violating COVID-19 protocols, took criticism for his lack of in-season work ethic and was benched after four games — and again later in the season when injuries on the roster forced him back on the field. Haskins finished his career in Washington with a 3-10 record as a starter, and he threw 12 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.
After he was released in December, Haskins tweeted that he took “full responsibility for not meeting the standards of a NFL QB & will become a better man & player because of this experience.”
Asked about the release and the months that followed, Haskins said the experience was “humbling” but not a surprise.
“I just wanted to be at a place where I felt like I was wanted and I feel like I’m wanted here,” he said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be somewhere where I just feel I can be myself and play ball and not have to worry about all the other stuff that comes along with it.”
Since Haskins arrived in Pittsburgh, he’s earned high praise from teammates and the coaching staff — including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“I was just telling [quarterbacks] Coach Sully [Mike Sullivan] the other day that his release and throwing motion mechanics are some of the prettiest I have ever seen,” Roethlisberger said during OTAs. “I told him I wish I had that. I joked that he could throw it through a car wash, and it wouldn’t get wet.”
In evaluating Haskins, Sullivan said he’s been impressed with the Ohio State product’s focus and discipline.
“Everything he has shown to this point is things that you would want out of a young man who has a second chance and is trying to make the most of that and is trying to compete,” said Sullivan, who previously worked with Eli Manning on the New York Giants‘ staff.
“So, he’s put in a great amount of time. He’s a hard worker, done everything that we’ve asked him to do. It’s exciting to see as he continues to progress and gets more opportunities where this will end up.”
Haskins joins a crowded quarterback room that also includes Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs. And though Rudolph is the only Steelers quarterback under contract for the 2022 season, Haskins could be competing with him for not only the backup job in 2021, but the future starting job after Roethlisberger’s retirement. Haskins, though, isn’t looking that far ahead.
“My expectations here is to make everyone who decided to take a chance on me look good and just work as hard as I possibly can and let my work speak for itself,” Haskins said. “Of course, I want to take after Big Ben and stuff like that, but that comes in due time.”
After the Steelers’ second minicamp practice concluded Wednesday, coach Mike Tomlin lingered on the 15-yard line at Heinz Field, deep in conversation with Haskins.
For Tomlin, that kind of relationship-building is his most important task with Haskins.
“I’ve been more concerned about Dwayne the person, kind of getting to know him and getting an understanding of what he’s been through and how that’s shaped him, affected him positively and negatively, how it’s affected the growth and development of his game,” Tomlin said Wednesday.
“I think, more than anything, Dwayne and I are just trying to get to know one another. I think it starts there, and then we can focus on some things relative to the game itself. … I just want to get to know the young man and help him grow in that way.”
Haskins said Tomlin is taking a “hands-on” approach to him, not only spending time talking with him after practice, but also chirping during team drills.
“He’s been a great motivator, just being able to talk to me,” Haskins said. “We play defense, and he talks a little stuff to me on defense, tries to get me to throw the ball into coverage and I’m learning not to do that. He’s been great.”
Haskins said he understands the values of establishing relationships on and off the field and believes it could be a key to a restart as he tries to move past his ill-fated professional start.
“You have a relationship with your ex and kind of want to leave it there,” Haskins said, comparing his situation in Washington and Pittsburgh. “You want to move on and be with the new person and enjoy who you’re with and let that past go.
“Really just the person that Dwayne is, I feel like it wasn’t highlighted enough per se, but I feel like I’m a person that takes the time to learn people and get to be great teammates and be able to take the time to learn, be around coaches, spend time just loving football.”