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Steelers Commentary

Saunders: Strong Arm Won’t Determine Dwayne Haskins’ Fate in Pittsburgh



PITTSBURGH — Through two weeks of OTAs, the new guy in the Steelers quarterbacks room seems to be making an impact.

Former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins is in his first his season in Black and Gold after two seasons in Washington, and his arm strength has drawn the attention of his new teammates, to say the least.

“I was just telling Coach Sully [Mike Sullivan] the other day that his release and throwing motion mechanics are some of the prettiest I have ever seen,” starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “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.”

“He throws it pretty hard, I will say,” the always understated James Washington added. “He’s got an arm on him.”

Of course, we’ve known that Haskins has an arm. It’s what made him a first-round pick coming out of Ohio State in 2019.

He doesn’t possess elite mobility. At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he’s pretty much average-sized for an NFL quarterback. Yes, he won with the Buckeyes, but the reason Washington was willing to use the No. 15 overall pick on him is that Haskins has a legitimate cannon. This isn’t news.

It also isn’t news that despite that cannon, his two years in D.C. went about as badly as possible for a first-round pick.

He went 3-10 as starter, completed just 60% of his passes, threw more interceptions than touchdowns and turned in a 74.4 passer rating. For reference, that’s only a hair better than Devlin “Duck” Hodges’ Steelers stat line from 2019 and far worse than Mason Rudolph’s.

The issue was not his arm.

FOX Sports’ Doug Gottlieb reported before the 2020 season that Haskins was so bad at reading the playbook that Washington coaches thought he might be dyslexic. The Washington Post reported last year that he failed to show up for meetings and never put in the time or effort required to master the offense.

Haskins missed the final snap of his first NFL in 2019 win because he was on the sideline taking selfies with fans, unaware that Washington had the ball back and he needed to go kneel down.

Last season, he was fined $40,000 for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocol and was stripped of his captaincy after photos emerged of him at a party not wearing a mask and surrounded by others not wearing masks in December, near the height of the pandemic and while Washington’s season was ongoing.

Washington’s season turned around after Haskins was benched in October, with 36-year-old Alex Smith going 5-1 in place of Haskins’ 1-5, while turning in an all-around better statistical performance.

When Smith was hurt late in the year, D.C. coach Ron Rivera turned to former XFLer Taylor Heinicke with a playoff spot on the line instead of Haskins.

So when it comes down to it, Haskins’ throwing arm drawing praise shouldn’t really be surprising. But it’s the other stuff that is going to matter a whole lot more.

The good news for Haskins and the Steelers is that, while less attention-grabbing than his ability to throw a ball through a car wash and have it emerge dry, the early reviews have also been positive from an off-the-field standpoint, as well.

“He’s a people person,” Washington said. “Even if he doesn’t know you, he’ll come up to you and introduce himself and, and try to start a conversation and get to know people. And that’s one of the main things that stuck out to me. I think he’s a great person. He just needs guys that’ll stick around him and help him out.”

He might have one of those in Roethlisberger, who Haskins said he’s admired since he was young.

“Ben was one of my favorites growing up,” Haskins wrote on Instagram last week. “Him and Mike Vick were the reason I wore 7.”

Now wearing No. 3, Haskins said on Twitter he’s “blessed” to be in Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger.

Haskins came into the league with Case Keenum in his quarterbacks room and shared 2020 with Smith and Kyle Allen, so it’s not as if he didn’t have players to set a positive example before.

But this is likely also his last chance to prove he can put in the off-the-field work required to be a quarterback in the NFL, and so far, so good, says Roethlisberger.

“He’s learning it,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s obviously a new system for him. He’s young in the league. It’s fun to have that young energy around.”

If the Steelers can get Haskins fully on board, they could have landed a potential starting quarterback for almost nothing. That’s bigger than even Haskins’ arm.