PITTSBURGH (AP) — Dwayne Haskins isn't the same quarterback he was when he arrived in Pittsburgh in January. The self-doubt that crept in following his ignominious flameout in Washington is gone, replaced by a sense of confidence he believes will help him stick around when rosters are trimmed to 53 next Tuesday.
“I think being here (allows me) to be myself,” Haskins said Wednesday after being named the starter for Pittsburgh's preseason finale against Carolina on Friday night. “It enables me to go out there and have fun. I feel like when (I can do that) you see it in my play, see it in (the way I) operate out of the huddle, how I talk to my teammates. And I feel like it's contagious in a way because I have a lot of energy.”
While Haskins likely hasn't done enough to unseat Mason Rudolph as the primary backup to Ben Roethlisberger when the regular season opens on Sept. 12 in Buffalo, it appears he has the inside track on sticking around as the No. 3. He will get one last chance to show head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Matt Canada how far he's come over the past eight months when he faces a Carolina team that plans on having several defensive regulars in the lineup during the first half on Friday.
The vibe will certainly be different for Haskins than the last time he saw the Panthers on the other side of the line of scrimmage. He walked onto the turf at FedEx Field on Dec. 27, 2020 as the starter for a team trying to earn a division title. He walked off it in shock after being replaced by Taylor Heinicke in the second half of what became a 20-13 loss. He was cut the next day, a staggeringly quick downfall for a player taken with the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft.
The Steelers took a flier on him three weeks later, and he's drawn praise from both Tomlin and Canada for his mature approach to the job. He's not the starter or the focal point of the offense, just a 24-year-old trying to stick in the league. It's not what he envisioned on that giddy night 28 months ago when Washington pinned its hopes on the kid with the big arm who grew up in the city's suburbs. Yet he's come to terms with where he's at both in his career and his life.
He's made it a point to immerse himself in Canada's offense, and he's looked solid at times while completing 28 of 42 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown during Pittsburgh's first three exhibition games. Canada said Haskins has been moving in the right direction “for the most part” since organized team activities began in May.
“He comes in to work,” Canada said. “He’s trying to learn our way. He’s trying to watch our system, watch what we do. I’ve been really happy with that. I think he’s making quick decisions. So he’s improved.”
Haskins considers himself a student at heart, though he allows that wasn't the way he was portrayed during his brief stay in Washington.
“I've always been the type of person, whether that was the narrative or not, to watch film, stay late, come in early," he said.
He praised the detailed scouting report given to him each week, one that takes a deep dive into not just schemes but the strengths and weaknesses of all 11 defenders he might see on a given play. He believes he has a solid working knowledge of what Canada is trying to do in his first year calling plays in the NFL, pointing out that their relationship dates back to when Canada was attempting to recruit him out of high school more than a half decade ago.
There's a comfort level in Pittsburgh that Haskins hints was hard to come by in the nation's capital. Of course, the dynamic is different here, too. He's not being tapped as “The Guy" but simply “A Guy,” one whose belief in himself has returned.
Asked about the process of putting himself back together, Haskins' response is telling.
“It's really just trusting in myself and believing in myself and taking a lot of time to self-reflect on things," he said. “And of course being in a situation where the people around you want to see you succeed.”
NOTES: Haskins will give way to Josh Dobbs at some point during the game, though Tomlin did not indicate how long he will stick with Haskins before turning things over to Dobbs, who's attempted just 12 passes in the preseason and appears to be the odd man out. ... Rookie running back Najee Harris is among the projected starters who will not play against the Panthers. ... While Harris is out, Tomlin said the completely rebuilt starting offensive line will see some action. The group has struggled opening holes in the running game. Pittsburgh, which ranked dead last in the NFL in yards rushing and yards per rushing attempt in 2020, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry through three exhibitions.
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