ROCKVILLE – It seemed as if Washington Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden was looking for confirmation of something he already knew going into the team’s third preseason game last week.
While at the time, many thought the Redskins had a classic quarterback competition on hand, last week proved something else.
Against the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 22, quarterback Case Keenum took all the snaps with the first-team offense and played the bulk of the game. Meanwhile, rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins cleaned up with the backups. While it was not made official right after the game, on Aug. 26, Gruden named Keenum the starting quarterback.
Now, after being traded from the Denver Broncos this offseason, Keenum will start for the Redskins Week One against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“They both showed a lot. Case (Keenum) has come in here and picked up the offense extremely well, had great confidence and command over the team – they both have,” Gruden said. “At the end of the day, I think we have great confidence that Case can lead us to a win against Philadelphia.”
Going into training camp, the Redskins were supposed to have a three-man race for the starting quarterback spot with returning backup Colt McCoy, Haskins and Keenum.
A set back from an injury McCoy sustained late last season kept the veteran out of practice and preseason games, quickly turning the three-quarterback competition into a two-man race. Haskins, whom Washington selected with the 15th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, has taken a lot of snaps this preseason, but none with the first-team starters.
With Keenum getting all the work with the first-team offense in the team’s third preseason, often considered the “dress rehearsal” for the season opener, it is not much of a surprise that Gruden selected Keenum to be the starter for the Redskins.
A journeyman quarterback who has spent a large portion of his career as a backup, Keenum said he knows how valuable it is to get reps as the starter heading into the season.
“I know for a fact that when it comes down to November, December, those games down the stretch where it really, really matters, sometimes you don’t know who is going to be in the huddle with you at that point because it’s a long NFL season,” Keenum said. “So, the reps that we get with everybody out there, those are priceless.”
Last Thursday those reps were on full display in Washington’s third and most important preseason game.
Keenum went 9 for 14 with 101 yards passing in the Redskins’ 19-7 win over Atlanta. The results were mixed for Keenum, as he was able to move the offense down the field, but he also critically turned the ball over on a sack-fumble, which led to the Falcons’ only touchdown on the ensuing drive.
While Keenum was not mistake-free, Gruden said he saw what he needed to see, a veteran who can handle the pressure of being an NFL starting quarterback.
“He’s been to the playoffs. Experience factor is something that you really lean upon, and then, of course, Case has been productive in practice and some of the games,” Gruden said. “As far as Dwayne is concerned, you just have got to continue to work and get these reps – mental reps, physical reps – and just continue to build on his performance day after day.”
Keenum has a long NFL resume, which includes an NFC Championship appearance that capped off his 2017 season where he went 11-3 as a starter with the Minnesota Vikings, winning the NFC North. The climax that season, dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle,” came in an NFC divisional round against the New Orleans Saints on a 61-yard touchdown pass that Keenum threw to wide receiver Stefon Diggs that won the game for the Vikings as time expired.
After the season, Keenum moved on to Denver, as the Vikings signed ex-Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. In 2018, Keenum struggled with the Broncos, throwing 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, leading Denver to trade him to Washington.
While some fans wanted Haskins, Gruden knew he was not quite ready yet, after starting only 13 games at Ohio State.
In last Thursday’s game against the Falcons, Haskins played with the second team, leading the team on a few drives that ended in field goals and a Samaje Perine touchdown run.
As is the norm now, the starters in the fourth preseason game will sit out, meaning that Haskins will start Thursday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. While it may be only a preseason game, it will be Haskins’ first NFL start.