SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Every year, no matter what bowl game Ohio State participates in, you start to hear rumblings of the future. The players that have used the 11 extra practices afforded to the team to take the next step in their personal development.
One of the players doing that this year for the Buckeyes is freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Jr.
As one of two players tasked with emulating Clemson’s Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback – Deshaun Watson – heading into the Fiesta Bowl, Haskins has a unique opportunity to showcase his skills for his teammates. With just days to go until the College Football Playoff semifinal, the reviews are in: This kid can play.
But more than just helping his teammates prepare for the Tigers, Haskins has helped himself, personally, as well. Coach Urban Meyer, speaking during the Buckeyes media day on Thursday, said Haskins has taken major steps in the last month.
“He’s big time,” Meyer said of Haskins, admitting that the quarterback entered a standard “freshman letdown” midway through the season.”I was disappointed with him. He accepted his role for about two months, September, October – which happens – but the last month? He’s been on fire. I can see a great future in Dwayne. He’s got it.”
Hearing it from the coach is one thing, hearing it from the players he’s facing every day? That’s another. Especially when you’re talking about a freshman six month removed from high school facing one of the country’s best defenses daily.
“Definitely, in this bowl prep season, he’s stepped up,” Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard said of Haskins. “We’re rushing him – we can’t sack him – but he’ll still throw the ball when we get past him and he’ll be completing some crazy passes downfield on one of the best secondaries in the nation. We’re all like, ‘What can we do? We played great defense, (there was) great coverage and he’ll just thread the needle.’ He’s got a great release, and it’s just the accuracy. He made one throw to Jake Hausmann (Tuesday) that was pretty incredible.”
To be a great player — the next great player at quarterback in Columbus, is Haskins’ goal. Meyer challenged him before bowl practices began to not let them be wasted.
He’s not taken that challenge lightly.
“My mindset on bowl practices were to just attack every day, to get ready for spring,” Haskins told Land of 10. “Coach Meyer told me to have a great bowl prep and I had it in my head that I was already going to do so. It was a great opportunity to showcase my skill set because I believe me and Deshaun Watson play very similar. I had gone to a few camps and he was my counselor, so I was pretty familiar with him. The magnitude of this game and the time spent getting the defense players ready, I knew that I could showcase my development to the team and coaches so that when it’s my turn they have already seen my talent.”
They’ve definitely seen the talent.
“Dwayne Haskins is a tremendous talent that a lot of people probably do know about,” junior linebacker Chris Worley said Wednesday. “He was highly recruited and playing in the Under Armour All-American game and things like that, but he hasn’t played at all. He’s been the nothing but the best – probably the best – scout team quarterback I’ve ever seen us have.”
Worley’s praise didn’t stop there.
“He can make some throws that not a lot of NFL players can make, honestly,” he gushed. “I would be doing him wrong if I said he makes throws college players can’t make, when honestly he makes throws that NFL players can’t make. When we’re rotating and you have a chance to actually watch the whole field on defense, when we’re doing scout team and he’s helping us out, you see him make some throws and you just squint like, ‘Did he just do that?’ He’s one of those types of talents throwing the ball. It’s crazy.”
We’re talking about practice, of course. And while that matters, it’s not the most important question.
If J.T. Barrett decides not to return for his senior season with the Buckeyes, there will be an open competition next spring between Haskins, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Burrow and incoming freshman quarterback Tate Martell.
Malik Hooker, the Buckeyes All-American safety nicknamed “The Freak,” has taken the label most often used to describe him and applied it to Haskins. Just because Haskins is redshirting this season in Columbus, don’t assume that means he’s not good enough to play — right now.
“He’s a freak. I feel like, if he would’ve went anywhere else – J.T. is a great quarterback – that puts what Dwayne Haskins had in mind on hold, but that doesn’t mean he’s not good enough to play here. That just means there’s someone who is a great quarterback and more mature than he is. You’d think it’s a game the way he goes out there and competes against us. There’s times he throws the ball and you’re just like, ‘Man, how did he get that in there?’ Dwayne Haskins is definitely something for everybody to be on the lookout for in the future.”
Hooker said the reps Haskins has seen in bowl practices show marked improvement from earlier this season.
“He’s maturing a lot faster,” Hooker added. “There were a lot of stuff that when he first came in you’d be like, ‘What was he thinking there?’ and stuff like that. You can definitely tell that he’s picked up off of J.T. how he prepares himself. Just the preparation of the game. He acts like the starter on the team now.”
The future could be here sooner than you think
His quarterback coach, the man who recruited Haskins to Ohio State, says Haskins maturation is evident in everything he does.
“I think first, he’s extremely mature and focused,” Tim Beck said during Ohio State’s media day. “When he came in as a freshman, he wasn’t a typical freshman, but he’s worked and developed himself into a great quarterback, which he is. It really helps during these bowl prep times that you get to play your younger players, and he can actually run the offense. He’s done a phenomenal job and I’m extremely impressed with him. He’s got a very bright future.”
The future could be here sooner than expected. That’s put the onus on Haskins to improve quickly and make sure he’s a viable option for the Buckeyes if called upon next spring. Beck says he’s ready to compete.
“He’s got great feet, he’s got great balance and anticipates well,” Beck said. “There’s always some guys who may have a great arm, but not understand coverage. Maybe he understands coverage but, you know, he doesn’t have a strong arm or whatever. Dwayne has all that. When he plays? When he’s got it going? He’s really good. He’s the total package. He has all the things you look for in a great quarterback.”
The ever-confident freshman agreed.
“I am light years away from when I first started fall camp to now,” the 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman said. “Just physically and mentally. The game has slowed down so much. Especially going against the first team and not only completing passes, but at a high rate.”
As you’d expect, Haskins has watched Barrett closely and is learning about much more than football from the Buckeyes captain. He’s learning how to be “The Man” at Ohio State.
“J.T. has given me a lot of confidence, because J.T. is a great leader,” Haskins said. “Just from watching this year. He’s taught me how to lead a college team. And play with heart. Honestly, I thought I already played with it, but it’s more than that. He’s taught me that to whom much is given, much is required.”
If he’s called upon, whenever that happens, the lessons Barrett has taught him – combined with his prodigious talents – have Haskins feeling like he’s ready to win the next battle he faces.
It may just be for the right to lead the Buckeyes in 2017.
“Most definitely, I’m ready,” Haskins said. “I need to keep maturing physically. I’ve put on muscle and lost fat. I just need to do what I do. It’s evident during bowl practices that when I’m focused I’ve got it. I can’t wait for the winter.”