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Are these preseason games with the Steelers Dwayne Haskins’s last chance?

If he demonstrates maturity as well as arm strength, he has a shot to follow Big Ben as Steelers’ leader.

Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers
Haskins unloads against Cowboys in Hall of Fame Game on August 5.
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

What a difference a month makes. In mid-July, if you googled “Dwayne Haskins,” you’d read all about how he got slugged in the face by his wife of four months and ended up being taken to a Las Vegas hospital. If you google him now, you’ll see that some serious sports writers are saying that he may be Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement and the future franchise quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s hope that the former Buckeye star is on a roll.

Oh, Dwayne’s had his troubles in the NFL. After that marvelous 2018 season with the Buckeyes, when Haskins completed 373 passes of 533 attempts (70% completion rate), for 4831 yards and 50 (yes, 50!) touchdowns, he was drafted by Washington (then Redskins, now Washington Football Team, 2022?) as the 15th overall pick in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft.

Whereas most NFL quarterbacks spend at least a year watching and learning, Haskins found himself on a pretty bad team and became the starter during his first season. He was 22 years old and had one season under his belt as a starting college quarterback. His stats that first year were so-so: he completed 58.6% of his passes (119 of 203) for 1385 yards, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. But he had trouble moving the Washington offense, and the team didn’t win.

Worse, there was also a lot of talk about Haskins. He was lazy. He was a prima donna. He didn’t spend enough time in the film room or studying the playbook or scouting reports. He wasn’t prepared for the games. He couldn’t read defenses or make smart decisions. He was immature.

Ron Rivera took over as the Washington coach. He liked Haskins – or at least he liked his arm — and he designated him as the starter for the 2020 season. On the field, his performance was really about the same as it was in 2019. His completion percentage was slightly better at 61.4, but his yards per attempt fell by .7 yards. He again had seven TD passes but threw 10 interceptions.

Off the field, Haskins was twice caught partying and violating NFL and team COVID-19 protocols. He was fined $40K and stripped of his captain status the first time; he was released during week 16 of the 2020 season after the second time.

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Haskins in January of this year, and he immediately began competing with Mason Rudolph to be Roethlisberger’s backup and heir apparent.

We’ve now seen Dwayne twice in a Steeler uniform: in the Hall of Fame game against the Cowboys and last Thursday night against the Eagles. I watched both games, and I was impressed. Haskins seemed to understand the offense and what was expected of him. He seemed to be in command.

In the first game, he threw only 13 passes, completing eight of them for 54 yards. Short stuff. Against Philadelphia, he looked great, as the team drove for scores (three touchdowns and a field goal) on four of the five series that Haskins directed. Those four drives averaged 11 plays and 63 yards. That’s moving the team! By game’s end, Haskins had completed 16 of 22 (72.7%) for 161 yards and a TD. His passer rating for the game was 108.3. Well done.

It’s possible, of course, that the Steelers will keep all three quarterbacks, postponing any real decision on the future. If not, how does Haskins stack up against Rudolph? Well, first of all, Rudolph was not nearly so heralded when he came out of Oklahoma State a year ahead of Haskins. The Steelers grabbed him in the 3rd round (76th overall pick) of the 2018 draft. With Roethlisberger somewhat prone to injury as his long career winds down, Rudolph has seen a fair amount of action, starting nine games and leading the Steelers to a 5-4 record in those games. His stats are a bit better than Haskins’s – but not much: 201/326 (61.7%), 2089 yards, 15 TDs, 10 interceptions. It’s Rudolph’s third year with the Steelers, so he knows the system and the ropes, and against the Eagles last week, Rudolph played the first three series (no points).

One wonders, though, if Pittsburgh was happy with the prospect of Rudolph succeeding Big Ben, why sign Dwayne Haskins? My guess is that Mason Rudolph looks like a career backup. Solid, but probably not championship caliber. Dwayne Haskins, on the other hand, still has star potential. The Steelers as a team, as a franchise, consider themselves always to be Super Bowl contenders. Haskins has their interest.

Two more preseason games for Haskins to shine. And then we’ll see what happens. It may or may not be Dwayne’s last chance, but he’s got to keep his head down and stay away from the party and scandal scene. A question of maturity, perhaps. At 24, Haskins has to behave like a grownup.