PITTSBURGH — Dwayne Haskins understood Mike Sullivan’s directions for Thursday night.
The veteran quarterback coach, who once helped Eli Manning to one of his best seasons in 2011, told the young Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback to channel guys like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington when he stepped on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field for the Steelers’ second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Coach Sullivan came up to me and said, ‘Be like the jazz players,’” Haskins said after the Steelers’ 24-16 win. “So, that’s just pretty much be smooth. That’s kind of what I was trying to do today, was just be smooth and a lot of plays will come to me. Trust in what I saw, letting my eyes tell me and my feet tell me where to go with the ball.”
Wait, be like jazz players?
“Jazz, as in real smooth, man,” Haskins said with a chuckle, clarifying his coach’s advice. “The blues and all of that stuff. Just bop your head and snap your finger.”
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The former first-rounder wasn’t exactly bopping his head and snapping his fingers on the field, but he was dealing, completing 16-of-22 attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also led two more touchdown drives and another that ended in a field goal.
“I really thought he was in command tonight,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He did a great job of communicating with people, going through progressions, and so forth.”
If the competition for No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger is a war, Haskins won this battle against Mason Rudolph after the pair came to a draw in the Hall of Fame Game. But that hardly means he’s locked up the spot. With two preseason games to go, there’s plenty of fighting left.
“We need to see more,” Tomlin said. “We need to see more of him, we need to see more of everybody. We’ve got two more preseason games and we’re going to continue to write our stories. I think if we continue to put the ball out there and let these guys play and try not to come to any quick conclusions, they will continue to definitely sort themselves out.
“… Sure, we have enough evidence to start forming opinions, but boy, we’ve got a lot of ball in front of us. Just keep an open mind, keep teaching. They keep learning. We keep snapping the football. Decisions will become clear.”
Rudolph again got the start Thursday, but was stymied by holding penalties and a sack and was unable to get the offense in the end zone for the second game in a row.
Coming in midway through the first quarter for Rudolph (8 of 9, 77 yards), Haskins was slow to get going in the first half with just 43 yards on 6-of-7 attempts. But he still led the offense to a touchdown in the second quarter, a 1-yard run by Anthony McFarland set up by an 18-yard completion to Cody White a couple plays earlier. He really settled into a rhythm in the second half, completing 10-of-15 attempts for 118 yards with a 22-yard touchdown to Anthony Johnson as well as a drive that ended with a 1-yard Jaylen Samuels touchdown and another that resulted in a 22-yard field goal.
“Coach did a great job calling some plays and getting me in a rhythm,” Haskins said. “Offensive line did a great job blocking.”
Not every throw was smooth. In fact, a couple balls wobbled their way to the target, like a 24-yard third-down throw to Rico Bussey. And some balls sailed out of the end zone or were thrown behind the receiver. But it was a better performance than a week ago in the Hall of Fame Game when Haskins appeared to play it safe and rely on shorter throws.
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Against the Eagles, Haskins averaged 7.3 yards per attempt, up from 4.2 a week ago.
Perhaps the greatest sign of growth from the Hall of Fame Game to Thursday night was his success on third down. A week earlier, Haskins completed 3-of-4 passes on third down for 13 yards, but he didn’t convert any of them. Against the Eagles, though, Haskins completed 7-of-9 attempts on third down, converting on all seven completions, for 96 yards and the 22-yard touchdown.
“He had a third-down play,” Tomlin said. “It was third and 8 or so, and I saw him go through three or four reads and throw the ball over the middle of the field and convert for us. And that was just a snapshot of the type of night he had tonight. I thought he was very much in command of his play.”
Round III of Haskins vs. Rudolph comes against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 21, but each will come off the bench with Roethlisberger expected to start.