Donald Penn is probably one of the more underrated offensive linemen of the past 15 years. Stretching out a 13-year NFL career after going undrafted out of Utah St all the way back in 2006, he scratched and clawed his way to the top, recording 189 starts in 194 games, including 15 of 16 games in 2019 with Washington.
It was that year, his only season with the franchise, that he blocked for Dwayne Haskins, the team’s rookie first-round pick, and he got a chance to spend the year with the young quarterback—perhaps one of the few more positive influences in his corner.
Penn recently appeared on the Upon Further Review podcast with Zach Brook to discuss his NFL career, having recently retired, and as you might expect, he was asked to address the topic of Haskins, who was released by Washington late last year, and is currently competing for a roster spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Stay focused”, he said of what it would take for Haskins to turn his career around. “Stay focused, get him a small group of people that really care about him, that are only about him, stick with them, and stay focused. Stay focused. Stick to his craft. Stay focused”.
Donald Penn (@DPENN70) on what his former teammate Dwayne Haskins (@dh_simba7) needs to do to flip the script on his NFL career with the #Steelers | Link: https://t.co/GEO3NmUd2H| @UFRPodcast @TheSteelersWire @BlueWireHustle pic.twitter.com/XX7LQuadRp
— Zach Brook (@ZBrook) June 4, 2021
If you’re sensing a pattern there, it’s not by coincidence. Many of those who were with him in Washington have made similar remarks, such as head coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Alex Smith. Of course, it wouldn’t be shocking for a 23-year-old to have some maturing to do.
“I’m not sure what it was, and that was the hard part because he puts in the time, and then he doesn’t”, Rivera said back in March about his former quarterback (whom he inherited, and did not draft). “I think the thing he needs to do is just prioritize. The kid, as I said, he’s talented, and if he ever does get it, he’s going to make an impact”.
Smith said back in January that there “was a lot working against” Haskins in Washington that “didn’t allow him to reach his potential”, another common theme, which Penn also mentioned. “The talent’s there”, he said. “Stay focused, learn the playbook inside out, learn the defense inside out”.
Asked by Brook if he felt Haskins could indeed be the heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger, he hedged, but ultimately said yes. “If he learns that playbook inside and out, and puts 110 percent into it, he could do it”.
Everybody who makes it to this level is talented, especially anybody who manages to be drafted in the first round. But we all know they don’t all work out. Haskins has control over what happens to him from this point forward, and those who know him believe that—if he wants it enough.