QB Dwayne Haskins to start Friday, vie to solidify spot on Pittsburgh Steelers' roster

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time since imploding against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 of the 2020 season, Dwayne Haskins will start a football game.

Haskins, competing for a roster spot in Pittsburgh, was given the starting nod for the Steelers' final preseason game against the Panthers, coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday.

"Excited about giving him an opportunity to see some reps against Carolina's first group," Tomlin said.

Playing for the Washington Football Team, Haskins completed 14 of 28 attempts for 154 yards with two interceptions in the December start against the Panthers and was replaced by Taylor Heinicke for the last two drives of the fourth quarter. He was released a day later.

For Haskins, the opportunity to start against the Panthers is an opportunity to show his growth from the debacle a year ago.

"I feel like that game really just was tough for me more than anything," Haskins said Wednesday. "Probably the biggest thing for me going into this game is understanding and realizing that that's not who I am now, and that's not what I was trying to be when I was playing. ...

"I'm looking forward to showcasing and doing things that I know I'm talented enough to do. And go out there and put it on film."

The 2019 first-rounder signed a one-year deal with the Steelers in January and has played well in the preseason. He was the second quarterback to enter the game after Mason Rudolph in the Hall of Fame Game,and in the next game versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Against the Eagles, Haskins completed 16 of 22 attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown and led three more scoring drives.

Because the Panthers are planning to play their starters, Friday will be Haskins' first opportunity to play with the starters and go against a first-string defense in the preseason.

"It's all a business," Haskins said of limited opportunities with the first string. "You have to earn the right to have those type of reps. It's my first year here, so I think the opportunity I do get, I've got to do good stuff so I can get more.

"I don't have the expectation that I need to have varsity reps or I want to be with the 1s and if I don't have it, I won't be happy. I don't feel that way at all. But when I do get those reps, I look at it as opportunity to show why they brought me here."

Tomlin didn't disclose how long Haskins will play before being replaced with Josh Dobbs.

"I'm just interested in seeing him play more," Tomlin said of Haskins. "This process is fair in that everybody gets an opportunity to show their skill set and we work hard to get to know them. He's new to us, and so the additional reps and exposure is good for him and for us to get to know him."

Through the Steelers' offseason program and training camp, Haskins said he has seen the most growth in his confidence.

"I feel like being here has allowed me to be myself and be able to go out there and have fun," Haskins said. "I feel like you see it in my play, you see it in how I operate, how I talk to my teammates. I feel like it's contagious."

"It's a combination of everything," Haskins added, explaining the keys that led to his increased confidence. "Really just trusting myself, believing in myself and taking a lot of time to self-reflect on things. And, of course, being in a situation where people around you want to see you succeed. That's probably the biggest thing."

Rudolph and Ben Roethlisberger will not play Friday, signaling that Rudolph has all but locked up the backup quarterback spot.

Haskins, though, wasn't outwardly discouraged by the thought that he could spend the season as the No. 3 quarterback.

"I think the biggest thing I learned in my time in the previous regime is, stuff happened and I was a third-string guy and then I had to come in and play," Haskins said. "Coming into this year, whether I have to suit up every game or be the support guy, just prepare as if I'm going out there. If I get scout-team reps, reps with the offense and just be able to maximize those reps to be able to go in a game-like situation."

Tomlin added that while many "regulars" will not play against the Panthers, many of the offensive linemen will play as that group works to gain cohesion.

And although Tomlin's initial plan called for rookie running back Najee Harris to play in each of the Steelers' four preseason games, the coach acknowledged that the plan has changed and said Harris will not play Friday.

Instead, running back Benny Snell, who has not played in the preseason as he dealt with a lower-body injury, will get the start to "prove his health," Tomlin said. And rookie Tre Norwood will get an opportunity to play nickel as the team continues to audition Mike Hilton replacements.

"We'll move some of those guys out of the way to provide more snaps for others," Tomlin said of playing starters. "... There will be no speculation. Those guys will get an opportunity to pit their skills and preparedness and techniques against varsity."