The football may look the same between the hash marks, but the 2020 NFL season has been unlike any to have preceded it.
The players on the field didn't have offseason workouts, minicamps, OTAs or preseason games to iron things out before the regular season began. For veterans that have been there and done that before, it's no problem. They may have even preferred it. For those who needed those practice reps, it's proved to be problematic.
As NBC Sports' Chris Simms explained on ProFootball Talk Thursday, recently benched Dwayne Haskins could be seen as a symbol for the latter.
"Dwayne Haskins is the poster child for the guy that got affected by COVID-19," Simms said. "A young guy who came out early of college, only played one year of college football. I mean one year of college football. Played a few games last year. It was very raw. We saw some good, that all made us hopeful. To not have an offseason for a guy as raw as him, yeah, that really hurt him."
Haskins started one year at Ohio State, and while prolific (4,831 yards, 50 TD), ran a notoriously simplistic offensive scheme focused on getting the Buckeyes' playmakers the ball in space. Then he only started seven games last season before having a completely new offense to learn in 2020.
Sure, you hope for more production by a player with his talent. It just appears there was too much of a learning curve for him to overcome following a historically limited offseason.
"They can't run the normal offense," he said. "I truly believe that. They're having to run the offense that kind of manages Dwayne Haskins as they go. Cause he's kind of learning on the fly. And it's a very tough position for him to be in. I feel for him. Let alone he's made some really bad mistakes in some big moments that have affected their football team and of course he's been inconsistent too. Whether that's bad decisions or just you know at times he can make some throws where you go, 'Whoa! Look at that damn throw. But then can throw a five-yard out route that you go, 'Man that looks like it was so much work and so hard for him and he missed the target by four feet.' So there's things he has to work on. There's no doubt about that and I understand them with the benching, I do."
If there was no pandemic, maybe things are different. Perhaps with more practice reps, Ron Rivera and Scott Turner have a better idea of Haskins' strengths and tailor the offense to them. Or maybe with a long look at him, they determine he's not the guy before Week 1 even kicks off.
Now that Haskins is the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, he can use this as an opportunity to make up for time lost in the offseason. Kyle Allen isn't guaranteed the starting job for the rest of the year and Alex Smith's injury concerns are well documented.
"They're going to let him go back, digest the offense, sit on the sidelines, see how to play football," Simms said. "I don't think they're giving up on him. But they know right now he's not the best guy in that room, and the best guy that can give them a chance to win."
If Haskins can come back with a better understanding of the offense and showcase improvement on some of the issues he showed through four starts -- accuracy, vision downfield, etc. -- he could potentially start and finish the year as the starter. Just not in the way anyone would've predicted.