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How not owning a car helped WR Steven Sims develop his chemistry with Dwayne Haskins

How not owning a car helped WR Steven Sims develop his chemistry with Dwayne Haskins

It was a surprise to some last fall when Redskins wide receiver Steven Sims made the team's initial 53-man roster. The undersized, speedy wideout had a solid preseason for Washington, but as an undrafted player, his chances of making the team's Week 1 squad at the beginning of training camp appeared quite slim.

Once the initial excitement of making the Burgundy and Gold's roster wore off, Sims quickly realized an important thing he needed to figure out: he had nowhere to live.

"I didn’t have a home in Virginia as soon as we got back from [training camp in Richmond]," Sims said to Sam Fortier of the Washington Post.

Luckily for the wideout, one of his fellow rookies let him crash at his house until Sims got situated. That rookie? Quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

"When we came back to Ashburn, we had a few weeks before camp was over, so I stayed with Dwayne for around a month," Sims said.

During that span, the two of them would become very close. Sims had to adapt to Haskins' schedule, simply due to the fact that he also didn't have a car to get to work. 

But for the pass-catcher, he didn't mind. 

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"It was fun. Dwayne, he loves football, just like me," Sims said. "All he wants to do is watch football, talk football and work. I was on his schedule [because I didn’t have a car], so we were up early. I was [at Redskins Park] on a quarterback’s schedule, so I was there before other receivers were. I feel like that was a blessing in disguise."

The first half of the 2019 season was difficult for both of them. Haskins found himself the backup to veteran Case Keenum and appeared just twice within the first eight weeks, struggling significantly in both outings. Sims was able to make an impact when he was on the field (see him TD run vs. New England in Week 5) but had minimal snaps on offense for much of that span.

Then, in Week 9, Haskins was named Washington's starter for the remainder of the season. Sims took over as the team's main slot pass-catcher in Week 12 and finished with 23 catches for 259 yards and four touchdowns over the Redskins' final six games, with Haskins the starter for five of them.

RELATED: STEVEN SIMS IS AN UNDER-THE-RADAR NAME IN THE NFL. HERE'S WHY THAT WILL CHANGE IN 2020 

So, how was Sims, an undrafted rookie from Kansas, able to be so successful at the end of last year? Well, he credited his late-season success to the chemistry he built with Haskins earlier in the year, particularly when they lived under the same roof.

"[Last year’s success] was just a lot with the connection me and Dwayne have," Sims said. "We built it early in the season, from the day I got there to living in his house. It worked out perfectly."

The duo has parlayed their strong finishes to 2019 into this offseason. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the two have been captured working out together on their own, along with fellow teammates Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims.

During a Zoom media session earlier this month, McLaurin had plenty of praise for both Haskins and Sims.

"With Steven Sims, I feel like he’s probably made one of the biggest jumps to me personally because of how clean his feet are," McLaurin said. "I'm really excited to see him flourish in an offense that can showcase his versatility inside or out."

And for Haskins?

"He's having fun again," McLaurin said. "I feel like his focus is great right now. Physically, mentally, his personal life, he's cleaned some things up. He's ready to prove himself right, really, and just be the leader and the quarterback that this franchise needs and deserves."

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Redskins Position Battles: Who will become second wide receiver across from Terry McLaurin?

Redskins Position Battles: Who will become second wide receiver across from Terry McLaurin?

This week, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will examine some of the more critical position battles you'll see on the Redskins over the next few months.

Next up? That second outside receiver spot across from Terry McLaurin.

Contenders

Kelvin Harmon, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Cody Latimer, Cam Sims

JP's outlook

*Before we dig into the position battle at wide receiver, let’s establish what we know. McLaurin will be the lead dog and Steven Sims will lead the work at the slot. Antonio Gibson could get some slot receiver work too, which will be an interesting wrinkle, but it’s important to identify the actual position battle in play. Those guys aren't exactly involved in this particular discussion.

*McLaurin’s going to play the X receiver position, even if he’s learning all the different positions, as he explained last week: “ I’m excited to play wherever they put me, to be honest. X is kind of like your boundary receiver, your one-on-one guy. Your Z is kind of like your flanker who moves with the formation and your S is like your typical slot, he can move anywhere as well. In this offense, which is nice, I can be the X, but really I’m the Z in a certain formation, so that versatility is really important for what I think Coach Turner and our offense is trying to get done this year.”

*Now, let's get down to business. The position battle here shapes up to be between second-year wideout Harmon and rookie wide receiver Gandy-Golden. I think Harmon wins the battle, and here's why. 

*Gandy-Golden has a lot of potential and physical tools, but at least early on, the jump from Liberty University to the NFL will be significant, especially without a normal offseason. 

*McLaurin is a playmaker. Sims is too. The Redskins hope Gibson will be. Harmon can make tough, contested catches even if he doesn't have deep speed. There's a role for that with a young QB that can trust somebody on 3rd down. Dwayne Haskins has known Harmon for more than a decade from growing up in New Jersey; with no offseason and a new offense, that familiarity could help. 

OTHER BATTLES TO WATCH: LEFT TACKLE | TIGHT END | QUARTERBACK

 

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Pete's outlook

*Like JP, I think Harmon wins this battle for 2020. His comfort level with Haskins, his bigger body and his ability to make a difference as a blocker all make him an appealing cog in this offense. While McLaurin has his straight-line speed and Sims has his shiftiness, Harmon brings his toughness. That element will matter.

*Going off of that last point, I'll never forget what Harmon told me at his first rookie minicamp last May: "I'm always trying to bully the guy in front of me, whether I have to block him or win the route." Ron Rivera is going to love that attitude more than I love making pico de gallo (it's a hobby I've picked up in quarantine and I really love it, just so you know).

*Now, while I certainly see Harmon edging out Gandy-Golden this year, I still like AGG's ceiling more in the long run. He and Harmon have very comparable college stats, yes, and their speed is similar as well, but I like Gandy-Golden's frame and penchant for highlight reel catches to eventually make him a more productive option. I still expect Harmon to carve out a very nice NFL career, but give me Gandy-Golden to finish with more yards and catches (let's talk in like 10 years to see if I was right or not).

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Terry McLaurin believes Redskins WRs Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon poised for breakout second years

Terry McLaurin believes Redskins WRs Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon poised for breakout second years

Entering the 2019 season, the Redskins arguably had the worst wide receiving corps in the entire NFL. However, it didn't take long for the Burgundy and Gold to realize they had a star in the making.

Terry McLaurin had a fantastic NFL debut in Week 1 last season, catching five passes for 125 yards (which could have been over 200 had Case Keenum been a tad more accurate on a few throws) and one touchdown in Washington's 32-27 loss to the Eagles. The third-round pick parlayed his incredible Week 1 performance into one of the best seasons by a rookie pass-catcher in franchise history, finishing the 2019 campaign with 58 receptions for 919 yards and seven touchdowns.

McLaurin enters the 2020 season as a budding star; there's no question about it. But outside of him, there are plenty of questions surrounding the team's receiving corps as to who will step and produce as the No. 2 wideout.

While those questions aren't going away anytime soon, McLaurin is confident in the team's pass-catching group. In a recent Zoom call with local media, McLaurin said he believes that two of his fellow second-year receivers -- Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon -- have the chance to make tremendous strides in 2020.

"Steven and Kelvin look great," McLaurin said. "I can clearly see the improvement that they’ve made in their games and I’m just excited to be a part of that group."

Although McLaurin had the best rookie season of the three, both Sims and Harmon showed plenty of potential towards the end of the season, particularly once then-rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins was named the starter.

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As a way to build on the chemistry Haskins and the three then-rookie wideouts started to form at the end of 2019, the four of them planned to train in Florida this offseason and rent an Airbnb together. But then the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States in rapid fashion in mid-March, putting an end to those plans quickly.

The pandemic has prevented the Redskins from holding in-person offseason activities, too, but McLaurin, Sims, and Harmon have all still been able to train with Haskins on their own.

When asked about Sims, McLaurin said he was impressed by the improvements the speedy wideout has made with his footwork this offseason.

"With Steven Sims, I feel like he’s probably made one of the biggest jumps to me personally because of how clean his feet are," McLaurin said. "He’s always been fast, he’s always been quick, but sometimes he possibly would slip...but you could really tell his feet are so clean and the way he’s running his route his stems looks the same. I’m really excited to see him flourish in an offense that can showcase his versatility inside or out."

During the final four games of the season, Sims totaled 20 receptions for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Sims, an undrafted player from Kansas, proved to be a home run threat every time he touched the ball, whether that be as a receiver, rusher, or even as a returner.

RELATED: STEVEN SIMS IS AN UNDER-THE-RADAR NAME. HERE'S WHY THAT'LL CHANGE IN 2020

While Harmon's numbers were not as pretty as Sims', the N.C. State product finished with three or more receptions in five of the Redskins final seven games last season.

"Kelvin is moving really well. He has a great burst in the way he’s running his routes," McLaurin said. "His feet are clean, he’s always had really good hands. When we’re connecting on deep balls, usually everybody kind of expects me being the fast guy I’m going to hit on them all and things like that, but Kelvin’s timing has been great and he and Dwayne are really building that chemistry."

Haskins spoke to reporters last week, too, and had nothing but great things to say about the three wideouts.

"I mean, going through the young guys, Kelvin is in great shape, he’s running like I’ve never seen him before," Haskins said. "Steven looks great. I really don’t even worry about them being in shape it’s more so just the communication."

And for McLaurin?

"It’s the best I’ve seen Terry and I’ve known Terry since I was a freshman in college," Haskins said. "So, everybody’s putting in that work and it’s showing."

Although he's by far the most proven of the three, McLaurin would not describe himself as the "alpha" of the receiving group. However, he explained that during these workouts, he tries to set an example for the other receivers.

"I don’t really try to get into being the alpha per se, but I know I try to set a good pace to our workouts and things like that," McLaurin said. "[I] try to go first when we’re running routes, try to run the routes right, try to set the right example for the guys that we’re throwing with and just try to make it look good. Trying to make Dwayne feel as comfortable as possible is my main objective."

While McLaurin played almost entirely on the outside in 2020, he explained that he, along with the other wideouts, has the versatility to line up from multiple different positions in new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense.

"I’ve been trying to learn it all conceptually and I feel like that gives our team versatility," McLaurin said on lining up at three wide receiver positions. "I feel like it gives me versatility and it’s something that I feel I can handle mentally just learning conceptually this new offense."

The expectations of Washington's wide receiving corps are not high outside of Redskins Park. But between the improvements he's seen from his teammates and with Turner's offensive system in place, McLaurin is confident that the group will be able to deliver in 2020.

"The receivers that we have, not just including me, Steven and Kelvin, but with the other receivers that we have, I feel like this could be a very receiver-friendly offense," McLaurin said. "We just got to make sure that we’re keyed into what we need to be doing on every play."

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