O’Connell, who was the Commanders’ offensive coordinator for Haskins’ rookie season in 2019 before joining the Los Angeles Rams, shared a heartfelt response to the tragic death of Haskins, 24, who was struck and killed by a vehicle in South Florida on Saturday, April 9.
“Struggling to find the words to express how crushing this news is today. Dwayne had such a positive energetic outlook on life and always treated people with genuine kindness,” O’Connell tweeted. “So Talented and with so much positive ahead in his life. Thoughts and Prayers to the Haskins Family.”
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Haskins was training with fellow Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks in South Florida, and, according to the Miami Herald, the Florida Highway Patrol investigated the “fatal vehicle vs pedestrian crash” that happened around 6:30 a.m. on I-595 Westbound between Interstate 95 north and south.”
O’Connell’s NFL Ascent Started With Haskins
O’Connell and Haskins’ connection was built amid turbulence in Washington.
The Commanders started the 2019 season 0-5 and fired head coach Jay Gruden, thrusting O’Connell, formerly the quarterbacks coach, into his first offensive coordinator role while Bill Callahan assumed the role as interim leader of the team.
O’Connell had already developed a rapport with Haskins, drafted 19th overall that year, but was tasked with putting the rookie quarterback in the best position to succeed as a play-caller.
Like most rookie signal-callers, Haskins took his bumps and bruises at first. Haskins won just two games after replacing Case Keenum as the starter in Week 9, averaging a 68.6 passer rating in his first five starts.
However, he showed growth in his final two starts of the season.
In his final two outings, Haskins threw for four touchdowns and posted passer ratings of 121.3 and 143.2. O’Connell maximized Haskins’ mobility, adding more bootleg and screen-pass concepts to the playbook, allowing the rookie to minimize his mistakes in a game manager role. The game seemed to slow down for Haskins, who was sacked just three times in those final two games after being sacked four times a game in his first five starts.
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O’Connell garnered head-coach candidacy buzz the following offseason for his work in Washington but was adamant on supporting Haskins wherever he’d land next season.
“I’m going to definitely talk with him no matter what because I care about him, we’ve spent so much time together this year and I really believe in him,” O’Connell said, per NFL.com. “I’m going to talk to him about the growth that happened. Yes it happened because you’re a talented player, yes it happened because you were able to have experience and get game reps and all that stuff is great, but what I’ll go back to with him is the work and just the ability to come in and understand what it’s like to prepare as an NFL starting quarterback.”
O’Connell left for the offensive coordinator role to coach alongside Sean McVay in Los Angeles, while Haskins played another season in Washington before the Commanders cut him after his second season.
Haskins was signed by the Steelers last year and was poised to compete for the starting spot left vacant by Ben Roethlisberger.
Mike Tomlin: ‘I am Truly Heartbroken’
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, like O’Connell, was at a loss for words following the news of Haskins’ death.
He released the following statement:
I am devasted and at a loss for words with the unfortunate passing of Dwayne Haskins. He quickly became part of our Steelers family upon his arrival in Pittsburgh and was one of our hardest workers, both on the field and in our community. Dwayne was a great teammate, but even more so a tremendous friend to so many. I am truly heartbroken.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Kalabrya, and his entire family during this difficult time.