Washingtonians love controversy. It drives the city and its biggest business - partisanship. For better or worse, that even extends to the football team, especially at the quarterback position.
So when undrafted underdog Taylor Heinicke - he of the recent Wild Card heroics - outplays veteran starter Ryan Fitzpatrick for three days in an unpadded June minicamp, the regional love of controversy starts to poke its head out.
Sonny or Billy.
Gus or Heath.
Robert or Kirk.
It’s been going on for decades, however, it’s not really going on now. Not yet anyway.
There’s a big difference between competition and a quarterback competition.
A quarterback competition requires both combatants getting work with the first-team offense.
During minicamp Fitzpatrick got all of the work with the first team. All of it. Every single snap.
Heinicke got zero.
And while Fitzpatrick didn’t produce many wow plays - and had a few bad throws - he competed against Washington’s first-team defense. He also explained that he was throwing to spots to show his receivers how he wants routes run; not necessarily throwing where receivers were.
That’s an important distinction.
In baseball it often happens that pitchers get “roughed up” during Spring Training, even some of the best. The explanation is simple - at that point the pitchers are working on ball location, not trying to get batters out.
Bill Belichick says that off-season workouts are used for teaching and learning. Training camp is used for competing.
Considering that, there is no quarterback competition in Washington, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t competition.
Heinicke is good and can excel in Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s system. Heinicke plays the QB position on an intuitive level, and when he’s on, the ball comes out timely and crisp. At his best, he’s actually quite impressive.
But so is Fitzpatrick.
In his last three seasons he’s thrown 50 touchdowns against 33 interceptions. That ratio - about 1.5 to 1 - is starter level. He gives his best players chances to make plays downfield, an element that was damn near absent last season. He’s an NFL veteran with 17 years of experience, not to mention a $10 million price tag this season.
During minicamp Fitzpatrick was learning, and probably teaching. He wasn’t focused on competing.
That will be different when Ron Rivera’s team takes the field in Richmond in late July.
During training camp, competition is everywhere. It’s in the air. Teammates fistfight each other as they claw and battle for roster spots. Grown men wearing helmets and body armor literally punch each other - and they're teammates. That's competition. It’s cutthroat.
Now should there be a lengthy struggle by Fitzpatrick and a continued Heinicke surge during training camp and preseason action, then maybe this actually becomes a QB competition. Fitzpatrick will get a very long leash though. Very long.
Still, each day in camp, the quarterbacks will compete.
That just doesn’t mean there is a quarterback competition.