When he first saw Taylor Heinicke late last season after Washington signed the quarterback in December, Chase Young thought to himself, 'Dang, who is that little guy?' But it didn't take long for the standout defender to learn that Heinicke was capable of making memorable things happen on an NFL field.
"'Oh yeah, he can go,'" Young concluded after watching Heinicke's early exploits with the Burgundy and Gold, a takeaway he reminisced on while speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
Well, with Ryan Fitzpatrick out for at least six weeks due to the hip injury he suffered in Washington's 2021 opener, Heinicke will get the chance to go again for the franchise.
And while having to turn to a backup signal caller just one matchup into a schedule with 16 more contests left on it is not anyone's idea of ideal, there is a serious belief in the locker room when it comes to Heinicke's ability.
"We know what he can do," Young said. "At that position right now, I don't think anybody's too worried."
"When he gets into the game, he makes the best out of any situation," Terry McLaurin said. "You want to play with a guy like that because you know you always have a chance to make a big play."
"He's a lightning rod," Logan Thomas told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay.
Thursday night's meeting with the Giants will mark Heinicke's third start as a pro. He got the nod once in 2018 for the Panthers and, of course, he was one of the coolest stories of the most recent postseason when he nearly upset the Bucs. That's it, however.
So, why exactly does someone with such little experience inspire so much confidence?
That's a question Heinicke himself was asked during his own press conference Tuesday.
"Maybe it's the being at home, taking classes and coming in and playing well thing. I don't know," he said. "All I know is when I go out there I'm excited to be out there, it's been a dream of mine and I want to go out there and play some good football and win games. So, maybe that's it. I just try and go out there and give the guys some energy and hopefully go get a win."
The out-of-nowhere aspect of his background is definitely a major part of his appeal. Yet for his teammates, there's also the fact that, from what they've seen, he's also been pretty damn effective.
Over the past couple of years, Washington's quarterbacks have been... not great. Therefore, an argument can be made that Heinicke represents the most competent option the organization has trotted out since a healthy Alex Smith, and perhaps even before that.
Sure, the sample size is squeeze-your-thumb-and-pointer-finger-together small, but that's all that people like McLaurin have to go off of — and it's been a positive, if also very brief, collection out outings.
"I think that one of the things that Taylor really uses to his advantage is his anticipation," McLaurin said. "He's really smart, it's like he knows where he's going with the ball pre-snap and then he confirms it post-snap.
"You've got to expect that ball when No. 4's back there, and when he throws it you better be ready, because as soon as you come out of that break, that ball's going to be there. That's what you want."
The way Heinicke's thrived in his few opportunities with Washington has caused many to label him as a "gamer." It's a tag that he "somewhat" agrees with, but he did explain one major difference between what he does during the week versus what he does on Sundays (or, in this upcoming case, Thursdays).
"In practice, you really want to stay in the pocket, go through your reads and kind of see things from the pocket in a perfect world," he said. "But, everyone knows during a game, things break down, holes open up and I know sometimes I can use my legs."
Before going any deeper on Heinicke's talents, it's important to remember that he's never been the primary subject of an opponent's defensive plan while in a Washington uniform; instead, he's either entered the action in a relief effort or at the last minute as the starter.
New York and the other foes that follow, on the other hand, won't be caught off guard in their encounters with the 28-year-old.
Let's also mention that he never really pushed Fitzpatrick for the top job this past offseason, meaning that in the coaches' minds, he is at least a bit of a downgrade on the depth chart. If the staff was completely enamored by his skill set, they wouldn't have targeted Fitzpatrick in free agency.
Nevertheless, Heinicke is their quarterback for the present and the foreseeable future — as long as he stays healthy and stays in his rhythm.
Now, just in case that wasn't clear, Rivera tasked Heinicke with breaking down the squad's huddle ahead of Tuesday's practice. In doing so, Heinicke dropped "a couple of words" about the Giants that weren't repeatable at the podium, but it was evident that his peers really appreciated the message.
"I felt like I needed to get in front of the team a little bit," Heinicke said. "Hopefully it got the guys fired up and ready to play for Thursday."
He undoubtedly has everyone's support. Next up: justifying all of it.