Football Team

What to make of Taylor Heinicke's strong minicamp for WFT

Football Team

Before getting to all the caveats, let's first come right out and establish this: Taylor Heinicke had himself a damn good minicamp for the Washington Football Team. 

In fact, he looked better than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Now, the caveats.

Heinicke's been in Scott Turner's offense for the majority of his career, while Fitzpatrick just recently got his hands on the playbook. Even though Fitzpatrick is far, far more experienced than Heinicke — the 38-year-old veteran has appeared in 157 more NFL contests than the 28-year-old pro — the latter is more familiar at this point with Turner's scheme.

That matters.

Heinicke also notched all of his completions against a defense that was mostly made up of Washington's backups (with a few starters sprinkled in for certain sequences here and there). Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, was tasked with beating Jack Del Rio's top players, and those dudes are stingy.

That also matters.

Then there are the other factors that need to be mentioned, such as no one was wearing pads, no one could lay a hand on the quarterbacks and the trio of practices occurred in early June. Not August. June.

All of that matters.

But, again, Heinicke was impressive throughout the three days of action, registering major highlights such as a long touchdown strike to rookie Dyami Brown and handling smaller, yet still critical, tasks like executing pre-snap adjustments and not going overboard when things got messy in the pocket.

That, even with the above stipulations, matters, too.

So, the question then becomes: How much does his performance matter when looking ahead to Week 1?

 

After the Burgundy and Gold finished up their third and final piece of minicamp, Ron Rivera reiterated his intention to have his signal callers battle later this summer at training camp. 

"It's going to be a good competition," Rivera said. "I look forward to it, I think it's going to push our football team and make our football team better. I just feel that going into this knowing we have a proven guy there that has the ability to lead us, but again, we have a guy in Taylor that shows us he can do it."

Last week, though, there was no shuffling under center or in shotgun; Fitzpatrick didn't cede any first-string reps to Heinicke, as the staff allowed their $10 million signing to ingratiate himself with the likes of Terry McLaurin, Brandon Scherff, Antonio Gibson and others.

Even as Fitzpatrick encountered a couple of issues — he tossed a dreadful interception during a segment of 9-on-9 drills in Tuesday's session and was also picked twice in a span of four attempts in red zone work on Thursday — he remained in charge of the starters.

Of course, that wasn't shocking. Rivera understands Fitzpatrick needs as much time as possible to develop rapport with his targets and also knows the chaos that would've ensued had he subbed No. 4 in for No. 14.

Yet if the turnovers keep plaguing Fitzpatrick when the team returns to the field in Richmond in late July and into August, then Rivera will be forced to reveal just how much of a competition he's willing to hold.

Overall, when assessing Fitzpatrick and Heinicke's odds of being in the huddle when Washington welcomes the Chargers in the 2021 opener, the former figures to still have a sizable edge.

Among other things, Fitzpatrick has more of a track record — including recent numbers that are supremely encouraging — more wisdom and, yes, more salary than Heinicke does. As for the minicamp mistakes, Fitzpatrick said himself that he's fine with forcing the ball into tight spots in the offseason, because those mistakes lead to learning opportunities instead of the opponent setting up shop deep in Washington territory.

That doesn't mean Heinicke's efforts will be totally forgotten, however.

While Fitzpatrick has the inside path to the starting job, Heinicke is going to make him earn it. Like, really earn it. Heinicke's accurate, extremely comfortable with what Turner wants accomplished and a tremendous improvisor. His durability is concerning, but the rest of his skill set is noticeable.

And if Rivera truly offers him a shot to outdo Fitzpatrick, well, Fitzpatrick better be ready for a serious challenge.