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Get to know Washington's options at quarterback


There's been some minor changes to Jordan Ta’amu and ​​Garrett Gilbert’s schedules this week.

Ta'amu was in Nashville, Tennessee, getting ready for a workout when he got the call for him to head to the DMV. Gilbert, who was a member of the New England Patriots' practice squad until 11:15 a.m. Friday morning, was preparing to play the Indianapolis Colts.

Now, they're both members of the Washington Football Team. Minor changes, indeed. And with starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list ahead of Washington's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Ta'amu, Gilbert and Kyle Shurmur all have a chance to play and have been preparing as if they will do so.

"We have three quarterbacks that have practiced with us that do know what we do," said head coach Ron Rivera. "We also know what their strengths are. I mean, so for the most part, what we'll have to do is take a look at it and see what the situation is."

It's been a quick turnaround for Washington, who has seen both of its top options at quarterback placed on the COVID-19 list in the span of three days, but the team has done its best to find signal-callers who at least have some familiarity with the offensive system. Shurmur has been with the team since Sept. 13, offering the most recent and familiar sample size for the coaching staff. Ta'amu was with the team during rookie minicamp, while Gilbert spent time with Rivera's Carolina Panthers in 2017 and 2018.

Prior to joining Washington after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered his hip subluxation, Shurmur set multiple school records at Vanderbilt before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. And bouncing on and off the Chiefs practice squad for the 2019 season, he joined the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad and was waived on Aug. 31 of this year.

Shurmur has made a solid impression in his time with Washington. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has been pleased with his work ethic, particularly with an increase in practice reps this week, and Rivera called him "a smart young man."

"He knows football, he gets football, he's got a good football pedigree, had a good career at Vandy," Rivera said. "I know he's played in games, played in big games, but he hasn't really played in a real game at our level. He's played in preseason games. If that's where we have to go, that's where we're gonna go. We have a plan for that."

Gilbert is Washington's veteran option in this scenario. The 2014 sixth-round pick began his career with the Rams franchise before joining the Patriots' practice squad late in December of his rookie season. He spent time with the Detroit Lions and Raiders before coming to Carolina, where he served as Kyle Allen’s backup in the last game of the 2018 season and made his debut when Allen left the game with an injury. He completed two passes for 40 yards.

Gilbert then spent time in the now-defunct AAF with the Orlando Apollos before seeing time with the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys.

It's been a couple years, Gilbert said, since he was in Turner's system, but he's been in a number of schemes in his career, so re-learning Washington's Air Coryell-based offense is within his ability.

"Most things sound familiar to me," Gilbert said. "So it's about recollecting all those words and putting meaning back with them. But the good news is that I'm starting from square one. All the words definitely have meaning to me, which helps me get a nice little baseline."

Ta'amu has only been in the league since 2019, but he's spent time with three teams. After playing for Ole Miss and finishing second in SEC passing yards, he signed with the Houston Texans and was released 23 days later.

Ta'amu then spent a year with the St. Louis Battlehawks in the XFL, and when the league folded, he spent time alternating between the Chiefs and Lions practice squads.

Ever since Washington signed Ta'amu on Wednesday, his primary concern has been to catch up on the offense, which has since expanded since he was with the team during rookie minicamp. He spent time studying the playbook before Wednesday's practice so that he was as up to speed as possible on the team's game plan for the Eagles. He's tried to get the run plays down first before moving on to the passing play and memorizing each route.

Having Heinicke as a guide has also provided a boost.

"He's kind of got the grips of it," Ta'amu said. "He kind of breaks up the play call into three different segments, so it makes it a lot easier for him, and it kind of helped me just watching him."

With Washington's quarterback situation in flux, there's no telling who will be starting against the Eagles. That decision will come down to Rivera and his staff, who will deliberate over the next few days to determine what the best option is for the team. Depending on the testing results over the weekend, it's possible all three will be active for kickoff.

For now, all options are on the table, and all the quarterbacks are doing whatever they can to be ready.

"If the opportunity presents itself, I'm excited," Shurmur said. "I've worked hard all year, despite not playing. I've practiced hard, prepared every week as if I'm the one who's playing. If the opportunity presents itself, I'm fired up."

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