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'The kid is a gamer': Heinicke's teammates have complete faith in him

10192022 Week 7 Practice EF154

There are several aspects of Taylor Heinicke’s skill set that simply cannot be quantified by normal statistics, from his grit to his desire to win to his tendency to dive for pylons.  

Those things will not show up on any analytics website, but his teammates have seen how they can affect a game and the rest of the roster. 

"The kid is a gamer, and I think everyone knows that," said tight end Logan Thomas. 

With Carson Wentz rehabbing from a fractured finger, the Washington Commanders elected to name Heinicke the starting quarterback until he makes a full recovery. It is hardly the first time Washington has dealt with a quarterback change midseason, as the team has started at least two signal-callers every season since 2018. 

And yet the move back to Heinicke does not feel like a seismic shift for the players. They know what he brings to the offense, and those traits are the reason why they have faith in him. 

"It's like a plug-and-play type of thing for us for sure," Sam Cosmi said.

Many of the players on the Commanders' roster have experienced the full extent of Heinicke's story. They were with him when he was signed as the team's "quarantine quarterback" in 2020 and made his Burgundy & Gold debut against the Carolina Panthers. They saw him nearly upset Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the playoffs after starter Alex Smith was ruled out hours before kickoff.

Heinicke was preparing to get his degree at Old Dominion and give up on football when Washington called him. Two months later, those plans changed dramatically.

"That's a really, really cool story of why people gravitate towards him and really like him," Cosmi said.

Heinicke's journey is also why his teammates respect him. Terry McLaurin pointed out that the NFL is all about making the most of opportunities, and the wideout believes that Heinicke is "probably one of the poster boys for that."

"He did everything he could to give us a chance to be successful," McLaurin said. "Since then, he's taken it and run with it."

Heinicke was given the reins in 2021 after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a season-ending hip subluxation in Week 1, and over the course of 15 starts, he completed 65% of his passes for 3,419 yards and 20 touchdowns. But what impressed the players more than the stats was his ability to keep them in games in tight situations. One of the best moments came in Week 2, his first as a starter in 2021, when he delivered a touchdown pass to Ricky Seals-Jones to take the lead against the New York Giants and later set the team up for a game-winning field goal.

"He's always been that kind of guy that provides energy," Thomas said. "And I wouldn't expect anything less this weekend and moving forward. That's who he is, that's his personality."

While not perfect, Heinicke has confidence in his own abilities, and the players can feel that.

"We're excited to see what he brings to the table on Sunday," McLaurin said.

What he brings against the Green Bay Packers in Week 7 could look a little different than what he showed last season. Heinicke has been working on his mechanics since the offseason to fine tune his footwork and throwing motion. That has led to him improving his arm strength, which he believes will help him stretch the field.

The starters have not had many reps with him in practice, but the extra effort he has made to improve has been clear.

"He stacks really good days," McLaurin said. "The way he's driving the ball down the field is definitely a lot better for us as receivers. It gives us a chance to track the ball down the field, and it gives us a chance to make plays."

That, along with his expanded knowledge of the offensive system, makes his teammates believe he will be well-equipped for Sunday's game.

"He just gets more and more confident delivering the ball, finding where to go with the ball and getting it out of his hands fast," Thomas said. "He's gonna be ready to go, he's gonna be juiced, and he's gonna play well."

The Washington Commanders took the field on Wednesday for their second practice ahead of their Week 7 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Take an inside look at their afternoon of work. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

Whether he is extending plays with his legs or delivering throws to his receivers, Heinicke's teammates know that he is going to leave everything he has on the field. That is something they can appreciate about the quarterback, regardless of how games unfold.

Heinicke's traits that cannot be measured have earned the players' respect, and as they prepare to take on last year's No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC, they have no doubts about what he can bring to the field.

"The heart with which he plays with, I feel like a lot of our guys can galvanize behind that," McLaurin said. "He's gonna give us a good chance to be successful this week."

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