Taylor Heinicke remembers when he realized he might get another shot as the Washington Commanders' starting quarterback. It was in the Chicago Bears' visiting locker room after Washington 12-7 primetime victory, when Carson Wentz told him that he may have broken his finger in the game.
"I told him I was gonna pretend like he didn't say that to me," Heinicke said. "I had some plans to go play some golf down in Norfolk [Virginia]."
In all seriousness, Heinicke was excited about the opportunity. He knows how rare it is to be named an NFL starter, and until Wentz comes back from rehabbing his hand, he plans to do everything possible to help the team get out of the 2-4 hole it is in.
When Heinicke addressed the media on Wednesday, he struck a different presence from one that might have been seen last year. He is calmer and more confident in himself after starting 15 games in 2021. Some of that stems from the work he did in the offseason to improve his mechanics, and he believes that will lead to better results when he takes the field on Sunday.
"I just feel like I'm head and shoulders above where I was [last year]," Heinicke said.
There were two areas from his skill set that Heinicke wanted to work on heading into the summer: footwork and arm strength. He was relying too much on his arm to make throws rather than using the rest of his body, and it led to some issues in terms of velocity and getting the ball deeper downfield.
Heinicke travelled to Los Angeles several times during the offseason to train with 3DQB's Adam Dedeaux, the same trainer who works with Wentz and other top quarterbacks. It was during those sessions that he learned more about incorporating his hips into his throws with a motion that he described as "pretty much the same exact thing as a golf swing."
"That's where you get all your power from," Heinicke said. "I've tried to use my hips a lot more."
Those tweaks do not necessarily mean that Heinicke will throw the ball downfield more often; he made plenty of attempts at that last year, too. However, it does mean that he will be more comfortable when asked to make those throws.
"I know where to put the ball," Heinicke said. "I know how far I need to throw it. I'm more comfortable with those guys down the field. I just feel more comfortable throwing it down the field this year."
That comfort also increased with every snap he got last season. It led to him understanding what he needed to do to win and what not to do to avoid losing. He threw 15 interceptions last season, which he called "unacceptable" and "the easiest way to lose games."
Against the Packers, Heinicke has a simple plan: play smart and keep drives alive.
"We moved the ball [last year]," Heinicke. "We got down in the red zone. We just couldn't punch it in. Against these guys, [if] we move the ball, get down in the red zone and score this time, I think I like our chances."
Heinicke understood the move to bring in Wentz, but at the same time, he kept working hard for his next chance, which he knew could come at any moment. That chance has arrived, and on Sunday, he will show how much that work has paid off.
"It's unfortunate that Carson got hurt, but here we are," Heinicke said. "I'm excited to go play."
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Here are some more notes from Wednesday's practice.
-- Rivera said that Wednesday would be an indicator for where Jahan Dotson, Logan Thomas and Sam Cosmi were at in their recoveries. With Dotson and Cosmi, there was some good news, as both were in pads and were limited participants. Cosmi, who had surgery on his hand earlier this season, had a cast on his left hand. He has not played since Week 4.
-- Thomas was in uniform but not pads and worked on the side field along with John Bates. Both players' status is unclear at this point. In the locker room, Thomas said he felt good during practice and thinks it was a step towards him playing on Sunday.
-- As Rivera noted during his press conference, Cosmi is still learning how to play with the cast around his left hand. The biggest task has been adjusting to grab defenders, which is a critical component of his role. He has figured out a way to use it to his advantage, though: use it as a weapon to be as physical with opponents as possible...within the parameters of the rule, of course.
-- Dotson, Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin were all asked about having Heinicke under center, and all three expressed their confidence in him. For Samuel and McLaurin, it is not that jarring of a transition since they caught passes from him last season. Most of Dotson's experience with Heinicke is from the offseason, but he has faith that Heinicke will be productive under center.
-- Regarding Chase Young, Rivera said that the defensive end is where the doctors thought he would be in his recovery. He will meet with them again later this week to determine the next steps he needs to take to get back on the field.
-- Assuming Dotson is available, the team believes it will have another dynamic weapon for Heinicke to use. When asked about why Dotson is such a good red zone threat, Rivera pointed to his route running as being very "mature." On top of his speed and quickness, Dotson does a good job of putting himself between the ball and the defense. Once that happens, he can use his wide catch radius to make a play.