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Taylor Heinicke's Work As A Pocket Passer Is Paying Off


Taylor Heinicke took the snap at the New York Giants' 19-yard line. He patted the ball and surveyed his options before firing a pass to Ricky Seals-Jones in the corner of the end zone.

The result was a touchdown, giving Washington a one-point lead. Not to start comparing Heinicke to elite quarterbacks like J.D. McKissic did when he uttered the former undrafted signal-caller's name in the same sentence as Russell Wilson, but it was a play veterans tend to make.

One attribute Heinicke does share with Wilson is his ability to extend plays with his legs. While still a key part of Heinicke's arsenal, it's not a weapon he's used much with just 23 yards on seven attempts. That's not an accident, either; it's part of Heinicke's efforts to develop as a pocket passer.

"The biggest thing for me is to have my legs be my last option," Heinicke said. "I really try and get the ball to those playmakers ... If things break down, then my legs can be a checkdown."

Being able to operate out of the pocket is something Ron Rivera saw Heinicke work at throughout training camp. He doesn't want to rely on his reputation as a "gamer" to the point that it becomes a crutch. Instead, he's used the time in practice to improve at going through his progressions and making the right reads.

The change has been apparent to Rivera. Heinicke had some of the composure he's shown recently with the Carolina Panthers, but now it's been amplified. He's more settled and has a mature approach to the position.

"He works extremely hard at it," Rivera said. "As I said, there is a lot of confidence and you see the swagger and right now his teammates see it. They recognize it and they're feeding off of it as well."

That effort is reflected by his stats as well. In roughly two games, Heinicke has the seventh-fastest release time (2.52 seconds), the 11th-best passer rating (104.4) and the seventh-best completion rate (73.8%).

"That's a cool thing about practices," Heinicke said. "That's what you're trying to do. You don't want to scramble during practice. You're not really getting that look during practice. You always try and stay in the pocket, go through the right reads and make the right decision. For the last five, six years I've been working on that."

Heinicke's pass to Seals-Jones is a taste of what can happen when he trusts the players around him. Right before Heinicke threw the pass, there was an opportunity for him to run upfield. But rather than taking a chance on getting the touchdown himself -- and risking injury -- he chose the better option. He was rewarded for it.

"If you look at the touchdown, [it] was a perfect example of him being patient and going through his progression," Rivera said. "I think that's something that has really helped him and you see it helping him in terms of his development."

Heinicke could have settled for leaning on the use of his legs. Other quarterbacks have done the same, but it's an unfavorable gamble as to whether he could have a long career with that path. Heinicke has taken the safer bet: hone his skills as a passer and get more familiar with Scott Turner’s system.

It's part of what's led to respect from his teammates.

"For a guy like him, the game moves pretty slowly," Terry McLaurin said. "And he doesn't just hang his hat on what he's done in the past. He's always continuing to try to get better."

That doesn't mean the scrambling that fans love is gone forever. Heinicke affirmed he'll still do it if the situation calls for it. He's just trying to grow into a bigger threat from the pocket.

After seeing what he did against the Giants, there's nothing wrong with that.

"That's what you want to do anyways," Heinicke said. "It was good for that to happen, get the ball in those guys' hands, let them do their thing.