- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2021

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner put it bluntly: Washington can’t afford to “baby” Taylor Heinicke.

After signing with Washington over a month ago, Heinicke is in a position in which he could be thrown into a game or practice at any moment as starter quarterback Alex Smith deals with a calf injury. And on Thursday, Washington listed Smith as questionable for Saturday’s playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while coach Ron Rivera said Heinicke took “the bulk of the reps” in practice.

As long as Smith receives medical clearance and feels healthy enough to play, the 36-year-old will be the starter. But Washington wants Heinicke to be seriously prepared to play in case Smith can’t.

“If Taylor is going to play, he’s got to play,” Turner said Wednesday. “We’re not going to baby him. We’re not going to play scared. We’re going to play to win. Everybody on this team deserves that. He’s capable of it. He’s got to raise himself up to the challenge, and he will. I’ve spent a lot of time with him.”

Taylor made just one appearance in the regular season, taking over for Dwayne Haskins in the fourth quarter of a Week 16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Heinicke played well as he threw for 137 yards and a touchdown, but that was just his eighth NFL appearance since 2015 and was out of the league for most of the season. Before signing with Washington, Heinicke was a backup in the XFL and went back to school to get his mathematics degree at Old Dominion.

Rivera has also echoed confidence in Heinicke, even suggesting a possible quarterback rotation if necessary. On Thursday, Rivera said Smith’s calf was still a “little bit sore” and would be further evaluated Friday. Smith made his return from a two-game absence in Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles, but struggled with his mobility throughout the game.

Smith threw 162 yards on 32 attempts, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Rivera attributed Smith’s turnovers partly because of the quarterback’s injury.

Smith was one of four players questionable for Saturday’s game, joining wideout Terry McLaurin (ankle), running back Antonio Gibson (toe) and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle). McLaurin and Gibson are likely to play, as is Smith barring a setback. 

“It was one of those things that I wish we had an extra day (for Smith to rest), just to be sure,” Rivera said.

If Washington turns to Heinicke, he’ll be matched up against Tom Brady as the opposing quarterback.

Heinicke was briefly Brady’s teammate in 2017 when both were with the New England Patriots. Heinicke, a practice squad quarterback, said he wanted to make a good first impression, so he tried to arrive at the Patriots’ facility before the rest of the team. He said he showed up to watch film at 5:15 a.m. — only to find Brady had already arrived.

“He had no idea they had just signed a practice squad quarterback so he was like, ‘Who the hell are you?’” Heinicke said. “I got to introduce myself to Tom and got to sit and watch some film with Tom for the first 15 to 20 minutes of that day.”

Heinicke said he learned a lot from Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

So, what was it like studying tape with arguably the best quarterback of all-time?

“It’s one of those things where you don’t want to say anything stupid,” Heinicke said, “where he’s like, ‘Get this guy out of here.’ I just kept my mouth shut.”

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