ASHBURN — For all of Washington’s offseason practices, the team’s quarterback rotation didn’t change much. Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the first one up. Then Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. And maybe Steven Montez, depending on the drill. The only slight tweak to the order would be when Heinicke and Allen would occasionally swap places.
If coach Ron Rivera is to be believed, get ready to see some variation in training camp.
As Washington’s mandatory minicamp concluded Thursday, Rivera said he plans to run a quarterback competition when the team returns in late July for camp. Of course, Rivera said the same thing last year, only to give Dwayne Haskins practically all the reps with the first team — a decision, in hindsight, Rivera has said was a mistake.
“It’s going to be a good competition,” Rivera said. “I look forward to it, I think it’s going to push our football team and make our football team better. I just feel that going into this knowing we have a proven guy (in Fitzpatrick) that has the ability to lead us, but again, we have a guy in Taylor that shows us he can do it. They are going to compete, they are going to push and I’m looking forward to it.”
The reality is that Fitzpatrick should be the one heavily favored to start. After all, Washington added the 38-year-old on a one-year, $10 million salary in the offseason — and Fitzpatrick has extensive starting experience. Heinicke and Allen, by comparison, make less than $3 million combined.
Still, Rivera said he has come away impressed with the quarterbacks after minicamp. Fitzpatrick “jives” with the offense and took command of the huddle, Rivera said. Heinicke, a standout in the playoffs, can produce even as the play breaks down around him, leading to big and flashy plays. The group, as a whole, retains information quickly, Rivera said.
There were times, however, that the offense looked like a considerable work in progress. Washington’s defense dominated practice over the last two days, and on Thursday, the quarterbacks threw four interceptions in team drills: Two from Fitzpatrick, one from Heinicke and one from Allen.
Those kinks are to be expected. Rivera said he told the offensive line to not be as physical as they would normally be, trying to prevent them from suffering an injury. Quarterbacks, too, regularly use the offseason to experiment with certain types of throws and are willing to be more reckless.
“Everyone is a little bit different in terms of the way receivers run routes and expect the ball, the way the quarterbacks are throwing balls,” Fitzpatrick said last month. “Part of it is, for me at least is that I am going to put it in the spot I believe it needs to be. That is going to result early on in some incompletions and then we can talk about why I threw it where I did.”
Rivera said Thursday that he intends to create game-like situations in camp so he can test the quarterbacks and see how they respond. He indicated that he wants to see Heinicke and Allen with the first team regardless of whether Fitzpatrick takes command of the job, just in case an injury forces one of them into a game in the fall. Washington used four quarterbacks last year and often had to adjust on the fly.
When looking back at last year, Rivera said he was too eager to “try and find a guy.” That guy was Haskins, the former first-rounder who was benched after four games when Washington got off to a 1-3 start. Though Rivera said he gave Haskins 11 weeks — seven weeks of camp and four games —he admitted the approach was wrong.
“I should have declared a competition and kept it at that,” Rivera said.