Commanders’ Taylor Heinicke, not Sam Howell, to start in place of Carson Wentz


In the absence of injured quarterback Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders Coach Ron Rivera will turn to Taylor Heinicke instead of Sam Howell for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Rivera could have tapped Howell, giving the third-string rookie a chance to show what he can do at the NFL level, but Tuesday afternoon Rivera explained that, right now, Heinicke “gives us the best opportunity to be successful.”

“We’re still in a good situation, still early in the year,” Rivera said. “We like what we’ve got in terms of the skill sets and in terms of our playmakers, guys that we believe we can get the ball to. And we don’t want to put Sam in a [difficult] situation… this early in his career. We feel he is a young man that, as he grows and develops, he’s got a chance. “

Wentz, who underwent surgery on his fractured right ring finger Monday in Los Angeles, may end up missing several games, but for now, Rivera said, the timeline for his return is unclear. Wentz plans to stay in LA for several days to rehab with his doctors di lui, who will evaluate him again at the end of the week.

Commanders QB Carson Wentz has finger surgery, will not play vs. Packers

When asked if the team would put Wentz on injured reserve, ruling him out for at least four games and freeing up a roster spot, Rivera said: “That’s influenced by the next few days. That’s why he stayed [in California]. “

Wentz posted on Instagram about his surgery Tuesday. “Another opportunity to grow and focus on God’s plan, not my own!” he wrote. “Surgery went great yesterday and I’ll attack rehab with everything I have because that’s all I know how to do!”

While Wentz is out, Washington’s third quarterback will be former University of Georgia star Jake Fromm, whom the team signed to its practice squad Tuesday. Rivera said the Commanders chose Fromm because he was “in a pretty good system” after Buffalo drafted him in the fifth round in 2020. Last year, Fromm started two games for the New York Giants, including a Week 18 loss to Washington.

“If we ever got into an extreme emergency, he’s a guy we believe could learn and learn very quickly,” Rivera said.

In Heinicke, Washington has a veteran it knows well from 15 starts last year. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner will probably keep most of the scheme the same – lots of motion, lots of play action – but Heinicke may limit the team’s ability to throw downfield or out of an empty backfield. Heinicke doesn’t often throw left and can create plays with his feet di lui.

The well-defined parameters of Heinicke’s game seem to attract some fans and repel others. Early in the year, Wentz’s wild swings prompted some to call for Heinicke – and when Wentz got hurt, some wanted Howell because, at 22, he’s seven years younger than Heinicke and has room to grow.

Rivera’s choice of Heinicke over Howell seems rooted in the belief that, even at 2-4, Washington can resurrect its season. Rivera said not turning to Howell isn’t an indictment of his development by lui – “We think he’s on track,” he noted – but there are still things the rookie needs to learn.

Since the spring, when Washington used a fifth-round draft pick on Howell, the franchise has tempered expectations for the rookie from North Carolina. In his first news conference after the draft, Rivera said picking Howell was “all about developing a young guy,” and in his limited comments by lui since, Rivera has been complimentary but restrained. He reiterated several times that Heinicke would remain the backup.

Taylor Heinicke spent the offseason building his game – and his Legos

In the locker room Tuesday, Howell praised Wentz and Heinicke for helping him grow since the draft. He said their insights on preparation, watching film and identifying the structures of opposing defenses before the snap have been the most helpful. He didn’t think his routine of he would change now that he is officially the backup.

“Ever since I got here, I’ve been trying to prepare like I’m the starter, and now, being only one play away, I’m just going to try and do everything I can to be ready if I have to go in, ”he said. “But I just feel for Carson. He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s been so good to me, so I hope his recovery di lui ‘s going well. “

Howell seemed confident that if he had to play, he would be better than he was in the preseason. In parts of three games, he finished 43 for 69 (62.3 percent) for 547 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He took nine sacks. In the preseason opener, he had an impressive late-game showing, rushing for two touchdowns in the final nine minutes against Carolina.

The key to his growth, he said, is footwork. In college, Howell played in an Air Raid offense and was always in shotgun, always taking a three-step drop.

“I was usually standing there, waiting for things to get open,” he said.

In Washington, the number of steps in a drop vary, and the team is strict about getting them right because the play concepts are tied to the timing of the quarterback’s feet. For example, Howell said, on a dig route, he should take a five-step drop, a hitch step forward and throw. But for a drag route, it’s a five-step drop and two hitches.

“It’s really about the rhythm of it,” Howell said, “knowing the rhythm and throwing on that hitch and just having that clock in your head. Knowing the ball should be out based on my feet is a little different, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in that area. “

If Howell gets into a game, he would be the eighth Washington quarterback to take a snap in two-plus seasons under Rivera. Though the coach probably hopes he doesn’t have to use Howell, the rookie is now just one play away – and he is confident that, if called upon, he could excel.

“I learned a lot,” Howell said. “I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”

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