On an exciting episode of the Walker Webcast, we were joined by Washington Commanders’ quarterback, Taylor Heinicke! From playing college football at Old Dominion to being signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent, and now earning a second contract with the Commanders, he has had quite the football career. He and Willy discussed a variety of topics, including his NFL journey, leadership, high-pressure performance, health and nutrition, and so much more.
Willy welcomes Taylor Heinicke, Quarterback of the Washington Commanders NFL team. Taylor played college football at Old Dominion University and was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent after the 2015 NFL draft. After an admiral performance in the 2020 NFL playoffs, he earned his second contract with the Washington Football Team, now known as the Washington Commanders, in 2021. He was named starter during the team’s opening last season.
Taylor grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and had a stellar high school career at Collins High School. He was named Old Spice Player of the Year and MVP of the North/South All-Star Game. He didn’t get his start until his junior year and, by his senior year, was able to showcase the things he had learned in camps and coaching sessions. He immediately accepted his first offer from Old Dominion. It was his parents, he shares, who instilled in him the idea of always finishing the things he begins. He learned the importance of consistency when advancing from high school to college-level football. Many college players dream of playing in the NFL, but few do. Even fewer players actually walk on after not being drafted like Taylor did with the Vikings. He had a great rookie pre-season and was fortunately kept on the team. Being a smaller guy, Taylor has always known he needed to go the extra mile to prove his capabilities.
His NFL debut was for the Texans on Christmas Day 2017 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In just a matter of weeks, he went from feeling like his football career may be over to debuting in the NFL on live television. When the moment actually came, he felt focused and prepared to take it on.
When the pandemic hit, Taylor found himself unsure of what his next move should be. He inquired about possible coaching opportunities and was urged to finish his degree first and foremost. He decided to move in with his sister, enroll in the classes needed to earn his degree, and take up coaching. Motivated by his brother-in-law, he was still training during this time for the small possibility that he may get a call to play. In December 2020, his agent called to inform him that he was being offered a spot in Washington D.C. He was originally brought on to fill in if the team got Covid. The next thing he knew, he was in the game. He completed 26 of 44 passes, 306 yards, threw a touchdown, and more. Two months later, the Redskins came to him with a contract.
Then, Taylor walks us through the complexities of what is typically being called on and off as the players approach the line of scrimmage. In the huddle, different terms are called out, and the players are expected to know exactly what they mean and why they will work. He shares that this was tough to adjust to as a rookie college player entering the league. He speaks about how timeouts disrupt the focus and momentum of a play. As a leader and player, it’s crucial to keep an aura around you that shows you’re in charge and know what you’re doing. In the huddle, he makes a point to make eye contact with every single player. Demonstrating confidence is the best way to make sure his team is feeling confident, too. He also shares the difference in the atmosphere of pre-pre game warm-ups vs. pre-game warm-ups.
Taylor’s conditioning consists of a 50/50 mix of cardio and weight training, focusing predominantly on the lower body. Rather than focusing on flexibility, his trainer works to strengthen everything surrounding the joints to ensure they don’t pop when impacted during play. It is a different approach to training, but Taylor has yet to be injured.
He reveals that most of the team didn’t have a say in changing the name from the Redskins to the Washington Football Team to the Commanders. Willy and Taylor then discuss the upcoming season with Carson now in the starting slot. He anticipated this would happen but just wasn’t sure who it would be in the position. At the end of the day, he is preparing and training just the same backing up as he would if he were starting. Finally, he opens up about his childhood dreams of being a professional athlete and how often he was told that the dream was too far-fetched.
0:48- Willy introduces today’s guest, Taylor Heinicke.
3:30 - The origin of Taylor’s commitment and drive.
7:15 - The process of waling on to the Vikings team.
9:36 - Taylor’s first NFL experience.
13:03 - The point in which Taylor wasn’t sure if his football career would continue.
16:45 - Taylor’s contract negotiation with the Washington Commanders.
23:38 - Explaining the play calls called off approaching the scrimmage line.
25:59 - Keeping up the focus and momentum during time outs.
28:33 - Pre-pregame vs. pre-game.
30:02 - Taylor’s conditioning schedule.
35:20 - Changing the name of the Washington Redskins.
36:29 - Looking towards the upcoming season.
39:39 - The best coach Taylor has ever had.
40:49 - The factors which led Taylor to the position he is in today.
Willy Walker: Welcome, everyone. It's great to have my friend Taylor with me today. I have going on behind me the Colorado Avalanche Championship Parade. And so, there's all this noise and there's sirens going on and stuff. And I thought I'd give people a sense of the view going on right behind me outside my window. But there's everyone in the streets of Colorado with the team going by. And they've even got the Budweiser Clydesdales out here for the championship parade. Taylor, I'm hopeful someday that's got you in it for winning the Super Bowl with one of the teams you play for.
Let me jump into a quick introduction of you and a little bit on your background, and then you and I can dive into our conversation.
Taylor Heinicke is quarterback of the Washington Commanders of the National Football League. He played college football at Old Dominion University and was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. Heinicke has also been a member of the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, and Carolina Panthers, as well as the St. Louis Battle Hawks of the XFL. After an admirable performance filling in for the injured Alex Smith in the 2020 NFL playoffs, Heinicke earned a second contract with the Washington football team in 2021. He was named starter following an injury to first string quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during the team's opener last season.
So, Taylor, let's back up here. You grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, which is between Atlanta and Athens, and you had a stellar high school career as a screaming eagle at Collins High School being named Old Spice National Player of the Year and being MVP of the North/South All-Star Game. How did you end up at ODU and not at the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech?
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah. So, growing up through high school, I didn't get to start until my junior year. And at that point we had probably the best running back in the state at that time. So, we were in the ball off 40 times a game. I maybe throw the ball 7 to 12 times. So, I didn't have a lot of great film out there. I was a shorter guy. I think I was maybe 5’9”-5’10” at 170 pounds. So, my biggest thing was going to all these different summer camps, all these colleges trying to just get a coach to like me. Sure enough, senior year we turned the spread. So, I was throwing the ball 30 to 40 times a game and started to put up some good numbers and started winning some games. And late my senior year I got my first offer from Old Dominion, and you know, I took it right when it came. They took a chance on me, and it was my first offer, and it meant a lot to me. So, I just committed right there on the spot.
Willy Walker: That says a lot about you, Taylor and I think having studied your career a little bit as it relates to they committed to you, you committed to them and then sort of this “stick-with-it-ness” that has existed in your personality. Where does that tenacity or stick-with-it-ness come from? Who do you think you learn that from?
Taylor Heinicke: I think I learned from my parents. Growing up, I always had this battle between football and baseball, which one I liked more. And I just remember during the baseball season, I would love it and I would be like, “I don't want to play football.” My dad was like,” No, just give it two weeks and if you start it, you got to finish it.” So, once I started a sport, he made me finish the whole season and I'll always remember, I always hated it at first and by the end of it I loved it. So, I think that's kind of where I learned it. You know, once you start something, you finish it. And I've kind of kept that with me throughout my whole life.
Willy Walker: You did so well and being in the North/South game and being the MVP of that. Anything there as it relates to sort of a chip on your shoulder as far as not being recruited by one of the big SEC schools?
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah, I remember going down there to South Georgia to kind of practice and get ready for the game and everyone was not giving us the North a chance because, you know, South Georgia is huge for football. Lots of Georgia commits, Alabama commits, you know, the whole spiel. So, I have been probably the smallest guy out there on the field. A lot of us up there from the north team, we have a chip on our shoulder. We just kind of wanted to show the south what we could do. And we went out there and balled out. We beat them. And yeah, I was lucky enough to win the MVP. So that was a pretty cool day.
Willy Walker: So, you headed off to ODU where you went 10–3, 11–2, 8–4, 6–6 over your four years that you won the Walter Payton Award and the Dudley Award both in 2012. So, you made a big splash at ODU, sort of right out of the gates when you got there as a freshman. And talk about the difference between playing high school ball and going to college ball and the immediate success you had at the college level.
Taylor Heinicke: I think the difference between from high school to college, too the NFL is kind of the same. So, every time you move up a level, the guys are a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster and a little smarter. And you just have to be more consistent every time you go up a level. So again, going from high school to the Old Dominion, we were the FCS first two years. That's the championship in division with North Dakota State and guys like that. And then my junior year we moved up to FBS, so we were playing Conference USA schedule a little better competition and again so every level you go up guys get a little better, little faster. So, I just learned that when you keep going up those levels, you have to be more consistent. You have to be good all the time, not just some of the time.
Willy Walker: So, your sophomore year, you're playing UNH. I think you all went down 24–0 in the first and the first quarter. Tell us about the comeback and tell us about your performance in the comeback.
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah, so we were down 24–0 I think within five or 6 minutes in the first quarter. And I remember our offense coordinator, Coach Scott, comes up to me on the sideline. He's like, “Hey, we're going to throw the ball every play for the rest of the game.” I was like, okay, he's joking. You know, whatever. 79 passes later, it's the fourth quarter and we're winning 64 to 61. And I went out there and threw for 730 yards, five touchdowns, ran for 60 yards and a touchdown. Yeah, we came back and won. So, it was a bizarre game. It was our first division game, conference game, and it was a lot of fun. I remember that for most of my life.
Willy Walker: So, when you went to the pro level, you've had a number of injuries. Were you ever injured during your collegiate career?
Taylor Heinicke: I never missed any games, but I think I had a concussion, which you know, lined up perfectly because the next week we had a bye week. And then my senior year I got banged up where the guy hit me pretty good, and I chipped my clavicle and had an AC joint separation and kind of played with that for the rest of the year. It was one of those deals where I didn't know if I was ever going to play again after college, so I just wanted to kind of grind through it. But yeah, in college I didn’t really sustain any major ones. But when you get to the NFL, those guys are a lot bigger. So that's different.
Willy Walker: So, let's turn to that. You're undrafted out of ODU and you walk on to the Vikings, talk about that process. Playing in the NFL is what plenty of college football players dream of, but only a certain number are drafted and even less actually walk on and say, “okay, great, I didn't get drafted. Now I'm going to make the effort to go walk on.” What was it that got you to say, they've missed the opportunity and I'm going to go show them?
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah. So, I kind of rewind a little bit. I'll go back to my pro day. There was only one coach there, and it was coach Scott Turner at Minnesota. He was a quarterback coach at the time. And there were a bunch of different other scouts, but he was the only coach, and he was showing an interest from the beginning. And draft day was going on, a third day was going on, which was what I expected to be on that day. And if I wasn't drafted, you know, there's going to be some opportunities to kind of go try out for different teams. And Minnesota called and they said, hey, we're not going to draft you, but we want you to come up. And I felt the most comfortable with them because Scott was there, and he showed some interest. So, I went up there, had a great rookie pre-season and fortunately they kept me on the team. And from then on, every year it's kind of been clawing your way in and it's nothing I haven't done before from high school to college, just being a smaller guy, you kind of have to prove yourself. And to this day, it's the same thing. So, people ask me, do you feel discouraged? I say no, that's kind of just been my life and it's kind of a place I feel comfortable in.
Willy Walker: So, you go from the Vikings to the Patriots for a very brief period. By the way, did you meet Brady when you went onto the Patriots practice squad? Because there's an end to this about going down to Tampa Bay and playing against him. But we're going to get to that. But I just want to know, when you went to the Patriots for that short period, did you end up meeting Tom and playing against Tom or not?
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah. So, I was there for three weeks. I remember the first day I was there, I was like, okay, I'm going to try and have a good first impression, I'll get there and be the first one in the building. So, I remember walking in the building at 5:30 or 5:45. Yeah, I was the first one in there. And I go right to the quarterback meeting room and he's already in there with a coffee in hand, feet up watching film. And I'm like, “Man, this guy must have got here at five if he's already doing this.” Yeah. So that was a really cool experience. I got to kind of pick his brain and be around him coach Belichick for about three weeks, which was a really cool experience.
Willy Walker: So, you then go from the Patriots to the Texans where you get your NFL debut; Christmas Day 2017 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Describe for us, Taylor, what that's like? What's it like walking out to go under center in the NFL?
Taylor Heinicke: Kind of rewind here a little bit. The Patriots cut me after three weeks. I was at home for about six or seven weeks so maybe it might be over. And Houston calls, they put me on the practice squad. The starting quarterback gets injured a couple of weeks, so then they kind of move me up to be the backup. Well, we're playing on Christmas Day. T.J. Yates gets hurt in the first half. They threw me in there. So, I go from never thinking I'm going to play to playing on Christmas Day in my NFL debut very quickly.
Willy Walker: National television!
Taylor Heinicke: Yep, against the Steelers, who were a very good team at the time. And so, it was crazy.
Willy Walker: Help us get inside your body as they say, “You're in” and you're walking out on that field. Does everything get blacked out because you're so focused on the moment or do you kind of look around and say, OMG, I can't believe I'm actually walking out onto a field on national television?
Taylor Heinicke: Kind of both. The first thing that goes to your mind is like, all right, we're doing this. This is happening, the kind of Oh my God moment. But when you're walking out in the field and you get in that huddle and those guys are looking at you, you know, you’re prepared for that moment. You've worked hard and this is the moment you dreamed of. So, at that moment, your kind of black out and start focusing in and do what you've been doing for the last many years. I've been playing football since I was eight years old. So however, many years that was at that point, I was “You know what? You know how to play ball. Just go out there and do it.”
Willy Walker: So, you completed a pass and then you got hit really hard and got a concussion and so you're out. And then you move from the Texans to the Panthers and you're backing up Cam Newton. He gets injured and you got your first start. And in that first start, you went 33 for 53, 274 yards a touchdown, but three interceptions. Talk through that first start because unlike I would imagine getting pulled off the sidelines and saying you're out there and you don't really have the nerves going because you didn't think that you were going to get called into the game backing up and now all of a sudden it's your first start. So, talk through that one where all the pressure has come in of you're starting the next day and you've got to be ready to go.
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah. So that whole week I knew I was going to start and they kind of shut Cam down. We were out of the playoff race. I know Cam's shoulder was pretty messed up at that point. So, they kind of made the move to have me start. So, I got the whole week of preparation of reps with all the guys. And then that Sunday, that was my first NFL start against the hometown Atlanta Falcons, where I'm from so it was pretty cool. I had a bunch of friends and family come up. But yeah, the first drive we had was about 18 plays. I think it was like 10 minutes. We went down, scored a touchdown and it was like, wow, this is going to be a great game. Well, right before halftime, I get hit, I try to brace my fall and I tear my tricep. And, you know, again, I didn't know if I was ever going to play again. So, I was like, no let's put a brace on this thing I'm going back out there, I want to play. So, I go back out there again so the three picks didn't have a great game, but it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from that. From your first start, I think to your second start, you get that's like a huge kind of learning experience. You have to understand what you did wrong, what you did right, what needs to happen throughout the game for you to have a chance to win. So, I didn't get that second start until the playoffs here against Tampa.
Willy Walker: You go to the XFL for a period of time and XFL basically got wiped out by COVID. And so, you didn't actually play in the XFL and then remind me, Taylor, of when it was that you were sleeping on your sister's couch and trying to figure out whether you wanted to keep going or whether you were going to give up on the dream of football. Was it at this time, or had it been previously that you were just on your sister’s couch with your brother-in-law and hanging out and trying to figure out, am I going to stick with this dream or am I giving this thing up?
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah. So, the XFL, kind of like you just said, COVID happened. XFL kind of folded and I didn't know what to do. The first thing I did was call Scott Turner and ask him if there are any coaching available options. I can maybe coach for him. He said, “Well, first off, you got to finish school.” I said, “Okay.” So, my plan was to go down and live with my sister and take online classes, and just try and try and get that degree and go into coaching. During that time period, I was still training just for the small possibility that I might still get a call. I was sleeping on my sister’s couch in a guest bedroom taking classes, training, and my brother-in-law would push me when there's days where I would feel kind of sorry for myself or I would not want to work out and do this and do that. And he's like, “No, 7:30 in the morning, you're putting this 50-pound vest on. We're going for a 6-to-7-mile walk.” And he would push me every day. And if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been ready when my name was called. So, yeah, I'm sitting at home. It's right after Thanksgiving.
Willy Walker: December of 2020, right?
Taylor Heinicke: Yep.
Willy Walker: Your first start was in December. You get called up by the Redskins in December. Your birthday's in March. But December has got to be a special month for you.
Taylor Heinicke: Oh, yeah. I'm lying-in bed studying for my finals, and I get a call from my agent saying, “You ready to play some football?” I was like, “Where am I going?” “He said to Washington, D.C.!” And it was cool because Scott Turner was there, coach Ron Rivera was there. I've had some familiarity with them through the past. And again, the only reason they brought me up was, I don't know if you remember, but do you remember when the Denver Broncos had all their quarterbacks get COVID and they had a receiver play quarterback?
Willy Walker: Oh, yeah, right.
Taylor Heinicke: So that's the only reason they brought me up was because, hey, this might happen to us. This guy knows the offense already. We'll bring him up just for emergencies. And a couple of things happened here and there. Couple of guys get injured and next thing you know; they're throwing me in the playoff game against Tom Brady.
Willy Walker: So, I've heard that you didn't know you were going to go into that game until the day before that Rivera spoke to you 24 hours before the playoff game. Is that right?
Taylor Heinicke: Yes. So, I was practicing all week like I was going to start but Alex Smith was kind of just banged up, but he was getting some treatment trying to get him back ready for the game on Saturday. And so, I was kind of just filling in for him at practice and I didn't know if I was going to start or not. I think 24 to 48 hours for the game, (Rivera) was like, “Hey, Alex is a no go. You're starting.” I was, “okay. Here we go.”
Willy Walker: So, you're starting in Tampa Bay against Tom Brady. Just thinking about it, sort of like, wow, that's really quite something. So, you completed 26 or 44 passes, 306 yards threw a touchdown and an interception. And you rushed for an amazing touchdown. In that play, Taylor I've watched it now a number of times in getting ready for this and I saw it live you're on the ten-yard line, you drop back, you're scrambling. You got a lot of pressure on both sides. You escape out of the pocket, you're running and then it's like, I'm going for this. Talk us through what you were thinking, okay, do I slide, do I go out of bounds, or do I really extend myself out there to go for that pylon because that dive had a lot to do with what happened last year. So, I want to get to that. Talk about what's going through your mind as you're going around the 12-yard line saying, am I going for that end zone or am I just going to go out of bounds?
Taylor Heinicke: I scrambled to my left and I'm still looking downfield to see if I can get a guy open. I kind of glance at the pylon and I glance at the guys downfield, they have their back to me. They're still trying to cover the receivers. I'm like, “okay, I'm going for this thing.” And I just remembered about the four- or five-yard line and I just took off and go for it. It was probably the best play of my life, kind of separated my AC joint on that play, too. But it was all worth it. And I kind of go back and think about, it's the playoffs, it's against Tom Brady again. I might never play again. You know, I've had this moment kind of come up throughout my career that I don't know if I'm ever going to play again, so I'm just going to go for it and leave it all out there. And I think that's one main reason I dove for that pylon. If it was a regular season game and that's my six seven starts, probably to run out of bounds at two, give us four plays to try to get to the end zone. But in that moment, I was going for that pylon.
Willy Walker: Did they have to push your shoulder back into the joint that it separated out to the point where it had to be popped back in? Or was it I mean, a mild separation, I'm not trying to belittle it. But do they have to push it back in at the time or was it okay?
Taylor Heinicke: No, it was okay. I felt it pop. I got up, kind of wiggled it around. I felt the pain come through. And then I had to go inside, and they shot me out with some like Novocain or something there so I could get back in the game. So that was pretty painful there for a little bit.
Willy Walker: So, two months later, the Redskins came to you with a contract, and it's got I believe it was a two-year contract, 4 million bucks, but no guarantees whatsoever on anything. So, if they wanted to cut you or whatever else, that was just kind of that was it. So, what did you and Chris say in response to the Redskins and talk us through what ended up coming out of it, because I find it to be fascinating.
Taylor Heinicke: That was their initial offer was two years, $4 million, nothing guaranteed. And I told Chris, listen, man. I want something guaranteed, I put a lot of hard work throughout my career to try and get something that I feel a little bit comfortable with. So, they came back, we kind of negotiated to not as much base salary. I think it was a two-year making minimum. I think it was one in $1.5 million but you have incentives where if you play and you win, you're going to get some big bonuses. And I wanted to take that chance. And they also gave me a $1 million signing bonus. I was like, okay, I can live with that and I'm going to bet on myself. So sure enough, I didn't think I was going to play at all last year. Fitzpatrick was a starter and of course he goes down and I think the first or second quarter of the first game, and I'm like, okay, here we go it’s time to win some games and in the back of my mind, like it's time to go earn some money. You know, this is your chance. And we had the pleasure, we won seven games last year. So yeah, there was a good amount of bonuses in that.
Willy Walker: Do you think, Taylor, that that incentive contract had an impact on how you played? Going back to Tampa Bay and you saying, you know, look, that might have been my moment, I'm going to go for it here because this might be it and instead of running out of bounds at the two yard line, you dove and you made the touchdown and huge play for you, huge play for the Washington football team, etc. Do you think that that incentive-based contract had a lot to do with your performance last year?
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah, I'm not going to say that if it wasn’t incentive based and I was making it a little bit bigger, I would have played any differently. But I will say every week there's something to play for. Even if you're out of the playoffs, it's like, okay, there's something to play for out there to pad your bank account. You try to make as much money as you can and when you're out of the playoff race, which we weren't last year, but when you're out of it, there's still stuff to play for. And I think that's really cool. You go back to the XFL, there were a lot of things like that where it was incentive based, where if you win, you get like a $4,000 bonus and if you're on the roster, you get another $2000 bonus so there are incentives to try and win. So, it's kind of the same deal. But I think a lot of people, a lot of players like it because there's something to play for. There's something you want to go out there and succeed.
Willy Walker: I watched some of the clips from last season, I watched you thread the needle twice in the red zone against the Panthers, Sims, and McLaurin and both those were bullets and I mean just threading the needle straight through to them. First of all, how fast can you throw the ball? How far can you throw the ball? And does the speed at which you're throwing that ball vary dramatically when you're in the red zone versus in any other part of the field?
Taylor Heinicke: I really can't throw the ball that hard, and I really can't throw it that fast.
Willy Walker: (Laughs) Says the NFL quarterback! I love it.
Taylor Heinicke: But, you know, I've been working on my mechanics this offseason to really try and work on that and get my arm strength up a little bit. I think it'll help me a lot in my game, but those two passes were probably the hardest I threw all last year. And in the red zone you have to thread the needle and there's not as much room and there's still 11 guys back there covering a small amount of field. So, you have to thread the needle and be on time and make the right reads very quickly. So that was one of my best games. I remember, it was Coach Rivera's homecoming to Carolina, and it was Cam Newton's homecoming because he just came back, and it was his first time going back to Charlotte. And, you know, Cam used to play for Rivera. So, there's a lot of things going on there. And it was a big game for both teams and fortunately we came out on top.
Willy Walker: So, when you talk about the reads there was against the Giants last season, you're on the 20-yard line, you got a lot of pressure on you. You look left and then seemingly from the television perspective, you just turn right, and you throw this amazing pass to the corner of the end zone, which is caught by Ricky Seals Jones. Did you actually look, or do you just know he's going to be there from a read standpoint? Because when I watched you look left, it's almost in one motion where you look left and then you just throw it to the right-hand corner of the end zone. Are you just placing it there or do you actually have time to move, see, and go?
Taylor Heinicke: Well, in that play specifically, that was more of a, hey, I'm going to give my guy a chance or it's going to be incomplete, because I remember it's kind of like a four vertical play. It was too high, and I wanted to hit Logan Thomas on the right side on the bender. And right when I was about to throw it, he got covered and didn't look good. So, I kind of was looking for my back somewhere to go with the ball. And I just remember looking back right and seeing Ricky Seals on a corner and he's got about six inches on him and he's in the back, the end zone. So, I was like, hey, I'm a throw it high now, give this guy a chance to catch it. And if it's not going to be caught by him, it's going to be incomplete. So, Ricky made a great play, and you know that crowd went crazy.
Willy Walker: It did. It was an amazing play. It's really fun to watch. So, talk about play calling. And you talked about the differences you moved from high school to college and college to pro. I've heard you talk about the way you call plays and how sophisticated it all is. And you talked about one time when you applied for Norv Turner, and he wanted you to have three different plays as you walked up to the line, and you had to audible off of it. I found it to be fascinating because all of us, we watch Peyton Manning on some television commercial and he's talking about Omaha, Omaha. And I've listened to you talk through the details of what you're both calling on and calling off as you step up to the line of scrimmage. Can you just walk us through the complexity of all that?
Taylor Heinicke: I'll give you a play call that Norv gave me my rookie year. And mind you again, I've only been there for maybe a week, and he expects me to know all this, so they call it the trifecta as you go up there with three plays. So, for instance, I remember it'll be like twins, right, 50 ride, kill, 60 straight, alert, scat right, seam 638, F wheel H set. I'm like, okay.
Willy Walker: So that's what you say in the huddle?
Taylor Heinicke: In the huddle.
Willy Walker: And everyone in the huddle is supposed to know exactly what all that means?
Taylor Heinicke: Yes, they need to know the plays, but I need to know why to kill it or why to alert it. So, you go up the line. They have that weak side safety come down at the kill. So, kill at the 60 straight. Well, if it's a seven-man box we have to alert it, we can't block with those guys in the box we have to alert the scat right, seam 638 f wheel. And so, the guys at the line and the receivers and the running back, they don't really know why I need to kill it or alert it. They just need to know if I say kill, 60 straight, if I say alert, it's scat right. If I don't say anything, it's still 50, ride. So, there's a lot of stuff going through your mind. And again, mind you as a rookie quarterback coming in, in college, my play call was to Army Mesh and now it's that, it was tough. I had to get Norv to tell, give me the play, call my helmet maybe six or seven times that day.
Willy Walker: So, talk about the helmets. How good is that audio and does the NFL listen to that audio to make sure that the coaches who are talking to you aren't telling you anything you're not supposed to know?
Taylor Heinicke: So yeah, the audio's really, really good. Sometimes it scratches in and out a little bit, but there's a rule in the NFL where they can only talk to you until there's 15 seconds left on the play clock. Once it gets to 15 seconds left, it cuts out. So, if he's in the middle of the play and it cuts out. You got to make a play. Yeah, think of something. So that's the NFL's way of keeping coaches out of your ear during a play, or maybe, like, right before play.
Willy Walker: So, in a hurry up offense, you're fine because the play cops haven't started over. So, you can get that play really quickly. But if for whatever reason, there's some delay in getting back into the huddle and you're running towards the end of it, you could actually get cut off.
Taylor Heinicke: Yes
Willy Walker: That's really interesting. You and I talked about this when we were together a couple of weeks ago. How hard is it to keep momentum and focus when we do TV timeouts? I watched that and I would think that it's quite distracting and kind of disconcerting as you've got momentum going in you and you're exerting yourself physically and then all of a sudden it's like, hey, take two minutes and just chill out. Is that as difficult as it would seem or is it not?
Taylor Heinicke: It is. There are sometimes where you like it and sometimes where you don't. So, for instance, last year we were removing the ball pretty well, we’re doing Hurry Up, trying to keep all those guys on defense on the field, no substitutions because they're getting tired and maybe someone goes down with an injury or something and it's a TV timeout. Like we had them, we were moving the ball and then they were tired and that's when it stinks. But then there's sometimes where we're really grinding it out. It's a long drive, our offense line is getting tired or, you know, we need some receivers to get back in the game and again, maybe someone on the defense goes down and if someone on the offense goes down and just with TV time, we can regroup here, we can get fully loaded at receiver. Maybe a guy that got a cramp comes back in, you know, something like that. But for the most part, we'd like to hurry up to kind of keep the defense from getting tired. And when they kind of go down with the cramp, it kills us because we have the momentum going and we have them on their heels.
Willy Walker: When you're in that huddle, if you will, all eyes are on you, and you've been in that huddle as someone who's been put in as a backup and then as a starter and then as the full starter for the season. As a leader, how much more authority did you feel you had last year in the huddle running the Washington football team than you did in some of your previous ones? Or always because you're the quarterback and you're running the offense; you've always got that leadership view.
Taylor Heinicke: You gotta have that leadership at the same time you have to have that aura around you that you're in charge. You don't want a guy coming in their kind of stumbling his words or not looking you in the eye or not confident in what he's saying. So, I always try to make a point when I'm in the huddle to look at every single player. So, when I'm calling formation, I'll look at everybody and I start calling up the protection. I look at the offensive line and I start calling the broad concepts of start pointing like which side has this concept or, you know, stuff like that and look at the receivers. So, I think that just gives them a lot of confidence that I know what I'm doing, kind of helps them out where they need to line up and what routes they have. I think that goes a long way. Looking those guys in the eyes, in the huddle and having that confidence in your voice gives them the confidence that this is going to be a successful play. I've been working on that my whole career. But again, you know, in college or out, we didn't huddle. So, it was a work in progress.
Willy Walker: I've seen you in pregame and you've got kind of the pre pre-game and then you got the pregame before you actually go play the game. Is there any difference in your playlist between the pre pre-game and the pre-game?
Taylor Heinicke: Oh yeah, the pre pre-game when you go out before you warm up the team kind of go out there by yourself. I'm trying to get super pumped. Sunday afternoon, we're going to play a game. You kind of look back, like “I'm in the NFL's playing football. Let's go.” You know, this is really cool. And then the pre-game kind of the same deal, but I'm getting a little bit more relaxed, a little more composed. And then right before I come up for the game, I throw on some classical music, no words, just very soothing music, trying to get in that Zen mode where I can concentrate and not get too pumped up. So as a quarterback you don't want to get too emotional. It's a vast difference in about the hour from pre pre-game to right before game time.
Willy Walker: Is there any significance to the number four or is it just a number that you've had and like?
Taylor Heinicke: There is significance to it. The whole reason I started playing football was because my dad was born in Wisconsin. He is a cheese head. And when I was born, I was forced to be a Green Bay Packer fan. So, I was forced to watch Brett Favre. And I don't think I would have fallen in love with football if it wasn't for him. You know, he had a lot of passion for the game. Every Sunday I was pumped to watch him play because it was fun. It was fun to watch him. And so, throughout college I had 14, I think someone else had number four and then I get to go to Washington, and I show up and I'm number four and I'm like, oh, this is great. This is really cool. And it's worked out ever since.
Willy Walker: Let's talk about conditioning for a moment. You do a lot of time in the gym, mostly weights or a combination of weights and cardio?
Taylor Heinicke: Combination, about 50/50.
Willy Walker: And as it relates to your strength training, a combination of upper body and lower body or predominantly upper body?
Taylor Heinicke: Actually, predominantly lower body. I want to keep a lot of my weight there. And again, throughout the years, I've kind of varied from what I do in the upper body. But throughout the years, the biggest question mark for me was durability. And I guess my AC joint separations have to be pretty tight up there and keep that healthy. So, I used to do really heavy stuff up top that kind of hindered my throwing motion and stuff like that. So, throughout the years of trying to experiment with different types of deals, I still do a little bit of heavyweight up top just to keep stabilized, but I do a lot more band work now too, to kind of take the stress off my shoulder and my arm. So, there's a very fine line of what I'm doing, upper body, but lower body. I try to go heavy.
Willy Walker: I've seen some videos of you training and there was a hit that you took playing against the Carolina Panthers, where your whole body gets contorted. You got someone around your legs and then someone gets your upper body. And literally it looks like your lower body can have enough strain that you might have, heaven forbid the type of accident that Alex Smith had was for his fibula and tibia both snapped. How do you train to be that flexible?
Taylor Heinicke: You know, it's pretty bizarre because the guy I work out with, we don't teach flexibility. We don't practice that. What he does is he tries to strengthen up everything around your joints and he pretty much tries to have you very strong around the joints and don't go past 90 degrees. Very simple stuff with heavy weight. So, when you do get in those positions, you're strong enough in around those joints so it doesn't pop or anything like that. I know it sounds very kind of, he gets a lot of flak for it, but it's been working for me and ever since I've been out working out with him, I've stayed not injured. So, it's a bizarre deal. A lot of people like to go all the way down when they're squatting. I think that hurts your back. And I think that hurts your joints, your hips, your knees, stuff like that. So, we barely get to 90 degrees and go back up. And I think that helps take the stress off the joints and really strengthen the muscles around it. So, when you get those positions, you're strong enough to withstand it.
Willy Walker: Super interesting and counterintuitive to what I thought you were going to say as it relates to sort of strengthening and flexibility and creating more flexibility rather than, if you will, erring on the strength side, having that flexibility. So that's super interesting. When I saw that hit, I went and looked back at Alex Smith's hit. And what I was surprised with, which was that I remember vividly when Lawrence Taylor took down Joe Theismann back in the 1980s. What shocked me was the similarities between the Alex Smith injury and the Joe Theismann injury. There was like this graph I looked at that compared the two and they were like identical injuries on the same day of the year and on the same yard line.
Taylor Heinicke: Yep, same yard line. The guy that tackled them was a three-time pro-bowler at the time or something like that. A three-time defensive player of the year at the time. It was very eerie. I think there were like six or seven exact same deals, same yard line again. I think they were wearing maybe the same number, or it was bizarre, same date.
Willy Walker: And they were both, I guess, missing their All-Pro defensive tackle. So, both had their left tackles out. Exactly. It was just like I was just sitting there doing this and I was like, wow, that's just eerie. I mean, and it was on the 39-yard line. I mean, it's on the exact same yard line. It was just super weird.
Taylor Heinicke: It was I think 32 years apart or something like that.
Willy Walker: And the same final score was 23 and 21 in both games. I mean, super weird. By the way, you know Alex very well, talk about seeing his injury and what that looked like and watching his rehab.
Taylor Heinicke: Yeah. So, I wasn't there when it happened to him, when I showed up to Washington, he was rehabbing. I think he was in his second year their rehab. But I just remember, I think I didn't see his leg or scar. He always had a sleeve over it or a brace on it or something. And I remember going in the training room one day and he had it off and they were doing some treatment on it. I would go over and look at it and it looks like a dang shark bite. Like from right over his knee to down through his foot. It's an indention shark bite looking thing. And I remember saying, like, “Why are you still playing football, man? It's a blessing that you can still walk.” That's who he is, he's an amazing person. He wanted to prove people wrong, and he wanted to keep playing ball. So, the guy's a special guy. He's probably one of the most special human beings I've ever met. So, I can't say enough good things about him.
Willy Walker: But a lot of similarities between you and Alex Smith, my friend. A lot of similarities. So, you're an NFL quarterback but no bling, you drive a Ford pickup truck. You gonna swap that out for a Tesla pickup truck when you get your hands on one?
Taylor Heinicke: I would love to, man I think those cybertruck's are super cool looking. I don't know when they're coming out. Hopefully, Elon fixed that whole deal where he hit the car of the truck in that order with the bat and the window busted open, kind of rained over his parade that day. But no, I would definitely love to get one of those super cool.
Willy Walker: Washington Football Team to Commanders, not the Red Tails. Talk for a moment naming the team you're playing for right now. As someone who grew up as a Redskins fan, which the name is obviously now retired, I had finally gotten used to the Washington Football Team and then all of a sudden they came out with the Commanders. And I can't tell you that as I talked about bringing you on, I would say to people he plays for the Commodores or the Comrades, or something else. I sort of thought I was going to play like the Soviet Union theme song on the Comrades for this. I'm assuming some marketing team for the Washington Football Team came up with that thing and then launched it on you all and you didn't have any input on that one.
Taylor Heinicke: I didn’t. I know how they’d ask two or three guys on the team. I think it was Terry, Chase Young, John Allen, I think they asked those guys for a little input at the beginning of the year last year. But I've spoken out about this a couple of times. I have no problem with the name. I think it could have been a little better. I think they could have gone somewhere else. But I think it's a safe option. There’s a lot of things going on here, right now, that's a safe option to do. But I will say the uniforms look sweet, the helmets look awesome, and I'm excited for guys to see those out in the field. It's going to be a really clean look.
Willy Walker: So, let's talk a little bit about this upcoming season. The Commanders just signed Carson Wentz, a big contract. I heard you asked if there was any chance that you're going to be the starter and you said no chance. That plays with your personality, Taylor. I can also tell you that there are a lot of people out there who are saying you are going to be a starter at some point. Obviously, you played this role before, you played backup. You've been a great supporter of the starting quarterbacks and you got your shots. After having had a successful season last year, how do you feel about them bringing in Carson and giving him the starting slot?
Taylor Heinicke: I kind of knew it was going to happen after the season. There's a lot of talk about going out and getting someone or drafting somebody. And so, I knew it was going to happen. I just didn't know who. They went out to get Carson. I've been with him in OTAs and stuff like that and he's really impressive. The guy can make some throws and do some things that I can't do.
And again, I'm sure you're referring to that question that you saw on the Internet. What I want to say about that is, it's not me bowing down to somebody. At the end of the day, it's just a business. I'm not preparing any differently if I was starting or being backing up, I'm preparing the same. I'm going out there and I'm trying to get him better. I'm competing with him. But at the same time, I'm a realist and I understand the business. I want to go out there and perform well in practice and during camp and try and get him better, but also know that I'm there to back him up and be there in any case, if he gets hurt or something happens that I can go in there and be successful. So, I'm still training. I'm still preparing like I'm a starter. But again, I'm a realist and I see the writing on the wall. That being said, I'm excited for Carson. I hope he succeeds. We got a lot of weapons around him. We have a really good offense line in front of him. Our defense is going to do great things this year. So, I'm excited for this year. I think it's going to surprise a lot of people.
Willy Walker: The Commanders also just signed Terry McLaurin to a three-year $71 million contract. How good is he?
Taylor Heinicke: He's worth all that and maybe a little bit more. I'm excited that he's back. We missed him during OTAs and minicamp, but all that matters is that he's going to be there during the year. So, I know we're all happy to have him back and he's good for the locker room as well. So, you know, that was another huge gift for us.
Willy Walker: What's the differentiator on a receiver like Terry in the sense of is it that he runs perfect patterns? That he's just faster? Or his catching and leaping ability? Is there one characteristic of him that makes him so special as a kind of a combination of all that?
Taylor Heinicke: I think it's a combination of all that. The duke can fly. Obviously, he makes some bizarre catches, as you saw last year. There's a lot of plays where no one can make that plan, and Terry just makes it. You know probably just as much as I do, receivers and DBs are like the divas of a team, you know, they're the kind of the pretty boys. And Terry is not that. You'll never hear Terry complain about anything. He's probably the greatest guy on the team. And when you have that as a captain and as your best receiver, it trickles down. As much as he does on the field, he does that much off the field as well. So, he's a huge gift for us. He's a huge captain for us. So again, I can't say enough good things about Terry.
Willy Walker: Coach Ron Rivera, you've liked playing for him. Who's the best coach you've ever had?
Taylor Heinicke: I say Coach Ron, he's a player's coach, but he also keeps you accountable. Like if you're at work, you're there to work. But he's also going to let you be yourself and have fun and kind of just have fun with it. He knows football is supposed to be fun, but at the same time we want to go out there and win. We're there to win. So, he's really cool. He lets the guy’s kind of talk dirty to each other during practice. You know, it's cool. A lot of guys love playing for him. Again, he's a player's coach. He looks out for us. But again, when we're there, it's time to work.
Willy Walker: And when you're not working, you're playing golf. You were a baseball player, NFL football player. How's your golf game?
Taylor Heinicke: I'm happy that I came on now than maybe a week ago because I had the best round of my life about four or five days ago. I shot a 79. First time ever breaking 80. And it was pretty bizarre. I parred every hole on the back 9, 17 comes around I thought my drive into a fairway bunker. Oh, my God I just screwed it up. And I actually got up and down for Bogey and then I parked the last hole to make it 79. So, it was a huge day for me, I was pumped. And I'm actually playing today, so hopefully I can do the same.
Willy Walker: So final question I have for you, Taylor. You talked about your parents and sort of learning tenacity from them. As I look on your career and how successful you've been at sticking with it, it's just it's admirable that people sort of said you can't do that and you've done it and people have said it's time to hang up the cleats and you've stayed in the game and then gotten your opportunity to succeed and perform. Does that all come from early childhood and being taken to the field with your dad and just saying stay in that game? Or is there anything else that was a formative experience that makes it so that when the chips are down, you kind of look back to something, whether it's faith, whether it's some other experience in your life that keeps you moving forward?
Taylor Heinicke: I think a lot of that has to do with my parents, but a lot of it has to do when I was a young kid, I just had so many dreams of being in the NFL or being in the MLB like I wanted to do that. That was my dream. I heard people say, you can't do it from a young age, like you're not a running back, you're not a quarterback, you can't do that. Like this is your position. I just keep working hard at it. Like, I'm not going to let this guy tell me what I can and can't do. And it's proven throughout the years to work for me. And so, when I keep hearing that, I'm just you know what, I've heard this before, man. I've heard it for the last 20 years; I'm going to prove you wrong. And I think that was and might be the biggest one of it. I just had that dream where I was going to make it, and no one was going to stop me. And I think a lot of it has to do with my parents as well. So, between those two things, that's kind of driven me throughout the years and here we are. Hopefully, I got a couple more in me.
Willy Walker: As someone who both wants to see you do really well, I also want to see the Commanders do well so I can't root against Carson but at the same time, maybe, I don't know, maybe Carson gets COVID. Let's do that. Because that's not him getting injured. Maybe Carson gets COVID, he steps out, you step in, and the next thing you're the starter. Maybe that's a good hope for me for the season to have you behind center.
Taylor, it's been a real pleasure. I greatly appreciate you taking the time. I'm looking forward to the two of us getting out on the golf course together. Enjoy this period of time between now when you go back for preseason camp, and we'll talk to you soon.
Taylor Heinicke: Willy, thanks for having me, man. I appreciate you.
Willy Walker: Thanks Taylor, take care. Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.