The Carolina Panthers can’t wait for you to see their backup quarterback play this Sunday.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Fourth-year quarterback Taylor Heinicke will get the start for the Panthers (6-8) against the Atlanta Falcons (5-9) after the team announced on Wednesday that Cam Newton would sit out the final two games with shoulder fatigue.
With miniscule playoff chances that disappear with a loss on Sunday, coach Ron Rivera said the team believes its best chance to win rests on the right arm of Heinicke — who has thrown all of five passes in his four-year NFL career.
And his teammates can’t wait for you to see him.
Stop pinching yourself.
“I’m expecting him to go out there and play lights out,” wide receiver Jarius Wright said. “I think Taylor’s a good quarterback — I just think a lot of people haven’t gotten a chance to see him play. So I’m excited for him to show everybody else what he can do. Because I’ve seen it.”
Heinicke signed with the Panthers this past offseason, largely because of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner — both of whom coached him when he spent two seasons on the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad.
Not only does Heinicke have an intimate knowledge of the Turners’ offense, but he’s a little more game-ready than the average backup with no career starts. Newton’s “new normal” practice schedule includes him taking live reps once a week. So Heinicke picked up the extra work during the two days Newton rests.
Those additional reps have helped build chemistry with the Panthers’ young, albeit talented group of receivers.
“We’ve had a lot of experience throwing the ball with Taylor, so it’ll be nothing new,” Curtis Samuel said. “He knows the formations, he knows the play calls — he knows everything like the back of his hand. So nothing is new, we’re just going to continue rolling.”
So what does Heinicke bring to this offense besides a concrete understanding of how it works? Possibly, the deep ball that’s been plastered on milk cartons all season.
Heincke replaced Newton to throw a Hail Mary on three occasions this season, and while the only pass he completed was a check down to Greg Olsen in Week 9 (which Olsen audibled to), the fact that he can push the ball downfield adds an element the Panthers haven’t had for a while.
And their opponents knew it.
“It keeps guys on their toes now,” Wright said. “It’s funny because some of the (opposing defensive backs) actually tell us on the field, ‘We’re not scared of y’all going deep. Cam won’t.’ They’ve actually mentioned that multiple times.
“Just having (Heinicke) out there keeps everybody on their toes.”
Heinicke is also sneakily athletic, according to a few of his teammates, and can extend plays not unlike Newton.
That’s not to say he’ll put up comparable production to the former NFL MVP — but he may not be the pushover some football fans expect him to be.
“Taylor is athletic, more than people would know,” Samuel said. “He can make plays outside the pocket, he can make plays in the pocket, he can make all the throws. We’re going to keep the ball rolling and we’re going to perform as a receiver group.”
Wright played with Heinicke for two years in Minnesota and might be more familiar with him than anyone else in the organization outside of Scott and Norv Turner. He echoed Samuel’s comments about Heinicke’s athleticism, adding that his ability to make plays and improvise is part of the reason he’s excited to see Heinicke take his first meaningful reps.
“That’s what a lot of people don’t realize, Taylor can move around in the pocket,” Wright said. “He’s going to make some plays, that’s one thing I definitely expect him to do. I keep telling everybody, I’m so excited (for him) to show y’all that he can play.”
The world gets a shot at seeing Taylor Heinicke through Jarius Wright’s eyes on Sunday.