Come to think of it, I’ll have a Heinicke.
How many times do you think Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke has heard that one? He’s got the sort of last name that is just fun to say — it sounds like a combination of a beer and a body part.
You pronounce his surname HIGH-na-key, and honestly, Panthers fans don’t want to have to say it too often. To do so in the regular season would mean that Cam Newton is injured. If that happens, no matter who Newton’s backup is, the offense would sustain a crippling blow.
But it’s a name worth learning, because Heinicke and Garrett Gilbert are locked in a battle to become Newton’s primary backup this season. Their contest continues Friday in Carolina’s home preseason exhibition against New England.
At Old Dominion, Heinicke once threw for an absolutely ridiculous 730 yards in a single college game — a 64-61 win over New Hampshire in which he went 55-for-79 throwing the ball. He was basically ODU’s version of former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards. Heinicke went undrafted in 2015, but then Minnesota signed him and he made the team. In a circuitous sort of way, that’s why he’s in Charlotte now.
Heinicke never played a regular-season snap in Minnesota. But he was coached by the Turners — offensive coordinator Norv and quarterbacks coach Scott, who is Norv’s son. So he knows the Turner system better than any other current Carolina quarterback.
How would he describe it?
“Norv Turner is one of those guys who kind of does everything,” Heinicke said. “One week Christian (McCaffrey) could run for 200 yards. The next week Cam might throw for 450.”
Heinicke has put up a strong challenge for the No. 2 quarterback job this August, and in the second exhibition he came into the game before Gilbert. “If I had to evaluate myself — I think I’m doing OK,” Heinicke said. “But a lot of room for improvement.”
Heinicke throws the ball accurately and can move fairly well. Generously listed at 6-foot-1, he is not a big quarterback and counts Seattle’s Russell Wilson as a player he likes to emulate. Why?
“Him being a short quarterback,” Heinicke said, “and I think he’s very smart. I think he gets his playmakers the ball, he doesn’t make a lot of bonehead plays. ...That’s what I feel like I can do.”
When I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera what sort of chance Heinicke had of being Carolina’s No. 2 quarterback this year, the coach said: “He’s got a good shot. ...He and Garrett have had very good camps. Taylor has been in the system before so he understands it, I think. Very athletic. ... Every now and then, he’s a little bit of a gunslinger and he’ll try to force a shot. But he’s got a good grasp of what we’re doing, and there’s a toughness about him you really like.”
Rivera admitted Heinicke’s size isn’t ideal for a quarterback. The coach used another “short quarterback” example besides Wilson to describe Heinicke. “He’s very active in the pocket,” Rivera said. “He can find the throwing lanes, very similar to a guy down in New Orleans (Drew Brees) that does a good job in finding throwing lanes.”
Heinicke has never had a great chance to show what he can do in an actual NFL game. He has taken nine snaps in the regular season in his career – which is nine more than Gilbert. All those came last year in Houston, when he did complete the only pass he tried.
Unfortunately for him, Heinicke is known for getting himself hurt in one of the strangest ways imaginable for an NFL quarterback. Before the 2016 season in Minnesota, Heinicke and a friend came back to a buddy’s apartment to find that they were locked out. Heinicke tried to kick open the door but instead kicked in some glass and severed a tendon in his left foot. That kept him out of practice for several months.
That was two years ago, though. Heinicke’s foot healed, and he has moved on. He said he has enjoyed getting to know Newton during the offseason.
“He brings that aspect to the game where you remember it’s a game,” Heinicke said. “You’re supposed to have fun with it. You go to a bunch of different organizations and you kind of forget about that. ...We can’t always emulate what he does, though — we’re not all 6-5, 250 and can run 4.4.”
No, Heinicke is not Newton.
Heinicke doesn’t even attempt to be No. 1.
He just wants to be No. 2.