Heinicke calm, but consistency a goal

Two days in advance of his first NFL snap, Minnesota Vikings QB Taylor Heinicke said the nerves hadn’t hit yet, but he’s excited for his first opportunity, knowing he has to be more consistent. (Photo: Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)

Taylor Heinicke started 44 games at Old Dominion, but when he joined the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted rookie in May, there was something he had never done before, at least not in college.

He said Old Dominion had speedy receivers, so that adjustment wasn’t too big for him. He was a mechanical engineering major, so taking on Norv Turner’s playbook wasn’t a challenge that intimidated him.

But the simple act of taking a snap from under center was a new experience when he arrived for the Vikings’ rookie minicamp the weekend after he went undrafted.

“It’s pretty different. At Old Dominion we were pretty much an air raid, shotgun, 24-7,” Heinicke said. “I don’t think I took one snap under center the whole time. It’s a huge difference. Some of the concepts are the same, but I’m still getting accustomed to it but I’m starting to get more comfortable with it.”

Heinicke said he is now comfortable with that quarterbacking proces, but he said one of the major pointers he receives from his offensive coaches is getting quicker footwork.

“Every throw starts with your feet, whether that’s from the snap or the top of your drops. That’s one thing I’m really working on is my footwork and letting the ball loose,” he said. “There’s times where I try to guide the ball and it either sails on me or it dies at the end. Whenever I just let the ball loose it comes out much better.”

So far, the process of going from Old Dominion to having a shot at the Vikings’ 53-man roster appears to be speeding up. When veteran Shaun Hill was given some rest earlier this week, Heinicke was elevated to taking some second-team snaps, ahead of Mike Kafka, and Heinicke is listed third on the depth chart, ahead of Kafka, who has NFL experience.

But the road hasn’t been completely smooth. In Thursday’s practice, he launched a pass the sailed high, was tipped by DaVaris Daniels and intercepted by safety Anthony Harris. On Friday, he threw another interception, this time throwing late to tight end MyCole Pruitt. Linebacker Michael Mauti stepped in front of that pass for the interception.

He blamed slow footwork, which caused his arm to be “really slow,” for the Thursday’s pick.

“It sailed on me,” he said. “When I’m very violent with my drop and let the ball loose, that’s when good things happen.”

It’s been a couple weeks of peaks and valleys for Heinicke.

“That’s what it is right now. I’ll make three, four good plays and then I’ll throw an interception. That just can’t happen,” he said. “Today was just a bad read. I had a guy open. My first read was open and I should have just took it, but I hung on a slant a little too long and the (middle) linebacker came back backside and picked it off. That’s just one of those things I need to cut out and work on.”

But, overall, that’s been the story of the backup quarterbacks for the Vikings this training camp. Kafka and even the veteran Hill have both had their mistakes, too.

“I like them,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of his backups. “I think Shaun has been doing a good job. Kafka and Taylor have both been good at times and not so good at times. That’s part of it, being young guys and working into a new system. Shaun has been in the system before, so he has a little bit of an advantage.”

Heinicke started receiving calls from NFL teams in the middle of the draft’s seventh round. There were calls from the Lions, Falcons and Chargers, among others. But he chose the Vikings for a few reasons: They had only three quarterbacks on their roster at the time while others had more, and there was the Norv Turner effect.

“I’m excited I’m here learning from Norv Turner, one of the best in the game and I feel I’m getting better every day with him as my coach,” he said. “… He has a great history of developing quarterbacks and making them great. And Teddy is here, Shaun Hill, vet. So I felt like there was three or four reasons to make me better. Whether I do make the team or not, I feel like I’ll leave this place or stay here a lot better quarterback because of them.”

Kafka and Heinicke are likely to see plenty of playing time in the first two preseason games, but Heinecke was taking it in stride – at least he remained calm about it two days prior to his first time taking an NFL snap, even if it is only preseason.

“I don’t have any (nerves) right now. I just feel really comfortable with the offense and I’m getting better every day so I feel like the nerves won’t be there, but I’m sure once game time comes that’s going to change,” he said.

“I’m excited. When people ask me from home: Has it hit you that you’re in the NFL, I was like, ‘Not really.’ But I’m sure when I walk out on the field with a Viking uniform on and the Steelers on the other side, I think it will hit me there. But I’m excited for it. I think I’m ready and I’m just going to go out there and try to have some fun.”

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