Heinicke was expected to start training camp as the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 3 quarterback, but a severed tendon in his left leg suffered earlier this month when he tried to help a friend enter his residence has opened the door for Stave, an undrafted rookie.
“That’s kind of the way the game goes. You’ve got to take advantage of situations like that,” Stave said after his first training camp practice on Friday. “It’s unfortunate, what happened to (Heinicke), but I’ve just got to make sure I’m doing everything I can to take advantage of these extra reps I’m going to get.”
Those extended reps started right away. While Heinicke checked into training camp on Thursday with his lower left leg in a cast and using a scooter to move around the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, he was not on the practice field for either the morning walk-through or the afternoon’s full practice.
That meant Stave was getting all the work with the third-team offense, whereas his reps would have been severely diminished if Heinicke was healthy.
Stave had a full offseason of organized team activities and minicamp to become familiar with the offense, but he will be getting more time to put his learning into practice without Heinicke available for what will reportedly be two to three months.
“On paper I feel pretty good with it. I can draw it up and explain it. It’s a whole different ballgame when you actually get out on the field and the bullets start flying a little bit,” he said. “I feel good with it. It’s just a matter of doing it. Like I said, I can draw it up and I can explain, but once you really do it is when you really start to feel you have it mastered a little bit better.”
Stave has a strong arm, as witnessed by one pass that sailed about 65 yards in the air on Friday, but there are also questions about his consistency. While he feels comfortable with the offense in a classroom setting, he said he needs to trust what he sees.
“I’ve got a pretty good feel for reading defenses and things like that. Obviously you can continue to improve. I think the biggest area I can get better is just allowing my feet to get me through the reads as fast as I can,” he said.
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Eventually, the Vikings could bring in competition for one of the backup roles. Head coach Mike Zimmer said they have talked about it, but indicated that wasn’t likely to happen right away.
In the meantime, Stave can lean on Shaun Hill, the quarterback in front of him on the depth chart and the guy who is entering his 15th NFL training camp.
Stave put the age difference between the two into perspective.
“He’s a great guy to talk to. I was just talking to him today as he was walking out for his 15th camp. I was probably going into about fourth grade then or something like that coming off his rookie camp,” he said. “He’s been around for so long, he’s seen so much, that there’s a lot I can learn from him.”
With Heinicke unavailable, Stave will have plenty of opportunities to show what he has learned.
“He’ll get some more reps,” Zimmer said. “He throws the ball well. He’s still learning. You’ve got to see him when people are around him. You’ve got to see how fast he thinks. … He throws the ball good. He’s got a nice arm. He’s a good athlete, got the good size.”
And now he has an increased opportunity to make the roster.