The opportunity would have been great for Taylor Heinicke, if not for late-night kick to a door in July that lacerated a tendon near his ankle. He has paid the price – both professionally and emotionally – unable to participate in the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp or preseason.
With starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater missing last Thursday’s game and backup Shaun Hill sitting out some of the ensuing practices, Heinicke’s time in a preseason game and several practices likely would have been increased.
Instead, Heinicke is forced to watch during practices and games as his ankle continues to heal.
“The whole situation is just frustrating. Right when it happened and I figured out what happened, it was just a frustrating moment,” Heinicke said Thursday. “But I’m trying to be positive about it and trying to get some positives out of it. I think I’m doing pretty well with that.”
He was amazingly upbeat about the situation, despite seeing Bridgewater and Hill sit out of Sunday’s practice and head coach Mike Zimmer cutting a sloppy practice about 40 minutes short, likely in part because of the lack of available quarterbacks.
But Heinicke might have also been taking on some of the blame for what is believed to be a sore shoulder for Bridgewater and sore wrist for Hill. Had Heinicke been available to take more reps …
“You never know if that would have happened if I never did this. You never know, so Shaun might not have gotten banged up a little bit. Teddy might not have been as sore or whatever,” he said. “You never know. I’m just trying to get back as soon as possible.”
Heinicke might have also improved his status on the depth chart. That would have been the goal anyways.
“Compete for the backup job,” Zimmer said of his expectations for Heinicke in training camp before the injury. “I would say the same thing about Shaun – come in and compete for the backup job – or (Joel) Stave.”
Hill has far more experience than Heinicke, who impressed the Vikings enough as an undrafted rookie last year to make the 53-man roster. But Heinicke had a very solid preseason last year – highlighted by a 279-yard, two-touchdown performance in the preseason finale – before not seeing the field during the regular season.
He said his goals for training camp were to keep improving, have another good preseason and “take command of the huddle.” That’s not able to happen now, but he continues to try to learn from the more experienced quarterbacks.
“Shaun has been in the league for 14, 15 years. Everything he does, everything he says in the film room, I listen to it because he knows it all,” Heinicke said. “He’s been here for a long time and the same thing with Teddy. He’s been playing for two years – been a starter for two years. I was just coming in, just trying to get better, better myself and do the best I could.”
Now, he is simply trying to make the best of his situation and be sure he’s mentally sharp for whenever he is able to physically perform. Getting the boot off his foot in the past week was the first step, even if he is expected to remain out another six to eight weeks, as Zimmer estimated.
“The only thing I’m not able to do is practice out here. Everything else, I’m in all the meetings. And whenever we have free time in there, I’m in the rehab room. So trying to get back as soon as possible,” Heinicke said.
“I don’t know if it’s a huge setback. Obviously not being able to practice is, but being able to sit back and watching Teddy and Shaun and Joel and now Brad (Sorensen) do their thing, kind of learning from what they do, good and bad, taking mental reps. And when I hear the play call, I kind of go through the reads in my mind presnap, trying to make the checks in my mind and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better that way.”
He said he is comfortable with the new wrinkles that have been added to the offense, and he at least got to incorporate those during offseason practices and minicamp. Being on the non-football injury list, he isn’t able to practice at the facility but has worked in some throwing on his own time, although he doesn’t want to tax his receivers too much with additional work after they go through a full practice schedule each day.
While he is experiencing some tightness near his ankle that is natural after surgery, he continues to go through the normal rehab protocol. Mentally, he is also rehabilitating and relieved the whole incident is out in the open.
“I’m actually kind of happy just to get it out of the way. Everyone knows what happened, no more questions about it,” he said. “When it happened, I was just embarrassed. Nothing you see every day. I got past that. Just trying to be positive about it and try to get better in ways I can.”