ASHBURN, Virginia — Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera learned a lesson last summer, a lesson he doesn’t want to repeat. That’s why there will be a quarterback league, he said, even if Ryan Fitzpatrick goes into training camp with a firm grip on the runway.
Since Washington signed Fitzpatrick into a free agency, Rivera has said he would enter the camp as the starter – but nothing else is guaranteed. That means a player like Taylor Heinicke could emerge when Fitzpatrick struggles. Washington also has Kyle Allen, who practiced this spring but admitted he didn’t fully recover from a broken ankle last season, and Steven Montez.
Fitzpatrick worked exclusively with the starters this spring while Heinicke was the primary backup, although Allen would sometimes work with the second unit as well.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Rivera said on Thursday. “I’m looking forward to it. It will give our football team a boost and make our football team better. I just feel like I know this, knowing that we have a proven man there who has the ability to help us but again we have a man in Taylor shows that he can do it. They’re going to battle, they’re going to push and I’m looking forward to it.”
Last summer, then sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins worked exclusively with the starters. Rivera said he wanted Haskins to get as much time as possible with that group, knowing there were no preseason games. In mid-August, he officially named Haskins the starter, although in reality there was no doubt about it.
While the coaches were pleased with the way Haskins worked off-season, they saw no transfer to the regular season and put him on the bench after four games. Allen replaced Haskins, but a broken ankle on his fourth start ended his season. Rivera has often expressed her confidence in Allen.
Rivera has said a few times that, in retrospect, he wished he had acted differently last summer — even if it was a unique camp due to the circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The mistake I made was that my approach was wrong,” Rivera said. “I should have made as big a match as possible, and that’s up to me. I wanted to try and find a man. I thought [Haskins] was ready to take a step and seize any opportunity. I’m trying to build that rapport that he needed with his teammates, and that would have been something we could have seen before and maybe could have done something else.”
Players and coaches have been raving about Fitzpatrick, who has made 146 career starts compared to Heinicke’s two and Allen’s 17. Fitzpatrick has thrown 223 touchdown passes and 169 interceptions. Heinicke’s lone start last season came in a 31-23 playoff loss against Tampa Bay, throwing 306 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception and scrambling for another score.
Heinicke won a number of players, including receiver Terry McLaurin and defending Chase Young. He also added 15 pounds of bulk in the off-season, hoping to improve on his biggest weakness: durability. He has been injured in both career starts.
While Fitzpatrick will get most of the first team reps, Rivera said the team will give others a chance at the starters – partly so if they have to play in September they will have experience with this group.
“You try to create situations that are as playful as possible,” Rivera said. “You want to be able to rotate guys so that everyone has a chance to work with the same group of players. You try to create that energy for guys who are on the pitch, knowing they are working with those players [first-teamers]. That’s one of the things we’ve done in the past to show how you get to know players.”
They also have three preseason games in which quarterbacks can be turned. They didn’t have that last summer, but Rivera said he had to handle the situation differently to learn more about the players. That mistake, he said, will not be repeated.
“I think it would have given us a better idea of what to focus on,” Rivera said. “What we had to tighten up, how to approach it with our players and position guys. I think that’s what we missed was not understanding and feeling.”
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