While it may seem like Taylor Heinicke burst onto the scene out of nowhere, it was his long relationship with Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner that put him in the position to shine last weekend against the Buccaneers.
In fact, Bobby Wilder, Heinicke's former coach at Old Dominion University, says Turner has thought about bringing Heinicke to the Football Team since at least last summer, as Washington was sorting through quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and then-longshot Alex Smith.
In an interview with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, Wilder was asked what he'd tell someone who says a quarterback doesn't go from being an XFL backup to being the answer at the position for an NFL team overnight, as some think Washington has in Heinicke.
"I go back to the relationship with Scott Turner and Scott Turner knowing that Taylor knew the offense," Wilder said Monday.
Wilder shared an anecdote of Turner's relationship with Heinicke that would prove keenly prescient.
"I really commend Scott Turner here. This is how thorough Scott is," Wilder said. "When all this COVID hit and everybody wasn't sure what was going to happen, Scott reached out to Taylor this summer and said, 'Hey look, keep training, stay in shape, keep throwing the ball, because I may call you later in the season.'
"I mean, think about that, guys. We witnessed the Denver Broncos with a wide receiver playing quarterback in the NFL. Think about how crazy that is. And Scott Turner this summer had the wherewithal to call Taylor and say 'be ready,' and that's the comfort level Scott has. They've known each other now for six years."
Remember, too, it wasn't until December when Heinicke signed with Washington, and that was only to be the 'quarantine quarterback,' a role designed to keep him isolated from the other QBs, in case one or all came down with COVID-19.
Wilder explained that when Heinicke was entering the NFL system out of college — ultimately going undrafted in 2015 — Turner, who was then a quarterbacks coach for the Vikings, was the only NFL coach who came to watch Heinicke's workout at ODU. Heinicke ran a 4.62 40-yard dash that day, Wilder recalled.
"All 32 teams were there, all the scouts," Wilder said. "But Scott was the only coach that worked him out and put him on the board, and watched video with him, took him out to dinner to get to know him, so he's really loyal to Scott. And then Ron gave him an opportunity in Carolina [in 2018]."
When Heinicke went off for 306 passing yards, a touchdown and interception against Tampa, while picking up another 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground, the only person who wasn't surprised watching from home may have been Wilder.
"Taylor knows Scott's system which, it can be complicated, guys," he said. "There's things in his system that you've got to be smart, you've got to be cerebral, you've got to understand. That's why Alex Smith I thought was good in the system. [Kyle] Allen understood the system. Taylor's a really smart guy, an engineering major and mathematics. The system fit the quarterback and that's why I wasn't surprised, Grant, and that's why I told you guys I felt like if he played, he'd be successful."
Heinicke has said he wants to be back in Washington for an opportunity to compete. Per Wilder, the quarterback recognizes he's not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but believes he is "a guy that can help a football team win games" and feels a deep sense of loyalty to Turner and Rivera.
One other note on the latter...
"My compliments to Ron Rivera," Wilder said. "What he went through this year, not only with cancer but with COVID, and then to hear the quotes from the players. I mean Taylor told me this personally on the phone, that he wants to be back in Washington because he loves Ron Rivera."
"The quote he made to me," he said, "he's been on some other teams. He's never seen a head coach with the respect level that Ron Rivera has from the players. He said the players love him, they love to play for him, they all want to be back playing for him next year, and that's incredible.
"I'm somebody who's coached for 32 years — I've never heard anything like that, how much players love a coach. So my hat's off to Ron Rivera. Nothing but respect for him and I think the Washington Football Team has a really bright future."
Wilder's interview begins at the 45-minute mark below.