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Heinicke Hoping To Keep Impressive Preseason Going

Posted Sep 2, 2015

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In four preseason games, rookie Taylor Heinicke has been under center in the Vikings victory formation three times.

Eight kneel-downs for a total of minus 10 yards rushing.

Scrapping a column on a stat sheet has never felt so good.

If the Vikings reach the victory formation against the Titans Thursday, it will likely be Heinicke handling the ball on the final snaps of the 2015 preseason.

The undrafted rookie out of Old Dominion has caught fire like starter Teddy Bridgewater and veteran backup Shaun Hill. He completed 11 of 11 passes for 83 yards and a passer rating of 98.1 at Dallas in leading a pair of drives that ended with rushing touchdowns Saturday.

When asked about the perfect completion clip, Heinicke simply said, “The funny thing is I actually would have had a better game if was 10-for-11. There was a screen there that I should have just thrown at the ground. There’s always room for improvement, but I thought I played a pretty good game.”

He’s right. Heinicke was taking heat from an unblocked blitzer as the Vikings were trying to set up a screen pass to Joe Banyard, who caught the short pass in traffic and was swarmed for a 7-yard loss. Without that completion, Heinicke’s passer rating would have been 100.8, and the Vikings would have faced third-and-12 instead of third-and-19.

All told, however, Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Heinicke did well in Dallas.

“He’s still a young quarterback trying to find his way in a lot of things, but he made plays the other night,” Zimmer said. “He’s done a good job this camp, so we’ll just have to see where everything unfolds as we get going.”

Learning when and how best to minimize defenses is helpful in keeping the best future options open, and Heinicke said he’s placed a significant focus on managing the offense for Coordinator Norv Turner, whose system Heinicke described as “usually quarterback friendly.”

The biggest emphasis Heinicke said Turner has “made it a huge concern on getting the ball out of my hands.”

“There’s times where I’ve been holding the ball too long and taken a sack or thrown a bad ball,” Heinicke said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve tried to work on the past couple of weeks.”

In addition to playing the Steelers, Buccaneers, Raiders and Cowboys so far, Heinicke said he’s been playing the playbook, meaning knowing the keys to make each snap have the best outcome.

“Every play, there’s something to beat, whatever the defense does, there’s a way to beat it, so you just go out there every play, take it one play at a time and just play the playbook,” said Heinicke, who helped lead the Monarchs from FCS to FBS while in college.

Heinicke admitted he “was a little jittery” on his first snap against Pittsburgh, a rollout that helped him make a short throw to MyCole Pruitt. His second pass was a quick receiver screen to Stefon Diggs. The third attempt was a nicely thrown ball to Adam Thielen near the sideline for a gain of 13 on which Heinicke stood in the pocket and took a hit.

For the preseason, Heinicke is 30-of-41 passing (73.2 percent complete) for 237 yards with one interception for a rating of 77. He’s taken two of the five sacks allowed by the Vikings.

Turner said Heinicke has improved his feel for “playing and understanding the speed” of the game at this level.

“He’s gotten a lot better with his feet, gotten the ball out quicker,” Turner said. “In the second half, the coverage isn’t as good, the defenses aren’t as sophisticated, but we can’t control that. But he’s made plays that show he’s got a chance to develop into a guy that could be on our roster.”