One of the more surprising reasons for Taylor Heinicke's emergence for the Washington Football Team is that he doesn't seem particularly special in practice.
But when the lights come on, words like 'gamer' and 'playmaker' suddenly come into play, used to describe Heinicke's penchant for turning it on when it matters most, spinning outside of pressure and making things happen on the fly.
Part of the reason for that stark difference, between the way Heinicke practices and plays, Ron Rivera says, is attributable the quarterback focusing on developing his pocket awareness in practice.
"Well, you know, I had mentioned this a while ago about Taylor. One thing that you see in practices: he's really not as functional as you see him in the game, because in practice he's trying to keep himself in the pocket, he's trying to make himself develop a little bit more of that pocket awareness," Rivera told The Sports Junkies. "So in practice, he just doesn't look as efficient as when he's moving a little bit. You know what I'm saying? Because when he improvises, that's when he becomes even more dangerous."
Of Heinicke's 34-for-46 passing line for 336 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Giants, Rivera points to one play in particular that demonstrated Heinicke's evolving sense for the pocket. It came in the fourth quarter with Washington trailing by six, when Heinicke connected with tight end Ricky Seals-Jones for a go-ahead touchdown.
"But in practice — like I said — he just, he forces himself to go through it all," Rivera said. "And I'll tell ya, the thrill to Ricky Seals-Jones, this really kind of shows you because, if you watch him go through his progressions, he has a little hop and then he turns and throws to Ricky. That little hop is usually when he takes off running.
"But he kind of made himself stay in there and go through it, and he saw Ricky, and I think that's the result of what we've seen in practice."
Rivera was asked to clarify whether that particular play was a direct result of the coaching staff asking Heinicke not to freelance so much during games.
"No, we've never said that," Rivera said. "But we've always talked to him about going through his progressions, learning it and understanding it. And he just does some things naturally, and I think part of it was really going through the progression the way he did, which was pretty good."
Listen to Ron Rivera at the 17:30 mark below.