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Commander Taylor Heinicke will replace Carson Wentz, not Sam Howell.

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In the absence of injured quarterback Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders Coach Ron Rivera will replace Sam Howell with Taylor Heinicke at Sunday’s Green Bay Packers game. Rivera could have tapped Howell to give the third-ranked rookie a chance to show what he’s capable of at the NFL level, but on Tuesday afternoon Rivera explained that Heinicke “give us the best opportunity to succeed” at the moment.

“We’re still in good shape, it’s the beginning of the year,” Rivera said. “We love what we have in terms of talent and our quarterbacks, guys we believe we can get the ball with. And we don’t want to put Sam in a situation. [difficult] situation … early in his career. We think he is a young man who has a chance as he grows and develops.”

Wentz, who had surgery for a fractured right ring finger in Los Angeles on Monday, may miss a few games, but for now, Rivera said the timeline for his return is uncertain. Wentz plans to stay in LA for a few days for rehab with his doctors, who will reevaluate him at the weekend.

Commanders QB Carson Wentz undergoes finger surgery, won’t play against Packers

When asked if the team would place Wentz on the injury reserve, excluding him for at least four games, Rivera said: “This is impacting the next few days. That’s why it stayed [in California]”

Wentz shared the surgery he had on Tuesday on Instagram. “Another opportunity to grow and focus on God’s plan, not my own!” He wrote. “Yesterday the surgery went great and I’m going to rehab with everything I have because that’s all I know to do!”

With Wentz out, Washington’s third quarterback will be former University of Georgia star Jake Fromm, who the team signed to the practice roster on Tuesday. Rivera said the Commanders chose Fromm because he was “on a pretty good system” after Buffalo’s fifth-round draft in 2020. Last year, Fromm started two games for the New York Giants, including a Week 18 defeat to Washington.

“He is a man we believe can learn and learn very quickly if we fall into an extreme emergency,” Rivera said.

Washington has a veteran in Heinicke that he knows well since 15 last year. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner will likely keep most of the plan the same – too much action, too much game action – but Heinicke may limit the team’s ability to kick it down the court or out from an empty backcourt. Heinicke does not usually throw left and can create games with his feet.

The well-defined parameters of Heinicke’s play seem to attract some fans and repel others. Earlier in the year, Wentz’s wild swings had some calling him Heinicke – and when Wentz was injured, some wanted Howell because he’s seven years younger than Heinicke, at 22, and has room to grow.

Rivera’s pick of Heinicke over Howell appears to be based on the belief that Washington can resurrect the season even at 2-4. Rivera said not returning to Howell was not to blame for his development – “We think he’s on track,” he said – but there are still things for the rookie to learn.

Since spring, the franchise has softened expectations for the rookie from North Carolina when Washington used a fifth-round pick for Howell. In his first press conference after the draft, Rivera said choosing Howell was “about developing a young man”, and in his limited commentary since then, he said Rivera had been complimenting but restrained. He reiterated several times that Heinicke would remain a backup.

Taylor Heinicke spent the offseason building his game and Legos

In the locker room on Tuesday, Howell praised Wentz and Heinicke for helping him grow since the draft. He said their understanding of preparation, watching movies, and identifying opposing defense structures before a collision was very helpful. He didn’t think his routine would change as he was officially a backup.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to prepare like I was the first, and now that I’m only one game away, I’ll do everything I can to be ready if I have to go in,” he said. “But I only feel for Carson. He is a good friend of mine and he was very good to me, I hope he is recovering well.”

Howell seemed confident that if he had to play, he would be better than he was pre-season. In parts of three games, he finished 43 to 69 (62.3 percent) for 547 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. It took nine bags. He put on an impressive endgame show in the pre-season opening, scoring two goals against Carolina in the last nine minutes.

He said the key to his growth was legwork. In college, Howell played in an Air Raid offense and was always on the shotgun, always taking a three-step drop.

“I would usually just stand there and wait for things to open up,” he said.

In Washington, the number of steps in a fall varies, and the team is strict about getting them right because game concepts depend on the timing of the quarterback’s feet. For example, Howell said that on a digging route, a five-step drop should take a hitch step forward. But there’s a five-step drop and two hitches for a drag route.

“It’s really about the beat of the beat,” Howell said, “knowing the beat and putting on that hitch and just having that clock in your head. Knowing that the ball has to come off my feet is a little different and I feel like I’ve come a long way in that area.”

If Howell lands a game, he will become the eighth Washington quarterback to receive a snap in two-plus seasons under Rivera. While the coach probably hopes he won’t have to use Howell, the rookie is now just one game away – and he’s confident he can succeed if called up.

“I learned a lot,” Howell said. “I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”

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