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Former Washington Football Team quarterback and NFL Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith thinks that Taylor Heinicke is the real deal, telling Fox News in an interview this week that Heinicke has the confidence and coolness to take Washington to the top of the NFC East, a division he says will “shock” a lot in the league this season. 

Smith, who retired last season after making an incredible comeback following a devastating leg injury in 2018, spoke to Fox News about Washington’s season after its Week 2 victory over the New York Giants where Taylor Heinicke made his third career start over veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick who was ruled out for at least eight weeks with a hip injury. 

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Terry McLaurin against the New York Giants during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Smith, who joined ESPN as an NFL analyst in August after 17 seasons, says the conversation about what happens when Fitzpatrick returns is an “irrelevant” one. 

“You know, it’s so far away. Ryan is gonna miss a chunk of time here, getting back and getting healthy so it doesn’t really matter.” 

“I certainly think he’s capable of that but he’s gotta go do it,” he said of Heinicke remaining on as Washington’s starter. “And who knows, I think having a deep quarterback room and having guys that can play at a high level is only a benefit. You never know what could happen and when you need to be ready and I think Washington fans realize that and appreciate that more than most. It’s only an added benefit … that’s a good problem to have.” 

Heinicke joined Washington’s practice squad in December 2020. He got the chance to start during the Wild Card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Smith was ruled out with an injury. 

Smith says the same confident player he saw last season, is who Washington has as their starter now. 

“Having been in that system all last year, I think I just saw a guy go out there play confident, play fast. He was decisive, he wasn’t doing anything crazy. The moment wasn’t too big for him, the spotlight wasn’t too big for him and I think we saw that last season with the playoff [game]. On a huge stage, it was the same thing. Taylor didn’t blink, he was ready for it.”

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) dives to score a touchdown against Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebackers Kevin Minter (51) and Lavonte David (54) during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

For now, Washington’s biggest hurdle will be the defensive line. Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters after Thursday’s win that he noticed a “lack of discipline” from his defensive line but Smith says that’s just “a growing pain” when you have such a young unit.

“I think the defense would be the first to tell you that they haven’t played up to certainly their standard these first two weeks, to their expectation. I think the biggest telling is just whether or not they get better.”

He continued: “A wins a win, ugly or pretty. No one remembers come playoff time. I think the most telling thing is going to be whether or not this unit on the defensive side of the ball continues to improve and gets to where they want to go and where I think we all know they can play at, from a talent perspective, which I think is really, really high.”

Smith’s expectations for Washington are high this season after earning the NFC East division title last year – a division that he believes will “shock” a ton of people after last year’s debacle. 

“I think the NFC East is going to surprise a lot of people. I think it’s incredibly underrated across the league and I understand why and a lot of it’s based off of last year but I think all these games are going to shock a lot of people. I think they’re much better than people think. I do think Washington … has the deepest roster. I think the division is there for them to take but I do think this is going to be a really competitive division, not just amongst each other but the rest of the divisions out there as well. I think they are going to shock a lot of people.” 

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is hit by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons as he throws during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Smith spoke to Fox News on behalf of Gatorade who launched its latest technology in training, the Gx Sweat Patch and App, on Monday.  

The first-to-market wearable unlocks athletes’ unique sweat profile to inform their personalized hydration strategies that can help drive performance – technology that was previously only available to elite athletes. 

“It’d probably be hard to overstate how important hydration is, just from a living perspective, let alone go playing in sports at a high level and exercising,” Smith said. “I think the hard part of it is knowing that there are a lot of these subtleties and differences to it. Obviously, water is a key component but there are [other] things – salt, carbs and a big part of it is dependent on your body type and the environment that you’re in that all go into that and so it’s different for everybody.”

“Now to have that at your fingertips instantaneously, I think it’s so cool.”

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