Taylor Heinicke emulates Russell Wilson in bid to back up Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sometimes playfully challenges teammates far shorter than his 6-foot-5 frame by stretching his right hand as high as possible to see if they can reach it for a high five.

So far, Taylor Heinicke hasn't been asked to participate.

"Thank God!" Heinicke said with a laugh.

Heinicke is 6-foot-1 -- actually closer to 6 feet, ⅜ inch -- and is short by NFL standards for a quarterback. His lack of height was a big reason he wasn't drafted out of Old Dominion, where he broke most of the school's passing records.

He feels even shorter standing beside Newton, who has nicknamed him "Heineken" -- as in the beer.

But Heinicke has a chance to be Newton's backup this season, and Friday's preseason game (7:30 p.m. ET) against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium will be his big chance to impress.

The 25-year-old will work some with the first-team offense after Newton makes a brief appearance, just as Garrett Gilbert did in the preseason opener at Buffalo.

Coach Ron Rivera is looking for more of the consistency Heinicke showed facing the Bills' third- and fourth-stringers.

Heinicke completed 7 of 9 pass attempts for 121 yards and a touchdown, a 21-yarder to running back Elijah Hood. He also rushed twice for 14 yards, including a nifty 8-yard run on a bootleg on third-and-8.

But Heinicke won't be trying to emulate Newton, who like him grew up in the Atlanta area. He wasn't even aware of who Newton was growing up until Newton transferred to Auburn for his 2010 Heisman Trophy-winning junior season.

The difference in their sizes is one reason Heinicke can't directly compare his style to Newton's. He models himself more after Russell Wilson, reminding that he's actually taller than the Seattle Seahawks' 5-foot-11 quarterback.

"He's calm in the pocket. He's got a quick release. He reads defenses well," Heinicke said of Wilson. "When stuff breaks down he makes plays. He's smart about it, too. You don't see him making any bonehead plays.

"Everything that he does, I watch film on him and try to emulate my game after him."

One could argue Heinicke is a better fit than Gilbert to back up Newton because, like the 2015 NFL MVP, Heinicke can beat you with his legs as well as his arm. Heinicke had 22 rushing touchdowns at Old Dominion in addition to 132 touchdown passes.

But most of Heinicke's rushes in college weren't off designed runs, as Newton often was asked to do out of the read-option that was a predominant part of Carolina's offense his first seven seasons.

"I don't really like to use my feet," Heinicke said. "I like to get the ball in the playmakers' hands and let them do their thing. Again, if something breaks down and I need to make something happen, I feel I can."

That's more along the lines of what Wilson does.

It's also what new Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to see Newton do more. That Heinicke had two years in Turner's system at Minnesota -- 2015 and '16 before Turner resigned seven games into the season -- is why the quarterback is with Carolina.

"He's got a real good arm, makes good decisions," Turner said.

The differences between them doesn't mean Heinicke hasn't learned from Newton.

"Have fun," Heinicke said when asked what Newton has taught him. "He's brought that type of aspect to the game. A lot of people forget it's a game, so have fun with it."

Heinicke didn't expect to be with the Panthers. He was preparing for offseason workouts in Houston when he learned the Texans had waived him. The Panthers quickly claimed him.

Gilbert, 27, entered camp as the front-runner for the backup job and held his own against Buffalo, completing 7 of 12 pass attempts for 93 yards and a touchdown.

Now it's Heinicke's turn to show the poise and smarts that made him a star at Old Dominion, where he had a 67.7 career completion percentage and threw only 39 interceptions on 1,829 pass attempts.

While those gaudy numbers weren't enough to make Heinicke the first Monarchs player selected in the NFL draft, it prepared him for this moment.

"We threw the ball 40 to 50 times a game," he said. "You see a lot of different types of defenses and blitzes, so when you see some kind of crazy stuff when you first come in, it's not new to you."

So far Heinicke's biggest claim to fame in the NFL came prior to camp with Minnesota in 2016. While trying to break into his own house after a late-night movie, he suffered a cut on his left ankle that required surgery. It was an embarrassing moment, but one that got Heinicke more headlines than anything he's done on the field. In general, Heinicke considers himself "not very interesting."

But he could make the battle to be Newton's backup interesting with a big performance against the Dolphins.

"I just need to get better, be successful out there, move the ball," Heinicke said. "If I can do that, things will take care of itself."