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Denver Broncos Forced To Play Practice-Squad Wide Receiver At Quarterback

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is any young football player's wildest daydream. You get the call to be starting quarterback, big game, NFL - more like a nightmare, though, if you already play in the NFL and not as quarterback. Practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton started as quarterback for the Denver Broncos yesterday after the four quarterbacks on the team's roster were all quarantined. Hinton completed just one pass. The Broncos lost 31-3 to the New Orleans Saints. Let's bring in Lindsay Jones, senior writer for The Athletic.

Hey there. Welcome back.

LINDSAY JONES: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So you wrote Kendall Hinton found out all of 24 hours in advance that he was going to play quarterback, that he was going to start. And we should just note again, he has not played quarterback in the NFL in, well, ever, right?

JONES: And not only had he never played quarterback in the NFL; he had never played in the NFL period. He'd only been on the Broncos practice squad since November 4, working as a scout team wide receiver and punt returner. But he did play college quarterback at Wake Forest for several years before converting to wide receiver. So they figured he was their best, if not only, option.

KELLY: And he was a good sport about it, I gather.

JONES: Absolutely. He was very excited, but it was an impossible situation.

KELLY: How did this end up being the situation? How did the Broncos end up down four quarterbacks?

JONES: Well, it's a very 2020-pandemic-NFL-type story. One of their backup quarterbacks, Jeff Driskel, tested positive for COVID on Thursday morning. And through all of their contact tracing through a series of interviews, surveillance video - review of surveillance video, they discovered that the Broncos' other three quarterbacks were determined to be high-risk close contacts. And that comes with a mandatory five-day isolation period, even if those guys are testing negative, which they had.

But by Saturday afternoon, after additional review of evidence, the NFL said all three guys - their starter and their two other backups - were ineligible to play, and it left the Broncos with no time to practice or to figure out another situation other than calling up Kendall Hinton.

KELLY: Was it ever floated that they should just cancel this game?

JONES: Well, that's something that the Broncos certainly asked for. Their executive vice president and other team officials went to the NFL, and they said, can you give us a little bit more time? Could you push this game to Monday? Could you push this game to Tuesday? - at which point Drew Lock, their starting quarterback, would be cleared and able to return. And the NFL said no.

And they've made this pretty clear along - you know, for several months, the NFL has that - they're only going to move games if it's a matter of health and safety, if there's active transmission of the virus. They're not going to cancel games for competitive roster reasons. And they really looked at it as, this was the Broncos' mess. The quarterbacks exposed themselves. They didn't follow the correct protocols, and they were going to have to figure out how to clean up this mess.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, just a few seconds left, but what about Kendall Hinton? Do we know what is next for him?

JONES: Well, he's certainly not going to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. I think his best path now is to be back on the Broncos practice squad. And maybe the next time we see him in an NFL game, he'll be catching punts or maybe running some wide receiver routes, not learning at the quarterback.

KELLY: Actually getting to play wide receiver there. Yeah. Lindsay Jones, senior writer for The Athletic, thank you.

JONES: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIBO'S "MOON JUMP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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