In “the most eventful 24 hours” of Kendall Hinton life, the practice squad rookie wideout went to the Broncos starting quarterback for the week 12 home game against New Orleans.
As a result, Hinton threw two interceptions and completed just one pass in Denver’s 31-3 pummeling through New Orleans at Empower Field. But it also provided a lasting memory for the undesigned rookie who admitted, “I never thought I’d take the reins back.”
“When I got the call, it was pure excitement,” said Hinton. “Of course there were nerves and disbelief, but the encouragement I got from my team, and the guys who kept me going (in the huddle) made it easier for me.”
The 23-year-old saw his first NFL action during the fifth action of the game, when he rolled out on the 3rd and 3rd and was forced to throw the ball under pressure. Two of his first four passes were potential interceptions by the New Orleans secondary, and Hinton went in the 0-for-7 half with a pick.
Hinton completed his first NFL pass on Denver’s opening third-quarter drive, a 13-yard screen against Noah Fant. But that would be Hinton’s only highlight. Two plays later, he was picked off again, this time on an overthrow on the field as he was under pressure as he walked to the right.
“(I) wouldn’t say I planned this in my dreams (an NFL debut),” he said.
Probably far from it, especially for a receiver who was put in the spotlight as Denver’s fourth starting quarterback this season after the Broncos’ four QBs on the roster were all sidelined with COVID-related issues. Jeff Driskel tested positive earlier this week, and then starter Drew Lock and backups Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were all not considered by the NFL to play due to tracing high-risk contracts.
Lock apologized in a pregame Twitter statement for “having our masking for a limited time” – a protocol flaw that paved the way for Hinton’s unlikely debut. The Durham, NC native became the NFL’s first non-quarterback to hold the position since December 18, 1965, when Tom Matte walked back for the Baltimore Colts.
Hinton estimated that the Broncos had about a tenth of their playbook available, which was heavily modified to include the “wild cat” formation and only showed about “20-30” different plays. He also acknowledged that “a day or two of practice would definitely have helped” and “(Monday) morning probably won’t be fun” after being tackled and hit at full speed for the first time in about a year.
But it certainly beats the path he walked a month ago. After signing with the Broncos on April 26, Hinton was waived after training camp. He found himself looking for work before being returned to the practice squad on November 4.
“I sold fundraising and tried to get as much (money) as possible, stay in shape and figure out what to do next,” said Hinton, who converted from quarterback during his last season at Wake Forest. “I’ve always kept that positive attitude about what came next when it came to football, but reality hit and I started to grow up a little bit.”
The fairytale fast road to an NFL debut aside, the reality of a lack of preparation struck Hinton on Sunday, when he finished with a 0.0 quarterback score. Broncos’ coach Vic Fangio said Hinton “did everything he could” as he only had a handful of hours – and no drills – to prepare. In the end, it was “a big, big question, and it just didn’t work out.”
Still, those who know Hinton best, such as cornerback Essany Bassey, remained “proud” of what Hinton did despite the skewed score. Bassey, Hinton’s college teammate at Wake Forest, described Hinton as “like a brother to me.”
“I know his focus is on games and what kind of player and person he is,” said Bassey, who intercepted his first career during the loss. “There was a lot of pressure on him in the short term and he handled it like no other I’ve ever seen. He was calm, he was focused as he always has been. ”
The next for Hinton? Probably back to the practice squad, Lock, Rypien and Bortles were allowed to be approved for Denver’s Week 13 Test in Kansas City. But he enjoyed the brief opportunity he had.
“When we came in we were sure it was going to be a difficult situation,” said Hinton. “That was a challenge I wanted to take on.”