Broncos promote rookie receiver Kendall Hinton to sub at QB

DENVER (AP) — The Denver Broncos elevated rookie receiver Kendall Hinton from the practice squad Sunday morning, hours before he was expected to start at quarterback for a team that’s missing its four QBs over coronavirus concerns.

The Broncos (4-6), who are hosting the New Orleans Saints (8-2) at empty Empower Field, also placed starting quarterback Drew Lock, his backup Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles on the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday.

The three were deemed high-risk close contacts with No. 3 QB Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for the virus on Thanksgiving Day, and pulled off the practice field Saturday. They were sent home and ordered to isolate for five days, per the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.

Hinton, who is 6 feet and 190 pounds, played quarterback for three seasons at Wake Forest before switching to receiver last year for his redshirt senior season when he caught 73 passes for 1,001 yards and four touchdowns.

He signed with Denver as an undrafted college free agent in the spring and spent all of training camp with the Broncos before being waived on Sept. 5. He rejoined the practice squad on Nov. 4.

Hinton completed 133 of 253 (52.6%) passes for 1,504 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions for the Demon Deacons. He also rushed for 1,059 yards with 12 TDs on 188 carries for a 4.7-yard average in college.

In all, he made just five collegiate starts at quarterback and his last touchdown pass came on Oct. 7, 2017, against Clemson, which is more recently than Saints’ 30-year-old starter Taysom Hill, whose last TD throw was on Nov. 26, 2016, for BYU against Utah State.

Hill was set to make his second start in place of Drew Brees, who’s out with fractured ribs. Hill won his NFL debut at quarterback last week against Atlanta.

After clearing the Broncos to practice following Driskel’s infection on Thursday and again Friday after kick returner Deontae Spencer and two staffers tested positive, the NFL gave the Broncos to go-ahead again to practice on Saturday.

Just as the quarterbacks were loosening up during a special teams session, the league informed the Broncos that league investigators had determined Lock, Rypien and Bortles had been around Driskel without masks as required by the league’s COVID-19 rules, according to a person familiar with the probe.

The quarterbacks were pulled off the field and sent home to quarantine.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio, general manager John Elway and CEO Joe Ellis lobbied NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to push the game back to Tuesday like the league had done with the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game after a virus outbreak on the Ravens’ roster. But that request was denied.

The Broncos could also face a hefty fine and the loss of a 2021 draft pick over their COVID-19 protocol violations by their quarterbacks.

Lock is missing his third game this season, fourth if you count his Week 2 start at Pittsburgh when he sprained his throwing shoulder in the opening minutes. In two seasons, he’s started 13 games and missed 14.

An hour before kickoff, Lock issued an apology, an explanation and a defense in a lengthy Twitter post.

“As a proud member of the Denver Broncos, I can attest that our entire team has taken the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, following all the rules to keep each other safe. We’re tested daily, get quick results, and are confident our facility is a safe environment for everyone,” Lock wrote.

“In a controlled and socially distanced area, we let our masking slip for a limited amount of time. An honest mistake, but one I will own,” Lock said, adding, “I sincerely apologize and I fully understand why these safety precautions are so important. Doing the right thing for a majority of the time is not good enough.”

Lock concluded by saying, “I pray for my teammates’ health, safety and success today” and looks forward to returning to the team next week.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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