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Washington expected to sign Taylor Heinicke to practice squad as ‘quarantine quarterback’

(Susan Walsh/AP)
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The Washington Football Team is expected to sign quarterback Taylor Heinicke to its practice squad with the intent to make him its “quarantine quarterback,” a person with knowledge of the situation said. The signing is dependent on Heinicke passing his six days of pre-entry coronavirus testing, which began Tuesday.

The need for a quarantine quarterback — a player who is involved in a team’s offensive game-planning but either trains on his own or remains distanced from the other quarterbacks on the roster — was reinforced Sunday, when the Denver Broncos played a game without any of their quarterbacks. The thinking is simple: A team’s quarterbacks spend so much time together that if one tests positive for the coronavirus, the whole group could easily get infected and leave the team without the most important player on the field.

By quarantining one of them, the team always has a backup — someone who knows the offense, knows the team and could, theoretically, step in at a moment’s notice.

The Broncos experienced a nightmare scenario over the weekend when backup quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive and the three other quarterbacks on the roster — starter Drew Lock, third-stringer Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles — were ordered to quarantine for five days because they had contact with Driskel while not wearing masks. The three all tested negative but were deemed “high-risk” because of their exposure.

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So the Broncos hosted the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and had Kendall Hinton, a practice squad wide receiver who had yet to play an NFL down, play quarterback. He completed only 1 of 9 pass attempts for 13 yards and two interceptions in Denver’s 31-3 loss.

“We try to make sure our guys understand that specific people have to be smart and have to make sure they’re keeping themselves away from the contact tracing as much as possible,” Washington Coach Ron Rivera said Monday. “Initially we had four quarterbacks, so it was a little easier to do. Now we’re down to three and we have to make sure [practice squad QB] Steven Montez is aware of it. … It’s something that we’ve talked about as a staff this week is that we’ve got to make sure these guys all understand they’ve got to maintain the social distance.”

Once signed, Heinicke, 27, will bring the number back up to four for Washington, along with starter Alex Smith, backup Dwayne Haskins and Montez. Kyle Allen, who was named the starter in Week 5, suffered a season-ending ankle injury and is on injured reserve.

Though Heinicke’s game experience is minimal, he is well versed in Washington’s system and knows its play caller well. After going undrafted out of Old Dominion in 2015, he signed with the Minnesota Vikings and spent his first two NFL seasons with Norv and Scott Turner as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Heinicke reunited with the Turners with Carolina for a season (2018) with Rivera as head coach.

Heinicke, who was last with the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL, played seven games over two seasons in the NFL, first with the Houston Texans in 2017 and then the Panthers. Carolina shut down starter Cam Newton for the final two games of the 2018 season because of a shoulder injury, so Heinicke made his first career start in a Week 16 game against the Atlanta Falcons. But he, too, went down with an injury and was replaced by Allen for the season finale.

Heinicke completed 33 of 53 pass attempts for 274 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in that 2018 loss to Atlanta, which ended up being the last game he has played in the NFL. Carolina re-signed him to a one-year deal in March 2019 but released him before the season.

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