While there was plenty of reason for Denver Broncos fans to be unhappy with the team's Week 5 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, there was at least one bright spot — Kendall Hinton scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Fans will remember that, last year, Hinton got called up from the practice squad to start at quarterback against the New Orleans Saints after the rest of the Broncos' signal-callers were not allowed to play for violating COVID-19 procedures. This, as an undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Wake Forest.
Although that would be a week Broncos fans may want to forget, Hinton was praised for entering an impossible situation and handling it the best he could. Thus, it was rewarding to see Hinton find the end zone against the Steelers in what was the first touchdown of his young NFL career.
On Wednesday, Hinton admitted he wasn't even certain whether a scoring opportunity would come his way.
“I never got that rep in practice," Hinton said. "With that play, that’s our first read of that play. It popped open, and we took advantage of it.”
Hinton also came through with a 23-yard reception to keep a late drive going for the Broncos. He talked about what happened on that play and what allowed him to stay in bounds.
“The ball was on the sideline," he said. "I caught it and just went in slow motion. I had to get my head down to see where my feet were at. I had just enough space to get the second foot in.”
Hinton made an impression in training camp but didn't do enough in the preseason to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster. However, he signed with the practice squad and it didn't take long for him to get called up to the active roster.
That, of course, happened when Jerry Jeudy went down with a sprained ankle. Hinton now had to enter another tough situation in replacing one of the Broncos' most talented players.
But Hinton said there was a point during the offseason in which he thought that he just might make it as a gameday active receiver for the Broncos.
“I think this past OTAs and this past training camp, [there] was a moment where I was like, ‘Hey, I think I do belong here in NFL as a receiver. I think I can play alongside these guys," he said.
Head coach Vic Fangio would concur.
“He keeps getting better," Fangio said Wednesday. "He just keeps improving. He’s become a good receiver. With the injuries to Jerry and KJ, he’s gotten an opportunity to play more.”
Hinton when on to add that he's learned a lot from the rest of the Broncos' wideouts, including the injured receiver he replaced on the roster.
"Our receiver room—I’m just so lucky to be in this receiver room and be able to grab these different things from the older guys, from Jeudy," Hinton said. "It’s been awesome to learn from such a great receiver room.”
Hinton, who first entered the NFL in 2020, could be working his way into a permanent role on the 53-man roster, even when Jeudy is cleared to play. With KJ Hamler lost for the season to an ACL injury, the possibility remains that Hinton could still contribute, even with the recent signing of John Brown to the practice squad.
But the second-year receiver is taking things in stride.
“Every day, I wake up and it’s crazy—I’m playing in the NFL. It’s such a blessing, such an honor," Hinton said. "Every day it’s wild. This journey continues, and through all the bumps in the road, I’m so appreciative of where I’m at now."
In fact, that Saints game last year, in which Hinton had to step in as an emergency quarterback, may have turned some heads on the coaching staff.
"I think my excitement when I got the opportunity—Coach Fangio, [quarterbacks] Coach [Mike] Shula, [Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Pat] Shurmur—they could all see my excitement in the opportunity and how hopeful I was to go make a play for my team," Hinton said. "I think more than anything, guys respect that in the locker room. Not so much the field, but that’s a respect off the field, more so.”
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