In the year 2020, NFL teams must prepare contingency plans as often as game plans. With postponements and COVID-19 protocols, teams and players must always be prepared for the unexpected.
No time was that more evident than this past Sunday when the Denver Broncos were forced to sit their entire quarterback room in Week 12 after Jeff Driskel tested positive for COVID-19 and it was discovered the whole unit had been in a room together without masks.
So the Broncos instead started a practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton. He last played quarterback in high school and then for a short time at Wake Forest before transitioning to receiver.
It was a humbling but also eye-opening situation for teams around the league as they were all forced to evaluate, who would their quarterback be in an emergency situation?
“We did discuss that,” admitted Head Coach Doug Marrone on Wednesday, following the Denver outing.
“We actually did discuss that. [Offensive Coordinator] Jay [Gruden] and I had that discussion.”
And for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the question has actually long been answered.
Laviska Shenault Jr., wide receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback extraordinaire, would line up in the important position should the need arise. In fact, Marrone has seen Shenault in that role all season, even if not specified until now.
“We feel really good about what we’re doing from a protocol standpoint, so I think right now we’ll keep it the way it is. We have an emergency quarterback pretty much most of the year, but when [Shenault] was injured, then we had to go to other players. That’s the only time we switched.”
Being able to line the rookie out of Colorado up in three different positions has proved successful for the Jags. Shenault has 33 receptions for 354 yards and a touchdown, along with 12 carries for 60 yards on the ground.
When he missed two and a half games (Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and most of the Houston Texans) the playbook significantly changed.
“Yeah, [those plays are] scrapped [when he goes out],” said Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden at the time.
“Laviska does some special things. You put him in the backfield, you can do some wildcat things, and you don’t do that with anybody else. He’s getting all those reps, the reverses and all that stuff. Some other guys we can get out in space and do somethings, but Laviska’s a different cat and calls for a different type of play. Once he went out, it shortened up our playbook.”
Shenault returned for Week 12 versus the Cleveland Browns and had three receptions for 31 yards and one rush for six yards.
Despite the game plan being shortened without Shenault, there is still a difference in giving him a special section of the playbook versus the entire playbook.
Shenault has been used as a wildcat quarterback due to his versatility but each time it was a direct snap in a designed run formation. He has yet to pass the ball. And unlike Hinton, Shenault has always been a receiver—albeit one who has familiarity with the wildcat. Still, Gruden isn’t suffering from any disillusions about what a stark reality it would be if he’s putting an entire game in his rookie receiver’s hands…and especially putting that ball in the air.
“Not very, not very at all,” Gruden laughed, when asked how comfortable he’d be in the situation.
“That'd be an awful situation for us and we would probably get beat like Denver did. I think they scored three points, which is quite amazing. So I think they should all get a plaque in the Hall of Fame for scoring three points without a quarterback. So it's no fun.”
Denver lost to the New Orleans Saints 31-3. Hinton went 1-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions.
Continued Gruden, “I mean, there's nothing we can really do except direct snap it and run the ball between the tackles and zone reads, all that stuff. Not a lot of options there. Occasionally, maybe that’s okay.”
For now, the Jacksonville Jaguars options remain much the same as they have al season: Mike Glennon (who will start on Sunday versus the Minnesota Vikings), Gardner Minshew II (who has been out with a hand injury but was cleared this week) and rookie Jake Luton (who started three games). But should the situation arise, contingency plans are in place for what promises to be a wild finish to an unprecedented NFL season.