Ottawa Redblacks receiver Brad Sinopoli fully understands the challenge Kendall Hinton faced Sunday with the Denver Broncos.
The NFL club activated the rookie receiver from the practice roster to become the starting quarterback in Sunday’s 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Hinton, who played quarterback at Wake Forest before switching to receiver in his senior season at the university, was pressed into action after all four of Denver’s quarterbacks went on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week.
The outcome was predictable. Hinton finished 1-of-9 passing for 13 yards with two interceptions.
Sinopoli, a star quarterback at the University of Ottawa before turning pro, certainly could relate.
“Quarterbacks make the most money for a reason,” the native of Peterborough, Ont., said Monday in a telephone interview. “It’s a very, very hard job and even the best ones have tough days and tough streaks.
“To put a guy in who doesn’t do that on a daily basis is tough and stressful. I’m sure leading up to the game … he probably didn’t let on but he was probably really stressed.”
Before becoming one of the CFL’s top receivers — Sinopoli was named the league’s top Canadian in 2016 — he played under centre at the University of Ottawa (2007-10).
The six-foot-four, 215-pound Sinopoli captured the 2010 Hec Crighton Trophy as Canada’s top collegiate player after passing for 2,756 yards and 22 touchdowns in eight games. He was drafted by the Calgary Stampeders in 2011 and began his CFL career as a quarterback before converting to receiver in 2013.
“Here and there I’ve always jumped in during practice over the years, be it for fun or in that situation where it was a bit of an emergency,” Sinopoli said. “I was sitting there kind of stressing about it, forgetting how fast it was back there, but really I just tried to do some mental reps.
“I’d take the plays and go through them in my mind and go through the exact thing. The coaches were like, ‘What pass plays are you comfortable with?’ and I picked plays I’d done that were similar in college and I think that’s probably what they did with (Hinton) because trying to do a play you’re not familiar with and all that’s happening around you, you can rush a bit and overthink things and it just becomes a little too much.”
The quarterback runs the offence on the field. Plays begin on his command and most times his hands are the first on the ball once it’s snapped.
But what many don’t see — or hear — is how the quarterback relays plays in the huddle. Each call specifically outlines the other players’ responsibilities regarding pass protections, run assignments and/or pass routes.
That puts the onus on the quarterback to clearly — and correctly — relay that information.
“I think the process of saying the plays is a bigger deal than listening to them,” Sinopoli said. “When you’re a receiver what the offensive line does in protection doesn’t really sometimes apply to you so you hear it but you don’t have to be as detailed.
“But as the quarterback, everything you say matters. I think it’s a bit more stressful than people realize to regurgitate the plays. It’s under pressure with the time clock and sometimes the play doesn’t come in correctly and you have to know whatever the situation is.”
There’s also the matter of the quarterback, upon reaching the line of scrimmage, being able to quickly scan a defence and determine if the play called can work or if an audible is required.
“You’re inevitably going to face struggles as a quarterback and when it’s not your job it’s a hard hole to get out of because you have to do the opposite of instinct,” Sinopoli said. “When things start to get away from you, the instinct is to tighten up and press a little bit more but you have to calm down.
“If you kind of screw up at receiver or (defensive back), you can take out (the mistake) in some form of physical fashion. If you’re a receiver you can make a catch, put your head down and take a good hit and that’s the same way on defence.
“As a quarterback you can’t do that. I think the toughest thing is you don’t have that outlet to get over those humps, You have to work it out mentally, which, if you’re not used to that is tough.”
And so too is getting into the rhythm required to play quarterback, something Sinopoli said takes time to achieve but can be lost rapidly.
“When you’re not in the offence, that kind of familiar feeling goes away pretty quickly,” he said. “I’m sure they probably tried to make some calls easier and not have as much in but I know a big part of it is just having that confidence.
“The truth is I probably wouldn’t feel 100 per cent comfortable like I knew I was because it’s all about reps and when you haven’t repped certain things over and over, it’s almost like everything is kind of new because you’re in that new position of running that specific offence. The talk is usually by the end of the second year, (as a starter) now you’re getting comfortable with the offence. It does take a long time to kind of get comfortable and used to it all.”
Sinopoli said if he was pressed into service at quarterback on an emergency basis, he’s confident he could make the necessary mental adjustments. However, he wonders if he could make all the necessary throws after undergoing right shoulder surgery three seasons ago.
“That would be my main worry,” Sinopoli said. “It’s interesting, when you throw if you haven’t been throwing your whole life, you just don’t have that flexibility even though you’re flexible.
“A thrower’s flexibility is very, very different … it’s like throwing with your left arm if you’re not left-handed. The flexibility in your shoulder isn’t used to the stress that’s being put on it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press