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Rules SchoolEagles, Dolphins utilize 3rd QB

Eagles, Dolphins utilize 3rd QB

Note: The rule for the third quarterback was removed in 2011.

The rules on the third quarterback eligibility are rarely even considered, yet there were two different situations from Sunday where these rules were in play.

Dolphins second- and third-string quarterbacks Pat White and Chad Henne on the sideline during Week 1. Photo courtesy Chris J. Nelson
Dolphins second- and third-string quarterbacks Pat White and Chad Henne on the sideline during Week 1. (Credit: Chris J. Nelson)

When special-teams specialists became prevalent in the late 1980s, the 45-man roster was expanded to, at the time, 47 players with at least two declared inactive on a per-game basis. (It is now 53, with eight inactives.) Most teams placed their third-string quarterback as an inactive player until a high-profile Monday Night Football game in 1990. In that game, the Redskins had lost their first- and second-string quarterbacks, and their third quarterback was on the inactive list, unable to play. This lead to running back Brian Mitchell carrying the quarterback load for the remainder of the game. In the 1990–91 offseason, the rule was amended to allow a third quarterback to be available on game day. Prior to the fourth quarter, the third quarterback could only enter the game but the other two quarterbacks could no longer participate for the rest of the game (either due to injury or coach’s decision). In the fourth quarter, the third quarterback could be used at any time, as long as the other two field generals were not on the field. The Eagles had Kevin Kolb as the starting quarterback; Michael Vick, second; and Jeff Garcia, third. To avoid the restrictions on Garcia, coach Andy Reid placed Garcia on the active roster, allowing him to freely substitute through the game. This was at the expense of a special-teams position on the active roster. Garcia, however, did not enter until the fourth quarter, while Kolb and Vick alternated through the game. The Dolphins made a risky decision in their game. When Chad Pennington went down in the third quarter, coach Tony Sparano opted to go with the second-year third quarterback Chad Henne, rather than their rookie sixth-rounder Pat White. This move immediately made Pennington and White ineligible for the remainder of the game, and had Henne been injured, the Dolphins would have to recruit a nonquarterback player from its active roster.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)
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