DENVER — A play on the first day of practice last summer, as part of scripted offense, rattled the Broncos defense and created a wave of smiles at UCHealth Center. No matter how you viewed running back Phillip Lindsay — undersized, undrafted, underrated — one thing became clear.
“He is making this team,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said.
Lindsay not only secured a roster spot, he made the offense watchable in what was another disappointing year of production. The former University of Colorado star rushed for 1,037 yards, second most by an undrafted rookie, and nine touchdowns.
His season ended abruptly at Oakland in Week 15 when he tore ligaments in his right wrist that required surgery. He eschewed the brace in June, and when I asked Monday about his expectations for training camp, he remained blunt.
“In my mind I am ready. I am 100 percent.” Lindsay said, taking a break from his first annual youth football camp. “Once camp hits and you all will see me, you’ll know what I am doing. You got two more days. It’s a present.”
The Broncos are expected to take precautions with Lindsay, easing him back into the fold. As Lindsay explained on Monday, his goal is to play 19 games, not one because of an artificial deadline. Lindsay’s health is an issue because of his importance to winning. He provided espresso shots to a yawn-inducing attack. For the Broncos to avoid a third straight losing season, which last happened during a 10-year drought from 1963 to 1972, the offense must awake from its slumber. Optimism exists because of a new coach (Vic Fangio), new coordinator (Rich Scangarello from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree) and new quarterback (Joe Flacco).
The Broncos have provided Flacco a chance to rebound in his new home, adding offensive line boss Mike Munchak, signing right tackle Ja’Wuan James and drafting tight end Noah Fant in the first round. Will it fix the offense? Lindsay remains bullish, his entire mindset driven to prove people wrong.
“There are no excuses,” Lindsay said. “It’s us doing our assignments right. It’s me making more big plays. It’s Royce (Freeman) making more big plays. It’s (Devontae) Booker making big plays. It’s Courtland (Sutton), Emmanuel (Sanders), DaSean (Hamilton) and Tim (Patrick) and all of them putting it on. Our defense is going to do its job. That’s never going to be the problem. It’s about us coming together as an offense and helping them out.”
Under Scangarello, intrigue surfaces. This offense features a history of using two running backs, and utilizing them in the passing game. Could Lindsay rush for say, 900 yards, and post 350 receiving, creating a mismatch in space? Would he better as a complementary piece with Freeman, who showed improved burst in camp with his ankle issues behind him, easing the wear-and-tear on the 5-foot-8, 190-pounder? Options, for the first time since Peyton Manning retired, exist. For Lindsay, the focus remains narrow. He made critics swallow their tongues as a rookie — something he viewed as a start, not a final statement.
“I was mad,” said Lindsay to a camper’s question about missing the postseason. “It’s hard when you watch former teammates in the playoffs. You are sitting around on the couch looking like a couch potato.”
Lindsay looks the part of a budding NFL star. Much has changed, and so much has not. He has new tattoos, and a cool ride from Acura. But his hair remains big, his body remains chiseled, and his speed, which changed his career path after working out with Broncos strength coach Loren Landow, remains breathtaking. Lindsay, at his core, is about rolling up his sleeves and getting stuff done.
In his second season, that means a team that plays in the postseason, exemplified in his message to campers as they broke down for drills.
“I want to see effort. This is how I started out. I want you all do the same (stuff) I did. Go to work,” Lindsay said. “Let’s roll.”