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Broncos' Phillip Lindsay runs to daylight; Johnson sees light at end of the tunnel

Broncos aim to make big plays in biggest moments
Posted at 3:56 PM, Oct 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-09 18:14:01-04

ENGLEWOOD — Phillip Lindsay is five-foot something. His weight fails to begin with a two. Yet, like a flower sprouting through the crack in the sidewalk, he finds daylight running through the tackles.

When looking for reasons the Broncos can snap their four-game home losing streak, don't sleep on Lindsay. Following a breakout rookie season, he has gained traction in a different system with a new offensive coordinator.

Through five games, Lindsay ranks 14th in the NFL in rushing (327 yards), 15th in yards per carry (4.7) and has posted at least 130 yards from scrimmage in two of the past three weeks. Lindsay makes an impact. It is how that continues to feel unique even after he became the first undrafted offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl.

It's an inside job.

"That’s what I’ve done all my life. Growing up my father taught us how to run inside. That’s all I knew how to do. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. At the end of the day, people will have their own opinions, but I know what I can do. I do love running inside because there’s nothing better than being able to make slight little moves, make people miss inside," Lindsay explained Wednesday. "Then once you get inside out, it’s a lot easier than trying to run away from these 230, 240-pound linebackers running 4.3s, 4.4s like you.”

Lindsay plays like an shot of espresso. He bounces out of the tunnel for warmups. He talks in the huddle. He yaps at defenders -- "You don't know what they are saying to me," he explained with a wry smile -- and delivers bursts of offense that explode off the TV screen.

"(What sticks out is) Just how hard he runs," said quarterback Joe Flacco. "He’s going to get a lot of extra yards after contact just because of the way he keeps his feet moving and he puts his head down with no fear.”

The Broncos worked well off their 15-play script last week, passing out of heavy personnel. One glance at Kyle Shanahan's group in San Francisco, and it reveals a simple truth: this offense spins off the running game. The Niners, where Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello trained, are running as much as anyone since 1969. They represent the current gold standard. The Broncos sit 14th in carries (27) and yards per game (118.6). For this season to blossom out of the barren soil, Denver must rank in the top 10. The group is slowly, gradually finding its identity. The Broncos desire a physical approach with the ability to produce when the game hangs in the balance.

And there's few people to trust more than Lindsay in those moments.

"It’s going to be a hard-hitting game (against the Titans). They have a really good defense and we have to go at them, but at the end of the day it’s the NFL. People have been saying that about all the defenses we’ve played, and we’ve handled it. We just have to handle it," Lindsay said. "We just have to find ways to make plays especially when it matters. That’s the biggest thing now.”

Alexander the Good
Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson knew if he reached the NFL he wanted to go by his full first name. AJ is fine among teammates. But Alexander made more sense out of the locker room.

"I always talked about it with my family," he told Denver7.

Last Sunday, he was Alexander The Good with ambitions to be The Great. Starting his first NFL game, he received a game ball from coach Vic Fangio -- those are painted white and labeled for the player to display -- and his first ball from Philip Rivers, a red zone interception that helped deliver Denver's first victory.

"I ain't sure where the gameball is going. I don't have a big 'ol house with a man cave, just an apartment. But when I get a house, it's definitely going in the mancave," he said with a smile. "With the interception ball I am going to get all the guys on the team to sign it. It's pretty cool it all happened in my first start."

It was quite the lineuep debut for Johnson who was cut once last year, and fought to win a roster spot this summer. He said he is finally starting to feel like himself after missing 3 1/2 years of football before he was found not guilty in a rape trial in July 2018.

"Shoot, after my first game playing, it showed I can fly around and go hit. It felt good. It was fun. I hadn’t done that since Tennessee. I had real fun," Johnson said. "I know I can tackle But I also know I have get better."

The plan remains to keep the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Johnson alongside Todd Davis even if Josey Jewell (hamstring) returns. However, Johnson requires improvement with more reps.

" A.J. went in there and played good. He’s got some size. He’s got some thump and I thought he played well," coach Vic Fangio said. "Now, he made a bushel full of mistakes too that he had a rabbit’s foot in his pocket that he didn’t pay for. We have to get those rectified quickly.”

Ja'Wuan James (sprained left knee) is aiming to start this Sunday at right tackle, but must make progress with increased activity this week in practice. ... With De'Vante Bausby on the IR with a cervical spine injury, Devontae Harris is the current leader to start at cornerback. Isaac Yiadom is in the mix, but has to play better after a stint filled with penalties against the Chargers. ... Linebacker Justin Hollins (knee) practiced in a limited capacity. Nine players were limited, including Emmanuel Sanders (knee), Courtland Sutton (lower leg), safety Kareem Jackson (hamstring) and nose tackle Mike Purcell (knee).