DENVER — The NFL Combine invites surfaced on Thursday. A year ago, Phillip Lindsay shook his head over his omission. Over four seasons at the University of Colorado, he established himself as one of the Pac-12's top running backs. He was undersized, and truthfully, overused, leaving his speed compromised. However, the idea he couldn't crack the Combine was hard to digest.
Lindsay finds motivation easily. The slight left him one choice: get bitter or get better. He began working out even tirelessly with future Broncos strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow, shaving his 40-yard dash time from a 4.5 to a 4.38. He impressed at his pro day with Broncos general manager John Elway in attendance. He was told the Broncos would select him on the final day of the draft. Instead, in the seventh round, they chose Arkansas bruiser David Williams, who would become a good friend of Lindsay's.
Lindsay didn't hide his frustration as relayed the story late last season. So mad, he was determined to sign with the Baltimore Ravens as free agent. His mother calmed his nerves, told him staying at home was the best choice. Faith is believing in what cannot be seen. Lindsay fought his own instincts, and trusted his family. What unfolded was one of the best Broncos stories since Terrell Davis, whose number Lindsay restored to glory.
Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards on 192 carries, collecting 10 touchdowns in 14 games. He became the first undrafted offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl.
Lindsay tore ligaments in his right wrist on a rushing attempt at Oakland, requiring surgery and leaving a projected 4-to-6 month recovery. Initially, the NFL was not going to pay his way to the Pro Bowl, leading fans to create a GoFundMe page. Lindsay made the trip on the league's dime as a social media correspondent. And typical of his character, this week Lindsay pledged to donate the money from the fundraising to a hospitalized veteran in need.
From anonymous to recognizable everywhere he goes, it has been quite a year for Lindsay. Following his testimony at the state capitol this week to help athletic trainers become licensed in Colorado, Lindsay talked one-on-one with Denver7. He touched on a variety of topics, including the Broncos' new coaching staff, his recovery and why he doesn't want to play in the 2020 Pro Bowl.
Know this about Lindsay: He backs down from no one. When he was at CU, his first practice he picked a fight with one of the team's biggest players to show his toughness. He appreciated his NFL rookie success, but it came with a thorn. The Broncos finished with four straight defeats, posting back-to-back losing records for the first time since 1972. So yes, while the Pro Bowl was cool with Von Miller showing him the ropes, that is not the goal.
"I am definitely not satisfied, and I know my teammates aren’t either. It’s good to be in Pro Bowl, but it's also not because it's not where you want to be. All it does is make you hungrier. You want to be in the Super Bowl," Lindsay said. "It's my first year in the NFL, but I already feel like I want to be in the playoffs. We put our bodies on the line, and not to lose. We put our bodies on the line to win, to go to the Super Bowl. To see your teammates, and know that you are close, that you need a couple of more things from my end and their end, it's a great feeling. We are going into next year, and we are going to work even harder. We are going to be a more mature group, and we are going to win a lot more games."
For the Broncos to emerge as a contender, the Ambien offense must wake with a vengeance. The Broncos ranked 24th in points at 20.6 per game. Denver hired defensive guru Vic Fangio as its new head coach, and he is counting on new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to rev up an underwhelming attack. It starts with an open mind, and will be helped by highly-regarded offensive line boss Mike Munchak.
"Fangio is a great coach. Defense wins championships. He's going to have that defense rolling. He's no-nonsense, and he's going to bring that culture," Lindsay said. "With the offense, I have a great feeling about it. I believe (Scangarello) is going to be creative and that's going to get us all open. And when you have a dominant offensive line coach, he's going to put that mentality into our group. To be good, it's going to start with the offensive and defensive lines. That's the heart and soul of the team. And we know that."
Lindsay echoed what multiple Broncos told Denver7 after the season. He thinks the Broncos can execute a U-turn even as the numbers suggest a daunting challenge. I asked him why.
"The thing is we lost games by three points, we lost games by one point. It was the little things," Lindsay said. "We only really had one game where we got blown out. That shows we have that fight. That shows you we are missing a couple of pieces. With better execution of plays and adding more plays to help us be creative, that's what I feel like the offensive coordinator is going to do for us."
Little things can produce big results. Lindsay has lived this mantra as an athlete. As such, Fangio's "Death By Inches" mantra resonated with the Pro Bowler.
"It was interesting. It means we aren't going to lose by an inch. We are going to go that extra step," Lindsay said. "If everyone does that and goes that extra step, we are going to win games."
For Lindsay, he knows doubters exists, just as they did a year ago when his email to the NFL combine never materialized. First, he needs to get healthy, and then he will continue to follow his "We not Me" philosophy of football.
"I am healthy now. Once you get surgery done, you are healthy because they put everything back together. So now it's about my body healing the proper way so I can stay healthy. I am not going to put any timetable on it. When I am out there, I am going to give 120 percent, I promise you that," Lindsay said. "If we get everyone healthy and get Royce (Freeman) and (Devontae) Booker going, it's going to help. I mean I want to be the best I can be and be one of the best running backs in the NFL year in and year out. But it's not a one-man game. We all help each other do well."