ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Every day, players who have lived the practice-squad life for the Denver Broncos are living, breathing, irrefutable proof that progress can be made.
Center Matt Paradis, linebacker Brandon Marshall and wide receiver Bennie Fowler all played in Super Bowl 50 for the Broncos and all have made the climb from the team’s practice squad to where they are now. And they are also the football guideposts for players such as wide receiver Jordan Taylor, linebacker Zaire Anderson and running back Kapri Bibbs, players who were on the team’s practice squad last season during the Super Bowl run.
“Those guys definitely give me hope, Bennie, [Marshall], Matt Paradis," Anderson said. “It lets you know they see that, that you can make the 53 if you do the things you’re supposed to. Maybe some places you might think that isn’t a way to get to the roster, but here you know it because guys around you have done it."
The Broncos have seven players on their 90-player roster in this training camp who were on the team’s practice squad when the Broncos played in Super Bowl 50. Anderson, Bibbs, Taylor, safety Ryan Murphy, center Dillon Day, tackle Kyle Roberts and tackle Cameron Jefferson all closed the 2015 season with the team and are now trying to find a spot on the 2016 roster when the cuts go to 53.
It has certainly been a productive route for the Broncos. Paradis could become a captain on offense this season after he played every snap in 2015. Marshall had a 110-tackle season in ’15 and led the Broncos with his 101-tackle season in ’14.
Fowler, who suffered a fracture in his right elbow in Thursday’s preseason win in Chicago, has gone from the practice squad in 2014 to spot duty in the 2015 season to the likely No. 3 receiver when he returns to the lineup.
“Just being around the team last year, the Super Bowl, you can see they look at their guys,’’ Anderson said. “I feel like if I can show them what I need to, I can make the 53 this time, or that if I show them what I need to show them, that they’ll feel like they know what I’m about after the practice squad.’’
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has routinely talked about the importance of a developmental plan, that a team with a depth chart filled with prospects can more easily fend off salary-cap issues because the roster has plenty of youth and the team can overcome injuries or departures in free agency.
“I think that’s true,’’ Marshall said. “But I tell those guys all the time, look at me, look where I came from. You can do that here. Here I always felt like, even on the practice squad, they had a plan for me. I was in Jacksonville on the roster and I didn’t feel that. I think guys on the practice squad here should feel like they have a shot because they do.’’
They all find themselves in crowded races on the depth chart because the Broncos believe they are as talented as the team that won the Super Bowl last season. Taylor has made some eye-catching grabs in camp and has tried to increase his special-teams duties to increase his more-you-can-do value.
Taylor caught most of Peyton Manning’s passes in the throwing sessions Manning had during his recovery from a foot injury last season. And that work with Manning, who has predicted big things for the second-year receiver, has clearly helped Taylor with his route running.
“Working with Peyton last year was priceless,’’ Taylor said earlier in camp. “The things he taught me during his rehab is stuff that I’ll take the rest of my career and definitely in this camp.’’
Bibbs, who has spent most of the previous two seasons on the Broncos’ practice squad, has been a player who coach Gary Kubiak has consistently singled out for his work in camp. He led the team in rushing in Thursday night’s victory with 53 yards on 15 carries.
“I’m very hungry. I’m very, very hungry,’’ Bibbs said. “I think that’s just from these past two years where I thought I was going to get my opportunity, but that wasn’t what it was. ... I am going to take full advantage of that. I’m going to go out and get it.’’
Said Kubiak: “I think all those guys know we believe in them and they’ve seen guys make that jump. They all have that kind of ability. It’s just matter of competing, putting in the work and getting yourself a spot.’’