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Connections Helped Give Katz His Shot

Posted May 14, 2013

Undrafted free agent QB Ryan Katz's work with Jeff Garcia, a former pupil of QB Coach Greg Knapp, helped pave his road to Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Much of Greg Knapp's work in his new role as Broncos quarterback coach will revolve around helping Peyton Manning prepare for each game. Beyond that, it will center around bringing backup Brock Osweiler up to speed in case his developmental timetable is accelerated should injuries strike Manning.

But Knapp also was part of the connection that brought Ryan Katz to Denver as an undrafted free agent. Knapp was on the San Francisco 49ers' staff from 1995 through 2003, rising through the ranks from quality-control coach to offensive coordinator. Midway through those years, in 1999, he was the quarterbacks coach, and asked to build up the prospects of Jeff Garcia, who was rushed into service after Steve Young was sidelined with injuries that would end his career.

Within 16 months of Garcia's first NFL start, he was a Pro Bowler, the first of four times he'd be selected for the game. Three were with Knapp coaching. Years later, Garcia had moved on to Detroit, where a young assistant named Adam Gase was on the staff. Times, cities and circumstances had changed for Garcia, but his faith in Knapp hadn't.

"He credited Coach Knapp with almost everything he accomplished," said Gase, now the Broncos' offensive coordinator.

Garcia, retired from the playing field, now works one-on-one with young quarterbacks trying to break into the pro ranks, sharing the lessons he learned from Knapp. One of his pupils this spring was Katz.

"He had that connection," said Katz. "I knew that they (the Broncos) were a little interested. Then I got the call after the draft, and it seemed like a good situation."

In terms the knowledge he can glean, Katz is in the right place. Knapp has served continuously in the NFL since 1995, including five previous seasons as a quarterbacks coach and 10 as an offensive coordinator. And then there's Manning.

"I'm really looking forward to that. I'm a student of the game; I know he's a student of the game," Katz said. "I'm just going to try to pick his brain and learn from him."

But the competition among young quarterbacks makes Katz's task of claiming a roster spot difficult. Osweiler has a year of seasoning and the organization's backing as the starter-in-waiting. The pick of Zac Dysert in the seventh round last month gave the Broncos a potential third-teamer; he and Katz will compete for the job, but Dysert appears to have the edge, given his status.

But Katz figures the competition between himself and Dysert for one spot on the 53-man roster will help him.

"That's why I like the situation here. That aspect of it," Katz said. "The main thing is, both of us, we're just going to come in here and work and try to learn the playbook as fast as we can, and just keep getting better every day."

The fractured fibula that cut Katz's career at San Diego State four games short has healed; Katz practiced during rookie camp and says he's been healthy for two months. There appear to be no concerns about it going forward, leaving Katz to focus on trying to impress his new quarterbacks coach -- and the quarterbacks around him in meetings.

Under Garcia's watch, Katz showed he was worthy of an NFL shot. Now, with Knapp as Katz's boss, he'll have to show he has the ability to absorb everything tossed at him --starting with the playbook, which he began studying this weekend.

And if Katz is to stick around, he knows that there must be no end to his playbook study.

"I think it's a good start (at rookie camp) but the big thing is to never think you've got it," Katz said. "You can never be too good. Even Peyton Manning. He's still learning, trying to get better. That's the same thing I'm going to keep doing: stay in the playbook and get better."

And that represents Katz's best shot to steal a roster spot -- and to be the player that keeps alive the Broncos' streak of consecutive years with at least one undrafted rookie on the opening-day roster.

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