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Mile High Advantage

Posted Sep 25, 2013

The altitude in Denver is a factor on the football field. "It's not a myth," Montee Ball said.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Let the record show once and for all -- the altitude is a factor in Denver.

"I'm telling you -- it's not a myth. It really isn't," rookie running back Montee Ball said. "Speaking of when I first got here and was running around, it was very difficult the first two weeks to catch my breath. For now, us as Broncos players, we love the altitude because it's an advantage for us."

Linebacker Shaun Phillips played in Denver as an opponent in nine consecutive seasons as a San Diego Charger, and he acknowledged that it's something opposing teams have to account for.

"It's definitely an advantage (for the Broncos), but I just always felt that if somebody else is doing it, then I can deal with it. That's always been my attitude here," he said. "But to this day, I still suck air a little bit. It's pretty tough."

Now that he's a member of the Broncos, practicing at high altitude on a daily basis, Phillips said he notices a difference. But "even when you get a day off," it's obvious again during the next day of practice.

The main issue, Colorado native Mitch Unrein explained, is that less oxygen reaches the body at higher elevations. So not only is it harder to breathe, muscles get fatigued faster and players tire out quicker.

"I’ve lived here my whole life and I don’t think you ever really get used to trying to play in this altitude," the defensive tackle said. "Obviously, we’re more accustomed to it just because we practice in it every day. But for teams that come up here, I know it’s a struggle for them just to try to catch their breath after a long drive and just trying to keep fresh after every play.”

“That stuff burns," linebacker Danny Trevathan agreed. "If you’re not used to it, it sneaks up on you. You think you’re fine, but then once you get to running around, you feel that extra clap in your lungs."

The topic was addressed in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room this week, particularly because the Eagles offense -- not to mention the Broncos offense -- likes to move at such a quick tempo.

Former Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who made a trip to Boulder, Colo., in college to take on the Buffs, said he developed "cotton mouth pretty fast," according to CSNPhilly.

“It takes about 15 to 30 minutes to get used to it. That’s what I remember most,” he said. “I definitely felt it."

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, who played in Denver in the playoffs last season as a member of the Ravens, said "it was tough" to get acclimated to the altitude.

Head Coach John Fox recalled coming to Denver as an opposing coach, and noted that "early, you feel it."

"It’s probably the best home-field advantage in the NFL," he said. "That’s why I think our home record is so good.”

To that point, the Broncos have lost just once in their past 10 regular-season games at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

As for just how much of a factor it will be for the Eagles on Sunday, Phillips took a wait-and-see approach.

"We'll find out," he said.