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Riley, Johnson Stand Out

Posted Aug 13, 2011

Receiver Eron Riley and running back Jeremiah Johnson are turning some heads during camp.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With training camp in full swing, and the first roster cut from 90 to 75 players just over two weeks away, many role players are trying to make a name for themselves in the coaches' minds.
Two of those players who increased their staying chances Thursday against the Cowboys were the Broncos' two touchdown scorers, receiver Eron Riley and running back Jeremiah Johnson.
Riley has bounced around the league since entering it in 2009, going from the Ravens practice squad, to the Panthers and finally the Broncos in October 2010. He hasn't logged any minutes in regular season games yet, but his leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone Thursday impressed Head Coach John Fox, who saw Riley on the practice squad in Carolina last season.
"Eron, we got him late in the season at Carolina last year, and he's catching on with the Broncos," Fox said. "He's had a good camp. He had a big night; he made a touchdown catch. I've liked his progress so far."
That touchdown catch was indicitive of Riley's progress this season. The receiver out of Duke said he had been struggling with that play in practice, but finally got it right when it mattered.
"It was a play we practice a whole lot at practice," Riley said. "It's actually one that I always mess up, so at that time I got it right."
Riley, who tied a team-high with three catches in the preseason opener for 43 yards, says he feels somewhat pressured to perform well in practice, as any play can turn into a make-or-break opportunity.
"I mean it's something I've been trying to do," Riley said. "I come out every day and give my best effort, and when I am called upon to make a play, I just try and do that."
Riley knows that when the roster is trimmed to the final 53 players on Sept. 3, he could be right on the bubble. And while he would like to stay in Denver, he realizes that he's also auditioning for the other 31 NFL teams.
"At the end of the day, I know that this will be my third year around," Riley said. "I know there are 31 other teams watching, too, but I would love to be here. I love the atmosphere; I enjoy the staff and the environment, but at the same time, it's a business, so they are only allowed to keep 53."
Riley's teammate, Johnson, is in a similar position. Johnson is currently listed fifth on the team's initial depth chart, but took advantage of his playing time Thursday.
The third-year player got only four carries in the game, but ran for a team-high 28 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown run up the middle in the fourth quarter to put Denver ahead 16-10.
"The defense came out in the funky D, (quarterback Brady Quinn) came out and snapped it real fast and I just followed my big horses up there. They're my boys," Johnson said.
Johnson impressed the coaches with his performance, and he says he's been getting a little more attention since Thursday.
"I think I (made a good impression)," Johnson said. "I got a little more comments after practice today. I'm just blessed and happy I got those."
Johnson is fighting for playing time among fellow running backs Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee, Lance Ball and LenDale White, who are listed above him on the depth chart. However, Johnson doesn't feel any divison amongst the group.
"Those guys are like brothers to me," Johnson said. "We all help each other in the locker room and it's a blessing."
Being a second-year player, Johnson said he's been able to learn the playbook quicker and thus, play faster. He's also not worried as much as he had been in the past about making a mistake. While the coaches have tried to keep things simple thus far for the running backs, Johnson has been begging to show them how he's matured.
"I want a challenge," Johnson said. "I told coach, 'Give me a little bit more, give me some more reps out there so I can expand my thought process.'"
With the way they are playing now, Riley and Johnson could see more reps very soon.
"So much about being young is just getting lined up and just knowing what to do under pressure," Fox said. "I thought they (Riley and Johnson) both did a great job."