It has been said by many coaches that, “I do not cut players. I give them a chance, and they cut themselves.”
There is a lot of truth to that, but there is a reverse to the saying as well.
Sometimes, when you give them a chance, they never cut themselves. They have a good practice, pay attention at meetings, learn the plays fast, have another good practice, move up on the depth chart, get a chance in a preseason game, and the next thing you know, they are…..
Terrell Davis. Karl Mecklenburg. Shannon Sharpe. Steve Foley. Rod Smith.
The list goes on and on.
It goes back to the very beginning when one of the free agents that the Broncos took a look at did not even go to college, but had played on some of those fine United States Navy base teams of the 1950s. He claimed he was a running back and placekicker as well, and he was right.
It was Gene Mingo, of course, the first African-American placekicker in pro football history and one of the four leading scorers in all of pro football during his five seasons (1960-64) with the Broncos.
Another time, also in the 1960s, the team took a flyer on a guy who had played minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals chain after a brief college football career.
John “Bull” Bramlett was the American Football League defensive rookie of the year and pretty much wrecked havoc for the Broncos as one of the most feared hitters at linebacker in the AFL.
I remember a rookie mini camp in which I was seeking out the fellow who had just run the fastest time in the 40s—I expected to find a 5-10 sprinter, but he turned out to be a lithe, 6-4 wide receiver: Steve Watson.
Like a lot of them, Watson worked out pretty well.
I also remember the day the player personal department cleaned out its files by sending a form letter to everyone who had sent in anything, advertising a one-day tryout camp.
All in all, 478 wanna-be, hoped-to-be, and absolutely never-will-be players showed up to get a quick look from the scouts.
Really, it was like the “Star Wars” bar scene in football—players so hopelessly old and out of shape that we truly had to stifle chuckles as you did the necessary serious work.
But among all the guys who showed up that day, one was a soccer-style kicker who had never played soccer, who felt he had a better feel for the football if he kicked barefoot!
It was Rich Karlis, who survived the 478-player tryout, came to camp, made the team and became a Super Bowl placekicker for the Broncos, as well as one of the classiest players we have ever had working within the community.
So you never know.
And never tell yourself that it cannot be. Trust your eyes. When somebody plays better than somebody else, that is a good thing for the guy doing the playing.
I have always said that we have little interest in having the fastest player. We want the guy who gets there fastest, and makes the play.
So we have moved past the first minicamp with a lot of the players—most of them, really—still pretty much unknown to most fans.
But never assume it will stay that way.
We all know the phrase, “Put me in, Coach.”
That is what every one of these young guys is saying right now, and there are players who will amaze and delight us all when they get their opportunity.
The offseason will continue at its own pace, but the pot of player performance and evaluation has started to boil.