ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Although the quality of the Broncos roster is such that they appear fortified at many spots, what was true three years ago when they emerged from the wreckage of a 4-12 season is true today: if you practice well, you will get more opportunities, whether you were a high draft pick or one of a collection of undrafted signees.
Defensive end Kenny Anunike has learned this. A combination of DeMarcus Ware being held back following a leg bruise and the rookie's performance in team and one-on-one drills has given Anunike plenty of work with the second team, where he has continued to generate consistent pressure in the last week.
Anunike's athletic attributes earned him a shot, and they have been on display since organized team activities: a strong, well-built upper body, a quick first step, and good body control honed by his background as a tight end, the position to which he was recruited by Duke. (He even dropped into coverage and caught passes at his Pro Day workout.)
In watching Anunike daily, one might wonder how the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder went undrafted. The answer lies in his injury history, which was so extensive that he was granted a rare sixth year at Duke. He missed his entire true freshman season of 2008 and all but four games of 2011 following knee injuries. He's had three left knee surgeries, and one more on his ankle.
A graduate of Duke in 2012 with a degree in biological anthropology and anatomy, he became more familiar with his own anatomy than he could have envisioned. But in the last two years, his health improved. He missed just one game in 2012 and none in 2013 as the long-woebegone Duke program finally turned the corner, winning its first ACC division title last year.
Take a look at photos from the Broncos' summer scrimmage.
Anunike continued his education during his final year at Duke, pursuing a master's degree in liberal studies. But on the field, his play put him back on NFL radar screens, leading him to Denver, where he furthered his football education through diligent study of Denver's pass rushers.
"I'm just watching tape, especially guys like DeMarcus Ware, Malik Jackson, Von Miller. I just watch how those guys have been doing it, getting around the edge and having success," said Anunike.
It's one thing to learn. It's quite another to apply the knowledge. Since training camp began, Anunike has done that, consistently blowing past his man in one-on-one pass-rush drills.
In tandem line drills and team periods, he has also displayed the patience to play off the defensive tackle next to him and attack, which helped him and former college rival Marvin Austin -- who played at North Carolina -- consistently burst through the line and pressure backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in recent days.
"I've definitely gotten a lot better at my outside rush, and then my inside counter-move," said Anunike. "That just came with practice -- especially going against guys like Chris Clark, Ryan Clady and Winston Justice. Those are some big guys, and the type of NFL-caliber tackles that I'm going to be going up against. So I'm getting good practice right now."
Others are noticing.
"He's coming along nicely," said Jackson.
"I just told him, 'It's your time to shine,' Jackson said. I think he's coming along nicely. His pass rushes are nice, his (work against the) run is nice and getting better. He's doing real well for a rookie."
And with good health and good performance, this could be only the beginning for Anunike.
"I'm having a great time. This is an awesome, excellent opportunity," he said. "I'm just trying to do the best I can with it."