ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After weeks of training camp competition and preseason action, Broncos players who made Denver's 53-man roster on Tuesday had a common reaction: calling back home to family.
Defensive tackle Elijah Garcia spent time with the Broncos last season and strengthened his case to make Denver's initial roster with two sacks in the Broncos' preseason opener against the Cardinals and an interception against San Francisco. After learning that he made the team, Garcia was quick to share the good news with his parents.
"Man, it's exciting for sure," Garcia said after Thursday's practice. "It's a dream come true. I texted my parents that I made the squad, and they were super happy. God is good, and it's a blessing to be out here."
Running back Jaleel McLaughlin, acquired as an undrafted free agent, was one of three Denver running backs selected to the initial 53-man roster after scoring four touchdowns in three preseason games. His first call was to his mom, who was an inspiration and unrelenting source of support throughout his career.
"It was definitely a surreal moment knowing that I made the team," McLaughlin said. "My mom was my first call, she was excited. It's just a blessing. It was definitely a great day."
For wide receiver Brandon Johnson, his connection with his parents has been an essential part of his approach to football. After scoring his first NFL touchdown last season, Johnson received a game ball from quarterback Russell Wilson, and he revealed that he plans to relocate the football from his house and gift it to his parents.
Johnson also said that he talks with his parents every day and that he received sage advice from his dad after telling him that he made the Broncos' roster.
"I'm on the phone with my parents every day, especially my dad," Johnson said. "… [He said], 'The work is just now starting. It's hard enough to make the team, but it's harder to stay. So stay on it, stay on your P's and Q's and be on your stuff.'"
Outside linebacker Thomas Incoom, another undrafted free agent who defied the odds to make the Broncos' roster, shared the special moment over the phone with his dad. While they enjoyed the milestone, Incoom made sure to let his dad know that the grind was far from over.
"I had to call my dad and let him know, 'Hey, all the hard work is finally catching up,'" Incoom said. "But we still have some work to do. I'm here to win and that's what we're going to keep doing. We're not done yet, and I was letting my dad know that we're not done yet."
VERSATILITY HELPS ADKINS MAKE ROSTER
When Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager George Paton explained tight end Nate Adkins' journey from an undrafted free agent from South Carolina to the Broncos' initial 53-man roster, versatility was the trait they underscored that made the difference and helped Adkins carve out an impactful role for Denver.
Adkins said that the Broncos' plan for him to take on such a multidimensional role was clear from his initial meeting with the Broncos in the spring and sold him on coming to Denver.
"It was my only [Top 30] visit," Adkins said. "They showed a lot of love and they said that they had a clear plan for me, and that's a big reason why I came here.
"… It's exactly what they said it was going to be. Come in, learn as much as I can, be able to do multiple things, [the] Y and F [positions], true fullback stuff, anything special teams — all the things an undrafted rookie should be doing and should be learning."
In training camp, Adkins continued to embrace a blue-collar mentality and learned as much as he could about the intricacies of his duties on offense and special teams.
"I put in a lot of work and kind of just put my head down and worked every single day, tried to do the right thing every single day," Adkins said. "Be a good teammate, listen to the veterans, listen to my coaching. Things worked out and [I'm] just ready to get to work."
Adkins joins Adam Trautman, Greg Dulcich and Chris Manhertz in the Broncos' tight end group, and he said that the diversity in playing styles and strengths will make Denver a dangerous unit. That group has also helped him develop and become an immediate contributor.
"Everybody kind of has their role, Chris with blocking and the other two do everything," Adkins said. "We've got good vets in the room and we've got young guys. I'm just trying to do my best to learn from everybody in that room, learn from the coaches and do everything I can to help the team win."
INCOOM DETAILS HIS UNIQUE PATH FROM DIVISION II TO DENVER
When outside linebacker Thomas Incoom came to practice on Tuesday, he felt a rush of nerves so significant that he decided to forego his breakfast routine. The nerves were understandable — the NFL required teams to downsize their rosters from 90 to 53 players on Tuesday, making the day a difficult one for players, coaches and front office members alike.
Later that day, Incoom found out that he was one of a team-record four Broncos undrafted free agents to make the 53-man roster. Incoom said his immediate reaction was gratitude for an opportunity to continue to contribute to the Broncos.
"It feels very surreal," Incoom said. "Coming in just nervous, [I] did not eat breakfast — I was just thinking about it. I knew I was going to put everything on film and the rest is up to God. I just kept playing and hoping for a shot. When I got the opportunity, I was so happy. That's all I could think about."
Incoom has made a career out of capitalizing on his opportunities. Prior to joining the Broncos, the Stone Mountain, Georgia native made a name for himself at Division II Valdosta State for four years and Central Michigan for one season. He said his past stops fueled his determination to make it at the NFL level.
"It's been really crazy, a lot of bumps in the road," Incoom said. "I started off playing in [Division II] at Valdosta State, went to Central Michigan, went to the Combine and was undrafted. I came in [with my] head down, just hungry. I had to do whatever it took to make this team."
The Broncos became an appealing spot for Incoom because of their track record of developing undrafted free agents. Incoom made the most of his opportunity, becoming the Broncos' only defensive undrafted free agent to make the 53-man roster.
"That's what led me to choose this team," Incoom said. "Going through the draft process, I was like, "Okay, I'm going to come to Denver, they have a history of undrafted guys.' Just come in and just work hard, and you should have a shot."