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Coaching the Senior Bowl hands Broncos important opportunity

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Hundreds of NFL personnel members will arrive in Mobile, Alabama, later this month to see the next, best NFL players — and Vance Joseph, John Elway and the Broncos will have a few of the best seats available.

When the Broncos descend upon Mobile from Jan. 23-27, they'll be presented with a unique opportunity. And with the fifth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Broncos will certainly be paying close attention to the 100-plus players in attendance.

During the practices — which run from Jan. 23-25 — the Broncos will receive an up-close look at a variety of prospects, and that should provide valuable intel for when Denver puts together its board during the scouting process. Though the Broncos will have plenty of other chances to evaluate players ahead of the draft — via the Scouting Combine, pro days, in-person visits to UCHealth Training Center — there's always the chance that a memorable connection in Mobile could pay dividends on draft day.

"The Senior Bowl provides our staff an up-close look at some of the top prospects in this year's draft," Joseph said. "Having coached the Senior Bowl in the past, it's a tremendous evaluation tool spending all week with these players in a variety of group and individual settings.

"From the meeting rooms to the practice field, the Senior Bowl experience lets us see how these prospects work and prepare in a competitive environment."

And that, perhaps, is the advantage the Broncos will gain in late January over other NFL teams. While every general manager and head coach will receive the chance to see these players at events that range from the Senior Bowl to the Combine, they can't receive the same sort of first-hand knowledge that Elway and Joseph can gain from coaching them in that environment Joseph mentioned.

The opportunity, which hasn't been awarded to the Broncos since 1989, has presented value for plenty of other franchises in previous years. The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff worked the game in 2016, which is when they got one of their first looks at Dak Prescott, who won the game's MVP award playing against the Cowboys-led North Team.

If you look back even further, the Chargers coached the Senior Bowl in 2004 and then drafted four future Pro Bowl players, including Philip Rivers and Shaun Phillips.

This year, the Broncos will receive a long look at a number of talented positions, but the quarterback position may be of particular interest.

Quarterbacks Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk and Baker Mayfield are just a few of the players who have accepted invitations to play in the contest.

For Elway, the practices and game will give him more than just a look at how they begin to adjust to the NFL-style game. He may also gain the best insight possible into their mental make-up, which he said Monday could not be understated when evaluating college quarterbacks.

"That is the biggest part — and I say it all the time — just trying to figure out how these guys can handle the tough times, because there's going to be tough times," Elway said Tuesday. "When the world feels like it's caving in, are they going to be able to battle through that and not lose their confidence? ... What gets you here is your swagger and your confidence as quarterback. You have a chance to play in the NFL, and that's what gets you here and you can't be afraid of it. Then all of a sudden if you get in the world and all of a sudden things aren't going well, the world starts caving in on you and you lose that swagger or you lose that confidence, it's very, very difficult to get it back. You have to figure out how strong they are, what they believe in and how strong they are, what they are as a quarterback and to be able to battle through that. If they can do that, then they have a chance to have a great, long career.

"To me, I say it all the time: It's 50 percent the physical side of it and 50 percent mental side. The heart and finding out what they have inside, that's the difficult part. Not only at the quarterback position, it's about every position because it comes down to what's inside, what's in that heart, how bad they want it and how great they want to be. If they want to be great football players, they have a chance to be great."

Elway, Joseph and the Broncos will get that look at quarterbacks and other players alike when the fourth week of January arrives.

The Broncos may be coaching the North Team, but the possible importance of this trip down south should not be understated.

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