ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For his first live snaps in seven months, Alex Singleton appeared to be in midseason form.
On a third-and-1 play against the Cardinals, the Broncos' inside linebacker knifed into the backfield and tackled the running back for a three-yard loss.
"That play's pretty common, and a lot of people aren't going to run a lot of play-actions on third-and-1, especially in the preseason," Singleton said Monday. "… I only have a certain amount of plays anyway, so might as well take a shot. If they do something where I'm wrong, it's kind of like, 'Well, we'll go over it, but it's not going to win or lose games.' So just take a shot then and get us off the field. We've only done three reps at a time so far, so get off faster, we all feel better."
Singleton said while he hasn't gotten rusty at tackling, the ability to practice the skill in a live environment is the primary benefit of preseason action.
"For us, it's just getting those live reps against somebody else, to be able to go to the ground and just finish," Singleton said. "That's the biggest thing, is just tackling. We can work everything else all day every day, but until you get a couple of those in, you don't really know how you're going to feel after [many] months off. [I'm a] little bit older. They add up. You just got to make sure it still feels good, which it does."
Though Singleton played just 11 defensive snaps, he enjoyed the brief opportunity to engage in his favorite part of the game.
"I don't think there's anything better," Singleton said. "It's fun. It's the only time you get to hit people anymore. Got to wait for game day, so it's exciting."
SPECIAL TEAMS EFFORT
As Head Coach Sean Payton reviewed the film from Denver's preseason opener, he stressed the importance of some young players improving their performance on the Broncos' special teams units.
"You get a chance to see these guys — the younger players — in the kicking game," Payton said. "Some of them have to pick it up a little bit. It's hard to understand the roster in our league. If you make it to the game as a backup safety, linebacker, receiver, tight end, that's the value that you have to have. The only people going to the game that might not play are the backup offensive linemen or backup quarterback. You don't have the luxury like you did in college where you're 100-deep on the sidelines. I want to see an improvement in that area with some younger players."
Singleton, a longtime special teams contributor before earning a starting role, smiled when asked whether he helps to impart that message on the Broncos' younger players.
"Hah, yeah, a lot," Singleton said. "A lot of guys don't think I did that all of a sudden. I think that's the biggest thing. It's how, I would probably say, 80 percent of guys make it in the NFL is playing teams for one, two — eight years."
Singleton's self-deprecating answer gave way to a larger point: Players who embrace special teams will often have the best chance of making the roster.
"It's something guys have to focus on," Singleton said. "You're not getting reps with the ones, some guys aren't getting reps with the twos on offense or defense, but you're a one or two on special teams, and that's how you make a team. It's the more you can do, and the more they can rely on you on special teams, the more they can trust you on offense or defense."
For some players — such as those who were standouts at their respective colleges — that can be a hard adjustment to make.
"The NFL is humbling as it is," Singleton said. "There's 32 teams instead of however many college teams. You're getting the best players from every single team, and then there's only 48 dressed [for the game] on Sunday. You've got to be able to do it. That's where you've got to take a step back and realize your role and fill it. It makes you better players when you stop worrying about yourself and you worry about the team more and it makes the team better and overall you'll eventually get to play the better you are on teams."