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'It's just a battle': TE Nick Vannett headed to Denver to help Broncos' run game

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It's not a mystery why the Broncos brought tight end Nick Vannett to Denver on a two-year deal.

After a 2019 season in which the Broncos finished 20th in rushing offense and ranked 29th over the final five games of the season, the fifth-year tight end is expected to provide a push along the line of scrimmage.

And while Noah Fant may be the tight end that stretches the field and makes big plays, Vannett seems comfortable with his role.

"I've always played in the true Y [in-line] role," Vannett said during a Friday conference call with Denver media. "I've always [come] out there as a really vital part of the run offense. I'm not really considered the deep threat or the burner to take the top off the defense. That's not really my game. I consider myself to be a good two-way player — someone who can be effective in the run game, to handle blocks and to create holes and gaps in the running game. Even in the short intermediate pass game, we can run precise routes, get open and create mismatches.

"As far as my role, I think they're just looking for me to come in and just be effective in the run game. I don't know exactly what they're planning this year, but by seeing them signing [RB] Melvin Gordon [III] and kind of adding some more depth in the running back room, I think they're going to really make the run game a big part of the offense this year. I think they're just looking for guys to kind of come in and do an effective job at blocking and really helping out in the run game."

Vannett slightly increased his totals in the passing game over the last two seasons, as he caught 46 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns after catching 15 passes for 156 yards and one score in his first two years.

Still, he considers himself to be a blocking tight end — and that requires the proper mentality.

"I always thought one of the traits that you need to have as a blocking tight end is you just have to have some tenacity," Vannett said. "It's not a cute job. It's not an attractive job. ... You're not going to get any stats from it. You're not going to get as much recognition from it, but I think it's just all mentality. Every time I line up, I view it as, 'OK, it's me against the guy across from me.' It's just a battle. I think the mindset is just a fight. ... I can't let him close that gap because that's where our running back is trying to get through. It's one of those mindset things. I think obviously there's some technique that goes along with it too. That's always been something you have to work on. It's a lot of fight and you just can't give up. ... Even if the guy gets [an] advantage you still have to fight to regain that surface on them. That's how I've always viewed it.

"It's just a competition and I don't want to lose against that guy that I have to go against."

Other highlights from Vannett's conversation with Denver media:

He didn't expect to end up in Denver.

As Vannett began his free-agent process, the Broncos weren't high on his radar of teams that he expected to pursue his services. That changed, as Denver saw Vannett as a player that could serve as a veteran presence and help in the run game.

"It was definitely not what I expected it to be," Vannett said of his free-agent experience. "… For me, teams had higher needs and they had to address other needs. That's when you kind of figure out that this is a business at the end of the day. Teams have a certain amount of money for other players. Some teams don't have the money. It kind of leaves you with other options. Denver was in it. I didn't really know that they needed a tight end. It wasn't one of my teams that I was projecting to be with coming out of the Combine when you first get all of that information from your agent. They made offers. They showed that they were really interested in me. For me, I kind of saw it as an opportunity because there are a lot of young tight ends in that room. It's a younger team right now. They're in the reloading process. It's an opportunity for me to come in and to kind of be a mentor for the group, to be a voice and a leader and lead by example. It was just an attractive situation for me. Then with ... [Offensive Coordinator Pat] Shurmur coming in this year, he's obviously had some great success everywhere he's been running two tight end sets. I think it was all around a great situation. That's ultimately what I saw in the Broncos."

He's on the same page with former college teammate Jeff Heuerman.

Vannett stepped in for Heuerman at Ohio State after Heuerman left for the NFL, but he isn't focused on taking reps his former and now current teammate in Denver.

"I thought about that, but I have no idea what the plan is," said Vannett when asked if he thought the Broncos signed him to replace Heuerman. "I just know that they're looking for me to come in and create some competition and just to help out in the run game. I think in the past, that room has struggled with some injuries and that stuff. I think they're just looking to come in and add more depth to the room and create some more competition in the run game and just as a whole. I've talked to Jeff. He reached out to me, congratulated me on signing with the Broncos. He's excited that we're going to be in the same room together. I think he's more excited that we're reuniting more than anything. We haven't really talked about what could happen down the road or what they plan to do. I have no idea."

He's heard promising reviews about Drew Lock.

Vannett admits he doesn't know much about his new quarterback, but he said he's excited to work with the second-year player. Vannett began his career in Seattle with Russell Wilson and then spent the latter part of 2019 in Pittsburgh with a revolving door of quarterbacks.

"I think first and foremost, I'm just excited to — whenever this whole [coronavirus] situation blows over, whenever we can report in — I'm just excited to get in, get going and push forward," Vannett said. "Obviously, I've heard some great things about Drew Lock. His stats show it from when he was a starter. He was 4-1. He finished out and had a great season last year. Honestly, I wasn't paying too close attention to what he was doing. I was more focused on trying to win some games for the Steelers. Obviously, I think he's got some great traits. I've heard a lot of great things about him. I'm excited to build that relationship with him and get ready to start working with him."

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