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Mason's Mailbag: Phillip Lindsay staking claim to roster spot

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The fact that Lindsay rotated in with the No. 1 offense throughout the first half against Washington bodes well for his chances. His productivity with the football enhances it, and he now leads the Broncos in preseason yards from scrimmage (128 -- 70 rushing and 58 receiving) and all-purpose yards (212, which includes 20 yards on two punt returns and 64 yards on three kickoff returns).

Perhaps the most impressive statistic regarding Lindsay is the fact that seven of his 17 offensive touches have moved the chains. That rate of one first down every 2.43 touches exceeds the top running back last year with at least 50 touches (New Orleans' Alvin Kamara, who got a first down once every 2.58 touches). Last year, the league average was one first down every 4.39 touches.

His work on special teams -- not only as a kickoff returner, but in coverage -- would appear to seal the deal for him. All this leads to an obvious question: What will be his new jersey number? NFL rules prohibit running backs from having numbers that are not between 20 and 49, which rules out his current No. 2.

"I do like 2," he said. "In high school I was 22, in college I was 23, and now I'm 2. Something with a 2, I'll be all right."

It's not realistic, at least not without potentially compromising some of the attributes that make Taylor a viable NFL wide receiver, particularly his straight-line speed. He carries 210 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame. To be a viable tight end, he would probably need to add at least 30 pounds. 

One of the league's lighter tight ends, Evan Engram of the New York Giants weighs 235 pounds, but he is two inches shorter than Taylor. At that size, it would be unlikely that Taylor would maintain his speed and quickness.

Don't forget that with Taylor, the physically-unable-to-perform list is an option, as he has yet to practice this year. The Broncos can place him on the PUP list without having to use a 53-man roster spot on him, and then could activate him at midseason when he completes his recovery. If the Broncos have an injury at wide receiver during the season, a fresh Taylor could provide an injection of offensive depth and special-teams capability.

A pair of preseason fumbles held Henderson back in 2017, and then when Devontae Booker returned to health following a wrist injury that caused him to miss training camp, there was no room to move up -- not with Booker and C.J. Anderson making it through the entire season and the occasional use of veteran Jamaal Charles.

As for where he stands right now, Booker leads the depth chart because of his experience, and Freeman and Lindsay have been a bit more explosive throughout the summer than Henderson. It doesn't mean he won't have a role with the Broncos, but it's a tough group to crack, especially with Freeman playing so well, with touchdowns in each of the Broncos' three preseason games.

I don't think there will be any surprises -- at least not beyond what you typically see from any team early in the regular season that chooses to not reveal everything in its preseason-game work.

There will be a period of adjustment, and some of the "old-school" stuff is a bit overrated. I think Gruden will figure out what works, what needs to be adjusted and proceed from there. 

Over the long term, the example of Dick Vermeil is one to note. In the late 1990s, it took him two frustrating seasons before he found his form after returning to the NFL head-coaching ranks with the then-St. Louis Rams following 14 seasons in college and NFL broadcasting. Even as Vermeil readjusted, his Rams had two terrific drafts in 1997 and 1998 that helped lay the groundwork for their 1999 breakthrough to that franchise's only Super Bowl win.

Of course, it didn't hurt that the Rams found and developed Kurt Warner from an Arena Football League standout into a Hall of Famer. But Vermeil adapted to the changes in the game between the early 1980s and late 1990s, and followed his Rams success with a solid stint in Kansas City that included a 13-3 finish in 2003. It would not surprise me if Gruden's third act -- following his first two head-coaching gigs with Oakland and Tampa Bay -- follows a similar arc.

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