Phillip Lindsay turns strong preseason into unexpected night off in Arizona

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The fourth preseason game is typically reserved for the reserves— the ones trying to solidify spots on the depth chart, the ones trying to work their way onto the depth chart or practice squad and the ones hoping to put something on film that could earn them a chance elsewhere. It heavily features young players, often late-round picks or undrafted free agents.

Upon first glance, it's a game that would seem made for running back Phillip Lindsay. He was not selected in the 2018 NFL Draft and has been listed at or near the bottom of the depth chart since it was released in early August. But on Thursday night, Lindsay stayed glued to the sidelines alongside the team's starters and some of the team's top rookie draft picks, such as Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman and DaeSean Hamilton.

Given his background, Lindsay certainly wasn't expecting to watch, but when he realized he wasn't going to play, he became an attentive viewer.

"Of course I was surprised," Lindsay said. "As I was getting ready for the game, I thought I was going to play at least a couple of quarters if not the whole game, but I didn't end up doing it. But for me, it was just going in there and watching film still and getting the mental reps in."

That alone was a glowing endorsement for 5-foot-8, 190-pound speedster. Then came the words of President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway, the man who helps to decide the team's roster.

"We had our eyes on him," Elway told 9NEWS, which telecasted Thursday's game. "We liked him a lot at CU. The grit that he has, the way that he plays, I wish we had 53 guys like that."

To some, Lindsay's path to the Broncos' roster may seem like the plot to a feel-good movie. The local star with the undersized frame but the oversized will to do whatever he can to help his team goes undrafted and latches on just miles from where he grew up. Though his story may fit that mold, Lindsay has become a key contributor in several aspects, according to Head Coach Vance Joseph.

"I think what No. 2 (Lindsay) has done has been real," said Joseph following Tuesday's practice. "It’s not a fluff story. Again, he’s done it on offense and on special teams. What he’s done hasn’t been just because he’s a local kid. He has earned his right to be here."

Joseph reiterated how impressed he is with Lindsay's multifaceted skill set following Thursday's 21-10 win.

"He had a good camp, not just at running back but also covering kicks as an L5 [inside coverage man] on kickoffs and as a gunner on punts," Joseph said. "And those traits for a backup running back are huge for your football team."

Lindsay's ability to contribute in a lot of ways became apparent during his time as a Buffalo. He set program records in both all-purpose yards (5,760) and yards from scrimmage (4,683). He appeared in all 51 of Colorado's games during his time in Boulder.

He came on strong with the Broncos, scoring on a 19-yard reception in the opening week of the preseason. The following week, Lindsay continued his impressive play, recording 32 yards on just six rushing attempts. And in Week 3, Lindsay scampered for 31 yards on five rushing attempts and added an 18-yard reception from Case Keenum. Along with fellow running backs Freeman and Devontae Booker, he got significant reps with the starters during that game in Washington, which is regarded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season.

On Thursday, he joined those two and most of the Broncos' biggest names and best players on the sideline. And while Lindsay — who also compiled 64 yards on three kick returns and 20 yards on two punt returns — understood the magnitude of his not playing, he felt a sense of restlessness on the sideline.

"There's always work to be done," Lindsay said. "For me, I don't look at the past. I keep pushing forward. I've been able to have some decent things, but I want to be able to improve on a lot of things that I can work on with my skill set and understanding the game."

Lindsay's accomplished a lot in his short time in the NFL, rising from a free agent to a first-team contributor. With the preseason done, though, the Broncos are focused on the regular season. As for Phillip Lindsay, well, he's always looking ahead.

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