ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — **Juwan Thompson and Corey Nelson push each other every day on the practice field, and then the two roommates get in Thompson's car and pick up where the left off when they get home.
That must be a fun place to be right now with the rookies growing into bigger roles that the coaching staff has grown more comfortable in giving them. Inside their apartment, they've created a supportive atmosphere for one another in which they drive each other to get better.
"We constantly remind each other whenever we're home to study a little bit before we get to our regular activities that we want to do," Nelson said. "We just make sure that we tell each other to study a little bit and that's what's helping us to adjust perfectly. We kind of have each other's back as far as watching who comes in and who comes out of our plays."
As the two undergo the adjustment process to NFL life immediately after college, living together has helped them immensely in understanding their plays. "Even though it's offense and defense, two totally different sides of the ball, it's still a lot to take in on both sides of the ball," Nelson said.
With that kind of environment powering one another to get better and learn more, you can begin to see why those two have begun making bigger impacts for the Broncos. Thompson burst onto the scene as of late, making substantial contributions on the ground when he relieves Ronnie Hillman, and Nelson has recently gotten some good time on the field in nickel defensive lineups.
Thompson's initial breakthrough came against the Cardinals in Week 5 as he barreled into the end zone for an 8-yard score. After a promising preseason in which he rushed for an average of 4.9 yards a carry and a total of 143 yards on the ground but no touchdowns, Thompson finally found the end zone when it mattered in the regular season.
He beamed as he walked through the tunnel after the final whistle, sharing the moment with Nelson.
"It was a lot of joy that day," Thompson said. "I was walking off the field with my roommate, Corey Nelson. We both got a lot of burn in the game that day. So we made some big plays and we were just happy for each other."
"I just try to be supportive for him, just kind of let him know he's not alone and whatever he does, just do it to the best of his ability and I'll do the same," Nelson said.
And then Thompson got the chance to return the favor when Nelson had his big game against the Jets in Week 6. Nelson saw plenty of time on the field in the Broncos' nickel defense for 36 snaps and he ended up leading the Broncos in tackles that game with seven.
"We were both hype," Thompson said. "I saw his first play on defense: He was just shedding off those blockers and made the tackle, made it look easy like he's a veteran. I was excited and happy for him. I saw the stats at the end of the day: seven tackles. I was like, 'Man, did you know you had seven tackles?' He was like 'Nah, I didn't know! Almost double-digits in the first game.' It was a proud moment to see it."
Their friendship had all started when the 53-man roster had been set. The two were looking for apartments, and it just made sense to be roommates.
"We work maybe 11 hours a day, it seems like: sun up to sun down, just about," Thompson said. "So you're barely home, so it's like there's no reason to spend all that money. We might as well save some of that money for this first year."
Now that they've gotten situated, the added company has been an added benefit as they get to know each other more, and as they grow on the team.
"I mean, you don't want to go home [to an] empty home by yourself, can't even talk to anyone," he added. "Sometimes we sit down in the living room and just chat it up, or we might both be in there studying, just watching something. And then Isaiah [Burse] lives right down the street, so he'll come over. We'll just all bond together. We're all rookies trying to have a good time so when we have downtime, we all try to come together and it's good to have someone on your team right there around the corner if you've got questions."
We've seen their dedication turn into blooming and increasing roles as the coaching staff sees their potential coming to fruition on the field. And it's not just from the coaches, but their teammates have noticed, too.
"Corey, he stepped up and played a big game," Chris Harris Jr. said after the Jets game. "And our defense is complex, too, so for him to come in and play on the road like that and kind of just get thrown in, I got to tip my hat to him."
A couple weeks later, Thompson rumbled through the line for two touchdowns against the Chargers, and Peyton Manning took a moment to recognize the running back's efforts on Thursday night.
"I think it tells you the confidence that we have in him," Manning said. "[Offensive Coordinator] Adam [Gase] and [running back] Coach [Eric] Studesville are more than happy to put him in there in critical situations. End of the game, trying to get a first down, around the goal line, had a couple of goal line plays to him. So that's a nice little addition to our offense. He's been great running the ball and he catches the ball well out of the backfield as well."
To see themselves relentlessly push one another to improve and then watch as they get called on in bigger roles has been a rewarding feeling for the young running back and linebacker.
"We're both supporting each other," Thompson said. "We've both got to eat. At the end of the day, they're going to feed you the ball—go out there and get it done. When he comes off to the sideline, I'm supporting him. When I come off, he's supporting me. It's a good feeling. It's kind of like having a brother right there on the field with you at all times."