ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Less than a week after Phillip Lindsay's meteoric rise as an undrafted unknown earned him a Pro Bowl selection, many Broncos were dismayed to learn that his season had been cut short by a season-ending injury.
But if there was one Bronco whose spirits seemed no worse for the wear even in spite of the bad news, it was Lindsay himself, as one of his teammates attested.
"He's good," Royce Freeman said Wednesday. "You know Phil. He always has a smile on his face, always positive energy and good vibes."
That kind of enthusiasm made the news all the more disheartening for his teammates, but it also strengthened their belief that Lindsay's recovery will be swift and bring about an even better sophomore season.
"The dude plays his butt off," Courtland Sutton said. "He really gets after it. He's such a competitor. All he wants to do is win, all he wants to do is see everybody be successful around him. … I hate to see that.
"I honestly didn't know. I just found out — I think last night I saw on the NFL page that he broke his wrist. He didn't say anything. He doesn't really talk about being hurt. If something's wrong with him, we usually don't find out until the next day because of how much of a dog he is. He's going to bounce back — I already know that. He's going to get the surgery and come back even stronger. I look forward to that."
But before that process begins in earnest, the Broncos still have one more game to play. Doing so without their leading rusher will change things, but fellow rookie Freeman, who was originally named the starting running back after training camp, will be ready to increase his workload.
"The chances he's gotten, he's run downhill. He breaks tackles, he catches the ball and he's good in protection," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "Phillip's been so good he's gotten less and less chances, but Royce has been Royce."
This finale will give Freeman an opportunity to end his rookie season on a high note after he was briefly sidelined with an ankle injury for the Broncos Week 8 and 9 games against Kansas City and Houston.
"I've learned a lot," Freeman said. "It's been an experience, especially in my first season. And just going out there, every game is different, especially in the NFL. [I'm] picking up on things, learning from the veterans game in and game out."
Third-year veteran running back Devontae Booker will likely receive an uptick in carries in Lindsay's absence, too. As Lindsay and Freeman made strong impressions in their rookie season, Booker has been an effective reserve, averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 29 carries.
"[I want to] just finish off strong, just do all the things I need to do on the field," Booker said. "Blocking, catching and running and just doing the little things to help the team win."
But this won't be the only goal in mind for the running backs on Sunday. When the Broncos return to Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Phillip Lindsay will be a spectator. And Royce Freeman knows that feeling will be a tough experience.
"I think just as a running-back group that we just go out there and compete and play the way we know how," Freeman said. "Going out there — he supported me when I went down — and making sure that we still support him. … He's definitely the type of man to come and give great support to his team. He wants to be here with us and we owe it to him to go out there and give it our all."
Photos of the Broncos' on-field preparation for their Week 17 game against the Chargers.