SANTA CLARA, Calif. —** Everyone notices the same thing about De'Angelo Henderson.
That would be his devotion to learning everything he needs to know to make it as an NFL running back.
But few people know the extent of that work ethic. It goes well beyond the boundaries of the running backs room. It goes well beyond the walls of UCHealth Training Center. It apparently goes into his bathroom.
Photos from the Broncos' preseason game against the 49ers. (photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)
"Shoot, I study [my playbook] when I get home, in the training room," Henderson said. "I think the weirdest place — I was [studying] in the bathroom. … That's probably the weirdest place."
He couldn't help but laugh as he recalled that moment, but if it helps him turn a 5-yard gain into a 15-yard gain at some point in the future, it would be more than worth the embarrassment that comes with making that knowledge public.
It's clear his studying knows few bounds, and it's paying off. And his coaches and teammates are noticing.
"He's a special runner," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "What we saw in the spring, you couldn't kind of verify because it's not tackling, but he made guys miss all spring and obviously in training camp he made guys miss. But to watch him in open space is fun to see, because he's going to make the first guy miss most of the time and his long speed is pretty good for a little guy. So once he pops, he's a home-run hitter."
Henderson didn't technically find the end zone against the 49ers like he had against the Bears — a 9-yard touchdown reception Saturday was nullified by a holding penalty — but he still came up with 30 rushing yards on six carries and 20 yards on two catches.
"I think the game is just slowing down [for him]," C.J. Anderson said. "As a running back, we don't have to come in and read too much of defenses — just pick a hole and go. That's something we've been doing our whole life and I think our O-line is doing a really, really good job. All groups, not just the [number] one O-line. He's been in with the two O-line and the three O-line, so I think all O-lines are doing a really good job and he's finding creases and making plays."
Stevan Ridley's first preseason was a good one, too.
He opened up his career with three touchdowns and 111 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches. Not too shabby. He followed it up with another 111-yard game, though this time he had no touchdowns. Still, as far as first games go, Ridley was flying high.
"Me being a rookie, it was moving fast. It really was," Ridley said. "I remember my first game, coming in and I had some success and I had a few touchdowns and got off to a hot start. But you've got to keep it going, and that's the big thing about being a pro. You've got to be a pro every day and you've got to be productive every week. The thing about it is it's not how you start, it's not how you finish, but it's how you do it day in and day out and miss the storms and miss the ups and the downs."
Ridley sees someone who can maintain that standard in the man known as "Hop."
"He works hard. Every day," Ridley said. "For a rookie to come in and learn a pro system and to have the production that he's had in the first two games … things are going his way. So he's just got to keep pushing and I stress to him every day to just keep climbing. Keep climbing that ladder and never be satisfied, never let up."
Anderson noticed Henderson's dedication to his craft, too, and in his eyes, that's why he's been so successful through his first two preseason game.
"He puts a lot of time into it. He puts a lot of time," Anderson said. "He wants to know, he wants to understand at least the basics of his job, and then he'll start to understand things that go on throughout the season. … But he wants to learn — that's the big thing for him."
In his quest for knowledge, Henderson has put in plenty of hours studying on his own, but he has also not been afraid to ask questions of his veteran teammates and his coaches. His habits have been sound and they've provided him with the preparation and confidence to sustain this early run through two preseason games.
"I typically like to be the last person out [of the meeting room]," said Henderson when asked how his preparation this week helped him Saturday night. "I was scrolling my plays, scrolling through anything. If I can find anything to ask a question about, I'm going to do it. Or if I see something 'Hey, what if this or that can happen?' I'm there to ask my coach or C.J. or somebody about it. So I'm definitely dedicated to my book. I want to play, I want to be on the field and I know what comes with me knowing my playbook, me knowing my stuff. I'm in it hard. Trust me."
What can help him even more is the support system around him. With Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville and veterans like Anderson, Ridley and Jamaal Charles surrounding him, Henderson has a wealth of knowledge available to him as he begins his career. And they're more than happy to help.
"The the biggest piece of knowledge I'm going to pass to him is just keep grinding away and while you've got it and you're hot, you've got to keep pushing," Ridley said. "You're going to have your days where it's not going to be so hot, but you've got to keep pushing.
"And I think that he's got a tremendous amount of talent. He's playing with a chip on his shoulder and he's going to have some success in this league."