ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Grouching that the Denver Broncos hadn’t gone out ”kicking and screaming” in the playoffs the last three seasons, John Elway set out to toughen up a team that featured 11 Pro Bowlers but went out with a whimper.
After changing coaches and shaking up the roster, he fashioned a draft class thick on toughness and athleticism.
The Broncos boss said the common denominators in this nine-member class were ”the competitiveness that they bring, the toughness and the love of the game. I think that was really something that we concentrated on, trying to find those types of players.”
Article continues below ...
A day after selecting a right tackle (Ty Sambrailo) who was a top junior skier and a tight end (Jeff Heuerman) who was an elite youth hockey player, Elway – himself a two-sport athlete growing up – selected several more multi-sport athletes Saturday.
He says he likes guys who play multiple sports because it shows they’re athletic and tough.
-Fourth-rounder Max Garcia, an O-lineman from Florida, threw the shot put and discus in high school.
-Tulane cornerbacks Lorenzo Doss (fifth round) and Taurean Nixon (seventh) both were sprinters on the Green Wave’s track and field team.
-And sixth-rounder Darius Kilgo, a nose tackle from Maryland, played high school hoops.
In introducing the former youth hockey prodigy Saturday, Elway said Heuerman, who helped Ohio State win the national championship, ”brings in the right mentality and is tough and is a great competitor – oh, and he knows how to be a champion.”
No other current Broncos player won a NCAA title, and only two – Peyton Manning and newcomer Gino Gradkowski – own Super Bowl rings.
Elway said his first-round draft choice, Missouri pass-rusher Ray Shane ”plays with his hair on fire.”
So do the other eight picks, suggested coach Gary Kubiak.
When he gathered his team together for his first minicamp last week, Kubiak said he harped on ”the personality of our football team and the first thing I talked about was how hard we play. I want people to talk about how hard the Denver Broncos play and if you look at this group of guys, we’ve come out of this draft with, that’s a common theme among all of them.”
Doss competed in the 100 meters along with the 4×100 and 4×400 relays, which he said helped him when he had to cover receivers.
”I would get a lot faster just running with fast people,” he said. ”To play corner you need speed.”
Heuerman was an outstanding hockey player on the junior circuit and even moved to Detroit in the eighth grade to play for an elite team. But rather than continue on to Canada’s NHL-feeder leagues, the homesick teenager returned to Naples, Florida, and took up football when his father told him to hit the field or get a job.
”I have two younger brothers, and they were going to grow up without me, so I chose to go home and be with them during their childhood,” Heuerman said. ”I went home, tried out for football and it all worked out.”
He said hockey’s lessons stuck with him, however. Having to get to the rink at 4 or 5 in the morning and traveling all over the country ”teaches you hard work, dedication and what it takes to succeed in a sport,” Heuerman said. ”It teaches you toughness.”
Sambrailo, who packs 315 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, was a competitive ski racer as a youngster, winning USSA titles in the slalom, giant slalom and super-G and also becoming adept at freestyle flips and tricks.
He’s still incredibly flexible for a 315-pounder.
”I can still do a backflip,” Sambrailo said. ”I won’t. But I still could if you really wanted me to.”
Notes: The Broncos’ other seventh rounders were Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian and Oklahoma State safety Josh Furman. Siemian said he needs another month to recover from a torn ACL he sustained in November. He called the chance to play with Manning ”an unreal opportunity.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton