ENGLEWOOD — In football, an inconvenient sport in the sense games are once a week leaving six other days for newspapers and TV stations to fill, the star returning to play at home has long been a go-to storyline.
Broncos’ running back Phillip Lindsay, who has emerged as a star in his very first professional season, home is where his bed has been. Lindsay lives at mom and dad’s house, sleeping in his downstairs bedroom by night, and practicing with his hometown Broncos by day. Sundays, the hometown kid enters a whole new universe.
“I’m being smart right now,’’ Lindsay said during a sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. “I did go undrafted so it’s about saving money and being smart with your money right now.’’
Lindsay did get the third-highest signing bonus among undrafted rookies in the John Elway era at $15,000. Only Jamal Carter ($20,000) and Lerentee McCray ($17,000) received more. But had Lindsay been drafted in, say, the sixth round like Highlands Ranch-grown offensive lineman Sam Jones did, he would have got a signing bonus of $168,556.
During his formative football years at Denver South High School and the University of Colorado, Lindsay was often called the best pound-for-pound running back, first in the state, then in the Pac-12. Such distinctions are often given to those who carry fewer pounds. Lindsay is 5-foot-7 ¼, 184 pounds, as officially measured at his Pro Day in March.
With 591 rushing yards to lead all NFL rookies – 5 more than No. 2 overall draft pick Saquan Barkley of the New York Giants – Lindsay may well be the league’s best dollar-for-dollar player. His rookie ceiling figured to be a spot on the Broncos’ 53-man roster as a third down back and special team returner.
He blew through that ceiling to become the Broncos’ starting tailback who has averaged 16 carries and two catches in the past three games.
“No, I’m not surprised just because of the person I am,’’ said Lindsay, who plays against the AFC West-rival Chargers in Los Angeles on Sunday. “I work hard. I’m fortunate to have a good line and a great running back coach (Curtis Modkins).’’
Lindsay’s former college coach, Mike McIntyre, is under fire after the CU Buffaloes’ 5-0 start became 5-6. Ever since the Buffs blew a 31-3 lead to lose to Oregon State three weeks ago, McIntyre’s job status has been on high-alert watch.
“Coach Mac is a great coach,’’ Lindsay said. “I know he doesn’t pay too much attention to what people say. He’s been in a predicament like that before where rumors have swirled and the next year (in 2016) had a great year.
“It’s just unfortunate for him that a lot of his players got hurt at the wrong time. You got Laviska (Shenault) that’s coming off the (toe) injury he did. You had K.D. Nixon, who’s hurt. Coach’s son Jay McIntyre was hurt. A couple offensive linemen. It’s hard. The defensive lineman, Evan Worthington was hurt. That’s big. People don’t understand that. Now it’s about the young kids getting experience and that’s what’s happening right now.’’
Lindsay had plenty family and friends during his five years at CU (he redshirted his freshman year after suffering a torn ACL in his senior high school season). But there is local fame on the Boulder campus and there is national stardom while succeeding for the Broncos.
“It’s a lot more attention on you,’’ Lindsay said. “For me, I don’t like all that attention so I kind of stay out of the spotlight. I stay to myself. As a rookie, it’s a lot. It’s a lot to focus on. Every day you’re doing something different. Games are fast. The week is fast. There’s so much stuff going on that you don’t have time to enjoy and sashay around.’’
How was your day, son? Secure at his folks’ home, fast and strong for any size, Lindsay is one of the league’s top Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates, along with Barkley, Indianapolis guard Quentin Nelson and possibly Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield if he continues to play well in the second half.
Those three competitors for the rookie award were all drafted within the top six picks of the first round. Lindsay went in the “no round,” signing sometime after Washington used the No. 256 and final selection on receiver Trey Quinn.
“I definitely would like it (the rookie award), but I don’t have any say in it, nor do I care about Barkley and Baker Mayfield, what they’re doing because I’m focused on winning games for us,’’ Lindsay said. “Of course, you’re going to want the big-name people to win it, but at the end of the day I’m going to keep moving forward. I’m going to have the offensive line and quarterback and everybody’s behind me. That’s all that matters.’’
For these final seven games, Lindsay is concentrating on improving his game. Just because a player has done more than expected doesn’t mean he can’t expect more from himself.
“Just slowing down my reads,’’ he said. “Making the right cuts, helping my offensive linemen out more. Continue to get more involved in the passing game and get open and continue to break tackles. And just get more comfortable when being in the game. The more reps you get, the more times you’re in the game, I feel I have come far from the first game till now. And I feel like I have to continue to work on my pass blocking. I feel like I pass block well, but I haven’t had as many chances as I’ve wanted.’’