*Editor’s note: From July 27 to August 18 Cecil Sapp and Frank Rice will be
at Broncos training camp attempting to make the team. The Collegian will be
there to mark their progress on a weekly basis.
They know it. They feel it. They sense it inside. They are being watched.
Judged. Rated against each other and against the system. And they love every minute of it.
Friday the Broncos kicked off their training camp with an early morning practice session and with the Ed McCaffreys, Rod Smiths and Jake Plummers were Cecil Sapp and Frank Rice, two former CSU football players trying to prove that they belong.
“I feel like I’m in the mix,” Rice said after a sweltering
Saturday afternoon session that left the receiver with a cramp in his right calf. “They are giving me reps and I’m running on the second and third (offensive) teams and getting ample time to show what I can do.”
Rice put his abilities on display Saturday at the Broncos training facility in Dove Valley impressing coaches so much that when the receiver pulled up lame after making a superb sideline grab, head coach Mike
Shanahan promptly yelled: “Frank you can’t afford to get hurt.”
“That made me feel good,” Rice said of Shanahan’s comment. “Makes me know that he’s watching me and pulling for me to make the team.”
Rice, who was a member of the team’s practice squad last season and signed a future contract Dec. 12, 2002, knows he has his work cut out for him with the Broncos having nine wide receivers vying for a limited number of spaces.
“It’s a competition,” he said. “Everyone is trying to make a spot on the team. It’s no secret as to how many people they can take. The numbers just don’t add up.”
Through competing against his teammates, Rice said he has also learned a lot from them during the past year.
“(Wide receiver) Rod Smith has helped me out tremendously,” he said. “The atmosphere around (the wide receivers) is good. They’re ally trying to make other guys better there is a lot of camaraderie and a lot of competition. “
If he does make the team, Rice knows what his role will be as a back up to the Broncos’ main wide receiver tandem of McCaffrey, Smith and
Ashley Lelie, but he said it is a role he is ready to take on and perform in if given the chance.
“Our job is to come in and play at the same level if they get hurt,” he said. “We have to produce the same way they do.”
Sapp has made an equally impressive showing thus far in camp as he vies for a roster spot after being snubbed in the 2003 NFL draft.
“He showed some flash today,” said Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner. “This is just our second day out here so most of these guys are just trying to learn the offense, they’re just thinking and trying to get comfortable with their surroundings.”
Sapp’s chances of making the team increased dramatically over the weekend as two running backs, KaRon Coleman (broken foot) and Quentin
Griffin (broken left leg) suffered a pair of injuries that will leave them out for a month at least, allowing Sapp to move up on the team’s depth chart, which includes six other running backs.
After watching him utilize his size and soft hands during Saturday’s drills with the second and third team offenses, Turner said he believes Sapp should see some significant playing time in the team’s first preseason game against the Houston Texans in Houston, Aug. 9.
“I’m happy with his attitude and where he is right now,” Turner said. “Our goal is to have him ready to make the team, and once he makes the team we’ll see where it goes from there. But you have to make the team first.”