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Broncos' McLaughlin ready to take the bull by the horns

Rookie running back on point with play, TD celebration
Broncos Bears Football
Posted at 5:06 PM, Oct 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-03 20:28:21-04

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The touchdown celebration is revealing about Jaleel McLaughlin.

He is everything an NFL running back is not: He is small. He is from Youngstown State, an FCS school. He was not drafted.

But watch McLaughlin on the field, and it all makes sense. He is a bolt of lightning, a fiber optics player in a dial-up world. When he gets into the end zone, which he has done twice this season, it is telling.

After McLaughlin showed patience and slithered in for an 18-yard score against the Chicago Bears, he dug in his heels and kicked them up, mimicking a bull.

“You know before the bull goes out and hunts, they try to mark the territory. I try to bring that to my game. Me being the bull, playing with fight and then definitely thanking God,” said McLaughlin, who began this end zone routine during his junior year of college, copying what he saw from a pro fighter. “It’s about playing with passion and wanting to win.”

The Denver Broncos ended their three-game losing skid, in part, because of the rookie. When Javonte Williams exited with a hip injury after two carries — his status for this week remains in doubt — McLaughlin seized the opportunity. He finished with 72 yards on seven carries.

Williams had the previous season high for a running back with 52. McLaughlin added three catches for 32 yards, leaving him with 104 all-purpose yards.

He impressed coach Sean Payton enough to receive one of four game balls (Jonathon Cooper, Nik Bonitto and Wil Lutz received the others).

“Let’s talk about Jaleel. He played really well. He was explosive in the run and the pass,” Payton said. “He gave us some juice.”

McLaughlin made the team in training camp because he was impossible to miss. He looked faster than everyone, save for rookie receiver Marvin Mims Jr. And all he did was score touchdowns. He began to make a name for himself even as his name was misspelled as “McGlaughlin” on his jersey for his preseason debut.

McLauglin received limited reps the first three weeks, aside from a touchdown run vs. Washington. He remains in line for a bigger workload this week even if Williams is cleared.

“First, I want to say my prayers for Javonte. He’s such a great player and someone to learn from — he and Samaje (Perine). The team is in good hands with all three of us,” McLaughlin said. “Once my time comes, I will be ready. Every time I get my opportunity, I will make the most of it for the team’s sake.”

McLaughlin impressed the coaching staff and management with his work ethic. The 5-foot-7, 187-pounder, who conjures images of former Broncos Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay, arrived at the facility at 5 a.m. to run stairs before practice.

In high school, he was a star but dealt with major obstacles. When his mom was laid off, the family bounced around from an apartment to a motel to living in a Ford Focus for a few weeks. That experience is why McLaughlin is determined to live with zero regrets.

“There were a lot of different things going on at home that weren’t making my mom and my family proud. But one thing that put a smile on my mom’s face was sports. That is what inspired me. I want to keep putting a smile on her face and my family’s face,” McLaughlin said. “I am also a huge competitor. I want to win at everything I do. It all contributes to the work I put in.”

McLaughlin brings unique talent and humility to his profession. It would be easy to boast given his early contributions. However, his answer about failing on a blitz pickup vs. the Bears provided insight into his character and future potential.

“I don’t think coach (Payton) put me in a bad spot. I have to be better. All 11 on the field have a job to do. On that play I wasn’t able to do my job. I have to be more technical and get better in pass pro,” McLaughlin said. “That’s totally on me. And I will be better.”

This week, against a Jets defense that has been leaky against the run, allowing 148 yards per game, presents another platform for McLaughlin to shine. The Broncos bull will be ready to kick the dust up.

“Once I decided to come to here, I wanted to help this team get wins. When I got that game ball, it was definitely a surreal feeling,” McLaughlin said. “But it’s not just me out there. It’s about the team.”

Bassey cut, Smith signed

The Broncos began a roster churn that figures to continue over the next few days as injured players return and ineffective ones lose their spot. Essang Bassey, the team’s starting nickelback for the first three games, was cut Tuesday. The team also added former Saints receiver Tre’Quan Smith to the practice squad. Smith has 18 touchdowns in 66 career games.

With the Carolina Panthers actively looking to acquire a receiver, according to multiple reports, it will be interesting to see if the added depth makes the Broncos open to calls on Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, two players they fielded offers on last spring.

Bassey lost his job to Ja’Quan McMillian, who started against the Bears. Fabian Moreau is also a reserve option and Riley Moss, the rookie from Iowa, should start receiving snaps after playing on special teams following hernia surgery during training camp.

The Broncos have four players eligible to return this week, three from injured reserve in safety P.J. Locke (ankle), cornerback K’Waun Williams (ankle surgery) and offensive tackle Alex Palczewski (hand) and outside linebacker Baron Browning (knee surgery) from the PUP list. When players are activated for a game, they must be placed on the 53-man roster.

Locke and Palczewski could be ready to practice this week. Browning and Williams are making steady progress on the side field, but might need more time, especially Williams, who had surgery near the end of training camp.