ENGLEWOOD • The post-practice prayer circle is becoming a tradition for the Broncos.
It started with a few players and has grown. After each of the last two practices of the Broncos’ mandatory minicamp, there were 30-35 players on one knee in a large circle.
Safety Brian Dawkins delivered a mini-sermon.
A large prayer circle is not unusual after games, but it’s new for a Broncos practice.
Coach Josh McDaniels wasn’t hoping to put together a prayer group with his personnel moves of the past two offseasons. He did, however, put a premium on high-character players. For example, No. 15 switched hands from troubled Brandon Marshall to Tim Tebow, whose idea of a summer vacation is missionary work in the Philippines.
McDaniels now has a group of solid professionals. There are no players who stand out as cancers in the locker room. The Broncos’ public relations staff speaks glowingly about how accommodating and respectful the players are in regards to dealing with the media. Overall, it’s a group of relatively nice guys.
There have been plenty of not-so-nice guys that have had great careers in the NFL. Won Super Bowls. Participated in countless Pro Bowls. Members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But McDaniels feels there is a tangible benefit in having good people in the locker room.
“The reason we say we want high-character players is because you can eliminate distractions that don’t allow you to keep your focus on winning football games,” McDaniels said. “I think they’re really dedicated to trying to do everything they can to win and that includes not creating anything within our own building that could hurt our opportunity to do that.”
There’s no guarantee the Broncos won’t be dealing with some off-field issues, but McDaniels has worked to minimize them. Trading Marshall to the Dolphins was an example of how the Broncos operate now. They could have pressured Marshall into playing for his restricted free agent tender offer, but that would have caused numerous problems. Under Mike Shanahan’s tenure, the team took chances on plenty of players with faulty character, and often ended up with headaches. That has changed.
“There’s no troublemakers, you try to keep that out of the locker room,” cornerback Nate Jones said. “You try to keep guys that approach their job like it’s a job and never take it for granted.”
Coaches don’t like to be distracted during the season. They work crazy hours just to get that week’s plan set.
“It’s hard enough to win in this league as it is and if you put time towards other things other than (winning), you know, you’re probably going to fall behind at some point,” McDaniels said.
Cornerback Champ Bailey said he thinks character matters. He used outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who hasn’t caused any problems for the Broncos during his career and wants a long-term contract, as an example of the type of player who helps on and off the field.
“One thing you want to do is trust the guy next to you,” Bailey said. “If I know this guy is depending on me, and I like him, and we understand each other, I don’t want to let him down.
“You want guys that know what you can expect from them, guys that really appreciate what they have in front of them.”
There is a balance. Someone like Marshall was a constant disruption during his Broncos career, but he was Denver’s best receiver. Whether or not character will matter much in the Broncos’ final record, McDaniels is happy with the players he has assembled.
“I’m proud to be their coach,” McDaniels said. “This is a group of players that come to work with a great attitude every day.”
Denver Broncos fans will get their first glimpse of rookie quarterback Tim Tebow and the rest of the team in action on Aug. 1, the first day that training camp practice will be open to the public.
The Broncos rookies report to training camp July 26, but the rookies practices aren’t open to the public. The veterans report July 31, and the first full-squad practices are the next day.
Most practices during training camp are open to the public at the team’s Dove Valley headquarters in Englewood, and they are free of charge. The team will hold a scrimmage at Invesco Field at Mile High during August, but the date has not been announced.
—Contact the writer at 476-4891