ENGLEWOOD – Players prepare for the NFL season over many months - through minicamp practices, endless meetings and weeks of training camp. They know the playbook in and out and are familiar with how coaches want certain situations played thanks to countless hours of repetition.
Getting signed in the middle of the season is like being dropped in the middle of a dark forest, when everyone else has a map and compass.
The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, who meet Sunday, each have a player who has flourished despite joining the team in midseason.
Chris Chambers was cut by the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 2, claimed by the Chiefs and almost immediately became their No. 1 receiver. The Broncos needed a new third cornerback for their nickel defense in early November and signed veteran Ty Law, who had been out of football all year.
The NFL season was at full speed, and those players had to catch up quickly.
“They’ve done it in training camp; they’ve had the books,” Law said. “If they see something they say, ‘This is familiar, we saw this in Week 3’ or whatever. For me, everything is new.”
Almost all of Chambers’ challenges were mental. A receiver usually needs time to learn the playbook and get in tune with his quarterback. Chambers quickly grasped everything, allowing him to score two touchdowns against Jacksonville less than a week after signing with Kansas City.
“He’s been around a long time and got off the plane Tuesday night, showed up on Wednesday and slowly but surely learned the offense,” Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said. “He stayed late and started to understand what we were talking about when we were calling plays.”
Law had physical and mental challenges. Although playing cornerback isn’t quite as complicated as playing receiver, Law never had played the inside nickel cornerback position. He said he is getting used to basic things, such as which foot to put back based on which side of the field he's on.
In his first game, two days after signing, Law wore a wristband similar to what quarterbacks wear. He needed it to figure out the plays.
“I’ve got great guys around me helping me out, letting me know what’s going on,” Law said. “A lot of times I’m like ‘What did you all say?’”
Unlike Chambers, Law hadn’t played football since the end of last season. So while he was learning his teammates, coaches and the playbook, he also was getting in football shape.
“He’s been playing year-round,” Law said. “If you’ve gone through training camp and all of that, it’s not a close comparison.”
Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said experience helps when a player joins a team midseason. Law and Chambers have been through enough situations that they can adjust. In Law’s case, McDaniels said the corner was able to simplify and concentrate only on the terminology he needed to know.
“The older you get and the more you play in this league, you understand that you don’t need to know everybody’s words and terms,” McDaniels said. “You just need to know the terms that are important to you.”
And for all of the mental and physical challenges, Law is a five-time Pro Bowl player.
“I’ve played football for a long time so at the end of the day, I keep that in my mind: It’s still football,” Law said.