Phillip Lindsay’s professional debut will soon be forgotten. Twenty weeks from now on the eve of the playoffs, no one will remember 81 all-purpose yards in an exhibition.
Make no mistake: What Lindsay did Saturday mattered.
Albeit, late in a preseason game.
Albeit, against a third-string defense.
But in a game that saw almost no flash by a Broncos offense that’s building a reputation of matte finishes, Lindsay, the undrafted running back out of the University of Colorado, provided shine. His first half was quiet – a 2-yard run and a 5-yard catch in the flat. In the second half, there wasn’t a more impressive Bronco on his side of the ball, no matter how many Denver fans were chanting Chad Kelly’s name.
A 16-yard reception in the third quarter featured a stutter-step that made a linebacker miss to set up Kelly’s first career touchdown pass. (36 yards to a wide-open Matt LaCosse.)
A five-yard run off-tackle to the left showcased his burst and vision.
And his 19-yard touchdown catch came on a post route out of the backfield where he beat the free safety in coverage and crossed into the end zone with his signature skip fans in Boulder have fallen in love with.
If he was looking for a more perfect first shot in the NFL, it would have been hard to pen a realistic script more perfect than Saturday. Ignore the 42-28 loss. For guys like Lindsay in the preseason, stats can matter most.
“Everybody always see the good things, they don’t see the bad stuff,” Lindsay, CU’s career leader in all-purpose yards, said, “they don’t see the technique, that’s going to be big for special teams. Like I said, special teams is what it’s all about for me. I have to go back and clean some stuff up.”
Lindsay officially had six touches against the Vikings, including a 34-yard kickoff return – the longest of the night. But there were two more times he touched the ball, and what he chose not to do could speak louder toward his chances of making this team.
Following Minnesota’s opening scoring drive, Lindsay fielded a kick seven yards deep in the end zone and elected to take a knee. He made the same choice late in the fourth quarter after the Vikings reclaimed the lead, setting Denver up on the 25-yard line. Neither of those decisions led to a scoring drive, however his decision at least gave the Broncos the best field position possible.
Don’t underestimate the difficulty of that decision. As an undrafted free agent, Lindsay’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed. His touches are few and far between, and every one is worth its weight in gold. With four games to prove he’s worth keeping on payroll, a less grounded man would try and take all three kickoffs back for touchdowns; instead, he played smart football.
“You got to be smart. This is the NFL and we’re all battling for jobs,” Lindsay said. “The worst thing you can do is go out there and give your offense the worst field position you possibly can. So it’s about being smart and being able to get Chad (Kelly) out there, and Case (Keenum) is playing, and it’s about giving them an opportunity to get us going.”
Lindsay, in typical fashion, heavily critiqued his play. His cuts. His reads. He was never sent out to return punts, and Isaiah McKenzie’s punt return for a touchdown didn’t place Lindsay any closer to stealing that job.
But he was reliable. He was intelligent. And for a 5-foot-8 guy from Denver who’s just scraping for a job, it’s hard to ask for more.