Coastal Carolina alumnus De’Angelo Henderson will have some new faces competing with him for playing time in the Denver Broncos backfield this upcoming preseason training camp and season.
And he’s not only fine with that, he welcomes it.
The Broncos released starting running back C.J. Anderson in the offseason, leaving Henderson and two-year NFL veteran and 2016 fourth-round draft pick Devontae Booker out of Utah remaining at the running back position from the 2017 roster. They have since drafted two running backs and signed a third.
“It’s going to be an interesting camp with all five of us going in and no real starter because the starter is gone from last year, so the position is really open and up for grabs,” Henderson said. “Competition brings the best out of people. So I’m excited about it, I know Book’s excited about it, I know the rookies are excited about it. I can’t wait to get going and see what those guys have got.”
The Broncos selected Oregon’s all-time leading rusher in Royce Freeman in the third round of the NFL Draft two weeks ago, and added Arkansas’ David Williams in the seventh round.
“With the draft, me and Book talked about we’re definitely going to pick a running back this year because it was just me and him, and we knew there was a possibility there would be two or three we would take, but we knew for sure we’d take at least one,” Henderson said.
Freeman is 6-feet and 240 pounds, boasts size and power and gained 5,621 yards in college, while Williams is a bruising 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds and gained 656 rushing yards last year at a clip of 5.6 yards per carry with eight touchdowns.
Williams, who transferred to Arkansas from South Carolina, went to high school with Henderson’s former CCU teammate Bruce Mapp, so they have met and spent time together on several occasions.
“I know they’re going to give [Freeman] an opportunity to play, which will be good for competition in the room,” Henderson said. “I know Dave. It’s pretty cool to have him here, a guy that I know. I think that’s awesome.”
Denver also signed Phillip Lindsay as a rookie free agent out of Colorado, where he is the second all-time leading rusher with 3,770 yards and as a senior gained 1,474 yards on 301 carries with 14 touchdowns and a 4.9 yar-per-carry average.
“It was a shocker that he actually went undrafted because he had a lot of potential,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he’ll be willing to help the team’s rookie running backs, reciprocating the way he has been received by older teammates in high school, college and the NFL.
“I’ve never been the guy to like, ‘Hey they brought you along so I’m not going to help you out or I’m going to wish bad upon you’ ” Henderson said. “. . . Once I became a vet, became an older guy, you bring them along, help them out if they need help. I’m going to give everything I’ve got, I hope you’re going to do the same and may the best man win. At the end of the day I won’t do anything to hinder their opportunities to be successful.”
Anderson recently signed with the Carolina Panthers after gaining more than 1,000 yards for the Broncos last season.
“CJ was one of those guys that from Day 1 he wanted just to teach, so losing him is a hurt to the team because he was a great player,” Henderson said. “You don’t want that to happen, but at the same time when it happens it’s like, ‘OK, well a fresh start. I get an opportunity now.’
“I definitely took a lot in from him last year in terms of his preparation and detail and focus to the game. But I feel now it’s my turn to really broadcast what I’ve got and kind of get an opportunity to step into a different role this year.”
Henderson, who will be entering his second season after being drafted in the sixth round last year, saw action in the Broncos’ backfield in the final two games of the season and finished his rookie year with 13 yards rushing on seven carries, 36 yards on two receptions and one touchdown.
“In the running back position we need playmakers and guys that are going to be able to help us win and do more on offense, because last year we didn’t have the best offense,” Henderson said. “So anybody that can come in and contribute to help that out and get us in the top 10 offenses in the league, that will be great.”
Henderson said he is currently in Phase 2 of the three-phase Broncos’ “voluntary” workout program. The first phase started in mid-April. “It’s voluntary, but it’s not voluntary,” said Henderson, who is in the second year of a four-year contract. “It’s definitely mandatory for Year 2 guys and guys who are trying to establish themselves.”
The phases lead in to the Broncos’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and three-day mandatory mini-camp in mid-June, followed by the start of preseason training camp in late July.
During his summer break, Henderson has a couple events planned in South Carolina, including a free youth football camp, likely on July 7.
Henderson, who is 5-foot-7, ran the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in an impressive 4.48 seconds, and believes he is still that fast while adding bulk and a few pounds to reach 210 while dropping body fat since joining the Broncos. The team’s nutrition coach and strength and conditioning coach create a plan for each player.
“The thing about the league is they really do a good job of getting us the right strength and conditioning people,” Henderson said. “We’ve got a great team here I think for the nutrition side of stuff that I needed coming out of college. Personally my particular plan is working very well. I feel more explosive, I feel stronger. I think I’m bigger. I feel great.”
Watching his diet can be more challenging now that he’s collecting an NFL paycheck. “You’ve got to be more disciplined once you get to this point,” he said. “I can actually afford to go eat some good food now. In college I couldn’t.”
Henderson believes he and his teammates have a conditioning advantage over most other players in the league because they train in the high altitude of Denver. “Breathing and working out in this high altitude, that is definitely an advantage to all of us,” Henderson said.
Henderson added a suffix to his name in December. He now goes by De’Angelo Henderson Sr.
He recently proposed and became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Natalie McKnight, and their son De’Angelo Jr., is now about 5 months old. He goes by DJ to most family members and “Baby Hop,” to most friends and teammates, deriving from Henderson’s nickname of Hop.
The couple has set a date of Feb. 23 next year and is now in the process of organizing the wedding.
“I’m excited about this upcoming year, excited about junior’s growth, everybody’s healthy, me and Natalie recently got engaged, so there are a lot of good things,” Henderson said.