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Broncos training camp all-stars: A trip down memory lane

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The Broncos will host their mandatory mini-camp June 9th through the 11th. MHR's Christopher Hart takes us for a trip down memory lane exploring some of the mini-camp and training camp warriors from the past that showed flashes of brilliance during these moments, but never endured ever-lasting fame or glory upon entering the NFL.

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Reports surface from mini-camp, training camp and other team related events each off-season. Most of them are fluff pieces with the purpose of painting a positive picture in regard to the status of the team. Perhaps the most dubious of them all are camp reports conducted by fans and media members alike who attempt to give fans an inside look as to who is performing better than the rest during practice sessions and team activities.

Year in and year out, dozens of reports speak of those "under the radar" players who have transcended all levels of thought and reached God status during mini-camp and training camp. On the outside looking it, it seems as if a majority of the players who garner such attention come from skill positions like wide receiver and running back. It is understandable, as the two are sexy positions that can easily be analyzed and furthermore for the fact that the Broncos have had success with little known players from those spots historically.

Alas, for every Kelly Herndon, Nick Ferguson or Bertrand Berry success story from camp that comes to fruition during the regular season, there are twice as many that never live up to the hype. This short flashback article will take the readers of Mile High Report down memory lane, highlighting Broncos camp warriors of the past who had their moments in the sun, but faded into obscurity when it mattered the most.

Wide receiver roulette:  "That guy is definitely the next Eddie Mac!"

Each and every year there seems to be a wide receiver mentioned in camp as the next best thing since sliced bread. Ghosts of Broncos football past are remembered, with young prospects being compared to former greats Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith. For example, remember these guys? Todd Devoe, Kevin Kasper, Darius Watts, Adrian Madise and Domenik Hixon. Five players who were lauded in camp, but lacked significant contributions to the squad during the regular season.  (Note: Hixon later went on to win two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants.)  The attention they were given made most of us believe they were can't miss players, but the reality of the situation ended up being much different than the perception that was created.

Perhaps the most memorable wide receiver camp moment comes from the story of David Kircus, the former Grand Valley State prospect who entered the NFL with the Detroit Lions in 2003. After a decorated collegiate career where he set the NCAA Division II record for most touchdowns in a season with 35, he endured his fair share of troubles in the NFL. 

You may remember him as "The Subway Sandwich Artist", who came to the Broncos in 2006 after spending the 2005 year out of football.  Kircus was one of the Broncos top camp performers that season and earned himself a spot on the final roster.  "This kid reminds me of Eddie Mac," one prominent Broncos beat reporter stated in 2006, after he earned first team reps and burned Canton-bound Champ Bailey for a few scores.

With former Bronco wide receiver Brandon Marshall sidelined with injury at the time, many believed Kircus was poised for big time production in the 2006 season, but was never as good as advertised. He was active for every game of the season, but only caught 9 receptions for 187 yards.  Denver released him during training camp in 2007 and he bounced around the NFL for a while, before seeing playing time with the UFL and CFL respectively.

Though you were here for only a short amount of time, I will never forget you David.

Broncos backs:  "Every time he takes a handoff, all I see is TD."

Over the past decade and a half, no other team has been able to produce as many different 1,000 yard rushers as the Denver Broncos. Such success demands high expectations, but unfortunately for camp reports, reality is often skewed for a venture in fantasy.  No position succumbs more to the great hyperbole of camp prowess than the running back position.  Ahmad Galloway, Mario Fannin, Xavier Omon and friends.  There names forgotten to most, but remembered solemnly by those who read headlines that overstated their greatness. 

However, one former Broncos backs tale stands out far above the rest.

"He's one of the most gifted running backs I've been around for a long time. He is very similar to Terrell Davis when he came in." stated former coach Mike Shanahan during an August press conference many years ago in reference to a back whose camp performance had caught the eyes of coaches and writers in Denver.

It might take you a few moments to recall who he was talking about, but it was former Arizona State running back Ryan Torain, whom the Broncos had selected in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. An injury late in training camp caused the rookie back to miss a majority of the 2008 season, but ended up seeing some playing time late in the year where he scored his first career touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.

"He is very similar to Terrell Davis when he came in." -Mike Shanahan on Ryan Torain

Plagued by nagging injuries since his collegiate year, Torain was released by the Broncos prior to the 2009 season and agreed to an injury settlement with the team.  He was out of football entirely in 2009, but was given another chance by Shanahan when he became coach of the Washington Redskins in 2010.  He had his fair share of moments that season, rushing for 742 yards in ten total games, but he was never able to stay healthy and bounced around the league and saw his last action in 2013.

Looking back we can only think, "What could have been?" had Torain stayed healthy.  Maybe, just maybe, he would be the teams franchise leader in rushing yards.

A Tale of Two Hoops Stars: Wesley Duke and Corey Jackson

When Shanon Sharpe retired in 2003 the Broncos began a search to replace the eventual Hall of Famer. The Kansas City Chiefs had Tony Gonzalez and a bright young star was in the making in San Diego with Antonio Gates.  Both players were exceptional mismatches on the field and used their basketball background and skill set to help elevate their game in the professional football league. 

In 2005, the Broncos took a flyer on undrafted Mercer University basketball player Wesley Duke, hoping that his size, athleticism and basketball experience might make him the next big thing at the tight end position.  Throughout the training camp process, Duke showed a lot of promise and was given high praise by coaches and media outlets, but none of that translated under the famed lights of the gridiron.  He spent one season with the squad, collecting 2 catches for 22 yards in a score in three contests played.  After a short stint in NFL Europe, Duke was released after suffering a knee injury in 2006.

Around the same point in time, a young player named Corey Jackson was making waves with his camp performances as well. One of the Achilles heels for the Denver Broncos of the middle 2000s was the lack of a big-time pass rusher.   Bertrand Berry, Trevor Price and Reggie Hayward come to mind, but all three of those players ended up getting contracts elsewhere and the team was in dire needs of a defensive lineman who could solidify the trenches. Despite only playing 12 snaps of football in college (six on offense and six on defense), the 6'6 -- 275 pound Jackson took Dove Valley by storm.

Former Broncos General Manager Ted Sundquist spoke highly of the defender stating, "(Jackson is) big, long, extremely quick and rangy. He's got the body to play the power game but also has the speed, quickness and length to come off the edge and be an effective pass rusher, so he's kind of a combo guy. He's not just a run defender or a pass rusher; he's got the ability to do both."  Sundquist later went on to add "The sky's the limit for that kid."

Unfortunately, the Jackson experiment failed to launch. Instead of reaching for the stars his NFL career never took off.  He never played a single game or registered one statistic for the Broncos.  A shame really, especially when he was described as a force to be reckoned with in the summer of '06.

The summer of 2015 is upon us now and surely there is another training camp star in the making.  Who will it be this year?  You will just have to stay tuned to find out.

Broncos Country, who are some of the most memorable training camp warriors you remember? Sound off and tell your stories about them in the comments!