Joe Dineen knows he’s in for a helluva grind.
It’s difficult for a rookie taken in the first few rounds to make the jump to the NFL and have a consistent impact. It’s a challenge to keep your head from spinning early in your first training camp. All of that amps up when you’re an undrafted rookie free agent like Dineen is with the Denver Broncos. If he wants to become the latest undrafted player to find a spot on Denver’s roster, he knows he has no room for error.
After his fourth training camp practice, the middle linebacker from the University of Kansas known as “The Mayor” is starting to get a little calloused. You could say the man who is known to tackle everything in sight, is ready to tackle the biggest challenge of his young career.
“I’m just trying to earn my stripes and make an impact on special teams,” Dineen told me after practice on Sunday. “Just continue learning. You come out here, you’re not used to the altitude. And then you put pads on, and then you just keep adding and adding. We’re getting there slowly, and I feel like I’m getting used to it.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt Dineen’s growing familiarity to play in a system like he is either. Since Vic Fangio was hired as the head coach of the Broncos, we’ve heard how player-friendly his system is. We see that just four days into training camp.
“It’s awesome,” Dineen said. “A lot free running around and trying to make plays all over the place. I feel like that’s where I’m the most comfortable. It doesn’t handicap the players at all. It’s exciting. It’s really an exciting time.”
The other benefit that playing in Fangio’s system offers is in helping players find ways to improve their game. Dineen said he is getting there slowly, but he’s still a rookie who has to get better practice to practice. The injury to Todd Davis might open the door to more reps and the chance to stand out with the coaches.
“He’s learning how to become an NFL linebacker, and there’s a lot that goes in that,” Fangio said after practice on Sunday.” Especially in our system, we put a lot on those guys, but the good thing about it is that a lot of it goes hand in hand and it fits logically. Once they get it, everything becomes a little bit easier. It’s a hard job for a rookie to come in and learn.”
As for the specifics Dineen needs to strengthen ...
“I think I need to use my hands better,” he said. “And then just continue to work on coverage drops and man drops and stuff like that. And then, obviously, make an impact on special teams.”
What adds to the intrigue surrounding Dineen isn’t just that’s he an undrafted rookie and whether he can become the latest success story for the franchise. It’s where he played college football and how similar his story is to Chris Harris Jr. That’s not to say Dineen will become Harris, but that connection makes it a skosh more fun.
“Being from Kansas, that’s what everyone who plays football there wants to be,” Dineen said. “Especially me being an undrafted guy, it’s really cool. Hopefully I can try and follow in his footsteps. And he’s actually really great to the rooks. He’s a leader. He’s always willing to lend a helping hand. He’s a great guy.”
What is also fun to contemplate is what Dineen will look like when the preseason games begin. That’s when he can shine and it’s way more conducive to how he plays. Dineen is a tackling machine, and whether he’s on defense or special teams, he’s a player to watch.
“I try to mimic (the games) out here, and I got in trouble a few times (Saturday) because out here you can’t bring them down. And I brought them a few times,” Dineen said with a chuckle. “I got to learn to practice better, but I’m fired up to get to the games, fly around and make some tackles.”
Dineen knows he’s in for a helluva grind, but “The Mayor” is ready to do what he does best and tackle it.