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The ‘Albino Rhino’ says Broncos players should ‘get in that playbook’

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In this unprecedented time of Covid-19, the former linebacker says knowing the playbook is the best thing players can do right now.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Karl Mecklenburg joined Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright on Broncos Country Tonight Tuesday and though he played in a completely different era of pro football, his advice for pro players in this unprecedented time of Covid-19 was still gold.

Basically he wants the kids to study.

“Anybody in the NFL has watched a lot of film and has learned how to get things off the screen,” he pointed out, noting that players spend more time in a meeting room than on a practice field in pro football and the biggest difference between college and pro ball is the mental game. “There are lots of guys who are big enough, fast enough, strong enough. The guys who make it are the ones who understand their assignments and do it. It doesn’t matter how big or fast or strong you are. If you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t have a chance.”

And even though new guys to the team are having to learn a playbook without the face-to-face with teammates and coaches, the Albino Rhino points out that it’s not a question of whether they want it to be this way, it just is this way.

“So they need to be able to learn in this way,” he added. “It’s not a question of choice. This is how it’s happening.”

In Mecklenburg’s 12 years with the Broncos, Denver only had two losing seasons, and he’d love to see the team get back to those championship standards.

On defense, Mecklenburg sees great potential for this.

“I love Alexander Johnson,” he said. “I love his ability to find a crease and make a tackle in the backfield and do all the things he was able to do last season.”

Although he worries a little about the loss of leadership with the exit of Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr., Mecklenburg is excited about how menacing the defense can be.

“They’ll have an unbelievable pass rush with [Jurell Casey] and Von and Bradley Chubb,” he added. “I think it’ll be an unbelievable defense.”

Edwards pointed out that the offense is “chock full of youth” and asked the former pro how a young offense can come together.

“It’s going to be interesting. The veteran leadership isn’t there, but I think they’ve got leaders,” he said. “Drew Lock strikes me as a leader. And Dalton Risner is going to be a leader on that team for a long time.”

Whether a team has young leaders or veteran leaders doesn’t matter, but those players will be even more important this season, Mecklenburg notes.

“Leadership to me is connecting with your teammates. It’s being clear and consistent in understanding the cornerstones of the organization, which has been winning championships and serving the community,” he said. “And it’s being clear and consistent with the team passion, which is preparing to win each game.”

Although this is more challenging in this strange offseason environment, Mecklenburg sees some positives - especially since a lot of success in the NFL comes in off-field preparation.

In fact, just this past week on Twitter he noted how a big sack he got came mostly from film prep during the prior week:

Recalling his years in the NFL, in which he had 12 football surgeries and missed training camp his last two years in the league, Mecklenburg used his time off the field to know the playbook and be a leader in the locker room.

“There was nothing I could do while everybody else was out practicing and getting ready. I took the approach that I’ll do what I can do and be great at that,” he said. “Hopefully Broncos players are doing that. Getting that playbook down cold so they know it and can put that knowledge to use.”

That time as an injured player gave Mecklenburg some perspective on the whole team, using it to build relationships with all the players, not just the vets he knew best or just the guys on defense. And he sees some parallels now - despite the obviously more challenging scenario with Zoom™ meetings.

“As an injured player, I tried to be a leader in the locker room and be a leader for everybody. Young guys tend to hang out with young guys; old guys hang out with old guys; offense hangs out with offense; black guys hang out with black guys; white guys hang out with white guys,” he acknowledged. “There wasn’t any reason, just that it was convenient. And I tried to cross those lines and be a bridge for all these groups. Be a leader for everybody. ...So hopefully instead of worrying about what they can’t do, these players are thinking about what they can do.”