ENGLEWOOD ó The moment the football left Bradlee Van Peltís hand, he knew it was short.
The Denver Broncosí backup quarterback knew he didnít lead tight end Wesley Duke enough on a deep route and Duke had to slow down to catch the football.
Van Pelt slapped his hands together in disgust, and motioned Duke back to the line of scrimmage.
ďLetís try that again,Ē Van Pelt said.
Bending down on one knee, Duke shook his head no. He was too exhausted.
ďI canít run anymore,Ē Duke said. ďIím going to go in.Ē
Van Pelt looked around for another receiver. However, being
that practice had ended 25 minutes prior, there was none in sight. So Van Pelt worked on his footwork a little bit, asked a ball
boy to run some routes and then trotted off the field.
Truth is, Van Pelt would stay out there all day if you let him. Thatís what anxiety will do for you.
Since being anointed as quarterback Jake Plummerís backup, Van Pelt has doubled his work rate, which is quite remarkable being that it was already at a high level.
ďThatís Bradlee,Ē former Colorado State teammate and current Denver fullback Cecil Sapp said. ďHe always feels like he can do more.Ē
Fear drives him. Heís not sure heís ready to be a backup in this league. Thereís still so much to learn, and so little time. Heíll receive a baptism by fire Friday as he takes a majority of the snaps against Arizona.
ďIíll be nervous for a little while,Ē said Van Pelt, who threw for 6,165 yards and 37 touchdowns in 38 games for the Rams. ďItís a fact of life; I have to accept it and realize itís something Iíve got to work through. Iím not totally comfortable out there yet.Ē
The Broncos have faith in him. Thatís why they cut Plummerís longtime understudy Danny Kanell earlier this week. Van Pelt felt bad that his break came at a friendís expense.
ďYou feel sorry, but you canít get too caught up in that because for me itís an opportunity that I have to take and run with,Ē Van Pelt said. ďIíve got to make the most of this.Ē
Van Pelt is Van Peltís toughest critic. Every little mistake he makes eats at him. When he sees imperfections as he watches game film with coaches and fellow quarterbacks, heíll grimace.
ďItís hard to watch film because itís like, ĎIím better than that. Whatís limiting me?í" Van Pelt said.
Thatís a rhetorical question because he knows the answer ó himself. Thereís a learning curve in the quarterback business, and there are no shortcuts.
ďI have patience and I am being patient, but itís hard,Ē Van Pelt said. ďI just want to go out there and be the best I can be.Ē
Being the best he can be wonít be easy to attain for Van Pelt. Heís got high expectations in himself. After all three preseason games, Van Pelt was asked to critique himself. He kept giving himself lower and lower grades.
ďYou have to be hard on yourself,Ē Van Pelt said. ďIf you accept mediocrity then youíre not going to keep climbing in this league. My role and my dreams were never to come to this team and just accept being average. I want to be something special.Ē
There are times when heís been something special. Like his 40-yard run against Houston? That was special. And it wasnít out of the ordinary, either. Van Pelt rushed for 2,274 yards at CSU, which is 19th all-time among NCAA Division I quarterbacks. During his junior year Van Pelt rushed for a career-high 154 yards against Fresno State.
However, Van Peltís legs wonít carry him in the NFL. Just ask Atlantaís Michael Vick. The Falcons love his ability to make things happen with his legs, but want him to improve his accuracy through the air. And Vickís a Pro Bowler.
So Van Pelt knows he has work to do. Thatís why Van Peltís always the last player to leave the practice field. Thatís why heís always recruiting receivers to run routes for him. The only way to improve is through old-fashioned hard work, and Van Pelt has never shied away from a little sweat.
ďThatís just me,Ē Van Pelt said. ďThatís why Iím here. Iím still playing quarterback because Iíve never accepted being just all right.Ē
There have been times when heís looked merely all right this preseason. Heís struggled on reads, completed only 48.8 percent of his passes (20 of 41) and has been sacked six times. He has just one touchdown throw ó to tight end Jeb Putzier ó to show for all his work.
ďThere are a lot of things I need to prove to myself,Ē Van Pelt said.
Namely, that heís qualified for the backup quarterback role. Then again, heís made a living out of proving people wrong. No one thought he could be a quarterback. Thatís why he ultimately left Michigan State for CSU; the Spartans thought heíd make a better linebacker.
ďIím really not about proving other people wrong,Ē Van Pelt said. ďI couldnít care less what other people believe I should be or could be.Ē
What drives Van Pelt crazy are misreads. Heíll watch film and see mistakes so glaring that he wonders how he couldíve made that mistake.
ďIím trying to find the rhythm of being a quarterback,Ē Van Pelt said. ďThatís when youíre out there and your footwork is perfect and everything is just flowing. Thatís what I want to see. I donít want to complete a pass; I want to make sure I throw the best ball I can to a receiver.Ē
Van Pelt will tell you heís playing average right now. Heíll say he has a lot of work left to do. But Sapp doesnít see it that way. In Sappís estimation, Van Peltís a shell of his CSU days.
ďOh man, heís playing so much better,Ē Sapp said. ďHeís making better decisions now, and heís doing everything the coaches want him to do. Thatís making him a better quarterback.Ē
So is staying after practice. Now if he can only find willing participants. On Wednesday, he recruited third-string quarterback Matt Mauck to play receiver. Van Pelt threw a 20-yard dart to Mauck that slipped through Mauckís hands.
Van Pelt clapped his hands in frustration with himself. The pass was a little off, and thatís not going to cut it for him.
ďLetís run it again,Ē Van Pelt said.