ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The last time linebacker Keith Brooking got up close to John Elway, the Denver Broncos were celebrating their Super Bowl win over his Atlanta Falcons for their second straight title.
“That’s the first thing I mentioned to him,” Brooking said Monday after the 15th-year veteran signed with the Broncos. “I was like, `By the way, I haven’t forgotten `98.'”
The 36-year-old Brooking was a wide-eyed rookie back then. He’s been to five Pro Bowls since but hasn’t gotten back to the Super Bowl.
“So, that’s even more of a reason to continue to play and strive to get there,” Brooking said. “That’s what this is all about at this point. Not a lot of fond memories from that evening in Miami, for sure – or the night before.”
That’s when safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute, sending the Falcons for a loop just hours before the biggest game of their lives.
Elway led Denver to a 34-19 win in the last game of his Hall of Fame career. They won just one playoff game in the next dozen years before he returned in a front office role last year.
Brooking went on to play another decade in Atlanta before a three-year stint in Dallas.
He has played in all 16 regular-season games for 11 consecutive years, starting all of them in nine of those seasons. But he started just three games last year, when he was supplanted by Sean Lee.
Brooking recorded 34 tackles in 2011, his lowest total since 21 in his rookie season, but that didn’t scare off the Broncos.
“We had him in for a workout and thought he looked outstanding,” coach John Fox said.
“I’m excited, man,” Brooking said. “It’s obviously a great place to be. I think this team is set to make a run, and I’m very excited to be a small part of it.”
Brooking said he was lured to Denver by the chance to work alongside Fox, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and quarterback Peyton Manning, whom he called “arguably the best that’s ever played this game.”
Brooking said he would work at both weakside and strongside linebacker with the Broncos, which could spell trouble for second-year pros Nate Irving and Mike Mohamed as they fight for roster spots. Brooking also isn’t averse to making his mark on special teams: “I’m not too big for that, even though I’ve been in this league a long time.”
Brooking’s first action won’t come until Saturday, giving him a chance to really get acclimated.
“I haven’t been in the offseason program, so I’d be lying to you if I said that I was in game shape and ready to go,” he said. “But my legs feel good; they still have pop in them. … I had a lot of blows to the head and a few surgeries. I’m not what I was eight years ago, but relatively speaking, my body feels really good.”
Also on hand for the first time Monday was free agent safety Jim Leonhard, who signed Saturday but is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and hasn’t been cleared to suit up yet.
The Broncos needed a reinforcement after second-year starter Quinton Carter required arthroscopic surgery after injuring his right knee and hamstring in a nasty fall inside the team’s practice bubble on July 27.
Leonhard is a seven-year veteran who spent the past three seasons emerging as a fan favorite with the New York Jets, who didn’t sign him in the offseason after he underwent surgery in December to repair a tendon in his right knee.
The injury generally takes between eight and 10 months to heal, and Leonhard said he was eager to pass his physical.
“We’ll take our time and make sure I’m healthy,” Leonhard said. “That’s the only way I’m going to be able to help this team. And they’re going to be patient with me, and hopefully it’s sooner than later. I’m ready to get out there. I’ve been away for long enough and just can’t wait to get on the field.”
Leonhard played three seasons in Buffalo and one in Baltimore before becoming a three-year starter in New York, where he was noted for his hard-hitting style despite his under-sized 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame.
He also visited with the Bills over the weekend but said the Broncos were a better fit.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for me,” Leonhard said. “I like everything I’ve heard about the organization, and I think this team’s going to be really good.”
Notes: WR Demaryius Thomas left early with a sore Achilles tendon. “Nothing serious,” Fox stressed. … Also leaving practice early were TE Anthony Miller, WR Greg Orton and RT Ryan Harris, all with ankle ailments. … Caleb Hanie had his best day of camp so far just hours after being listed as the No. 2 quarterback, ahead of rising rookie Brock Osweiler. He will get second-string snaps against his old team, the Chicago Bears, on Thursday night. “I’m a little weary about playing against some of my buddies, but it’s all in good fun,” Hanie said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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