ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall says his mind is clear and his body refreshed after a trying 2016 season in which he dealt with hamstring injuries and blowback for taking a knee during the national anthem.
“I’m feeling good,” Marshall said. “I worked hard this offseason. I strengthened my legs as a whole, tried to strengthen my core. So, I feel good, I feel quick, I feel agile.”
Marshall said his right foot finally feels normal “like it did in 2014,” before surgeries and screws and setbacks curtailed some of that athleticism that helped him garner a $32 million contract last summer.
“It’s been bothering me the last two years, but I did a lot of barefooted rehab,” which proved key, Marshall said.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he’s glad to see Marshall moving around so smoothly at minicamp this week because he will be a crucial component of Denver’s defense if the Broncos are to rebound from missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“We saw that last year we had a drop-off in (defending) the run. So, we need B-Marshall to have a big year for us, especially with these running backs the way they’re splitting them out wide as receivers,” Harris said. “So, he has a lot of responsibility, especially at his position. But we need him to play huge in order to stop these offenses.”
Marshall had a monster game against Cam Newton in last year’s opener but injuries caught up to him and he missed five starts, including the final four games with a pulled hamstring.
When his hamstring was healed this winter, he focused on his foot.
“The feet, that’s your wheel, basically. It starts from the bottom up, so once that goes, then you start compensating, then your hip hurts, then your knee hurts. And so I took care of that, I addressed it, I feel good,” Marshall said.
“I got a clear mind, a strong body, a flexible body. So, there should be no distractions this year.”
There were some distractions last year, when he joined former college teammate Colin Kaepernick in protesting social injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem.
That stance cost him two endorsements and led to derogatory comments on social media and a death threat in a letter sent to the Broncos facility, where a fan burned his jersey in the parking lot.
Marshall knelt for seven games then ended his protest after Denver police changed their use-of-force policy.
Watching Kaepernick go unsigned in free agency this offseason doesn’t make Marshall regret joining him in protest last year.
“Not at all. I think it kind of made it all worth it once I got my award from Harvard,” said Marshall, who received the 2017 Courage Award from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Alumni of Color for his stance against social injustice, his discussions with the Denver police about their use-of-force policy and his work in the community.
Marshall said he feels there’s a double standard in sports and particularly the NFL, where players are criticized for speaking out on political and social issues but owners get little backlash when they delve into politics.
A half dozen owners, for instance, donated at least $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration and Broncos boss John Elway penned a letter with the Broncos’ logo on his letterhead to the Senate in support of former Colorado Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.
“And then you know Kaepernick did a silent protest and he’s being black-balled,” Marshall said. “Some guys have done worse, DUIs, domestic violence and they still got opportunities. Kap didn’t break any laws.”
Marshall said his own loss of endorsements was a trade-off he could live with.
“I appreciate those companies for giving me the opportunity, but it’s OK. I know in the grand scheme of things I did what was right,” Marshall said. “I helped create some change in Denver.”
Now, he’s set on changing Denver’s football fortunes and getting the Broncos back to the playoffs.
The Broncos will add some talent in this week’s draft, but there have already been big changes on a defense that was Denver’s strength for the second straight season.
Former secondary coach Joe Woods replaced Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, DeMarcus Ware retired and Elway added run-stuffers Domata Peko and Zach Kerr in free agency.
“We’ve still got the same group, minus D-Ware,” Marshall said. “So, I guess we need an extra leader to stand up. But we’ve still got the same core, the same core principles we’ve had the last two years. We will miss Wade. But I don’t think we’ll miss a beat at all.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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