Broncos’ Larsen adapting to 2 new systems
AP Sports Writer
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” Spencer “Leatherhead” Larsen is easily the busiest player at Dove Valley.
The only player in Denver Broncos history to start on both sides of the ball, the second-year pro is splitting his time at linebacker and fullback while learning the new offensive and defensive systems being installed under new coach Josh McDaniels.
“I’ve got a lot of information on my plate right now,” Larsen said Tuesday during the team’s passing camp. “As you can imagine, two new systems, offense and defense and I’m just plugging away, trying to get a grasp on both of them.”
On offense, he’s adapting to the tweaks in the Broncos’ famed zone blocking scheme.
Instead of the 4-3 defense, where Larsen played middle linebacker, he’s adjusting to the 3-4, learning both inside and both outside spots.
“You learn all of them and wherever they put you, they put you,” Larsen said.
Does he prefer weakside or strongside on the interior?
“Either, or,” Larsen said in keeping with the theme of his versatility.
And during his “down” time, he’s playing on all four special team units.
So, he’s buried in the offensive, defensive and special teams playbooks at home. He splits his classroom and on-the-field time between linebackers coach Don Martindale and running backs coach Bobby Turner, then hustles over to listen to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Which position is easier for him?
As expected, he’s torn.
“Defense for me is a little more natural, just because I’ve been playing it all my life and in college, so I can relate,” said Larsen, a sixth-round selection out of Arizona last season. “On offense, it’s almost better, too, because I come in and it’s clean, I don’t have anything to relate it to, so I memorize it and go ahead.”
Larsen said he doesn’t necessarily get more tired than his teammates.
“No, it’s the same. I don’t get any more or any less reps than anyone else,” he said.
It’s just that he’s all over the field.
“I feel like I’m a rookie again with the new system,” Larsen said.
Or systems, actually.
Back in the infancy of the NFL, it wasn’t uncommon for players to go both ways. But now in the age of specialization and the league’s transformation into such a big business, it’s quite the oddity.
Still, he’s not on the field all the time. There’s base defenses, nickel and dime packages. On offense, there’s one- and two-back sets.
Larsen made a name for himself last year when he became just the fourth player in the NFL since 1990 to start on both sides of the ball. He took seven snaps at fullback, 55 at middle linebacker and eight more on special teams in a 24-20 win over Atlanta in Week 10.
But he didn’t know what to expect when Mike Shanahan was fired after the season. Would he move back to linebacker? Would he become a full-time fullback? Would he even stick around?
Soon, McDaniels told him he’d continue splitting his time on offense and defense.
“It went well last year and I was excited … that he was able to look at last year and decide to keep me on,” Larsen said. “So, whatever they have me do, I’m excited about it and I’ll do my best with it.”
Larsen, who played quarterback and linebacker in high school but only linebacker in college, said he never feels like he’s spreading himself too thin.
“No, I really don’t, because the coaches, they look and see what you can handle and what you can’t, they cut it back. They know how much a player can take,” Larsen said. “I haven’t felt like I’ve gotten spread out.”