Outside the breaking in of a shiny new stadium and the relative laid-back atmosphere of a preseason game, young NFL wannabes worked hard to get a job.
One was Isaiah Burse, the Denver Broncos’ free-agent signee after his prolific career at Fresno State and Modesto Christian High School.
Burse, 22, fights long odds on making a Denver team that reached the Super Bowl last season. On Sunday, he squeezed into the game in the fourth quarter, dropped an off-target hitch pass from Craig Colquitt at the San Francisco 11-yard line and later maxed out an 8-yard punt return.
Burse took a cup-half-full approach experience after Denver’s 34-0 win.
“It’s rough. I can’t lie. I was happy with what I got. I was happy to play in front of family and friends in the NFL,” he said. “Everyone wants more time and to be established and be that guy. When you get out there, you really want to shine. But I’m not thinking about reps too much and just trying to enjoy the journey.”
Burse received a $12,500 signing bonus, the most of any Denver rookie free agent. It boded well for him, given the fact a free agent has made the Broncos’ 53-man roster each of the last 10 years. Better still, the Broncos sought a kickoff returner to replace the exciting but fumble-prone Trindon Holliday (now with the New York Giants).
So far, Burse’s reviews are mixed. He sped 31 yards with a kickoff return last week against Seattle but also logged a minus-3 on another return. He’s also struggled at times with muffing punts in camp.
For now, he’s listed at No. 3 at slot and kick returner on the Denver depth chart. On top are veterans – receiver-punt returner Wes Welker and receiver-kick returner Emmanuel Sanders.
A mild surprise with the Broncos this month is former Penn State receiver Jordan Norwood, who’s jumped ahead of Burse at kick returner and slot. Norwood has played in only 17 NFL games and did not see action in 2013 after he was cut by Cleveland and Tampa Bay. His stock rose, however, after he caught a 34-yard touchdown pass for Denver’s winning touchdown last week against the Seahawks.
Burse’s familiar long locks partially hid the No. 19 on his back as he tried to gain employment in what is often called the Not For Long League. A source close to the Broncos said the practice squad may be an option.
“I’m just glad we were on the good side of history,” he said in reference to the Broncos’ opening Levi’s Stadium with a dominant win.