Prior to his 2010 season with the Broncos – his 8th in the NFL – Brandon Lloyd’s best year topped off at 733 receiving yards with the 49ers. That was back in 2005. Since then, he’s been passed around to a number of teams, been released, and had some issues with the coaching staff in Washington. Many, if not most, had written him off. His career was done, right?
The Broncos traded Brandon Marshall to the Dolphins before the 2010 NFL draft and Demaryius Thomas was both selected and injured soon after. That left Lloyd with the opportunity to start at wide receiver for the entire season, which hadn’t happened since his ’03 through ’05 years in San Francisco. This past season was also the first time where the coaching staff, quarterback, and everyone on the team showed confidence in him. The confidence led to a monster season for Lloyd as the league leader in receiving yards and the year was capped with his first career Pro Bowl appearance.
The haters are still prominent this offseason. Many claim he’ll struggle with the new coaching staff and, potentially, a full season with Tim Tebow under center. I spent some time with Brandon talking about his career, his 2010 season, as well as Tim Tebow, and the 2011 Broncos.
Steve Wyremski (SW): What’s going on? How’s the offseason treating you after the big 2010 season in Denver?
Brandon Lloyd (BL): Pretty good. I just got back from doing the [NFL Network] Top 100 thing in LA, so I just got back to Denver. [The] offseason’s been really cool. I’ve been working for this steel company in Denver called Re-steel.
SW: Really? What are you doing with that? Is that just because of the lockout?
BL: Yeah, well, it kind of started out as a joke. The CEO of the company, Rob Melvin, was telling me, “Since you’re going to be unemployed, you should come work for me.” [Laughs]. I was like, “Oh, alright. I’ll do it.” So, I’ve been doing that since February. I’ve been in sales. We do specialty metals. We supply that to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and all the companies in the aerospace sector that are building composite airplanes. We are the company that orchestrates that.
SW: That’s definitely not the typical thing I hear in talking to some of the other players. Growing up in Kansas City were you a Chiefs fan as a kid?
BL: You know, I was just talking about that with the guys last week in Jacksonville (Tebow and Gaffney). They’re just huge fans of Florida football, huge fans of the Chicago Bulls, and they were like, “you weren’t a fan of the Kansas City Royals or the Kansas City Chiefs?” I was like, “No. I just liked players.” I was the biggest Deion Sanders’ fan you ever met. I loved Randall Cunningham [too]. [I was] just all over the board.
I’d be the kid that had a Kansas City jacket and wearing an Atlanta Falcons hat just because I liked Nick Lowery of the Chiefs and Deion Sanders from the Falcons. I was that crazy kid.
SW: Being from out there, do you catch any heat from friends back home playing for the Broncos?
BL: Yes. They say, “we don’t like cheering for the Donkey’s, but since you’re on the team… we will”.
SW: [Explains Pro Football Focus and the recent article our Nathan Jahnke wrote about Brandon, highlighting that more difficult catches between defenders would receive a higher grade, etc.] In 2010, we ranked you as our #1 WR in the NFL with a score of +24.1. You were ranked over 10 points from the closest WR (Andre Johnson was around +14). How do you feel about that?
BL: Wow. I mean … I think that’s incredible. That’s always been my style of play because I’ve always had the attitude that every ball is catchable. I got for it. I will dive with one hand. I will dive with two hands, jump over somebody, and would do anything to catch the ball. I have the attitude that I’d rather just catch the ball wherever I am than to not catch it and attempt to try to get yards after the catch. I just want to catch the ball. [It] don’t matter where it’s at.
I’ve pleaded my entire career for a signal caller and a quarterback to just give me the opportunity to show my athletic ability and show that I have the ability to jump over people, dive or run past people. I finally go that opportunity in Denver, so I think it’s really cool.
What you guys are doing is something that the general public doesn’t see. They follow the popular players and what you guys do is take it a step beyond and actually factor in the skill level of the positions. I think that’s really awesome. For me, I feel like I’ve always played that way and for me to now have the spotlight on a season I performed really well in, I feel it’s cool to have people take it a step further and show the actual skill that I possess and that I’m proud off.
SW: You talk about the acrobatic catches you make. You’re known for that and you rarely drop the ball. Can you take me through one specific play, whether it be that play against the Chiefs or some other play, and describe how you actually a catch like that?
BL: My nickname in little league sports was “Hot Dog”. I would always make things more difficult than they needed to be because it wasn’t enough. The competition wasn’t enough for me. I’d let the ball go a little further and I’d dive and catch it. In baseball, I’d let the ball ride a little bit, then I’d run, chase it down, dive, roll, and jump up and throw the ball to the infield. My imagination was always in control of my physical being.
I felt like I was able to hone in my imagination on the football field and that’s where I get that mentality that every ball is catchable. I think I can do it. Why? Because I visualize it so much. I think about catching balls behind my back. I visualize jumping over guys and catching the ball as the ball’s coming down with the point aiming at me and I reach up and catch the ball on its sides like I did in the Houston game. I think about that stuff all the time. I don’t just think about it at the facility. I think about it at night when I sleep. I dream about football… I dream about plays, running routes, running the perfect route, stemming in and pushing vertical, getting to the top of the route, faking inside and breaking outside, and different variations to routes. My imagination is the key to making those plays.
SW: Last season you led the NFL in receiving yards with over 1,400 yards. In your previous seven seasons, your highest yardage mark was with the 49ers back in ’05 with a little over 700 yards. You doubled that production in 2010. What happened this past year?
BL: It was having Josh McDaniels believe in my athletic ability. He told me when I signed with Denver that he wanted me when he was in New England. He actually ran my pro day at the University of Illinois and he wanted to draft me then, but they didn’t do it. He had been following me my entire career and he said to me, “if you play anywhere remotely close to the way you played your last year in San Francisco, you’ll be a star this year.” The remarkable thing about the last football season to me is that nobody came out and said, “Brandon Lloyd is the go-to guy. He’s our Andre Johnson. He’s our Larry Fitzgerald. He’s our #1 WR.” Nobody ever came out and said that. The other factor is Kyle Orton chose to throw me the ball. Out of all the receivers our there, he chose to throw me the ball. He believed I was going to make the plays for him. He trusted that I was going to get open and be open week in and week out.
Those two things [don’t] take away from the fact that I was damn prepared for that season. I prepared for this season like I prepared for every other season. I worked out, I was in shape, I was at the chiropractor, [and] my trainer was up from Arizona. Any time I had a nick, a bruise, a pull, or a strain, [my trainer] was up here in Denver putting me back together.
All that stuff together gave me a whole new level of confidence going into this season. It just felt special. It was an incredible ride.
SW: As you mentioned, Josh McDaniels was a big part of your success. He’s obviously considered a great offensive minded coach. You look towards 2011 and John Fox enters the picture and on the flipside, he’s known as more of a defensive minded coach who likes to pound the football on the ground. Does that concern you at all with the potential change in philosophy after having a season like you did?
BL: Not at all. It probably should, but anybody that knows me knows that I don’t care. I don’t know how many passes Denver threw my way, but they threw over 100 balls my way and I was able to catch 77 of them. Great. If they threw less, I’d try to catch them. I’m not some bitter old jaded football player who says, “Oh, I shoulda five years ago or six years ago.” No. I was prepared every year to catch the passes that were thrown my way and I did the best I could. I’m going to continue to do it.
I think a healthy run game is going to breed a healthy pass game. We have a full gamut of wide receivers. That was another reason that I felt I was able to break out. There was no way you were going to double team me and leave Jabar Gaffney or Eddie Royal going. We complement each other. There was a point where we all had over 50 catches. I was just the one that caught deeper passes. That was just my game. So, a healthy run game … man.
Beefing up the defense … that excites me. That doesn’t make me upset that I’m not going to be as individually successful. I’d rather win 10 games, catch 50 passes, and have a shot in the playoffs to make some meaningful catches. That’s awesome. I’ve never really gotten-off on individual success. I think it’s great that I have a forum to express and show that all professional athletes are egotistical self-absorbed, a**holes.
SW: [Further discusses Nathan Jahnke’s article on Lloyd’s 2010 breakout season.] What’d you think of it?
BL: He’s correct. I got the respect where it matters and that’s being voted All-Pro, being voted to the Pro Bowl, and being #58 in the NFL Network Top 100 players in the 2010 season. That’s what matters.
Over the course of the season about 5 or 6 games in when guys were like, “Right on. Good for you. You’ve been good your whole career and you’re finally getting the opportunity. Good for you.” These are defensive players. That’s what made the season so righteous for me, not the fact that I get more publicity, more articles, more opportunities, or radio shows. It’s the fact that my peers, coaches, [and particularly] defensive coordinators would seek me out after the game. When I was a rookie, I said that I want to play for the admiration of my peers. That’s the quest I’ve been on.
Being an All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl? Man, I think I’m still on cloud nine from that.
SW: As I mentioned, in your first seven seasons you didn’t eclipse the 750 yard mark. In your first five games of the 2010 season, you almost reached that mark with four games over 100 yards and over 600 yards total. You then went on to have two more games over 100 yards. It seems like teams may have changed the way they planned and covered you after the first five games of the year. Is that true?
BL: No, it was the way they were approaching our offense. We weren’t successful with the run game and we were getting really predictable with our formations and calls. They caught on. We used to be able to get them in formations where they were in a zone with a single high safety and we could have our way across the board and throw to whoever we wanted. We started getting more two-man sets where the corners are man on the outside and have safety help over the top. They’re saying … throw inside and see what you can get.
SW: In your Week 13 game against Kansas City, you caught two passes of the 12 thrown your way. KC has some very good young corners in Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. What enabled them to seemingly shut you down? Was it that two-man cover?
BL: Yeah, it was a two-man. There’s no way they could cover man-to-man all game. No way. There was a lot of help over the top [with Eric Berry]. They even tried to do that in the game in Denver, but I was catching’em over two guys. It was scheme. Obviously, they’re good players, but we were out coached that game.
SW: Going through a game like that… does that frustrate you?
BL: Yes. It’s more frustrating because going into that game, as players, we talked about that and that it was going to happen. We didn’t make the adjustments during the week as a coaching staff. That was more of the frustrating thing because now we’re in the game talking “I told you so”. We knew they were going to do [it], but we were handcuffed with the menu of plays that we had. We didn’t have any other options. There could have been more options if we would have practiced them all week [and] I feel we would have been effective, but we didn’t have them available to dial up.
SW: I know you’ve gotten a ton of questions on Tebow versus Orton, so I’m not going to ask that. If we look at the three games that Tebow started (Weeks 15-17), you didn’t have one game with less than 70 yards and you put up over 250 yards and two TDs. That’s a pretty solid three weeks. Was there any adjusting in catching balls from Orton and shifting over to Tebow?
BL: It’s always difficult playing with a rookie quarterback. That’s what I was alluding to on the NFL Network. It’s not just the quarterback trusting everybody else and the quarterback is king and everybody else is replaceable. As receivers, we have to trust the quarterback and that he’s not going to lead us into blow-up shots [or] hang us up over the middle. That’s the thing you don’t know if a rookie is going to do to you. (Let me speak for myself) That’s the last thing I don’t want to do … to have my professionalism put in question because of a [crappy] throw. That’s not fair. My value to the team is based on my availability for 16 games. If the quarterback wants to throw these crappy passes and get players hurt, then that’s the quarterback’s fault.
It’s always tough with a rookie quarterback because you don’t necessarily trust what they’re going to do. It’s building that relationship with that young quarterback and that he can be trusted throwing the ball.
SW: After playing with him for 3 games, can Tebow be trusted? As you know, there’s been a ton of questions about his ability to be a starter at this level. Can he be trusted and can he be successful?
BL: Yes. He can be trusted and he can be successful. The mechanics need to be dialed in more, [though]. The number one reason why I say that is because I’ve just never seen anybody with the will, determination, and desire to make one single play successful. The kid wants every play to work. A handoff, a pass play, a quarterback draw … anything, he just wants it to work. It’s awesome to see that kind of desire because you see in a lot of young guys, “Oh well … I hope this works.” That means you’re just going to chuck the ball up and hope something happens.
SW: He certainly has got to fire up a team. He’s got a fire in the pit of his stomach.
BL: Man. It’s intense. You saw it in that Raiders game. The botched handoff and he just rips right up the gut of the defense and just runs it for a 40 yards touchdown breaking tackles, cats bouncing off of ’em. We sit there (me and Jabar Gaffney) and he’s just looking and I’m looking at him with blank stares like “Did you just see that?” [Laughs]. “Did you see what I saw? [Laughs]. “Yeah, fool. As a matter of fact, I was out on the field watching it.”
SW: You’ve now played for 4 different teams in your 8-year NFL career. Moving from team to team and not consistently seeing starts or snaps and then being released, how did that impact your confidence and desire to continue playing the game before this past season?
BL: San Francisco was fine. When I left there, I felt like it was time for me to be rewarded with the large contract. It was time for me to be the player everybody knew I could be. You know that stage? Where I played my years and now I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be the guy that makes millions of dollars a year, goes to the Pro Bowls, kicks a** week in and week out. I’m ready. I’m experienced. I paid my dues.
Then I get to Washington and that was like … what? I’m not playing? You’re not even throwing me the ball? Oh, now you’re running? Oh, now you’re throwing to Cooley? [Laughs]. Oh … okay. So, I acted out because the money was always being thrown in my face from Joe Gibbs, “We paid you all this money. You should be happy.” I get it, I should be happy, but not because of money. I should be happy because I’m getting an opportunity to play. That situation was discouraging because then I found myself [without] the confidence. I didn’t have that same swagger I had when I was in San Francisco. Then I found myself really scrambling to be a player.
If I would have shown up to Washington, not been thrown the ball, not been played, and given millions of dollars, then I’m stealing money. It’s a double-edged sword. [They’d say,] “oh that fool’s just chillin’. He’s shuttin’ it down on the team. He ain’t saying nothing. He ain’t playing.”
I took a more proactive approach and confronted Gibbs about my lack of playing time and involvement in the offense and now I’m the a**hole. I’m greedy. I’m a cancer on the team. That was fine to me. Why? It’s because I’m in control of my career. If my career ended in Washington, I said what I had on my mind. I spoke my mind. I slept good at night in Washington knowing that every time I walked in that room and I had a beef with that receiver coach, I said it. I slept good there. They didn’t like me, but I slept really good. They did they’re best to not have me play again in this league.
SW: You got the last laugh here, though, right?
BL: I mean, I’m not calling it the last laugh. This is what I meant with the “F** you” going to the Pro Bowl. I gave these people everything I had. Every team I played for. 110% of me. Everything. Every other team could have had this and they chose not to. I’m an artist. I’m sensitive about the product that I put out on the field because that’s what defines me as a player. This is what I’m passionate about. For someone to tell me I’m not playing hard enough? Or, I’m not good enough? F*** you.
SW: I think it’s great you spoke your mind out in Washington when things weren’t going as you expected and you bounce right back, come to Denver, and continue to do what you do and blow up. It’s great.
BL: Thanks. Just having fun, man. You know, I had fun in Washington. I had a lot of fun with those players. I didn’t have as much fun as I would have if I would have been more active on the football field.
The game has never turned into a job for me. It hasn’t yet. [If] you [were to] talk to other players, they’d say [I’m] a riot. I’ll do anything for a laugh in that locker room to keep it light. It should be fun. I hate it when guys walk around the locker room with a mean mug. Maybe because I’ve been blessed with the health to be around this long, but every day to be in there is a gift. The closer I get to the end, I really realize how much I’ve taken for granted being in this league. I’m not doing that anymore. I’m enjoying every step for the last three, four, five years I have.
SW: There are people, whether it be the media or fans who say you’re not likely to repeat last season because the QB situation, coaching situation, or it’s a one-year thing and you were in the right place at the right time. What do you say to those people?
BL: I agree. I get paid to be on the Denver Broncos. Whatever Coach Fox says, I’m going to do my best to make it work. If it means he’s going to throw me 146 more passes, I’m going to try and catch 80. Try to do better [than last year]. They throw me 77 passes, I’m going to try and do my best to catch a majority of those. I’m not going to sit here and predict what’s going to happen next year. What I’m going to do is be prepared, be ready, know the playbook, be available, [and] be as healthy as possible to do the best I can in the next football season.
Can I do it? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I try? Damn right I will.
SW: In your mind, what do the Broncos as a team need to do in order to improve on last year and get back to the playoffs?
BL: We need to stop the run and run the ball more effectively.
SW: Do you think you guys have the pieces in place to do that going into next year with the new coach coming in and the focus on that?
BL: Not yet. Not on the defensive front. We’re [also] going to need more bodies in the backfield, more effective proven runners to complement Knowshon [Moreno], and more effective blockers to complement Knowshon’s game. I think our offensive line is awesome. Taking the pressure off of them knowing that we’re going to throw the ball a lot will make them even better. I think it’s simple: stop the run and run the ball.
Talk about passion. Brandon Lloyd certainly has it. The funny thing is that he got a bad rap in Washington for his attitude, but he only wants to see snaps on the field and contribute to help the team win. You can’t fault a guy for that.
It’ll be very interesting to see how John Fox comes in and changes the Broncos’ offseason, particularly the offensive scheme. It most definitely will impact everyone involved in the Denver passing game.
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