ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Domata Peko has played in 187 games in an NFL career that is now in its 13th season.
And he has often said, with a laugh, that he doesn't learn a rookie's name "until they make the team. I appreciate them and how hard they work, but until they make the team I just call them by their number or something."
Two weeks into the Denver Broncos' season, Peko knows a lot of rookie names -- and nicknames -- and some "thank yous" are in order.
The Broncos' youth movement was on full display during Sunday's 20-19 win over the Oakland Raiders, as it was in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Ten rookies made the Broncos' 53-man roster, and coach Vance Joseph promised it was because the team had plans for them.
That total included eight of the team's 10 draft picks from this past April to go with undrafted rookies Lindsay and linebacker Alexander Johnson. Also in the youthful mix is wide receiver Tim Patrick, who spent two stints on the Broncos' practice squad in 2017 -- his rookie season.
It's a group that has quickly won over teammates with a no-nonsense approach and an attention to details. It's a noticeable departure from the previous two draft classes that had a selection of players who were often criticized by teammates for lacking in those areas. Some of the team's veteran players had gone as far as to use the word "entitled." Broncos linebacker Von Miller, a team captain, indicated how much differently this group of younger players is viewed in the locker room after Sunday's win when he was asked about the team's leadership.
"It's not really about the six or five captains that we have," Miller said. "Honestly, the rookies and the new guys that we have, they are playing lights out. They gave us a hell of a boost on offense and defense. If we look at some of the things that Phillip Lindsay did for us today, and Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton, all those guys, they weren't here last year. So we did a great job of going and getting playmakers and big-time guys that help lift everybody around them. That makes a captain and a leader's job a whole lot easier having guys like that."
Lindsay, a graduate of Denver South High School, rushed for 107 yards Sunday, including a 53-yard run in the second quarter. With his 102 yards from scrimmage in the team's opening-week win over the Seahawks, Lindsay is now the first undrafted player in the league's history to top 100 yards from scrimmage in his first two games.
Lindsay was the Broncos' back of choice during a 10-point fourth quarter. Patrick also had a 26-yard catch-and-run to put the Broncos in field-goal position to win Sunday's game.
"I am here to be our spark player," Lindsay said. "I am here to make sure that I get my teammates going, whether it is on a punt, if it is on a kickoff or kickoff return, anything. I am going to do what I have to to get our team moving. ... I can't thank Mr. [John] Elway enough for letting me be a part of this."
Freeman also had his first rushing touchdown of the season Sunday, which closed out the Broncos' first scoring drive of the game.
Sutton came within two replay reviews of two of the biggest plays of the game. He had a 42-yard completion overturned early in the third quarter when replay showed he didn't maintain possession and he had a 21-yard touchdown erased when officials said his foot had touched out of bounds before he landed in the end zone. The plays were indicative of just how much quarterback Case Keenum is looking for the rookie because as he said, "I trust him."
In all, seven of the Broncos' rookies were in uniform and played in Sunday's win, in addition to Patrick. And that's not going to change in the weeks ahead as coach Vance Joseph said those players have earned every minute of that time.
"Those guys are qualified, we've got a lot of young guys playing, but they've shown us in the last two weeks that it's not too big for them," Joseph said. "They're just doing their jobs. They're good players, they're good athletes and they're tough guys. ... They're all qualified."