Yarbrough credits camp with Broncos for helping to make him good enough to join Bills - The Buffalo News

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Yarbrough credits camp with Broncos for helping to make him good enough to join Bills

Eddie Yarbrough keeps a journal. He has done so since he was a sophomore in high school.

"I'm on my fifth one," the Buffalo Bills' defensive end says.

The entries include life-changing moments, such as when Yarbrough and his family moved out of their cramped trailer in Pine Bluff, Ark., to Aurora, Colo. And when his standout high school career earned him a football scholarship at the University of Wyoming.

Then, there's the one Yarbrough made after Sept. 2, 2017, when he officially learned he had achieved a lifelong dream of securing a spot on an NFL roster with the Bills.

Those are the positive moments, the happiest times.

But there are others, the ones that have helped drive him to this point. One, in particular, goes back to early September 2016. That was the day after Yarbrough learned he had been among the final cuts of the Denver Broncos.

"I wrote, 'I'm not done!' " Yarbrough recalls.

Not even close.

Yarbrough hasn’t simply found employment as a backup with the Bills. He has proven he belongs in the NFL. He has been an integral part of the team's dominant defense through two games, generating his first career sack among the six the Bills had in last Sunday's 9-3 loss against the Carolina Panthers.

This isn't any surprise to him. In fact, when he arrived in Denver a year ago as an undrafted free agent, with the Broncos preparing to defend their Super Bowl championship, Yarbrough was fully convinced he was going to make a team that had two of the league's best pass-rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

"I always feel like I can defy the odds," Yarbrough says. "So, going into it, even though I saw I had pretty much two confirmed Hall-of-Famers at my position, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, I was like, 'Hey, I can play. I can play with these guys.' And just go and try to be a sponge and absorb as much as I possibly can from them and also elevate my game to earn a roster spot and position on that team."

He made fast friends with the rest of his rookie class – guys like nose tackle Kyle Peko, defensive end Adam Gotsis, safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, "and the tall, lanky quarterback (6-foot-6 Paxton Lynch, the Broncos' first-round pick)."

They commiserated and kibitzed. Through all of the exhilaration, exhaustion and anxiety, all of the long hours in the classroom, the weight room, and the practice field, they stuck together. They formed a band of brothers that remains strong to this day.

"It's kind of a special time in all of our lives," Yarbrough says. "All of us were fresh out of college, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed. It was a special, kind of close-knit group, that all of us got along with each other."

In June of 2016, the Broncos held their rookie symposium at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The daily schedule is intentionally grueling and tedious, so players can get used to what it's like to be a part of the NFL training camp routine that includes meetings from early in the morning until late at night.

One night after meetings, instead of going back to their dorms, Yarbrough and the rest of the rookies decided to blow off some steam with an "old, makeshift basketball hoop" in front of the dorm buildings.

"One of us ran to Walmart to get a ball, and it was a H-O-R-S-E tournament that you would not believe," Yarbrough says. "This was like the Super Bowl of the game of H-O-R-S-E, everyone taking it serious. And I was just laughing. Some guys were good, some guys were terrible, but it was all in good fun."

How did Yarbrough do?

"I made top five," he says. "I won't say where I was in that top five, but I made top five."

With a solid performance in the Broncos' final preseason game of '16 against the Arizona Cardinals, Yarbrough also thought he ranked high enough among all of the players on the team to be safe. After the Broncos returned late from Phoenix, he spent the next day at the hotel housing all of the rookies.

Each room's phone served only one purpose: if it rang, it meant you were history.

"Our hotel walls are so thin, I'm hearing ring-ring-ring, ring-ring-ring (from other rooms)," Yarbrough recalls. "I'm liking it, because as it's getting closer to the afternoon, I'm like, 'For the most part, it has to be done now.' So I'm sitting in bed with my journal, just trying to read, pray, talk to my family, stay calm."

However, the next ring he heard was from the phone in his room.

"I was like, 'Hey, you got the wrong number?' " Yarbrough says. "And he said, 'No, Eddie. We're going to need you to come and bring your playbook.' I said, 'OK, here I come.' "

Yarbrough harbors no ill feelings toward the Broncos. He's appreciative they gave him an opportunity, which in no small part was helped by the fact that his uncle, former Bills cornerback Ray Jackson, is their director of player development.

He also benefitted greatly from the instruction he received from coaches, such as former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (now with the Los Angeles Rams) and veteran teammates such as Miller and Ware (who retired after last season).

"Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but I definitely still feel I got better going through that camp," Yarbrough says. "Von would always say, 'Get off (the snap quickly)! Get off! Get off!' And he would tell me about keys. Like the outside knee (of the tackle on his side) that he would sometimes see as a telltale.

"And, also, he would tell us about just being a student of the game. A lot of people will say, 'I'm going to watch a whole bunch of film, watch a whole bunch of film, but watching film for what? What are you looking at?' So one of the things Von would teach us is what to look for and how to actually dissect that film and how to break it down.

"And with D-Ware, he would also sit in and help us do that, but also look at the whole concept of the defense and offense and not just look at your position. He was like, 'Hey, Eddie, what is this D-tackle doing? And since you're in this coverage, what are you allowed to do? Can you take a little bit longer on your rush? Or do you have to be more concise?' Just little intricacies of the game like that, but in the long run make all the difference."

After the Broncos released Yarbrough, he began working out at Landow Performance in Centennial, Colo., before signing with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders, with whom he spent six weeks training but never appeared in a game.

Yarbrough spent the rest of his time working for a carpet-cleaning company. He was part of the crews that would go into businesses, usually restaurants, after closing. From midnight to 2 a.m., he would be removing the remnants of spills, splashes and dirty shoes.

"That's why I'm so respectful when it comes to people I see having to clean things, because I know," Yarbrough said. "Golden Corral … Noodles … QDOBA … Chipotle. You name it, and I probably cleaned it."

He realized the fruits of all of that football labor last April, when the Bills reached out with a contract offer that Yarbrough couldn't sign fast enough.

After a strong training camp and preseason, he proved that he, indeed, deserved a chance to play in the NFL.

On Sunday, Yarbrough gets to show the Broncos what they could have had.

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