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Switching positions a gamble for Broncos with a roster spot on the line

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hundreds of names dotted the NFL's waiver wire this past weekend, sent on their way because of what Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio has referred to as "the sometimes difficult process of becoming a pro football player."

It's a process that isn't always forgiving for those who need a little more time, perhaps a little more imagination from those making the decisions and maybe just a little vocational luck. In fact, sometimes making the team requires a player to take a fairly large gamble and switch positions.

"We want the best team we can put together," Fangio said. "The best group, so maybe that includes a guy doing something different because maybe there is a chance he could be part of the group if he does it. And he has some traits you like, that you think will help him make the move."

The Broncos had two such players this offseason: Jamal Carter and Brendan Langley, and both showed why it is such a difficult proposition to learn on the job at the game's highest level. In the end, neither made the Broncos' initial 53-man roster after Carter had moved from safety to inside linebacker and Langley had moved from cornerback to wide receiver.

Langley, a third-round pick in what has been an ill-fated 2017 Broncos draft -- left tackle Garett Bolles is still the only starter among the eight players selected and with Langley's departure five of the picks are no longer with the team -- moved to wide receiver just as the Broncos started their offseason workouts.

He had been unable to get into the rotation at defensive back, playing only sparingly in 2017 and '18 as he bounced between the roster and practice squad. After the Broncos signed two defensive backs in free agency this past March -- Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan -- and Isaac Yiadom, a 2018 draft pick, passed him on depth chart, Langley and his 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash made the move to offense.

"Brendan is a guy that's got a trait -- he's fast," is how offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello put it. "He can run and has speed, and speed is important in an offense ... we are trying to let guys do what they do best."

But Langley struggled with drops in practice and, despite all of the extra work with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, finished with just two catches in the preseason, none in his 25 snaps during the preseason finale Thursday night.

Carter, on the other hand, was wafer-thin close to turning his best traits into a roster spot, and Fangio even left the door open Saturday for Carter's possible return to the roster in some fashion. Carter had made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2017, a physical safety with a mature approach to his preparation who quickly found a niche on special teams.

"Jamal's a guy that we all like here and a guy that we may want to get back here at some point, but when you change a guy's position it's particularly such a drastic change from safety to inside linebacker where he's really never been, it's a new world," Fangio said. "He needed more time to develop there, but he's a good football player who I'm confident has some more days left in the NFL."

Carter pushed for the position change, one that he had considered for some time. With a new defensive scheme under Fangio, a crowd in the secondary and a pile of injuries at inside linebacker in training camp it made sense and the coaches agreed.

"I've been wanting to play linebacker since I was in high school and college," Carter said. "I just like being in the trenches. I said I think it will fit me."

"He does like to hit people in there," Fangio said. "And that's kind of the first thing for a linebacker. I think I've said that a lot of DBs think they can do it, but until you see how a guy handles those guards and tackles firing right out at them, you have to see how they handle that because that is a different world."

Beyond the physical traits needed at the new position, there is the need to learn, and sometimes learn quickly, a whole new portion of the playbook. In Langley's case, he had a bit of a head start given he had played receiver some in college and had often played at receiver in practice for the Broncos' scout team. Langley also switched positions as the Broncos began their offseason workouts, so he went through organized team activities and minicamp with the offense before the team even opened training camp.

Carter, however, faced an uphill climb given his move was made after training camp began.

"There's two things that go into a position change: The first thing is how well is the guy picking it up," said Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. "... Then [it's] his attitude and how he's accepting it -- he's into it. [Carter] is a guy who likes physicality. Being down around the action is something that plays to his strengths."

"I was ready to do whatever they want me to do," Carter said as the preseason drew to a close. "... That's just my approach. I've played [safety] a long time, but I wasn't nervous or anything. I look at it like I want to be able to do a lot of things for them -- they came to me and I was like, 'Let's go, let's do it.'"