Two-way player surprised by all the attention

Updated: November 20, 2008, 4:56 PM ET
Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Spencer "Leatherhead" Larsen didn't realize he was going to be making history or even creating such a buzz by starting for the Denver Broncos at middle linebacker and fullback last weekend.

"It was cool. I was real excited about it. I didn't think it was going to be this big of a deal, though," Larsen said, still aglow from his two-way duty in Denver's 24-20 win at Atlanta on Sunday.

Larsen, a rookie who isn't accustomed to having dozens of cameras, microphones and digital records in his face like he did this week, is the only player in Broncos history to start on both sides of the ball.

He's just the fourth player in the NFL to start on both offense and defense in the same game since 1990, joining:

-Orlando Brown at right tackle and defense tackle for Baltimore in 2003;

-Champ Bailey at cornerback and wide receiver for Washington in 2000;

-And Deion Sanders at cornerback and wide receiver for five games with Dallas in 1996.

Back in the infancy of the NFL, it wasn't uncommon for players to go both ways. But now in the age of specialization and the league's transformation into such a big business, it's quite the oddity.

"I didn't know so few people had done it," said Larsen, who took seven snaps at fullback, 55 at middle linebacker and eight more on special teams Sunday.

"I'm a little bruised up," he said with a laugh. "I do feel it."

Among the most impressed by his double duty was Bailey, his teammate, who routinely played both ways at the University of Georgia.

"The games are not as tough, but the practices are what's tough," Bailey said. "Trying to figure out where to go up the field. But it's fun playing football."

Larsen played quarterback and linebacker in high school, but only linebacker at the University of Arizona. The Broncos moved him to fullback during training camp, and that's where he practiced exclusively until last week.

Then, to keep the Falcons from learning his secret, he donned a white jersey in practice with the rest of the offensive players, then moved over to defense with all the guys in blue jerseys once the media's 20-minute access period ended.

He met with running backs coach Bobby Turner once during the week to go over some basic blocking plays for Peyton Hillis, the starting fullback who was moved to tailback because of a rash of injuries in the Broncos' backfield.

Larsen said Wednesday he's going to play linebacker against the Oakland Raiders this weekend -- although who knows if he's just pulling everybody's leg again?

Larsen was pressed into defensive duty because all three starting linebackers were out with injuries. He had seven tackles and no major mistakes while subbing for Nate Webster, a performance made all the more impressive considering he had just one week of workouts at the position since the summer.

"I've been playing linebacker my whole life," Larsen explained. "I feel a little more natural there."

Larsen, a sixth-round draft selection, actually was nervous about even making the 53-man roster last summer because he twice had to leave the team -- once for the death of his 2-year-old niece in a swimming pool tragedy and another time just days later for the birth of a son.

"You just worry just like anybody else that maybe the numbers just aren't going to work out and you might be one of the guys that get cut," Larsen said.

And then there's the whole issue of approaching coach Mike Shanahan twice to ask for time off during tryouts.

"Yeah, it was really difficult asking for that time, especially when you're trying to make a good impression and you don't want people to think that you're high maintenance," Larsen said. "He was absolutely great. Perfect, never a hesitation, never felt like I couldn't go."

Larsen had already made a good first impression on Shanahan.

"We called him up before we drafted him and said 'Hey, would you be willing to play fullback? 'Coach, I just want to make the football team. I haven't played fullback since high school, but if that's where you want me to play, I'll play it," Shanahan said, recounting the conversation.

"We'll just keep on watching him. The one thing he's doing is making plays on special teams," Shanahan added. "You make that many plays on special teams you're going to be a football player, whether you're on defense or offense -- or both."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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