Put Me In Coach
To the tune of the famous John Fogerty song, except replace baseball’s Centerfield reference for a football tackle and you’ve got Mitch Unrein’s theme song for the past two seasons in the NFL.
“Put me in coach… I’m ready to play… TODAY.”
Having entered the NFL with the Texans as a college free agent back on May 7, 2010, Unrein has been center-stage to one of the most homegrown stories you’ll hear in the NFL – that is, if you’ve ever heard of him.
Odds are, if you’re not one of the 3500 people from his hometown of Eaton, CO or an avid fan of the Denver Broncos, this is the first time you’ve heard his name.
I had the chance to speak to Unrein last week while in Denver just after he finished another grueling day at training camp. At 6-foot-4, 291lbs, the guy is considered small for his position at tackle, which is clearly an odd concept for a little blonde gal barely standing at 5-foot-2.
Unrein, who went from an undrafted player at Wyoming, to being cut by the Houston Texans, to a regular on the Bronco’s practice squad, to last year finally finding a spot in the defensive rotation, now finds himself again in his second active season, yet again trying to make an even bigger name for himself. A more memorable one for coaches and fans. Preferably one with a few key stats resting along side it. Last year as a reserve defensive lineman for the Broncos, Unrein racked up seven tackles; five of which were solo tackles – not too shabby for a bench-warmer.
Trying to keep his roster spot, Unrein says his biggest focus this season is on becoming a more complete player working on his size and speed mostly. Having played defensive end in college, Unrein didn’t quite have the speed to play the position at an NFL level. “It takes a lot to block 325lb guys,” he admitted.
The Broncos just released their first depth chart of the season, and it looks like, for now, the hard work of Unrein has paid off, where he’s slotted as a second stringer at nose tackle.
No longer eligible for practice squad after suiting up in 14 games last season, Unrein stresses, “it’s all or nothing now.” Adhering to the motto hardwork does pay off, Unrein has been living day in and day out in the NFL as if it were his last. “I’ve always had something to prove, and I still have that fire. I’m still trying to reach my full potential,” he said.
Not only focused on his spot on the Broncos roster, Unrein was also antsy about the Olympics during our chat. His girlfriend of over a year, Corey Cogdell was getting ready to participate in her second Olympic Games. A bronze medalist in Women’s Trap Shooting in 2008 in Beijing, Cogdell shot Saturday, although not medaling this time around. “I’m so incredibly proud of her. I like that she’s a high profile athlete – we understand training, postponing dates, etc. I like cheering for others, not being cheered for. I grew up the youngest of six so I”m used to cheering them on too,” Unrein said. “It’s certainly a nice change of pace and I know how important having people in your corner can be.”
It’s hard for an Eagles fan like myself to talk to any NFL player without some reference to my kelly green team so it seemed reasonable to chat about Brian Dawkins and his recent retirement. One of the questions circling the interwebs since then has been who was going to step up on defense as a leader in his extreme absence. “We’ve brought in more veteran guys and more guys are stepping up,” Unrein said. “There’s no way to replace a guy like Brian Dawkins – he’s such a professional. The guy is a physical freak-specimen; his speed, his passion. He was an emotional leader in Denver and it was awesome to watch,” he said.
Unrein admits it still hasn’t hit him that he’s made his dream of becoming an NFL player. “You can never be satisfied in the NFL because someone always wants your job. I’m a young guy – I still haven’t had that ‘ah-ha’ moment that defines me as a player. It’s a blessing and I always keep working hard. I know this game isn’t going to last forever.”
Rapid fire with Mitch Unrein:
The Blonde Side: Who are your top 5 fantasy players?
Unrein: I don’t play.
The Blonde Side: What’s the most random fact about you?
Unrein: I’m color blind. One of my brother’s is too. I used to confuse Red/Brown, Blue/Purple and Green/Orange.
The Blonde Side: Are the Broncos blue or purple?
Unrein (laughing): Duh, blue.
The Blonde Side: Of course I have to ask – Super Bowl predictions?
Unrein: We’ll see. We’ve got 16 games to see if we can make it…