Jaleel McLaughlin’s name wasn’t spelled right … but his game was completely right
Aug 12, 2023, 4:09 AM | Updated: 4:13 am
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverSports.com)
GLENDALE, Ariz. — They couldn’t even get Jaleel McLaughlin’s name right on the back of his first professional jersey.
And he didn’t care.
The nameplate atop his No. 38 bore an extra “G.” For the length of the Broncos’ 18-17 preseason loss to Arizona, “McLaughlin” became “McGlaughlin.” And somehow, the undrafted rookie didn’t care.
“That’s how it’s pronounced,” the good-natured Youngstown State product said in the locker room late Friday night. “Hey, it helps out everyone!”
Not long before, he’d helped out his new team. With the game tied 10-10 and 4:38 remaining, McLaughlin finally checked in for the offense. Yes, he entered the game at the foot of the Broncos’ depth chart at running back.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, to wait through the first 55 minutes seemed like it might have been agony for McLaughlin. His explosiveness and preternatural feel for the position — as shown in training camp during recent weeks — jumped out. But that didn’t mean he would play in the game.
So, as the downs accumulated over the course of the contest, he kept his focus. And by the time the last scoring drive began, with 4:38 remaining, he was more than ready.
“I just stayed locked in,” McLaughlin said. ‘I think that everyone has to work their way [up], you know? I just stayed locked in, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do, because I’ve got a great group.
“And then learn as much as possible, because I have a great group of running backs in front of me, so, I’m learning everything from them, and I’m just going to keep working hard.”
McLaughlin immediately knifed up the middle for 7 yards. It was a run that looked like so many of his dashes in training camp, featuring equal parts vision and explosion. And it galvanized the offense. With a little help from fellow UDFA rookie Taylor Grimes — who caught two passes — McLaughlin darted and dodged through Arizona’s defense for 20 rushing yards and 10 more on a reception.
The Broncos marched 87 yards to their final touchdown of the night. McLaughlin had the score, from 4 yards out. He amassed nearly half — 32 — of the 65 non-penalty yards gained on the drive.
Even a fumble out of bounds didn’t sully his performance.
“He had the ball come out once on one run, but we will see it on tape. We will have a chance to correct it,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said.
And with that, he proved that he can make the transition to full contact — just as he did early last week. He answered plenty of questions by soaring through defenders in practice. Friday night offered a chance to take that to the game level.
Check, and check.
“Oh, it means a lot, because during training camp, we’re not hitting and banging as much, so, it definitely means a lot,” McLaughlin said. “And I’ve still got some things that I have to correct, and I’m going to keep working hard to correct those things throughout training camp, and just put my best foot forward.”
Which is something he’s been doing for a while now. McLaughlin arrives at 5 a.m. almost every morning for strength-and conditioning work. That caught the attention of Payton.
“I’ve actually been doing that since I was in high school,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve always been the first one in the weight room working out before school, things like that, just to work as hard as I can to put my best foot forward, and I’m going to continue to do that, no matter how high or how low I get. That’s always what I want to do.”
As for the name on his jersey, McLaughlin has earned the right to have the proper spelling. But he wasn’t losing sleep wondering whether the team would get the spelling right for the next preseason game at San Francisco in eight day.
“Maybe it’ll be changed next game,” McLaughlin said. “But that’s how it’s pronounced.”
But by any name, McLaughlin’s got game.