ENGLEWOOD — Greg Dulcich remains impossible to miss. And it goes beyond hair cascading outside of his helmet and the 1970s mustache.
He runs well, not just for a tight end, but anyone. He has sticky fingers and, in glimpses, has shown an ability to find soft spots in the middle of the field.
So, why did he only catch 33 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie? He played in 10 games, missing seven because of a recurring hamstring injury.
It was jarring for Dulcich, who played 11 of 12 games in his final season at UCLA and had never suffered a hamstring issue. He first hurt his leg in the offseason OTAs, then re-injured it in training camp and later at the end of the season.
It compromised his statistics and led to adjustments.
"It’s definitely been a huge part of my offseason since January — just making sure I am flexible to try and limit injuries and to try to get into a better routine to make sure my body is good," Dulcich said. "It's a lot of rehab with the training staff, making sure my body is warm before doing anything. And doing modalities after practice. You also can get dehydrated quickly (at altitude). They have a lot of packets for us to take."
Dulcich, 23, is intriguing if consistently available. There was a misconception in March that coach Sean Payton wasn't impressed with the tight end, saying it was impossible to evaluate him. That was a missive at last year's tire-fire offense, not Dulcich. Watching Dulcich create more mismatches than plaid on stripes has left Payton rubbing his hands together like a mad scientist.
"Man, he can run and has good ball skills. I think his menu is going to be lengthy in the passing game, and there’s enough stuff we can do in the run game," Payton said. "He has traits (to do multiple things) that are exciting."
Payton admitted that Dulcich could be used as a Joker, a role that has been filled in the past by Alvin Kamara, Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush. The common thread is speed in space.
Dulcich remained modest when talking about the possibilities.
"What’s cool is that with the tight end unit, we can all kind of plug and play and do that. We have a lot of abilities that can help this team," Dulcich said. "Our whole tight end unit is full of dynamic players and full of guys who can make this offense go."
The Broncos took a different approach this offseason under Payton. He used the first month to focus on lifting and conditioning. This should help players like Dulcich.
"It’s been really good. The coaches did a good job with that. The team is looking really well. Everyone is taking care of their bodies really well," Dulcich said. "With the stuff we have put in, I think the entire team has handled it very well, and the tight end unit — I am very happy with where we are at."
For Dulcich to take a step forward statistically, he must become a functional blocker since Payton uses base personnel frequently. Basically, he has to do it well enough so his appearance on the field isn't a tell for the defense. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Dulcich near the bottom of run and pass blocking stats.
But this is a new offense. A new scheme. Dulcich knows the opportunity in front of him even in a room that features Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Albert Okwuegbunam and Tommy Hudson.
"It’s exciting," Dulcich said. "I can’t wait to see the things we do offensively. If there’s an offensive mind, it is (Payton)."