ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Greg Dulcich naturally attracts eyeballs on the practice field.
The Broncos rookie tight end made his first football appearance over the weekend for Denver’s two-day rookie minicamp and impressed – at least as much as you can in a no-pads environment where the menu consists of only the NFL’s very basics – with the way he ran, moved, accelerated naturally after the catch, yadda, yadda, yadda.
C’mon. What’s the real draw?
“Have you seen his hair? I mean, wow,” first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett marveled after the first day. “Just watching him out here, it’s flowing in the wind.”
This, mind you, is not the first time Denver’s bald rookie head coach has complimented the extremely not-bald newcomer’s cascading, curly flow. In a video produced by the team showing Dulcich arriving at the team facility after the Broncos made him the No. 80 overall selection and the third tight end picked in last month’s draft, Dulcich walked into a room and Hackett quickly enveloped him in a hug, shouting, “Oh, my God, look at that hair. Oh, my God. It’s so beautiful – one of the primary reasons why you’re here.”
During a Friday post-practice news conference, the former UCLA standout said of the mane, “It’s staying forever. You can quote that,” and he’s keeping the mustache, too.
Noted. And can you explain the mid-thigh shorts?
“They’re called shorts for a reason, right?” Dulcich said.
Good enough for his offensive coordinator.
“The shorts are really, really nice on him,” Justin Outten said Saturday. “I told them he needs to get them tailored and maybe move the logo.”
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The hair, the ’stache, the short shorts and long socks plus Dulcich’s casual dismissal of the altitude’s impact – “If you’re a pro athlete and you’re in shape, it’s not too much of a difficulty to overcome” – and his reference to teammates as “cool dudes” all suggest a right-off-the-bat comfort level that belies the reality sitting right in front of him: The Broncos just might ask a lot of him right away. In fact, just as soon as Dulcich’s coaches finish weighing in on his luscious locks, their tone gathers some immediacy.
“He looks like a tight end in the NFL. That’s the first impression,” Outten said.
“He can really run. He’s in great shape, you can see that,” Hackett added. “Even being over here with some of the blocking drills, you can see that he’s definitely a willing blocker. So I think it’s kind of that all-purpose guy.
“I think that’s something that’s going to be very valuable for us.”
Opportunity abounds after the Broncos included starter Noah Fant in the package it traded to Seattle for quarterback Russell Wilson in early March. Now Dulcich jumps into the race with third-year man Albert Okwuegbunam as the primary competition and a group that also includes steady run-blocking veterans Eric Tomlinson and Eric Saubert, fullback/tight end Andrew Beck and a couple of undrafted free agents.
Dulcich made his name primarily as a big-play threat at UCLA, averaging nearly 20 yards per reception in 2020 and backing it up with 42 catches for 725 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Outten called his feel for route running one of his strengths, and the staff has little doubt about his ability to stretch the field vertically. If Dulcich is going to make a move toward extensive playing time as a rookie in the NFL, he’ll have to prove that he can hold his own in the run game.
“The willingness is there. The overall college mindset of being an effort guy,” Outten said of the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder who spent his first two years at UCLA as a walk-on before earning a scholarship ahead of the 2020 season. “The technique has to come, and he’s going to get there pretty shortly.”
The calendar provides enough caveats on its own – Dulcich is through rookie minicamp but has yet to work an organized practice with veterans – but Denver is also installing a new offense under a new head coach with a new quarterback. Sketching out a potential role or how exactly the staff envisions using Dulcich, Okwuegbunam and the rest of the tight ends is difficult at this point.
Some of it, certainly, will depend on what Wilson wants to do as the offensive plan comes together.
In Wilson’s 10 years with Seattle, Jimmy Graham’s three-season stretch from 2015-17 was the most productive for a tight end. He finished each of those campaigns second on the team in targets to Doug Baldwin and finished each between 5.9 and 6.7 per game. Other than that, Wilson has had a rotating, not overly talented cast that has included Gerald Everett, Zach Miller, Jacob Hollister, Will Dissly and others.
Hackett, meanwhile, spent the past three years in Green Bay as Matt LeFleur’s offensive coordinator, and the team put tight ends on the field extensively. According to Sharp Football data, the Packers used “12” personnel 29% of the time last year, second-most in the NFL. Even with a higher usage rate, though, Aaron Rodgers and Co. actually targeted tight ends less frequently than Wilson and Seattle as a percentage of pass attempts in each of the past three years.
Denver at full health is going to have options offensively, from a receiving corps that third-year man K.J. Hamler said last week feels like it has a lot to prove to a backfield featuring a potent pair in Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
Where the tight ends group fits into that mix will evolve over the coming weeks, but Hackett told Dulcich on the phone when he was drafted that Wilson is planning on using him frequently.
“You’re going to love it,” Hackett said, according to video the team released. “This quarterback, all he’s been telling me is how he wants to keep throwing to the tight ends over and over again, so you better get your mind right, man.”
Does Dulcich end up the starter? The No. 2? In a timeshare with the talented Okwuegbunam? Time will tell, but the Broncos clearly already think he’s got more than a good head of hair on (and extending well past) his shoulders.
“Greg has done an excellent job out here learning the small amount of game plan that was presented to him,” Outten said. “He’s done a really good job with it. He’s on his details. The athletic ability that we saw on video is carrying over to the field. The adjustment after this is going to be what we need to evaluate moving forward. Obviously with a bigger playbook and more responsibility, and just kind of handling—like everything else with a rookie coming, you have a lot more time on your hands and how you handle that – but he’s been a really good pro so far with everything.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Parker Gabriel on Twitter @ParkerJGabriel.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Denver Broncos rookie Greg Dulcich turns heads with first impression