ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A quick scan of the Broncos' sidelines during this week's minicamp revealed four new -- but somewhat familiar -- faces.
As part of the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship, Reggie Howard, Lee Johnson, Ricky Manning Jr. and Rod Woodson donned Broncos gear as coaching interns.
Woodson, a 17-year NFL veteran, spent his first 10 seasons in Pittsburgh -- including three years in which Head Coach John Fox was his defensive backs coach.
Howard and Manning both played on Fox's Carolina Panthers team that advanced to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"He's really known for taking care of his former players and bringing guys back and bringing guys around," Manning said of Fox. "It's just a blessing to be here."
Johnson's connection came from a history with Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway.
"I was the defensive coordinator for John’s arena team and I’ve been coaching for about 17 years now and fortunately got a call from John this year, saying ‘Hey, I’ve got an opportunity for you,’ and I came running," Johnson said. "You don’t get those phone calls every day, but I’m very excited about that.”
All 32 clubs participate in the minority coaching fellowship, which is designed to increase the number of full-time NFL minority coaches. Participants use training camps, offseason workout programs and minicamps to observe, participate and gain experience with the hope of earning a full-time position.
"I’m pretty sure they get hundreds and hundreds of applications every year for internships, so I’m fortunate enough that I know John and I know Jack Del Rio and they let me come in and be a part of it," Woodson said. "Given an opportunity to rub elbows and come in and learn their philosophies, their ways. Everybody sees the game differently and to come in and learn from a team that went to the Super Bowl. You know, John Fox has developed his approach over the years he’s been in the league and so has Jack Del Rio. So coming in and being a part of that has been definitely fun."
The program runs through the duration of training camp and all four preseason games.
As they begin their tenure in Denver, all four coaches said the Broncos coaching staff has been welcoming.
“It’s been great," Howard said. "It’s a lot of information, and seeing the young players and then giving them some advice and learn more from the coaching and learn different philosophies and different techniques on how to operate and practice. Getting players motivated and, you know, getting the results. So it’s just been a great experience for me."
"It takes a united effort. The coaches have to let guys come in and listen, learn and experience," Manning added. "The coaches are so helpful. They want us to learn. They want us teaching."
Manning is currently coaching at a junior college in Fresno, Calif., and he said he said has already gained plenty of knowledge to take back with him.
"To get the experience at this level, you can't even put words into how beneficial it is for me," he smiled. "I can't wait for training camp. I'm excited about it. I've got my new Broncos gear -- I'm excited about that, too."
All four men said they caught the "coaching bug" at various stages in their careers, and appreciated the fact that the relationships they built over time allowed them to come to a place like Denver to continue to build in their new professions.
The experience has already sparked a fresh outlook on coaching for Johnson.
"I’m generally a defensive guy. They have me working on the offensive side of the ball, so it’s like I’m a young kid again," he said. "Defense pretty much come like second nature to me, but offense, I have to work at it. To be coaching at 18, 19 years and to be revitalized like this is special.”
In the end, coaching is all about developing players. And Manning said he learned early on that it's about more than just Xs and Os -- it's about building character in the process.
"The experience and the stage (playing in the NFL) gave me allowed to be more of an influence now to the young generation," he said. "When I realized I can accomplish that through coaching, I was like, 'Wow, I love it even more!' I love football, but now touching kids and touching the next generation and even young men, it's everything to me. So I'm really enjoying it."