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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Getting waived by the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars for what seemed like the hundredth time, linebacker Brandon Marshall took a drive down I-95 South toward St. Augustine, Florida.
Alone with his thoughts, Marshall wondered what had gone wrong and if he'd ever get another chance in the NFL.
"After being cut so many times you start to kind of question your abilities," said Marshall, who's taken a twisting, turning road to become Denver's top tackler.
He hit the highway that afternoon in search of himself.
"I took some time for myself to really think. You know, what am I doing wrong? Or, is it me? Or, why is it happening? Because, I've never been cut before. I've always been someone that the team could count on. So, for that to happen, I was just wondering what was wrong."
He couldn't come up with an answer but he did find some perspective.
"The only answer I came up with was just control what you can control," Marshall said. "Just keep working no matter what the circumstances are because I feel like we all go through hard times in life, football, with jobs, whatever. I feel like a lot of people don't reach their potential or at least their peak because they give up too soon. Or they don't push through the hard times.
"I think that's what makes a successful person, because if you keep pushing through the rough times you know then it's almost like a cocoon phase. You come out a better version of yourself."
That is the story of Marshall's journey from the guy who couldn't even carve out a job for himself on one of the worst teams in the NFL to one who's an every-down linebacker and arguably the defensive MVP on one of the league's best teams.
"I would say he's playing at a Pro Bowl level for an inside backer in this league," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "He's very productive, very active. He does a lot, doesn't come off the field. He's had a Pro Bowl kind of year."
Marshall was humbled by such high praise.
"He's been around a lot of Pro Bowl guys, Ray Lewis, he's been around a bunch of Pro Bowl guys. So, for him to say that about me it means a lot. I guess I'm in pretty good company," Marshall said Friday.
Marshall is both a tale of perseverance and overnight success.
A third-round draft pick out of Nevada in 2012, he was cut three times by the Jaguars. The Broncos signed him to their practice squad last season, and coach John Fox approached him during a blowout of the Eagles.
"He came up to me on the sideline and we were winning big — and I'm a practice squad guy; he doesn't have to say anything to me. And he came up and said, 'Brandon, keep working because you're going to get your opportunity,'" Marshall said. "It gave me extra motivation to keep working."
Marshall was promoted to the active roster on Christmas Eve and played in the season finale and the playoffs.
Last summer, he earned a job in the nickel defense alongside Danny Trevathan and was thrust into a much bigger role with Trevathan missing most of the season with two fractures in his left leg. Marshall leads the team with 106 tackles.
Trevathan is eligible to come off IR this weekend when the Broncos (10-3) visit San Diego (8-5), but that doesn't mean Marshall will relinquish the defensive play-calling duties. He'll once again play alongside Trevathan in the nickel.
"I'm real eager. We're both playmakers. We both have great instincts. We both can make plays. So, to have him back will be tremendous," Marshall said.
Although he admits he still wonders at times why he couldn't find a spot in Jacksonville, Marshall also knows getting jettisoned by the Jaguars helped him become the player he is today.
"If you quit, they're right and then where are you? You're stuck where you were at and you have nowhere to go," he said. "So, no matter what, I decided I was going to keep pushing through."
Notes: With all their success, the Broncos could lose Del Rio and OC Adam Gase to head coaching opportunities in the offseason. "I think every year when you have good team success individuals get recognized, whether it's players or coaches," Fox said. "I think it's a very positive thing. We've had guys get opportunities before and I'm sure we will again."
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