The Denver Broncos held their first 2018 training camp practice this morning. The day started out misty and foggy, but the clouds soon burned off, and the weather warmed.
I had plenty of space at the top of the Field 1 berm adjacent to the section roped off for Broncos’ players family members and friends. I sat next Sam Jones’ parents, his significant other, and other family and friends of his. I was able to congratulate Jones’ parents on seeing their son drafted by his hometown team. It was fun to see them looking for and watching their son in positional drills and team sessions.
The Broncos practiced for a little under two hours this morning. My best vantage point was of positional drills was with the offensive skill positions, quarterbacks, and offensive line. I also was able to see some special teams work. I did not have a good view of the defensive line or pass rushers performing positional work. I had a great view of offense versus defense team sessions.
During warm-ups, even the quarterbacks worked with other offensive players on blocking knockdown dummies. The quarterbacks worked on faking play action stretch runs with bootleg action. Broncos’ Running Backs Coach’, Curtis Modkins, appeared to be emphasizing his position group’s footwork. The tight end group warmed up by running option and slant-stop routes. The wide receivers worked on curl routes, out routes, and 20-yard slant routes during the positional period.
Defensive Observations and Thoughts
In the team period, the Broncos lined up in their classic one-gap 3-4 alignment. Shane Ray started opposite Von Miller in the base formation. The Broncos nose tackles lined up in the one-technique, but did quite a bit of shifting as to which side of the center that they were shading.
The defense batted down Case Keenum’s first pass of the day. Bradley Chubb and Shaquil Barrett were the second team outside linebackers in base. Chubb nearly had an interception of a Paxton Lynch throw when Chubb dropped into coverage. In the first team nickel package, Derek Wolfe and DeMarcus Walker were flanked by Miller and Chubb rushing from the outside. Walker does in fact look bigger as reported in June. Trumaine Brock was the first team nickel cornerback.
Adam Gotsis continues to be adept at swatting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Later, Zach Kerr batted a Paxton Lynch pass up in the air which was intercepted by Barrett. The defensive line ran ten-yard incremental suicides on its own volition following the conclusion of practice.
C.J. Smith demonstrated great coverage when breaking up a pass intended for Jordan Leslie. Smith almost had an interception later on in tight coverage down the sideline.
Bradley Roby expertly timed breaking up a pass intended for Demaryius Thomas on a slant route. Will Parks and Isaac Yiadom collided in breaking up a deep pass down the sideline. Parks was shaken up on the play but later returned to practice.
I was not particularly focused on the inside linebackers today. Brandon Marshall does look leaner. Hopefully, Marshall’s weight loss will be a benefit in coverage and not a detriment against the run. Josey Jewell did not practice today due to a minor hamstring injury.
Offensive Observations and Thoughts
Devontae Booker received the first repetitions at running back today, but Royce Freeman, De’Angelo Henderson, and Dave Williams all received plenty of first team looks. Freeman had a really good counter run to the strong side of the formation early in the team session. Henderson followed up with a solid run up the middle on the next play. The fourth back up was Williams followed by Phillip Lindsay. Williams showed nimble feet and smooth balance on one cut back run. There is plenty more on Lindsay to follow.
The Broncos worked on plenty of counter, inside zone, outside zone, RPOs, and stretch, and trap runs today. Denver also executed a sprint draw late in practice for a decent gain. On one outside zone or stretch play, there was a fumbled exchange between Williams and Paxton Lynch.
The Broncos motioned their running backs frequently today, especially out wide. At times, the Broncos set up plays to look like screen passes to the back motioned out wide only to throw to a different receiver over the middle of the field.
I would liked to have seen more from this group today. Jake Butt was a non-factor. Jeff Heuerman did nothing of import. Brian Parker dropped a somewhat underthrown but still catchable pass from Case Keenum. Austin Taylor and fellow Wisconsin Badger Troy Fumagalli both had catches over the middle on stab routes.
Ron Leary is back at left guard! Following practice, John Elway confirmed that Leary will play at that spot this season. Garett Bolles, Matt Paradis, Connor McGovern, and Jared Veldheer were the other first teamers. Max Garcia worked in some at left guard. Menelik Watson received second and third team snaps at right guard. McGovern also served as the second team center. Cyrus Kouandjio was the second team right tackle, and Jeremiah Poutasi has been moved to left tackle. Elijah Wilkinson practiced with the guards.
In positional drills, there were times when the guards and tackles mixed with each other. Sean Kugler coached the guards and centers, and Chris Strausser coached the tackles in specific position work as determined this past January.
Unfortunately, I did not have a good vantage point of the offensive line when it went up against the defensive line and edge rushers in combined positional work. I will say that the offensive line looked respectable in team periods today.
Case Keenum clearly is the best quarterback of the trio. Paxton Lynch had some good throws, but too many of his passes sailed over the heads of his intended receivers on out routes. Lynch also needed to show more patience in allowing a running back screen pass to develop. Chad Kelly was at a marked disadvantage working with the third and fourth team receiver groups today.
After practice, the quarterbacks and their coach, Mike Sullivan, performed pushups in true military fashion. All of the quarterbacks looked to be doing some additional work with some receivers following the end of today’s practice session.
Demaryius Thomas had a so-so day. He had a drop over the middle and was out-battled by Roby on a pass breakup. Keenum and Thomas connected on a couple of short slant and out routes. Emmanuel Sanders caught a couple of passes, including a beauty that is described below in the Plays of the Day section and on a crossing route from a three wide-out alignment featuring himself, Thomas, and Courtland Sutton.
The Broncos were intent on getting Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, and Isaiah McKenzie actively involved today. Based on the trio’s early performances, the chances of Carlos Henderson carving out a role with this team looks less and less likely with each passing day.
From my count, Sutton had zero drops and reminds me some of Art Monk. Sutton was particularly involved on slant patterns and out routes. Hamilton looked much bigger than I had anticipated. Hamilton had some nice grabs on curl routes and a corner route. Hamilton did have one fumble and was overthrown after getting open on both a deep corner pattern and an out route. McKenzie demonstrated soft hands today and looked more comfortable playing in the slot. More on McKenzie below.
I was not overly impressed with the other wide receivers today. For example, Tim Patrick dropped an easy, uncontested ball over the middle, and Chad Kelly hit Mark Chapman in the numbers on another drop.
Special Teams Observations and Thoughts
From observing the special teams work led by Tom McMahon, it is evident that the Broncos now have themselves a bona fide special teams coach. Special teams work today, included fielding punts under converging pressure, work on stripping the football from punt returners, and directional punting. The Broncos did not work on kickoff returns.
Marquette King certainly has a leg. Many fans may not like it, but with an asset like King, the offense may just have to avoid backbreaking turnovers to allow the Broncos to win some low scoring contests this season.
The Human Joystick and Tasmanian Devil Each Had a Great Day of Practice
Isaiah McKenzie and Phillip Lindsay both had excellent practices today. They received the majority of punt return work.
McKenzie and Lindsay were both weapons in the passing game as well. They appear to have developed a good relationship and are pushing each other. McKenzie and Lindsay fielded a number of punts after the conclusion of today’s practice. Lindsay reminds me some of Glyn Milburn.
It appears that the Broncos want to give McKenzie as many opportunities as possible to redeem himself. McKenzie had a great 2017 training camp and preseason, so he will need to survive into the regular season to determine if he has truly made strides in protecting the football and becoming the special teams weapon that he has shown flashes of being.
Plays of the Day
- On a RPO play, Lynch faked a handoff and connected with McKenzie in stride on a crossing route. McKenzie scooted to the sideline and just outlasted the defender giving chase to reach the front pylon for a touchdown.
- On another RPO play, Keenum faked a handoff and found Sanders streaking down the sideline before he was stopped at the six yard line. The play netted close to 60 yards. More big yardage plays would certainly help the Broncos cure some of their offensive woes that have plagued them the previous couple of seasons.
- Keenum executed a text book pump fake to freeze the defense and connected with Lindsay on a wheel route, and Marshall simply could not keep up in coverage.