By Cecil Lammey
|Photo by Raj Sharan/ESPN Denver|
It’s that time of year again as the Denver Broncos have kicked off their training camp at Dove Valley. This is always my favorite time of year as we get to see the Broncos go through practice every day. I’ve watched this team in rookie minicamp, OTAs, and minicamp this offseason but none of that matches training camp. The Broncos have several position battles that will shake out over the next month. Training camp (plus the preseason) is where those battles are won.
Play Of The Day: Fred Fleming preventing Ring of Fame Center Tom Nalen from standing over the line. Runner Up: The Broncos fans stretching on the sidelines as the players went through their stretches.
No. 18 Peyton Manning: The defense won today. Manning had throws that were off the mark, including another overthrown pass to WR Eric Decker. There was one point of practice where Manning had six straight incompletions. He did hook up with WR Demaryius Thomas for a big TD down the field that had the crowd standing and cheering.
No. 17 Brock Osweiler: Brock made some bad decisions today, something that comes with a QB who has ultimate confidence in their arm. I like the way he sets up quickly (fastest of all Broncos QBs) and I like how he gets proper depth on his drop. Osweiler’s first step back is huge and balanced. It gets him away from the line quickly and into his drop smoothly. These are skills he didn’t have last year. He showed good zip on the run. In team drills he fumbled a snap and on one play held the ball too long. I’d like to see him trust his read and get rid of the ball when his drop is complete. Holding on too long tips off the defense where you want to go with the ball and also causes mechanical problems (throwing off your back foot). Oz also needs to take some of the pepper off his passes. He’ll zip passes that need more touch as evidenced by a well placed pass (that was dropped) to WR Andre Caldwell.
Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase talked about Osweiler after practice. “He has done a good job with what we are doing mentally and physically you can see the improvement with his arm trajectory. We are going to keep working on his ability to expand the horizon for how far he can take it. He’s been working a lot at the line of scrimmage, which is good. It’s different from what he did last year. We huddled with him a lot more last year, but he is getting more comfortable and it’s not a problem for him.”
No. 2 Zac Dysert: Dysert had his best day as a Broncos QB today. It still wasn’t great but I saw some tight spirals that went to the right spots. He did an awful lot of checking down and is hesitant to challenge the defense deep. When he did he overthrew rookie WR Quincy McDuffie on a “9” route. Dysert also was behind TE Virgil Green over the middle (he was lucky it didn’t get picked).
No. 8 Ryan Katz: Katz gets very few reps. He was behind TE Virgil Green on a pass to the outside.
No. 21 Ronnie Hillman: The pads came on and Hillman looked great. As a runner he made crisp cuts that lead to big plays. This zone blocking system fits him so much better than the power blocking the Broncos employed last year. Even on runs where the holes (and cutback lane) was clogged Hillman was willing to lower his head and “get skinny” for a couple of yards. Most big plays were due to Hillman. As a receiver he continued to show good concentration and route running ability. One play he got open easily against MLB Steven Johnson and hauled in a perfectly placed Peyton Manning pass. His biggest impression was made in pass protection. He stonewalled OLB Danny Trevathan the first time out and did not give up his base. He showed good pop at the point of attack and that added 20 pounds of muscle is really coming in handy for him. The next time around CB/FS Quentin Jammer came after him. Hillman’s helmet popped off as Jammer pushed his face. The second-year back kept his feet, pushed back, and kept Jammer at arms length. After the play he was jawing at the veteran and showed some fire/attitude.
Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase was impressed with Hillman today. He has done a good job. It is a different deal from the position he was in last year because we were very selective in what we did with him. Now, the whole book is open. The adjustments you have to make at the line of scrimmage are not easy and he is working hard trying to make sure that he is accountable to his teammates and he has done a good job in these first few days of practice.”
Hillman’s big plays did not go unnoticed by Gase. After practice Gase said the team is looking for explosive plays. “Absolutely. We are looking for explosive runs. When we run the ball we are looking for that 10-plus gain, that’s how we are really going to put pressure on the defense. It is going to open up the pass game, we’ll start getting those linebackers kind of up on the line of scrimmage on play actions and then we will take shots down the field.”
No. 38 Montee Ball: I was disappointed in Montee Ball today. I was expecting him to shine when the pads came on. Ball is a grinder who is known for leg drive, pad level, and forward lean. He should have looked much better as a runner but that wasn’t the case. Ball was swallowed up on nearly every carry he had today for a negative gain. His longest run might have been three yards at practice. Ball was tentative and didn’t show a good feel for cutback lanes today. Inside or outside it didn’t matter, he just couldn’t get it going. Even on the third-team he couldn’t get his running jump started. As a receiver Ball had his longest gain of the day (about seven yards). He also had a catch that he snared but was pushed to the ground on his back immediately. I would like to see better balance there. Ball really struggled in pass protection. On one play Mike Adams jarred into him, causing Ball to lose his feet and almost fall backwards.
Gase commented on Ball after practice. “I think he missed a couple [blocks] today. But the thing we keep looking for is making sure he is sticking his nose up in there and trying to make the contact. What (Running Backs Coach) Eric Studesville has been doing is taking him aside, work with him and the linebackers one-on-one. It is a process, it’s not going to be an easy thing where he is going to be able to step in there and dominate linebackers as a rookie. It is going to take some time and he is going to have to work on it. We have a lot of training camp practices left.”
It’s too early to make any sort of determination on Ball. The rookie will go through his struggles and today was part of that. I expect him to learn from his mistakes and improve as camp goes on.
No. 27 Knowshon Moreno: Moreno had a strong day today. As a runner he showed fight and a relentless nature. He was running exclusively with the second team but had no problem finding holes. His runs weren’t as long as Hillman’s but Moreno was swift to and through the hole. He did try to bounce a run outside but it didn’t’ work. In pass protection drills he pancaked OLB Wesley Woodyard.
No. 35 Lance Ball: Ball made a few plays of note with the third team. Mostly good cuts and maintaining balance after contact.
No. 37 Jeremiah Johnson: Johnson worked as a punt returner today. As a runner he flashed some big plays with the third team. His long runs weren’t as impressive as Hillman’s but he still showed good burst in stride. Johnson struggled to run inside.
No. 39 C.J. Anderson: Anderson only gets a few reps. The pads were on but I didn’t see much in the way of power coming from the undrafted rookie. He dropped a pass that was low from QB Zac Dysert.
No. 22 Jacob Hester: Hester is versatile and can run routes to get open on Linebackers in coverage. He made a great block on one of Hillman’s 40-yard TD runs. Hillman cut back perfectly and it was Hester’s block that help spring him.
No. 88 Demaryius Thomas: Thomas makes things look easy. Some say he lacks effort on every play but I disagree with that notion. Thomas is so smooth that his stride, movement, jumps, etc. come easy to him. He beat CB Champ Bailey on a “9” route and hauled in a perfectly thrown pass from QB Peyton Manning for a 50-yard TD play.
No. 83 Wes Welker: Welker worked as a punt returner today. He can make plays on passes that are off the mark. On one play he reached back and scooped in a pass that was behind him. Welker did that without breaking stride.
No. 87 Eric Decker: Decker showed crisp routes again today. He’s fearless over the middle and had no problem holding onto passes where he was hit as the ball came in.
No. 11 Trindon Holliday: Holliday worked as a punt returner today. He’s a big play waiting to happen but Broncos fans always hold their breath when the punt is coming in. Holliday is known for letting too many punts hit the ground.
No. 12 Andre Caldwell: Caldwell is doing his best to make a positive impression on the coaching staff. He was catching deep passes, low passes, and passes near the sideline. However, for the second straight day Caldwell seemed to struggle with passes that came in while he was standing still. Any sort of WR screen or comeback seems to get bobbled and is not caught cleanly. However, in stride Caldwell catches naturally with arms extended away from his body.
No. 15 Tavarres King: King’s deep speed was on display today. After practice OC Adam Gase talked about the talented rookie. “He’s done a good job. We didn’t get to see a ton of him during (OTAs). But he’s made some big plays down the field, he is catching the ball fairly consistently and he’s done a good job of not being the guy we are calling out to fix things. He studied his book obviously this summer and made sure he wasn’t going to be the guy making mistakes.”
No. 89 Greg Orton: Orton was working the sidelines today. He does a good job of getting two feet down in bounds consistently. He was frustrated when he dropped a pass on a drag route.
No. 16 Quincy McDuffie: McDuffie worked as a punt returner today. He made a high degree of difficulty catch, hauling in a pass that was in his chest as he was getting knocked to the ground.
No. 10 Gerell Robinson: Robinson showed better concentration today. He made sure to control his routes and not tip off the DB to which way he was going.
No. 13 Kemonte’ Bateman: Bateman hauled in a low pass from QB Zac Dysert early in practice.
No. 19 Lamaar Thomas: Thomas started the day out rough with a drop on contact. He showed good run after the catch ability when he caught passes cleanly. Thomas then dropped a pass from QB Zac Dysert that was zipped in too high.
No. 84 Jacob Tamme: Tamme was able to get open over the middle against OLB Von Miller. Tamme was happy to be back in shoulder pads. “It’s kind of weird because you [haven’t] put the pads on since your last game, until now. It’s nice to get them back on and get through the practice, to feel what it feels like again. Hitting with the pads on again.”
No. 81 Joel Dreesen: Dreesen showed well as a blocker, but had at least one drop over the middle.
No. 80 Julius Thomas: Thomas had a TD catch at the back of the end zone over FS Rahim Moore. He boxes out defenders regularly and kept showing off his trademark athleticism after the catch. A sideline pass that was tipped by the defender still ended up in Thomas’ hands and he was able to get two feet inbounds while securing the catch. After practice Thomas talked about how playing on the scout team last year is helping him this year. “You’ve just got to be patient. Coaches— (Head) Coach (John) Fox, especially — told me, ‘Your time’s going to come, just keep working and it’s going to come.’ Being able to be on the scout team last year, playing against our number one’s, it’s just a good way to develop confidence and then try to carry that on into spring and training camp.”
No. 85 Virgil Green: Green couldn’t get to a couple of passes that were errant throws by QB Zac Dysert. He did stretch out for a high pass (from Dysert) later in the day.
No. 82 Lucas Reed: Reed did not practice due to a hamstring injury. Later on Saturday he was released by the team.
No. 86 Jake O’Connell: The new addition did little today. We’ll see if that changes on Sunday.
No. 52 Wesley Woodyard: Woodyard had another interception today on a pass intended for Jacob Tamme.
No. 58 Von Miller: Miller was handled by Orlando Franklin in the pit. He kept trying to go outside on Franklin and didn’t get to the QB. Miller looked like a superstar in team drills when it mattered and could not be blocked.
No. 97 Malik Jackson: Jackson keeps abusing rookie OT Vinston Painter. He failed to get much done against Ben Garland. Jackson got into a scrap with Manase Foketi.
No. 95 Derek Wolfe: Wolfe was stopped by Orlando Franklin in the pit today. During team drills he and Kevin Vickerson had a jailbreak against Peyton Manning and flushed the QB out of the pocket where he threw the ball away.
No. 99 Kevin Vickerson: Big Vick surprised us all with a swim move to get by Louis Vasquez in the pit. He commented on going against Vasquez after practice. “I’ve been going against him my entire career, or the last five years. I played against him when he was in San Diego and at Tennessee I played against him for four years. So, it has been good. He’s a powerful guard with a powerful body, solid hands and a solid inside step. We don’t have a lot of battles though, he’s helping me and I am helping him.” Big Vick also teamed up with Derek Wolfe during team drills and created middle pressure on Peyton Manning, forcing him to throw the ball away.
No. 92 Sylvester Williams: The first-round pick had a nice spin move to get by Zane Beadles in the pit.
No. 91 Robert Ayers: Struggled in the pit against Louis Vasquez. He had multiple times against Vasquez and kept trying to bull rush him to no avail.
No. 94 Terrance Knighton: Fell on one bull rush attempt. He did get by Dan Koppen more than once and showed good strength at the point of attack in the pit. I swear the dude is square. He’s just one huge mountain of a man.
No. 96 Mitch Unrein: Struggled to get by Justin Boren in the pit.
No. 69 Quanterus Smith: A bright spot for the pass rush today. Smith was able to get by Manase Foketi with speed.
No. 45 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Had an interception of Peyton Manning today when Eric Decker was the intended target. He cut underneath the route and made an incredibly athletic play on the ball near the sidelines.
No. 33 Duke Ihenacho: Intercepted Brock Osweiler on a throw that was off the mark.
No. 53 Steven Johnson: Put a big hit on Lance Ball on a run up the middle.
No. 26 Rahim Moore: Knocked away a pass intended for Gerell Robinson. Had an interception during practice that drew rave reviews from the crowd in attendance at Dove Valley. Moore commented after the day on the interception. “I want to start back up that excitement. That’s why, when I make plays, I want to celebrate. I don’t care. I love the fans; they’re the best I’ve ever seen. It’s football, so they do a good job of motivating us every morning. When we come out here, the fans just embrace us. It’s like no other feeling.”
No. 93 Jeremy Beal: Failed to create a pass rush in the pit.
No. 32 Tony Carter: Got some work on punt returns.
No. 56 Nate Irving: Had an interception on a pass intended for RB C.J. Anderson.