Cecil's Blog

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What Will Broncos Learn In Joint Practices with Texans?

Aug 18, 2014 -- 11:02am

This week at Dove Valley we’ll see two teams line up to practice against each other. The Denver Broncos have invited the Houston Texans into the facility to hold joint practices this week before their Week 3 preseason game on Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. So what will the Broncos learn by going up against the Texans in practice? Let’s first take a look at what the Broncos defense will be up against.

Texans Quarterbacks The Texans have arguably the worst collection of quarterbacks in the NFL. Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter, and the “Ahmish Rifleman” is known for a careless gunslinger style that can get him in trouble. Behind Fitzpatrick is third-year pro Case Keenum. He lacks the arm strength to challenge every spot on the field, but he’s athletic and can make plays on the run. The Texans third-string quarterback is rookie Tom Savage. Before the draft there were some (laughingly) projecting him as a first-round pick. Savage has a rocket arm, but his poise and accuracy leave a lot to be desired. Those are a few reasons why he fell to the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Texans Running Backs Arian Foster is one of the best backs in the game today—when healthy. The staying healthy part has been difficult for Foster at various points in his pro career. Foster played in only eight games last season, and he’s already banged up this year. A hamstring injury has slowed down Foster this training camp and preseason. His status for the week of practice against the Broncos is unknown, but Texans head coach Bill O’Brien has previously stated that Foster is close to practicing fully. Behind Foster is a collection of running backs that range in selection from first-round pick to late-round pick to undrafted free agent. The team recently agreed to terms with former first-round pick (2005) Ronnie Brown and undrafted free agent (2011) William Powell. Brown is not the same player he used to be, and he’s just trying to hold on at the end of his career. Powell is a swift returner who can contribute as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. Alfred Blue is a rookie out of LSU who the Texans selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft. He’s an upright runner who can glide quickly downfield. His size makes him easier to bring down, and Blue is not the banger between the tackles that some think. Jonathan Grimes is a more compact runner who had success against the Broncos last year. In week 16 last year against Denver, Grimes showed what he is capable of with 16 carries for 50 yards rushing and one touchdown. He also added six catches for 76 yards. Grimes may be the best candidate to backup Foster this year.

Texans Wide Receivers The quarterback position will hold down the production of the Texans wide receivers. The two main players here are Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Johnson is a seasoned veteran who can still be one of the best in the game at his position. He has size, speed and the “my ball” mentality to be a dangerous weapon. Johnson was frustrated with the direction of the passing game this offseason, and he was holding out in hopes of getting traded. That still might be a possibility, but for now Johnson remains with the Texans. Like Johnson, Hopkins was also frustrated with this offense earlier this offseason. Hopkins has amazing speed and body control which help him work the sidelines and deep routes. He can be a dominant player in the NFL, but we’ll see him struggle to play up to expectations unless the quarterback situation gets an unexpected change. Behind Johnson and Hopkins, the Texans have guys like Keshawn Martin (KR/PR), Devier Posey, Mike Thomas (KR/PR), and Alec Lemon. None are that dangerous with the football, and are borderline talents in the NFL.

Texans Tight Ends Long-time starter Owen Daniels followed former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to the Baltimore Ravens. This leaves Garrett Graham as the starter. He’s a savvy route runner who knows how to use his frame to “box out” smaller defenders. Graham is not an elite move tight end, but he can work underneath routes and be somewhat of a threat in the red zone. The only other tight end to monitor on the Texans is rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz. He’s a big-bodied rookie from Iowa who can blot out defenders as a blocker. As you can see, the Broncos may not face a huge challenge from this Texans offense. It will be interesting to see what kind of production this unit can have against a revamped Broncos defense.

What Will Broncos Learn In Joint Practices with Texans?

Aug 18, 2014 -- 11:02am

This week at Dove Valley we’ll see two teams line up to practice against each other. The Denver Broncos have invited the Houston Texans into the facility to hold joint practices this week before their Week 3 preseason game on Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. So what will the Broncos learn by going up against the Texans in practice? Let’s first take a look at what the Broncos defense will be up against.

Texans Quarterbacks The Texans have arguably the worst collection of quarterbacks in the NFL. Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter, and the “Ahmish Rifleman” is known for a careless gunslinger style that can get him in trouble. Behind Fitzpatrick is third-year pro Case Keenum. He lacks the arm strength to challenge every spot on the field, but he’s athletic and can make plays on the run. The Texans third-string quarterback is rookie Tom Savage. Before the draft there were some (laughingly) projecting him as a first-round pick. Savage has a rocket arm, but his poise and accuracy leave a lot to be desired. Those are a few reasons why he fell to the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Texans Running Backs Arian Foster is one of the best backs in the game today—when healthy. The staying healthy part has been difficult for Foster at various points in his pro career. Foster played in only eight games last season, and he’s already banged up this year. A hamstring injury has slowed down Foster this training camp and preseason. His status for the week of practice against the Broncos is unknown, but Texans head coach Bill O’Brien has previously stated that Foster is close to practicing fully. Behind Foster is a collection of running backs that range in selection from first-round pick to late-round pick to undrafted free agent. The team recently agreed to terms with former first-round pick (2005) Ronnie Brown and undrafted free agent (2011) William Powell. Brown is not the same player he used to be, and he’s just trying to hold on at the end of his career. Powell is a swift returner who can contribute as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. Alfred Blue is a rookie out of LSU who the Texans selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft. He’s an upright runner who can glide quickly downfield. His size makes him easier to bring down, and Blue is not the banger between the tackles that some think. Jonathan Grimes is a more compact runner who had success against the Broncos last year. In week 16 last year against Denver, Grimes showed what he is capable of with 16 carries for 50 yards rushing and one touchdown. He also added six catches for 76 yards. Grimes may be the best candidate to backup Foster this year.

Texans Wide Receivers The quarterback position will hold down the production of the Texans wide receivers. The two main players here are Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Johnson is a seasoned veteran who can still be one of the best in the game at his position. He has size, speed and the “my ball” mentality to be a dangerous weapon. Johnson was frustrated with the direction of the passing game this offseason, and he was holding out in hopes of getting traded. That still might be a possibility, but for now Johnson remains with the Texans. Like Johnson, Hopkins was also frustrated with this offense earlier this offseason. Hopkins has amazing speed and body control which help him work the sidelines and deep routes. He can be a dominant player in the NFL, but we’ll see him struggle to play up to expectations unless the quarterback situation gets an unexpected change. Behind Johnson and Hopkins, the Texans have guys like Keshawn Martin (KR/PR), Devier Posey, Mike Thomas (KR/PR), and Alec Lemon. None are that dangerous with the football, and are borderline talents in the NFL.

Texans Tight Ends Long-time starter Owen Daniels followed former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to the Baltimore Ravens. This leaves Garrett Graham as the starter. He’s a savvy route runner who knows how to use his frame to “box out” smaller defenders. Graham is not an elite move tight end, but he can work underneath routes and be somewhat of a threat in the red zone. The only other tight end to monitor on the Texans is rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz. He’s a big-bodied rookie from Iowa who can blot out defenders as a blocker. As you can see, the Broncos may not face a huge challenge from this Texans offense. It will be interesting to see what kind of production this unit can have against a revamped Broncos defense.

Denver Broncos 2014 Training Camp Report Day 4

Jul 29, 2014 -- 1:31pm

By Cecil Lammey

The Cecil Lammey Show

 

The Denver Broncos are only a few days into training camp this year. Practices have been closed to the public as the team headquarters at Dove Valley are undergoing a major renovation. Today, the Broncos held practice at Sports Authority Field at Mile High—and it was open to the public.

 

It was great to see the fans back, and there were 21,933 fans in attendance to watch their Broncos. The players certainly seemed to perform better in front of the crowd. The energy level increased, and that led to improved play.

 

Here are my practice notes for Day 4 of Broncos Training Camp.

 

Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning was throwing mostly crisp passes during practice. The velocity he’s showing on his spiral seems faster than it was last year. Earlier this offseason, players like Demaryius Thomas have commented about Manning’s arm seeming stronger. Manning is showing the ability to go vertical more than he did in 2013.

 

Brock Osweiler continued his up-and-down performance in training camp. He looks good when checking down or throwing long bombs. Osweiler needs to improve his accuracy when throwing to the middle of the field. Errant passes in the middle can easily lead to tipped passes or interceptions. His footwork is better than it was in minicamp (where it seemed to regress), and he has incredible zip on the football.

 

Zac Dysert had multiple bad throws in practice. His accuracy is scattershot at best, and he often overthrows his receiver when forced to throw with touch to the outside. Dysert has a big arm, and he ended practice with a long bomb to rookie speedster Isaiah Burse. Other than that one play, Dysert really struggled to consistently connect on Sunday.

 

Bryn Renner continues to be patient in waiting for his opportunity. He’s not getting any work in team drills, but he’s getting a few reps during individual drills. With Dysert struggling each day, one has to wonder when the team is going to turn to Renner.

 

Running Backs

Now that the pads are on, it’s easier to determine what Montee Ball looks like as a runner in camp. His added weight to his upper body gives him a larger striking area when running into opponents. Ball looks like he’s relishing the contact, and he’s blasted through the line more than once. He caught a low pass that was barely above the blades of grass, quickly turned and picked up some extra yards after the catch. His concentration as a receiver has greatly improved this year.

 

C.J. Anderson was the only Broncos back to score when the team was doing red-zone drills. He has power in his lower body, and that helps him when he has to push the pile. Anderson is lighter, weighing in at 213 pounds now and that has helped him look quicker on the field.

 

Ronnie Hillman had a nice run to the outside in practice. His speed is still evident on runs that go outside the tackles. He received a few reps between the tackles and was quickly swallowed up on each carry. Hillman dropped a screen pass in team drills that drew the ire of the crowd in attendance.

 

Sources close to the team tell me they believe that Brennan Clay is the frontrunner to make the final roster as the fourth-string back. It’s easy to see why the Broncos are impressed. Clay has dangerous speed, and he’s a threat to score any time he touches the ball.

 

Kapri Bibbs is showing good balance as a runner. He’s also looked better than expected as a receiver out of the backfield.

 

Juwan Thompson is a good all-around player, and he’s arguably the best pass-blocker the team has at the running back position. That being said, he’s looking too sluggish out on the practice field.

 

Wide Receivers

Emmanuel Sanders was wowing the crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday. He’s almost untouchable off the line of scrimmage. He has multiple moves to get release from the line, and Sanders has an incredible burst at the stem of his route and after the catch. Favorite play from him was a slant over the middle that he turned up field and took to the house.

 

Andre “Bubba” Caldwell continues to fill in nicely for Demaryius Thomas. His favorite routes are deep routes, and he hauled in a deep catch early in practice.

 

Wes Welker was able to get into the endzone for a touchdown, quickly bursting outside to haul in the score untouched.

 

Cody Latimer had some rookie moments and some highlight plays on Sunday. He worked the sidelines well and showed off his body control. Latimer looked like he wanted to do too much in the red zone. He dropped a pass late in practice with wide open field in front of him.

 

Undrafted wide receiver Greg Hardin made two splashy plays in front of the crowd. He opened up practice by hauling in a deep pass from Brock Osweiler in the middle of the field. Hardin stretched out to make the catch with a defender draped all over him. He was able to haul in a catch falling on his back later in practice. Both plays drew plenty of cheers from the fans.

 

Bennie Fowler made a nice spin catch near the end of practice. He’s big and fast, but don’t underestimate is body control or natural athleticism.

 

Jordan Norwood continues to make plays each and every day. He’s a longshot to make the roster, but it will be difficult to let him go based on his camp performance. Norwood is a savvy route runner, and on one play today he ran a seam route where Osweiler was able to hit him in stride.

 

Tight Ends

Julius Thomas continues to be dominant in practice. He’s standing out on routes over the middle, to the sidelines or deep down the seam. He burned Kayvon Webster late in practice on a deep route that fell beautifully into his hands. During red-zone work, Thomas was able to haul in a pass with T.J. Ward covering him. Thomas outraced Ward to the pylon for the score. Thomas also caught a pass cleanly over his shoulder in the end zone with Danny Trevathan swiping at the ball. As dominant as Thomas looked at times last year, it seems like he’s taken his game to another level.

 

Virgil Green hauled in a couple of nice catches during Sunday’s practice. He’s still the best blocking tight end on the team, and he’s good enough as a receiver to work underneath routes with ease.

 

Jacob Tamme was frequently targeted by Manning. The chemistry with Manning, ability in the red zone, and the fact that he’s a plus-player on special teams makes Tamme a no-brainer for the 53-man roster.

 

Gerell Robinson had a better day today. He’s bailing out Osweiler on multiple plays. He’s athletic after the catch, and has the body control to work the sidelines or the back of the end zone. I’d like to see Robinson use his frame better to “box out” defenders. Too many passes are getting knocked away by defenders covering him. Robinson needs to get more “basketball” to his game.

 

Defense

T.J. Ward should immediately become a fan favorite. He’s making big hits and big plays for this defense consistently. He can play close to the line of scrimmage as a run-defender, but Ward can also excel in coverage.

 

Danny Trevathan was flying all over the field. He knocked away a pass by Brock Osweiler that was intended for Gerell Robinson. Osweiler thought he could fit the pass into a tight space and fired the ball with incredible zip. Trevathan closed the gap quickly and hit the ball with his outstretched arm.

 

Brandon Marshall made a play in coverage, knocking away a pass intended for Gerell Robinson.

 

Bradley Roby made a big play against Julius Thomas. The star tight end had been making a ton of plays all day, but saw a potential touchdown pass knocked away by the rookie in the end zone.

 

L.J. Fort tipped away a touchdown pass in the end zone.

 

Nate Irving made a play in coverage against Virgil Green in the end zone. He was right there with Green and caused the ball to be dropped.

 

Sylvester Williams showed good timing, knocking down a Manning pass at the line of scrimmage.

 

Kayvon Webster was looking for bit hits all day. This caused him to make some plays, but it also got him burned at times. He drew cheers from his defensive teammates when he hit Ball near the end zone to stop a potential score. 

The Numbers Are Easy To Find For Julius Thomas

Jul 29, 2014 -- 1:26pm

By Cecil Lammey

The Cecil Lammey Show

 

The Denver Broncos are currently negotiating a new contract with tight end Julius Thomas. He emerged as a star for the Broncos last year, and he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract.

 

Originally a fourth-round pick out of Portland State in the 2011 NFL draft, Thomas missed most of the first two years of his pro career with a severe ankle injury that required surgery. He was healthy last year and compiled 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. Even though he missed two games with a minor knee injury in 2013, Thomas finished the year as one of the best tight ends in the game.

 

Tight ends are no longer the in-line blockers they used to be. Trailblazers like Kellen Winslow (Chargers), Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs, Falcons) and Shannon Sharpe (Broncos, Ravens) have changed the way the position is played. In today’s NFL, a tight end is essentially a super-sized wide receiver who can create mismatches any time they’re on the field.

 

Antonio Gates (Chargers) was a basketball player during his time in college at Kent State. He made the successful transition to tight end in the NFL and became a star. That sent NFL teams to scout college basketball players with little or no experience playing football. This movement led to the discovery of stars like Jimmy Graham (Saints), Jordan Cameron (Browns) and Thomas.

 

Earlier this offseason, Graham received the largest contract a tight end has received in NFL history. His four-year, $40 million price tag gave tight ends a new high for annual average salary at $10 million.

 

While Thomas has not put up the statistical production that Graham has, he’s set to be even better this season. It would be wise for the Broncos to lock up Thomas for a decent price before he has another big season and negotiations get more complicated.

 

On Sunday, the Vikings announced a new five-year, $36.5 million deal for their tight end Kyle Rudolph. This gives him an annual average salary of $7.3 million. This new contract makes Rudolph the 5th-highest paid tight end in terms of annual average salary.

 

Thomas has better upside than Rudolph, but he’s not quite at the level of Graham. These two contracts make the potential contract numbers for Thomas fairly easy to predict.

 

Frankly put, Thomas should make more per year than Rudolph ($7.3 million) but not quite as much as Graham ($10 million). The Broncos should be looking to construct a five-year contract for Thomas that pays him a total of $40 million.

 

This would be the same overall total that Graham received from the Saints earlier this year, but it would only be an annual average salary of $8 million. This is a contract length that makes sense with Peyton Manning under contract through the 2016 season.

 

Thomas is worth every penny the Broncos give him. He was an amazing find in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft, and he’s developed into one of the best at his position. Thomas now needs to be compensated like one. 

Nate Irving Agrees with “Super Bowl or Bust” Statement

Jul 15, 2014 -- 9:14am

The Denver Broncos are set to make another run at the Super bowl this year. They would be the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to get back to the big game after losing it the previous year. The expectations are high in Denver, and the players are not shy when talking about the goal for this season.

In a recent interview with Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, Broncos starting cornerback Chris Harris said the team had high hopes for this year.

"Guys know what’s at stake this year, at least they should -- it’s Super Bowl or bust for us," Harris said.

On Monday I was able to interview Broncos starting middle linebacker Nate Irving. At the end of the interview I asked him what he thought about the declaration from Harris.

It’s clear that the Broncos are not shying away from expectations this year. Broncos fans should consider this a great mentality for the team to have. Some teams could crumble under the expectations the Broncos have had since Peyton Manning arrived in 2012.

Instead of falling apart, the team rallies around their goals and thrive. The Broncos have won 26 regular season games over the last two year, and they are set to win at least 10 or more games this year. Winning the AFC West and getting to the AFC Championship would be great goals for most every team in the conference. That’s not enough for the Broncos…and they’re okay with that.

Multiple Options at Middle Linebacker for the Denver Broncos

Jun 23, 2014 -- 12:16pm

The Denver Broncos haven’t had a quality starting middle linebacker since the days “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson roamed the field. He was forced to retire in 2006 due to a neck injury, and the Broncos have been scrambling to find an enforcer in the middle ever since.

They’ve tried everything over the last few years. Players like Keith Brooking, Paris Lenon and Joe Mays (among others) have started at the “Mike” with varying results. None have been the long-term answer the Broncos have been looking for.

Today’s NFL is changed. The league has transformed into a pass-happy game, and defensive players have had to adjust. Middle linebackers are no longer the two-down thumpers they used to be. Today’s “Mike” linebackers need to first and foremost be able to stand out in coverage.

The Broncos have an interesting mix of players at middle linebacker right now, and they have multiple options at the position. They even have some options for “Mike” ‘backer that come from other positions on the defense.

According to Mike Klis, from the Denver Post, fourth-year linebacker Nate Irving will enter training camp as the starting middle linebacker for the Broncos. Irving was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft with the idea that one day he could be the team’s starter inside. He’s athletic enough to cover, and Irving arrives at the ball with natural violence.

Over the first few years of his pro career, Irving failed to stay healthy and impress when given the chance at middle linebacker. Irving was considered the frontrunner last year at the position entering training camp, but he ended up losing the job to converted “Will” linebacker Wesley Woodyard.

As the season wore on, Woodyard was injured and replaced by Lenon on the inside while Irving stayed on the bench. Irving did become a standout player as a reserve “Sam” linebacker. He received more playing time for the Broncos after starting linebacker Von Miller went down with an ACL injury in Week 16 against the Houston Texans.

That extra playing time caught the eye of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “I think Nate played well last year when he was called on. And the things that he got an opportunity to do, he played well. So I know he comes in with a lot of confidence based on the way he played last year, and the fact that he’s very familiar with our defense, understands where he belongs.” Del Rio concluded, “He’s a heavy-handed guy, a bright guy, good communicator, and he’s having a good camp.”

Irving has carried the momentum over from last year, and he’s looked good at his new position in minicamp. It will be interesting to see if that carries over when the pads come on in training camp.

He will face the most competition for the starting job from two players; veteran Steven Johnson and rookie fifth-round pick Lamin Barrow. Johnson has been a standout player on special teams, and he loves to initiate contact. Barrow is a “new school” middle linebacker because he is rangy, athletic and can make plays in coverage but needs work as a run-defender.

Irving may begin the year as a starter at middle linebacker, but he could be replaced on passing downs. When the Broncos go into their nickel package it won’t be surprising to see Irving replaced by Barrow or by strong safety T.J. Ward.

The first move the Broncos made in free agency was to add Ward to the defense. He’s a hard-nosed intimidator with the nickname “Boss”—and he certainly lives up to the hype. Ward is an enforcer with the ability to play close to the line of scrimmage to stuff the run, plus he can turn and stay with receivers or tight ends on downfield routes.

Ward’s versatility gives the Broncos an interesting option in the middle of the defense. The Broncos played in their nickel package on nearly 65 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013. The pass-happy nature of the league isn’t going anywhere, so the number of snaps in the nickel may be the same—or more—this year.

Denver also sees more passing early on than other teams do. Opponents are forced to the air quicker when Peyton Manning and the offense build a big lead early. The Broncos defense has to be better in coverage earlier than other teams in the NFL.

The Broncos have the most dominant offense in the league. They have made moves like adding Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Roby to be a dominant defense as well. No matter who starts at “Mike” linebacker for the Broncos, they will be able to give opponents several different looks defensively in 2014. 

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