Today the Broncos will take a much deserved break after five days of training camp, two of which were in full pads. For the most part the competition is still in full swing but several roles on the team have become clearer to the coaches and spectators alike.

As the Denver Broncos evolve and change under Gary Kubiak the players daily performances are starting to add up at UCHealth Training Center. Despite a youthful and inexperienced line, two players have been getting almost all of the reps with the first team. Another surprise has been veteran players, with NFL starts on their resume may be looking for work soon. Lastly, in the absence of some starting talent, two players have shown Wade Phillips immense progress from the offseason and into camp.

Entering camp after Ryan Clady’s season ending injury four starting jobs on the offensive line were up for grabs. After five days of camp and despite the coaches’ insistence that the team is still trying different players at different positions, it appears that two of those jobs are taken.

Ty Sambrailo and Gino Gradkowski are the clear favorites to win the left tackle and center positions. While several players continue to rotate at right tackle and left guard with the first-team offense, Gradkowski and Sambrailo have strictly taken first team snaps. Despite that fact, Gradkowski continues to treat it as an open competition and he has found the work with the defensive line extremely helpful so far.

“It is still a competition. Matt (Paradis) is having a great camp so far and we are pushing each other,” Gradkowski said Tuesday. “Sly (Williams) is having a heck of a camp and he is really pushing me and making me a better player and it that stuff obviously will show up on game days.”

Gradkowski came over from Baltimore with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and Kubiak. The center starting job was supposedly up from grabs with second-year lineman, Matt Paradis but through five days Gradkowski has shown veteran consistency. Tuesday morning the defensive line and outside linebackers went against the offensive line in pass protection and Gradkowski held is own very well against Williams and other potential nose tackles on the team.

Monday, Kubiak talked about how Gradkowski got onto the Broncos roster in the offseason and how he may help the team in the near future.

“We liked him as a player, we thought he had a lot of reps under his belt and we felt like he would play good for us. He just didn’t get an opportunity there last year. When we were looking around last year, I brought the name up. (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) John (Elway) and (Director of Player Personnel) Matt (Russell) went and did the work, spent time and studied him. I’m just happy to have him. I think that he has a chance to help us out.”

The remaining two starting spots are still in question. After five days Ryan Harris appears to be the starting right tackle over Chris Clark and Ben Garland is barely holding off the surging Max Garcia at left guard.

Two Broncos that have been contributors in the past three seasons are fighting for a roster spot after five days of camp. Both Andre Caldwell and Ronnie Hillman were already on a lot of people’s radar for possible veteran cuts but their playing time at camp has confirmed those suspicions.

Caldwell mixed in with the ones the first couple of days of camp while Demaryius Thomas slowly got back into the rhythm of things. Tuesday he played with the second and third-string units. He did however return kicks, switching off with Omar Bolden. Caldwell will have to make some progress on offense if he wants to remain on the roster. Simply beating out Bolden in the kick return game would probably not warrant a roster spot in the weeks ahead.

Additionally, Ronnie Hillman has found himself in a similar situation as Caldwell. After several seasons of opportunities and varying success, Hillman has some stiff competition at running back. C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball are the clear workhorses at camp and Juwan Thompson has been getting increased reps with the second-string.

Hillman’s size and past health issues have to be the team’s main concern at Broncos’ headquarters. The other three running backs mentioned are physical bruisers with the potential to break tackles. And in Thompson’s case he has been highly utilized on special teams. Hillman is a John Elway draft pick and as such, has gotten several looks during his short career. This year may finally be the year that the team cuts ties with him unless a player goes down with an injury or Hillman proves that he has changed into an all-around back by the end of camp.

The interior of the defense, which was a concern entering camp, has suddenly become a bright spot on the team. While Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall have slowly been added to drills and team work due to lingering injuries, Todd Davis and Steven Johnson have shown Wade Phillips some definitive improvement.

“Our backup group is probably the best that I’ve ever had. I think a lot of those guys can play and have played well in practice.”

Phillips has been around the league for several decades as a defensive coordinator and head coach. For him to give Davis and Johnson that type of praise is encouraging. Marshall and Trevathan are the clear starters in the group but their health is a concern. Both players have been in during drills and seven-on-seven work but have been almost entirely absent from full team drills. With Philips’s endorsement of the inside linebackers and the shear number of bodies behind the starters the concerns about the defense can shift to other areas.

The Broncos will take a much needed rest after six straight days of practice. Although there are multiple weeks of camp left some players should be excited about their first five days and others surely are feeling the pressure to perform. On every level of the team tough personnel decisions are not far off and it seems that no player is safe from scrutiny as Kubiak prepares the team.


Malik Jackson, Marvin Austin Jr., and Larentee McCray were held out of practice for various injuries but none seem serious. Michael Schofield, Virgil Green and Kapri Bibbs left practice early for seemingly minor injuries. Antonio Smith continued to work on the side in full pads in order to try and catch up on conditioning before joining the team in most drills.

Emmanuel Sanders has been impressive in camp and caught a red zone touchdown from Peyton Manning while being covered by Chris Harris Jr. Thomas also had a spectacular one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone early in practice.

On special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis had the team practice kick return and field goals Tuesday. Connor Barth, Brandon McManus and Karl Schmitz kick the ball off and all three had varying success. Barth and McManus attempted the field goals. Barth was four for four and had pinpoint accuracy from the left, middle and right of the field. McManus clearly had more power on his kicks but struggled with his accuracy. He made three of his four attempts.

Von Miller was once again, very impressive in pass rush drills against the offensive line. In the first snap of the drill he made an inside move on Ryan Harris and got to the quarterback almost untouched. The entire group at the drill exploded in cheers as he celebrated the play by sprinting around the unit. Other impressive players at the same drill were Shane Ray, Ben Garland, Louis Vasquez, Sambrailo and Williams.

The team did several full team drills in the red zone throughout practice and ran the ball more than any other practice thus far. At one point the team seemed to be playing sloppy and Kubiak gathered the entire squad for an impromptu huddle at mid-field. When asked why after practice Kubiak calmly explained himself.

“It’s just always trying to remind them where you’re at. You don’t want to see them waiting on you all the time because you’re not out there on the field with them come game day. You want to see your leaders stop things like that and regroup the things. It’s part of football, too. During the game, you have bad things happen to you. Can you regroup and go the next series? That’s the way practice is and I’m just trying to remind them each and every day.”

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