Training camp is in full swing at UCHealth Center and jobs are on the line yet, daily players in competition with each other for jobs and even teammates across the line of scrimmage are taking an active role in each others’ progress. Each day Peyton Manning may pull Cody Latimer aside to go over a play or C.J. Anderson reminds Ronnie Hillman of a particular assignment. The team clearly is pulling together already and it is benefitting several players.
As the Denver Broncos inch closer to their first preseason game next week the team is shifting into team mode and it has come as a surprise to veterans, rookies and even some longtime coaches.
“Well I’ll tell you what, I have been a lot of places, but this is kind of unusual. The DBs have all been helping our guys saying, ‘This is what we’re seeing from you guys,’ and ‘This is why we’re doing this.’ They have been really good—the defense has been great trying to help us out,” Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said this week. “It’s pretty unique. I haven’t seen it. There have been a couple of things here or there, but I see it all the time here. So I, as an offensive coach, really appreciate it.”
James Casey echoed Dennison’s sentiments after practice Friday. The seven year veteran has been on several teams before landing in Denver this May and he understands the benefits of teammates accelerating the learning process. DeMarcus Ware in particular has been vocal about helping along anyone who will listen.
“Its rare that you get defensive guys helping you while you are practicing against them in camp because they want to take advantage of anything they see but he (Ware) is seeing the big picture here. A lot the defensive guys are seeing big picture and anything they can do to help us out they know it is going to help this team as we get into these preseason games and the regular season.”
Casey has had a very good camp thus far and will certainly make the roster. He has the tough task of playing tight end as well as full back and Friday displayed why he needs all the help he can get. The Broncos lined up in a plethora of formations. Two tight ends on one side, pistol, power I and spread formations were all seen from practice.
Reggie Walker, a journeyman inside linebacker in his first year with the Broncos, is certainly a player that is in a stiff competition for playing time and has found the communication between teammates surprising as well.
“This is my third team and every team is different from the next. I understand why this team is so much better than a lot of team’s in the NFL by how they go about everything, how the offense communicates with the defense and we help each other. Everyone is really in this together. I think in other places it was more separate,” Walker said Friday. “It is helping me out a lot. At first I was going through some pains trying to figure out new techniques and things of that nature but now, talking with the coaches, they give you great feedback and it is helping me grow worlds.”
Walker has slowly climbed the depth chart and is getting repetitions with the second-team defense and has drawn praise from the coaching staff. He certainly is player to watch throughout the preseason as Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall continue to recover from injuries in the 2014-15 season.
Darius Kilgo is another newcomer to the team that has benefited from veteran leadership along the defensive line and as a sixth-round selection it has been a surprise to see him consistently running with the second-string defense.
“Coming out here getting reps with these guys is getting me better. Having veteran guys out here pushing you to the best of your abilities is gets you better every day. The vets are helping me out each and every day.”
The defensive line will have to mature and gel quickly due to Derek Wolfe’s suspension and a concussion he suffered Thursday. Antonio Smith is also behind due to his absence from OTAs and minicamp. Fortunately, the group gained another nose tackle Thursday when the team added Sione Fua.
On the other side of the ball Matt Paradis has jumped into the starting center role the last two days of camp and understands where Kilgo is coming from. He was also drafted in the sixth round in 2014 and is now getting his shot. He acknowledged he has a lot to learn up front but has also been encouraged by his teammates.
“Every second we have some time in between drills both the defense and offense have been giving each other tips and explaining if they are giving something away pre-snap. It has been great to get that kind of feedback and it only will benefit everyone in the future.”
Paradis has clearly found favor with the coaching staff and will be another young player that will be relied upon. The offensive line may start three players week one with zero starts in previous seasons.
Former Bronco offensive lineman and three-time Super Bowl champion Mark Schlereth has been taking notice of the personnel changes this offseason and knows all too well of the importance of the team mentality and helping each other out. He acknowledged he has seen it recently at the Broncos training camp and knows what it means for the team’s future.
“I always beloved it was my responsibility to help the guys that were on my team to become the best players they can be,” Schlereth said Friday. “Even if it meant that that guy was going to eventually take your job or was going to beat you up on one-on-ones. I just wanted us to be the best team we could be.”
That is the mentality the Broncos are trying to recreate and luckily, from the front office to the coaching staff, there are now a lot of familiar faces from the championship teams. Either organically or by design, it appears that the team aspect is winning out through communication and healthy competition. That, more than anything, should excite Broncos Country just eight days into the 2015-16 season.
Emmanuel Sanders (hamstring), Derek Wolfe (concussion), Steven Johnson (sprained knee) and Marvin Austin Jr. were held out of practice Friday. Chris Harris Jr. and David Bruton Jr. left practice early due to minor injuries. Despite a dislocated finger, Virgil Green finished practice and caught several passes throughout the day.
Solomon Patton put in his best practice and was the star of day eight at camp. He made some spectacular plays including a bomb from Zac Dysert in team two-minute drills for a touchdown. He has been making heads turn the last few practices as a slot receiver and in the return game.
The special teams practiced situational punt team and Colquitt once again, looked solid. Connor Barth kicked several field goals, the deepest being a 55-yard attempt, at the end of team two-minute drills and didn’t miss one. Brandon McManus only kicked on the side field separate from the team drills.
Offensively, the team practiced the most varied amount of formations at practice so far this season. Peyton Manning lined up in shotgun as well as under center and the tight ends and backfield show numerous looks throughout the day. Andre Caldwell got additional snaps at receiver as Demaryius Thomas continues to be eased back onto work.
The defense recorded a pair of interceptions and Malik Jackson, Shane Ray and Von Miller all had potential sacks during the team drills.