Saturday the practice from UCHealth Training Center was primarily one-sided. The defense was intense, hyped and physical throughout the day. In addition to the normal team drills, red zone and goal line was added to practice while the players donned full pads.
With over a week of training camp behind the Denver Broncos questions remain but one thing is for sure; this defense is ready to attack offenses early and often.
“Defensively we practiced extremely well today,” Gary Kubiak said Saturday. “It was probably our most dominate performance defensively as far as just our attitude and staying in the moment all day long.”
Todd Davis, Brandon Marshall and Mailk Jackson all made plays to stop the offense short of touchdowns and it was fueling the defense’s intense attitude. As the team prepares for Friday, the team’s first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, it appears that the talent-rich defense is ready to go full speed and hit people other than teammates.
“We had a good day defensively. B. Marsh (Marshall) got it started today. He had a hell of a day,” Darian Stewart said after Saturday’s defensive performance. While the defense dominated the practice and there were some big collisions, Stewart acknowledged that they have yet to go full speed. When asked about the game Friday he quickly smiled and responded. “We are very excited; we really get to hit someone then.”
Wade Phillips return to the Broncos sideline has increased some of the excitement for the defense. The prospect of an attack-often scheme brings opportunities for turnovers and sacks. Saturday Aqib Talib caught his third interception of training camp and took it the other way for a score. He once again, is having a great training camp and Kubiak likes what he sees daily from No. 21.
“To me, the difference in this league between a good corner and a great corner is guys that have ball skills. A lot of guys can cover, but when the ball is there, can you make the play on the ball? Can you make the pick? Can you take it the other way? As an offensive guy, attacking corners that you know don’t have ball skills, you’re not afraid. That’s what separates him. ”
The defense is also becoming familiar with each other in a way that wasn’t possible last season during training camp. Outside of the coaching staff and a few role players the starting 11 defensive players will be very familiar with each other. In their base defense, Stewart will likely be the only newcomer. That familiarity with each other has gone a long way with players, even Talib as he enters his eighth season.
“That camaraderie makes it a lot easier to approach TJ (Ward) and tell him that he got to do this. When I didn’t really know him that good last year, I’d say are you going to this. It’s different now, we know each other, and we know how to react to each other and stuff like that, so that definitely helped,” the Pro Bowl corner said Saturday.
The depth on the defense will also make it easier to be in attack mode constantly. After the stellar Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray has progressed nicely at camp and is consistently getting repetitions on both edges of the defense. Bradley Roby is the starting nickel cornerback and second-string corner in base defenses. He had an exceptional year for a rookie but is working extremely hard in year two to become elite. Phillips’s defense is one in which he believes suits him and his teammates unique skills.
“I think it’s a defense that suits our talents well. We have a lot of good pass rushers and we have a lot of good corners and safeties that can play man coverage, very well. So I think it’s going to complement our talents good and I think it’ll be a great addition to our team this year.”
The Broncos still must improve and stay healthy, especially on the interior. Malik Jackson returned to full practice this week, while his fellow starting defensive end Derek Wolfe continues to recover from another concussion. Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are still being eased back into full duties after season ending injuries last year. Despite those questions the defense has all the tools to be great.
Obviously much has been made about the Broncos secondary with T.J. Ward, Chris Harris Jr. and Talib. Stewart, who is playing on his third team for his sixth season has been floored to work amongst this group. When asked if they can be the best secondary in the league he had a quick and serious response.
“Hands down, I think so.”
The road starts Friday and the opponent is a perfect fit for their first step. The Seahawks are coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and have boasted the most physical defense in the league for years. The Broncos made big strides last year, only to regress in the season finale. The Broncos defense was undoubtedly respected last year, ranking in the top three against both the run and pass but they were not feared. That should be the goal this season. Attack often, from every level and the Broncos will truly return to their “Orange Crush” days and run wild through the AFC.
Several players were banged up with injuries over the weekend. Joe Don Duncan suffered a neck injury Sunday and his status moving forward in unknown. C.J. Anderson returned to work Sunday after a shoulder injury cut his day short Saturday. Demaryius Thomas and Marshall were pulled from Sunday’s practice early as precautions due to slight bumps and bruises. Several other players missed Sunday’s practice due to rest for veterans or soreness.
Brock Osweiler ran the first-team offense Sunday in helmets and shoulder pads as Peyton Manning looked on. He showed progress in roll out passes and had some nice completions throughout the day. He did miss a deep skinny-post route late in practice that would have been a touchdown. Overall Kubiak seemed pleased with his second day of running the offense in camp.
The backup running back competition appears to be heating up. Earlier last week it appeared to be Montee Ball’s job but recently Ronnie Hillman has been making it tough on the coaching staff. Kubiak called Hillman a “home run” threat Sunday and has to see more of them in the coming weeks to make his decision.
“I would agree with that. I think C.J.’s having a good camp. [He is] doing his job. But I think after that, I think on any given day, I think it’s been deep as far as watching all of them—not just Ronnie and [RB] Montee [Ball]. I think the other guys have worked extremely well, too. We’re going to play them all. They’re all a little bit different in how they do things and I’ve got to watch them on game day,” Kubiak said Sunday.
Kenny Anunike continues to progress form year one to two. He has been playing with the second-string defense throughout camp and made a big play Sunday. He stripped veteran running back Jeremy Stewart and recovered the fumble for a turnover in Sunday’s practice. Kubiak has stated that Anunike’s biggest struggle will be to hold onto the 12 pounds he gained in the offseason. He is undersized and will have to continue to try and build mass.
The depth chart will be released Monday or Tuesday of this week and that will give a great indication of where some players stand on the team. However, the preseason games ahead will truly show who has been mentally preparing for the games and who can execute at game-time speed.