Indoor Practice: Game-day simulation or another sign of softness?

Oh, the weather outside is… not all that bad actually.

Unless you’re Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph, that is.

The Broncos on Thursday and Friday decided to host practice indoors at the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, a decision that raised a few eyebrows. The indoor practice facility tends to be reserved for inclement weather, walkthroughs or even preventing distractions — à la Peyton Manning rehabbing from injury in 2015. For the most part, though, if the weather isn’t of any major concern, the team can be found outside getting their reps in.

But, on a brisk 36-degree Thursday in Denver, Joseph decided that it might be a little too chilly for an outdoor practice, and instead sent the team into the fieldhouse. They were back indoors again on Friday, with temperatures in the mid-40s.

Joseph, who was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator last year before coming to Denver for his first head-coaching job, explained his reasoning afterwards.

“It’s cold,” he said, laughing, after Thursday’s practice. “But on a serious note, you want guys to be able to focus. You want an environment where they can learn and where coaches can teach. When it’s cold, it’s tough and when it’s warmer, it’s more comfortable. It was cold.”

But this is Denver. The Broncos are an outdoor team. A temperature of 36 degrees, while below the average of 44 this time of year, isn’t really all that bad, especially considering it wasn’t raining or snowing. The Broncos have been through much worse, like the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, where it was 13 degrees at kickoff.

The move looks even more odd, considering the term recently used by general manager John Elway to describe the team. Elway called out the team during a Ring of Fame ceremony on Nov. 17, saying “I will tell ya, I think we got a little bit soft. To be dead honest with you, we got a little bit soft.”

Elway’s words look a little more true after the past two days. A team that isn’t soft wouldn’t view 36 degrees as “cold.” A team that isn’t soft wouldn’t have players that are unable to focus, or coaches that are unable to teach, just because it’s a little brisk outside.

Now, it is plausible that Joseph wanted to prepare the team for their game against the New York Jets on Sunday. Currently, kickoff temperature in Denver is slated to be 63 degrees and sunny, and practicing in cold weather won’t exactly simulate the conditions on game day, including how hard the ground is during tackling or how much the ball stings when it hits players’ hands.

But it could also be argued that practicing inside even further prevents the simulation of game-day conditions. There’s no wind indoors, and the fieldhouse is made of artificial turf, not the Kentucky Bluegrass that is used at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. There’s no sunlight affecting vision, and sound carries indoors much differently than it does outdoors.

If it truly was a temperature issue, then someone needs to break some bad news to Joseph. Denver averages in the 40s in December, and even colder in January.

The Broncos are an outdoor, cold-weather team, and practicing indoors is only going to hinder the struggling group even further. It’s time to break away from the Miami mindset, Coach Joseph.