Training Camp Postcard: Broncos
At the Broncos' camp, 15 minutes south of downtown Denver, at their permanent practice facility. It's always a good gauge of Bronco Fever in town when you get to the parking lot near the practice facility and it's full, and you see orange-clad Broncophiles walking from wherever they've left their cars. On this morning, arriving around 9 for the 8:45 practice, 10 or 15 fans were trekking from some parking lot of some business to the first of two practices on the day.
1. I think all eyes are on Jay Cutler. On every pass drop, all eyes go to him, and all conversations in the crowd cease when he goes to throw. Early observations off one practice: he's more accurate than he was in mini-camp, has decent mobility and a very good arm while on the run.
2. I think the best move the Broncos made in the offseason was installing D.J. Williams at middle linebacker. It's a spot he's wanted to play, because he thinks he belongs in the Ray Lewis mode of fellow Hurricane linebackers, guys who are three-down players and never come off the field. "I've been waiting for this opportunity since the day they drafted me,'' he told me. He practices like that too.
3. I think I got about the most tepid reaction I could imagine from Mike Shanahan, asking him about Gerard Warren after practice. "He's going to have to show me something here in camp,'' said Shanahan, who rarely hands no praise to players during such a vanilla time as the preseason. (Postscript: Sure enough, the Broncs dealt Warren to the Raiders for a conditional draft choice on Aug. 20.)
4. I think Dre' Bly is so happy to be here, because, being on the opposite side of Champ Bailey he'll have a lot of balls thrown at him and he should get to make a lot of plays. That, plus the fact he's going to be a winner after being in Detroit.
5. I think the best news for the coaching staff in the off-season was the disintegration of Nick Saban's staff in Miami. That allowed Saban's coordinator of football operations, Scott O'Brien, to flee the Miami stalag and return to the sidelines to coach, which is what he does best. There are special-teams coaches as good as O'Brien --Bobby April, for one -- but there aren't any better in the NFL.
Can you have a little patience? Good. Then pick wide receiver Brandon Stokley in the last round of your draft and stash him 'til you get some injuries and can use him for a couple of quick touchdowns. "He's the best slot receiver in football,'' Peyton Manning says unabashedly. "Great hands. Always open.'' He's missed much of camp with a strained thigh muscle, and Shanahan will have to see something decent out of him in order to play him opening day. Cutler, in limited work with Stokley, thinks very highly of him too. Just monitor him between now and the time you draft. If it looks like he'll be dressing opening day, you won't regret the investment.
Yes, media can eat in the Bronco cafeteria. Lunch today: Ground beef burritos (maybe it was turkey, but it tasted like beef) with tomato and lettuce, hot sauce and diet cola. Grade: C+. Plain Jane fare. Nice nuts/trails mix combo on the tables, in Ziploc bags. Very good snacking while interviewing Cutler. Grade: B+.
The more I go around to camps, the more I see teams not hitting. In fact, this is my 11th stop, and other than the night Kansas City and Minnesota scrimmaged in full pads, there's been precious little contact other than the "thud'' drills -- where defensive players will stand a ballcarrier up and semi-wrap him up. In Bronco camp, the crowd cheered wildly when a rail-thin wideout, 6-2 Domenik Hixon, sped past Bailey and caught a bomb over the game's best corner. It was the football equivalent of, say, a Class A pitcher striking out A-Rod on three pitches. But on this play, some of the media guys on the sidelines are thinking exactly what I'm thinking: Don't get so excited, Mr. Hixon. If this were a regular-season game, you wouldn't be beating Bailey, unless he were to fall down.
• Free-agent running back Travis Henry looks impressive, stronger and quicker than I recall from Tennessee.
• Daniel Graham, who was signed off New England's roster to be more of an offensive tight end, needs to be better and more athletic than Tony Scheffler to stay on the field long. Scheffler, a Shanahan favorite, isn't yet fully recovered from offseason surgery to repair a broken foot.
• Tom Nalen, 40, is old man river, yet the team expects him to play every snap on offense. All he did last year, again, was start all 16 weeks. Shanahan is adamant that Nalen is still the best center in football and can play more than just one more year if he wants.
• Strange-looking designated pass-rusher, Elvis Dumervil. How can a pass-rusher be 5-11?