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Broncos' Answer to Loss of Tim Patrick? More Tight Ends

Is this Nathaniel Hackett's solution to the loss of Tim Patrick?

It was a big blow to the Denver Broncos offense when wide receiver Tim Patrick went down with an injury. This leaves GM George Paton and head coach Nathaniel Hackett in a pinch as they work to find someone to step in. 

The mantra in football is next man up, and the Broncos have plenty of options at wide receiver that they can turn to, but maybe the answer is elsewhere. Not a free agent or trading for a wide receiver, but the tight ends. 

The Broncos have a good bunch of tight ends with different skill-sets between them. That could lead to some creative looks offensively by using tight ends not just from the slot but also from the boundary. 

When looking at the tight end room, rookie Greg Dulcich and Albert Okwuegbunam stand out as the two players who can move the most. Dulcich is a good athlete with good movement skills through his routes. 

Okwuegbunam has the size and athleticism to be a mismatch nightmare for defenses. In the case of Okwuegbunam, if you leave him on an island against corners, he can use his size to box them out from the catch point. 

On the other hand, if he gets matched up against linebackers, Albert O can use his speed to get separation. These are things that Okwuegbunam touched on when he took the podium for the first time during training camp. 

"Like I said, I think that’s one of the beauties of this offense, especially coming from tight end position," the tight end said. "It’s] the ability to put us anywhere. Put me against a linebacker, and I’ll be faster. Put me against a ‘DB,’ and I’m bigger than him. That’s where it directly creates a mismatch.”

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There is no denying Okwuegbunam is a mismatch and can be used all over the formation. That includes in the slot and outside, which may be better for his skill-set rather than as an in-line tight end because of his blocking concerns. 

How much he stays on the field, however, could be contingent on his blocking acumen. Okwuegbunam was asked about his blocking and how comfortable he is playing on the boundary. 

"I feel really comfortable, and that’s one of the main things that I love about our offense—how complex it is and how the positioning is," Okwuegbunam said. "We can be all over the formation, so I feel very comfortable.”

It's good to hear that he is comfortable because the Broncos need Okwuegbunam to step up, even if they hadn't lost Patrick with the torn ACL. But, again, it goes back to opening up more creativity on offense. Now with Patrick out, it's more of a necessity. 

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After Wednesday's practice, Hackett was asked about the tight ends stepping up.

"Oh, I mean, it’s exciting," Hackett said. "There are a lot of guys. It’s not just that they have big bodies, but those dudes can run up. We saw it a couple times already watching all those guys. Now getting Dulcich back—slowly working back in. Watching Albert run, ‘Saub’ (TE Eric Saubert) run, [TE] [Andrew] Beck’s running well. Whenever you have that kind of a fluid player that can be on the line and block to take advantage of matchups there, and at the same time, stretch the field vertically—you’re really excited.”

The Broncos can use multiple tight end looks, even if they have only one in-line tight end. Eric Saubert seems to be leading for the top spot at tight end, and he does his best work in-line, allowing Dulcich and Okwuegbunam to work in the slot or on the boundary. 

As mentioned before, Okwuegbunam has some concerns about his blocking. Getting him outside against corners could help cover some of those issues. However, Okwuegbunam is confident in how he has grown as a blocker. 

"I feel like that’s a part of my game that I’m improving on every day," Okwuegbunam said. "Definitely, I’ve come a long way since my rookie year, but [I’m] still chasing that unachievable perfect. It’s good, but I always want to get better at all aspects.”

That belief is great, but Albert O still has to go out there and show it. The Broncos lost a big piece of their offense when  Patrick went down. 

However, the Broncos have multiple tight ends and can use them in numerous ways, so instead of turning to other wide receivers to replace Patrick, the answer could be the tight ends. 

While history doesn't favor tight ends with Russell Wilson at quarterback or under Hackett as offensive coordinator, both seem inclined to change that. Using more tight ends would be a way to open things up. Additionally, it gives Denver another benefit. 

As teams go smaller with sub-packages, using more tight ends can be a counter punch, especially in the run game. That gives the Broncos bigger bodies that can help clear running lanes against lighter boxes. 

With Hackett wanting to be a rushing team, two-TE sets give the Broncos some advantage in multiple ways. The question is whether Hackett will go that route after his time in Green Bay, where as offensive coordinator, the Packers used more than one tight end on only 352 plays out of over 1,100 plays last year.

Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.

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