Englewood, Co.—When fans arrived to UCHealth Training Center on Wednesday, they were greeted by Denver Broncos' executive Brittany Bowlen and her sister Annabel. The sisters passed out purple towels and foam fingers to promote Alzheimer’s Awareness Day.
The sisters' late father Pat Bowlen, who was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Famer posthumously in 2019, developed advanced Alzheimer’s late in life and it would later claim him. On Wednesday, however, the Bowlen sisters helped spearhead a heartfelt tribute to 'Mr. B.' and all people who’ve suffered from and endured the devastating disease.
Fans also hoped to see improvement on Day 16 of practice after Tuesday's abysmal performance. There were multiple drops, a lack of energy, and poor performances from the quarterbacks on Day 15.
The Broncos are more than likely finished with their two workdays for the week as the team travels to Seattle this weekend for preseason Game 2 against the Seahawks. That means the last practice open to the public will be held on Thursday and is likely be a walk-through.
Like most of Broncos Country and even former QB Jake Plummer, I was very cautious with my expectations for the day. Sure, one bad practice does not an entire camp body of work make, but two such displays in a row are what earns teams a losing record.
How did the Broncos respond to the forgettable practice from the day before? Let’s start by reviewing the QB competition and look ahead to two stars of the day.
Drew Lock: The young incumbent bounced back tremendously after producing a terrible practice on Tuesday. In his first reps during team period, the third-year signal-caller decisively progressed through his reads, completing multiple short passes that were not only accurate but had some velocity to them.
Lock started 7-on-7 by completing at least four passes in a row in a variety of formations. He threw an absolute bullet to TE Albert Okwuegbunam for a 10-yard gain before finding WR Courtland Sutton on a beautiful drag route.
It was very obvious that Lock felt a responsibility to come back from what I would describe as his worst day of practice. When he wasn’t in drills, he was active with teammates and QBs coach Mike Shula on the sideline and was also observed running from drill to drill, attacking practice with a heightened sense of urgency.
In addition to being deadly accurate with his throws, Lock’s internal processor significantly sped up as he harnessed a quicker release. His best throw of the day came towards the end of practice where he threw an absolute dime to TE Noah Fant, who ran a wheel route but dropped the precise throw.
Although Fant shook the mismatched defender, Lock was able to execute a flawless throw that was not his first read and was even on the left sideline. Basically, the QB did everything he could in practice to prove to coaches that Tuesday was just a bad day at the office and not a sign of things to come this season.
Teddy Bridgewater: Just because Lock had a gnarly outing yesterday didn't mean Teddy faired any better. The veteran QB also struggled, causing coaches to double down in frustrations with both players. On Day 16, though, it was Bridgewater that started team period and players appeared to be energetic and reorganized.
Instead of getting off to a good start in the morning, Teddy started the series with a sack because he held onto the ball too long. Although he tucked and ran with the ball upfield, nobody can count that as a positive because the play would’ve resulted in a sack or be blown dead by the whistle.
One play later, Teddy found training camp star WR Jerry Jeudy on a quick out route showing touch and accuracy. But any momentum that Jeudy started to build with Bridgewater came to a screeching halt when safety Justin Simmons intercepted the veteran QB in the middle of the field. The Pro Bowl safety continued to wreck practice by intercepting a Brett Rypien throw just a handful of plays later.
Other than quick-out routes and inside slants, Teddy seemed to struggle to connect with his receivers. It almost felt as if Lock's indecisiveness from Tuesday was contracted by Teddy through osmosis as he held onto the ball way too long. There were also both over-and underthrown balls on the perimeter for the second consecutive day.
However, Bridgewater did shake the rust off towards the end of practice in team period finding WR Trinity Benson for a 30-yard gain. Bridgewater went on to complete two more passes in a row and also showed athleticism on a play-action pass.
Bridgewater might not have been bad at practice on Wednesday, but he wasn’t good either. It was just another average day from what many believe to be an average NFL QB. If Teddy wants to change that perception, he’ll have to do so when he starts for the Broncos in Game 2 at the Seahawks on Saturday night.
WR Trinity Benson: A Candidate for Training Camp MVP
I originally wrote up a profile on Benson after the third day of training camp. Aside from Jeudy, Benson was the most consistent playmaker at that time reeling in two touchdowns in three days. The 24-year-old received first-team reps and continues to see them now in the final week of camp open to the public.
I observed Benson’s improved level of route running influence his playmaking talent on Wednesday. He's continually gaining more separation from defensive backs largely due to the edge with which he executes his cuts. He caught every pass thrown his way from both Lock and Teddy, making the most of every rep.
In addition to being rewarded with more offensive snaps, Benson is also practicing as a returner on special teams. Later in practice on the first rep of team period, Benson hauled in a 30-yard pass from Bridgewater, caffeinating the Broncos' new-look offense.
While I’d never campaign for a player to lose their job, Diontae Spencer is likely on his last legs here at Broncos camp. Although he was a Pro Bowl alternate and AFC Special Teams Player of the Week last year, Benson brings a multidimensional aspect to his game as both a receiver and returner.
Not to mention the two touchdowns that Benson hauled in against the Vikings in the first preseason game last weekend. Every practice Benson’s stock continues to increase with the young receiver making the most of his camp reps.
RB Javonte Williams: Give ‘Pookie’ the Ball
Broncos starting RB Melvin Gordon III is still recovering from a groin injury and his reps are being limited this week in practice. He was held out of the first preseason game last weekend, and I surmise he’ll be held out against the Seahawks on Saturday night, which might not be in his best interest.
While Gordon heals, the second-round draft pick out of North Carolina is gaining red-hot momentum. At 5-foot-10 and 212-pounds Williams runs the ball with a low pad level and ferocious level of aggression. The man nicknamed ‘Pookie,’ also demonstrates elite athleticism and precise route running and catching in the passing game.
I have yet to see Williams fumble, let alone drop a ball or blow a pass protection set throughout the duration of training camp. On Wednesday, he continued to gain a rapport with the starting Broncos' offensive line, continually moving the chains.
It’s hard to tell what realistic gains can be analyzed in camp largely due to players protecting one another and not tackling. But I’ve definitely noticed defenders recognizing that they must match the explosive nature of Williams, or he’ll end up popping them in the hole.
In college, Williams averaged over 5.1 yards per carry in three seasons at Chapel Hill after being recruited by nearly every Ivey League university in high school. Basically, the Broncos have the whole package with this back, who has plenty of tread on the tires after splitting reps with Michael Carter in college.
Because of his work ethic, football acumen, and punishing throwback style of old, I wholeheartedly expect immediate success for Williams. As I’ve written previously, the rookie could rush for 1,000 yards in 2021.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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