ENGLEWOOD, Co. — On Tuesday, the Denver Broncos launched their first fully padded practice of training camp at UCHealth Training Center. This began the second phase of camp as players will fly out to Minnesota next week for scheduled joint practices and scrimmages prior to their preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
I was hoping that the moving parts of the first week's practice would fall into place, and the momentum certain guys established would come to fruition, when the pads came on. But much like Broncos Country has painfully learned over the last five years, hope is not a strategy.
Practice lacked any sort of energy, rhythm, or significance to it today. The day was docile and dull aside from LB Von Miller and WRs Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy attempting to generate crowd excitement a handful of times.
There was maybe one good ‘pop’ heard from practice today, but other than that, the Broncos players, coaches, and staff seemed content with the lackadaisical tempo of Day 6.
What did we learn?
It’s time to review the quarterback competition and highlight a few silver linings from an unproductive and bizarre Broncos camp practice.
QB Competition: Day 6
Note: After attending Tuesday's practice, I can conclude that there was not a clear-cut winner in the starting QB competition for the Broncos. Neither Teddy Bridgewater nor Drew Lock played with any sort of energy, charisma, or enthusiasm.
Sure, there were many completions for both QBs, but the dynamic game-changing plays that have previously drawn fans by the masses to Broncos Camp were seemingly absent.
Bridgewater: ‘Steady’ Teddy started the team period with several completions to various receivers including Jeudy, Sutton, and Tim Patrick. Although completions usually move the chains, the overwhelming majority of his throws came in the short to intermediate routes in the middle of the field.
Yes, Bridgewater found Jeudy on back-to-back crossing routes that produced significant yards after the catch. But Broncos Country and the NFL masses already know Bridgewater is comfortable operating the dink-and-dunk intricacies of OC Pat Shurmur’s offense.
On multiple occasions, the 28-year-old veteran QB overthrew receivers in addition to throwing the ball away when secondary coverage was tight.
Lock: Much like his teammate, the incumbent started practice with several straight completions including a nice checkdown to RB Mike Boone in the flat. While Lock’s decision-making and full-field reads initially excited me, I was continually left wanting more out of the former second-round QB from Mizzou.
It was almost as if Coach Shurmur had both QBs playing the checkdown game on Tuesday, and Lock matched Teddy throw for throw. Lock had several nice throws, though, including completions to various receivers on slant routes demonstrating a quicker internal processor.
But then there were overthrown passes on go routes, and at least one pass placed behind Sutton who still snagged the ball for the catch. There was also a mishandled snap from Lock and rookie Quinn Meinerz that resulted in a fumble, but it was too difficult to tell which player faulted the play.
It wasn’t until the red zone drills of team period that Lock tried to squeeze a bullet pass into the end zone, and safety Justin Simmons nearly came up with the interception. While I can’t necessarily blame Lock for trying to score and get some sort of energy on offense, there was an eerily similar throw last week from him that was almost picked off by multiple defenders.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the QB play on Day 6 was that neither Teddy nor Lock seemed to bring any sort of oomph to the practice. After multiple missed opportunities from each man, there was never any coordination with receivers after the route or even communication on how to improve between the players throwing and catching the ball.
Quarterback is undoubtedly the most important position in professional sports, and while Denver has a decision on its hands, I can’t help but feel the lame-duck approach of this competition will not benefit the team in the regular season.
Rookie RB Javonte Williams Welcomes Contact and Competition
On a day where most RBs in the NFL would typically dread, Williams seemed to be getting better. The current collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA ensures that teams can initiate padded practice on the sixth day of training camp.
On Tuesday, Williams invited the defensive line and linebacking core to meet him in the interior holes in team drills. Rather than try and bounce a play to the perimeter and have a defender take their foot off the gas and pull up, the second-round draft pick from North Carolina seemed to get better with the light contact sustained. After lowering his head and deliberately hitting his running lane, he consistently broke through the pile of offensive lineman and multiple defenders.
Incumbent RB Melvin Gordon II will be the starter when the Broncos play the New York Giants in Week 1, but I expect the rookie to snag the RB1 job by the end of the season. Part of me wonders whether Gordon is worried about being supplanted based on his high level of play thus far in camp and doing some of the extra things like catching with QBs during downtime.
Whether Williams starts or not really doesn’t matter, because when this former LB is handed the ball, he’s proving that he’ll make the most out of every rep. So, while everyone argues over which QB will win training camp, it seems like the ground-and-pound days of yore should make a comeback with Denver’s host of RBs.
LG Dalton Risner is Leading Front Five in Trenches
Broncos Country's favorite went on record this past offseason multiple times describing his dismay at projections and rankings. Risner embraced a “don't talk about it, be about it” mentality, that has without question been on display the first two weeks of Broncos camp.
One of my first observations featured a familiar and crucial aspect of Risner’s game: communication. He can frequently be observed pointing, checking and talking with LT Garett Bolles on his left side and center Lloyd Cushenberry III on his right.
While this hardly comes as a surprise to knowledgeable Broncos fans, I noticed a much more deliberate and clean style of communication. At times, I often felt that Risner’s game was limited due to the development of playing next to a rookie center and the extreme makeover transformation that Bolles endured.
This year, Risner seems to be focusing more on his own assignments, always eager to assist a teammate with a double-team or chip. His pad level is consistently lower than in years past, allowing for a smoother and more productive block from the line of scrimmage.
Although his position is technically between the franchise’s blindside tackle and the anchor of the line (center), Risner has the opportunity and respect to finally claim ownership of the starting five in the trenches.
Diontae Spencer is Proving he’s more than a Returner
Just when you think the Broncos' receiving corps couldn’t get any more depth, Spencer reminds his team that he can be a dynamic offensive playmaker. For the first two weeks of training camp, he has consistently demonstrated a significant improvement in his route running.
Against Vic Fangio’s vaunted cornerback trio of Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain, and Bryce Callahan, Spencer has made terrific catches bracketed by tight coverage. No, the former CFL All-Star isn’t going to supplant KJ Hamler in the slot but if receivers like Tyrie Cleveland and Seth Williams do not produce, expect Spencer to be a viable option for either Lock or Bridgewater.
Spencer has still been fielding punts and kick returns, something that has been his bread and butter for the Broncos and earned him Pro Bowl-alternate honors in 2019. The fact of the matter is, coaches look for players that do what is asked of them. Because Spencer already has special teams’ boxes checked, he seems to be getting more opportunities every day to prove his worth as an NFL receiver.
Day 6 Notes
- Safety Kareem Jackson kept out of practice for a veteran day.
- LB Josey Jewell, DL Mike Purcell, Safety Jamar Johnson were observed working with trainers on the side field. Held out of practice.
- First practice of 1:1’s for WR’s/TE’s/DB’s and OL/ DL/LBs.
- EDGE Bradley Chubb took first-team reps in his first padded practice.
- CB Bryce Callahan took limited first-team reps and was seemingly on a snap count.
- OL Quinn Meinerz had a tough day in 1:1 drills and his botched snap with Lock.
- Bobby Massie started the last two days at RT with Calvin Anderson as the swing tackle.
- LB Justin Strnad had a solid practice with attention to detail on the special teams’ unit.
- LB Josh Watson had the only big hit of the day, tackling TE Albert Okwuegbunam behind the line of scrimmage.
- WR Kendall Hinton took reps as a special teams returner (punt).
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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