ENGLEWOOD, Co. — On Wednesday, the Denver Broncos held their second padded practice, and the day was more energetic and livelier than Tuesday's lackluster affair. From the beginning of practice, the first thing that I observed was a much more vocal coaching staff consistently preaching tempo and attention to detail.
Maybe it was the poor optics of Day 6's ho-hum proceedings or the fact that players have an off-day on Thursday that inspired a better practice of training camp. As all of Broncos Country kept its eyes locked on the quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, head coach Vic Fangio’s plan for practice was far different than the previous six days of camp.
Let’s review the Broncos starting QB battle and look ahead to some stars of the day.
QB Competition: Day 7
Note: It became blatantly obvious that the QB battle would not be 50/50 for Wednesday's practice. Bridgewater took all the first-string QB snaps in the beginning of 7-on-7 drills as the second-team practiced against the ones. While some would insist this is a sign of panic for Lock, I’d suggest that Bridgewater running with the ones was simply by design from the coaching staff.
Bridgewater: Teddy started the day in team period with a completed play-action pass to WR Jerry Jeudy, who’s been the MVP of camp thus far. One play later, Bridgewater connected with second-year RB LeVante Bellamy in the flat, moving the chains approximately 3-to-5 yards.
The 28-year-old veteran QB executed flawless progressions and reads in team drills before finding Jeudy once again on a crossing route in 7-on-7. Teddy also connected with WR Trinity Benson on a nice little jerk route (shallow crossing route) for a touchdown over rookie CB Patrick Surtain II. Just one play later, Jeudy continued to vibe with Bridgewater by hauling in a five-yard bullet pass for the touchdown.
Much like the last few days of camp, there were multiple times where receivers let Teddy down. On Day 7, it was undrafted rookie WR Branden Mack who stopped running on a sideline pass in team period that consequently forced an incompletion for the offense.
Towards the end of practice, Mack also ran an incorrect route that allowed newly-signed CB Rojesterman Farris to snag another interception — his second to end practice in two of the last three days. After that specific play, Bridgewater was quick to jog down and coach the rookie wide receiver who was visibly frustrated and confused.
Overall, I’d estimate that Bridgewater likely received 60% of the first-team reps in team drills on Wednesday compared to his teammate Lock with 40%. This doesn’t mean that Teddy has won the job or that he's even ahead in the competition. It simply signals that the Broncos’ coaching staff is turning up the heat on both QBs. You can only play QBs 50/50 for about a week before the uncertain nature of the toughest position in pro sports overwhelms the team and detracts from the overall product on the field.
Lock: Drew started team period by connecting with WR Courtland Sutton in the middle of the field. Although the ball was somewhat behind him, Sutton was able to manipulate his body and make the grab. One play later, Lock overthrew rookie WR Seth Williams with multiple defenders in his face.
Then in 7-on-7 drills, the former Mizzou standout completed four straight passes. First, Lock threw a short floater to RB Royce Freeman on a designed screen that was bottled up by the defense. Although this may not have been a successful offensive play for OC Pat Shurmur, Lock demonstrated improved footwork and touch.
Lock also found Jeudy who seemingly couldn't care less which QB throws him the ball, logging significant yards after the catch. Lock’s best throw of the day came on a 25-yard pass to rookie WR DeVontres Dukes on an extended go route that was well defended. Lock demonstrated poise and accuracy while also stepping up in the pocket as defenders closed in.
But the QB's worst throw of the day resulted in a Justin Simmons interception. Two days ago, Simmons almost snagged Lock’s forced pass in the end zone before finally coming up with the big turnover for Fangio’s defense on Day 7.
Multiple defenders — including the cornerbacks and safety — flooded the middle of the field and immediately read Lock's eyes. This familiar mistake will no doubt weigh heavy on the QB with Thursday’s off-day before practice resumes Friday morning.
Thus far, Lock has demonstrated improved decision making but during his limited reps on Day 7, some of his familiar bad habits reared their ugly heads. All eyes will undoubtedly shift to Lock at the end of the week, who will be the presumed designated QB1 before Denver travels to Minnesota.
TE Noah Fant: The QB's Best Friend on the Field
Fant is expected to have a big year in terms of production with his dynamic playmaking ability. While I might have been critical of some of his practices due to focus and effort in the past, Wednesday was not one of them.
The 23-year-old former Iowa Hawkeye started practice by showing promise as a blocker in the running game, as he was observed sealing the edge with good hand placement on multiple plays. On Tuesday, it was reported through various media outlets that Fant had an abysmal day in pass protection sets during one-on-one drills. To which I say, who cares?
If the Broncos' former first-round draft pick is blocking on one or two passing plays per game, there has been a complete breakdown in offensive philosophy for the team. Much like he’s done the last two seasons, Fant proved to be a valuable security blanket for both Bridgewater and Lock.
For Teddy, who’s made a career off short to medium passes, Fant offers elite talent. For Lock, Fant represents comfortability and trust. Not showing any hesitation in crossing routes or in the open field, Fant consistently reeled in short to intermediate passes before turning upfield and finishing each player.
Overall, Fant looks the part of an AFC West tight end much like his divisional foes Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. After spending time at Tight End U with some of the league’s best players at the position, it’s only a matter of time before Fant puts the NFL on notice.
RB Mike Boone is Vindicating GM George Paton’s Acquisition
When Paton announced the signing of Boone, Broncos Country was reeling over the loss of fan-favorite Phillip Lindsay to free agency. I quickly started making phone calls trying to figure out the reasoning behind Paton bringing in a former Vikings player.
Was this a move based on familiarity? Is Boone here to be a special teams ace?
Well, over the last seven days, Boone has answered both of those questions. Yes, Paton stuck to his scouting evaluations as he’s currently in the process of resurrecting Denver’s ground game to Shurmur’s struggling offense. On Day 7, Boone lowered his head on many plays, showing grit, and welcoming all kinds of pops and contact from linebackers in the middle of the field.
His shifty ability to read his blockers allows him to benefit from the smallest of openings without compromising power. Although RBs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams are all but etched in stone to be the two leading backs, it often takes three or four RBS to complete an NFL season.
Royce Freeman is likely on borrowed time here in Denver and I believe he’d benefit from a change of scenery on another team. Bellamy is intriguing but with size limitations and only one year of experience, he'll likely be towards the bottom of the pack. Meaning, that Boone could very well make the most of his reps when his number is called.
In fact, it was Boone who appeared with the second-string offense today, something he’s previously done earlier in camp. So, for anyone saying that Boone will only be on kickoff and punt team, expect a pleasant surprise this season from the former undrafted and underrated 26-year-old. Does that sound familiar Broncos Country?
LB Justin Strnad Capitalizing on Valuable Reps
Fans were disappointed to learn that Strnad would be sidelined for his entire rookie year due to a wrist injury. After being drafted in the fifth round last year, it was assumed that Strnad’s athleticism and physicality could contend with opposing tight ends.
This year, the former Wake Forest standout has that chance as LB Josey Jewell recovers from a groin injury, and starting LB Alexander Johnson’s pass defense is very limited.
On Day 7, Strnad saw significant playing time with all three units from the starters to the third-string and reserves. Craving a more intense practice, I didn’t need to look any further than Strnad, who proved to be a surprising run-stuffer during team periods.
At 6-foot-3, and 238 pounds, Strnad doesn’t look like the typical NFL linebacker that is built with stout shoulders, trunk legs, and a muscular neck. Instead, he looks a lot like the team's Pro Bowl safety Simmons — but with a larger frame and more weight.
Strnad was flying around all over the field, matching TE Albert Okwuegbunam stride-for-stride on multiple passes, and was seen moving sideline-to-sideline in every rep from team to 7-on-7 drills. Even in special teams, Strnad showed a feisty enthusiasm to block and cover — something coaches are always looking for in young players eager to earn playing time.
While I can’t say that Strnad has arrived as the next starting linebacker, I can easily project the veteran Jewell and teammate Josh Watson being somewhat concerned about Strnad making the most of his opportunity.
Day 7 Notes
- RG Graham Glasgow and LB Von Miller did not practice (vet day).
- RG Netane Muti had excellent run blocks on power and counter plays, but struggled in pass pro.
- WR KJ Hamler was back at practice following close contact COVID protocols on Tuesday.
- Center Brett Jones took snaps with the second-string offense for the first time in camp.
- RT Calvin Anderson and Bobby Massie continue rotation for starting position.
- WR De’Mornay Pierson-El caught a nice TD from QB Brett Rypien vs. CB Kyle Fuller.
- Rypien took second-team reps in the first red-zone 7-on-7 drill.
- Freeman is competing for reps and demonstrates nice catching ability.
- The offense had approximately five false start penalties on Day 7.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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