Englewood, Colo. — On Tuesday, the Denver Broncos took the practice for the first training camp of the year in full pads. The Broncos have previously ramped up to this day with ‘shells’ and have received ample time to get comfortable in their helmets.
Another wave of Orange and Blue hit the berm at UCHealth Training Center by the thousands. Many wondered, how would first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett lead his team in the first fully-padded and contact practice of the summer?
Sometimes a training camp day has a way of working itself out in a way that was completely unexpected and unfortunate, as Broncos Country found out on Tuesday.
Let’s dive into the news of the day out of Broncos Camp in the wake of a scary injury sustained from a fan favorite and starting offensive weapon.
Tim Patrick Carted Off the Field
Practice opened with a heavy emphasis on installation, and teaching in positional drills. Rather than operating the traditional seven-on-seven or one-on-ones, Hackett’s staff utilized a team-first mentality of playing together.
That’s why the entirety of the unit practices together in these positional drills prior to team period with on-the-spot coaching and corrections. Then team period ramped up and the first-team offense and defense squared off against each other for the first time in the most game-like scenario that the current CBA will allow for practice. That’s when the mood of practice changed dramatically.
Patrick ran a beautiful back shoulder fade and caught an impressive pass from Russell Wilson, and took a step or two before collapsing to the ground and dropping the football. Practice immediately stopped, and the music dimmed while fans and players alike were in utter disbelief at what their eyes were seeing.
Patrick, who’s been ‘old reliable’ for a carousel of quarterbacks and coaches alike in Denver, is heading into his fifth season with the team after signing a $34 million extension last fall. Originally undrafted out of Utah, the 28-year-old playmaker has been with the Broncos since 2018 and has more than earned his stripes as a leader and professional in the league.
Last season, Patrick played in 16 games and caught 53 receptions for 734 yards and five touchdowns.
The NFL rumor mill has speculated everything from a knee injury to an Achilles tendon tear, but the anxiety for Broncos players, coaches, fans, and media is high. Watching the play happen at practice today was not only nerve-wracking but devastatingly sad for a player and man the caliber of Patrick.
Depth running back Damarea Crockett also exited practice with an injury the Broncos reportedly worry could be serious.
The Injury Influenced the Rest of Practice
I’d be doing a disservice to pretend that the mantra of ‘next man up’ was uttered after Patrick suffered that scary injury. The man has quite literally worked his way from unknown and undrafted status to being a long-term, franchise-type player and leader in the Denver community. Patrick is a fan favorite for good reason.
After No. 81 was carted off the field, enthusiasm for the first day of fully-padded football was all but deflated. Broncos players and coaches all tried to resume their meticulous workload of team period after Patrick went down, but it just appeared that they were ice skating uphill.
The same positive energy that has dominated training camp transitioned into an eerie sort of dread where it felt like guys were distracted in concern for Patrick's well-being.
Yes, the NFL is a business, but that doesn’t take away from the team bond and human element that championship teams build through the attrition of camp. There’s the old NFL adage that says 'good teams are led by coaches while great teams are led by players.' On Tuesday, one of those leaders at the player level went down and the collective worry is that the injury could be serious.
Who Steps up in Patrick’s Stead?
Let’s try and look at the logistics of what a short- or long-term Patrick injury means for the Broncos' offense. The first thing that Patrick’s absence does is change the dynamic in which the receiving room is comprised, as he and Sutton both function as big-bodied, alpha dog receivers.
The return of KJ Hamler from the PUP list couldn’t have been more timely. Hamler will continue to be eased into the starting lineup and has looked good in his first two training camp practices of the year.
But Jerry Jeudy has to make an impact alongside his fellow draft-mate and has had a camp full of both ups and downs. Sutton will more than likely be Wilson’s go-to for now, as the team eagerly awaits Patrick’s prognosis.
Then there’s Denver's crop of younger talent that includes second-year wideout Seth Williams, who had a nice day, surging rookie returner Montrell Washington, and Tyrie Cleveland. Don’t forget Kendall Hinton in the receiving equation, along with Travis Fulgham, both of whom are competing for a roster spot.
Unrestricted free agents currently on the market include Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton, Cole Beasley, Odell Beckham Jr., and even former Bronco Emmanuel Sanders — the latter of whom recently moved back to the Mile High City.
Uncertainty surrounds the Patrick injury from Day 6 of Broncos Training Camp. It’ll be interesting to see how the team responds to its first true moment of pain and adversity.
Remember, though: good teams are led by coaches, great teams are led by players.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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