I was looking over the Broncos' roster the other day and noticed something that really had an impact on me. With the obvious growth of Julius Thomas’s NFL skills, Peyton Manning now has six targets who stand 6’3” or taller. That’s a lot of big receivers.
It’s a misnomer that cornerbacks have to be taller to defend them - technique is everything, as a long review of Champ Bailey’s career shows.
But if you don’t have Champ’s innate skill, speed, and highly developed technique, covering a guy who’s quick, strong, and 6’5" - especially when you’re 5’10” - makes defeating a high-point pass reception pretty tough. When the quarterback in question can thread a needle at 15 yards, having an entire stable of tall, strong, talented receivers makes defending the pass an even more difficult assignment.
The naysayers in Broncos Land spent much of the two summers prior to this one calling for Julius Thomas to be cut. Denver had drafted Thomas out of Portland State in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft, taking a flyer on a player who could go either way. Julius had only started into football during the 2009 season; he had walked into the office of head coach Nigel Burton and asked if he could walk onto the team that spring.
Burton said that Thomas was welcome, but privately he had reservations. How would a guy who hadn’t played football since Pop Warner react to what happens when a tight end goes over the middle and gets laid out by a linebacker? But Burton talked to the other folks in the athletic department, and got glowing recommendations from all of them. It turned out that Thomas had wanted to get back into football a year earlier, but the basketball coach was against it. Given Thomas’s size and natural skill level, there was no reason prevent the guy from playing football if he wanted to, and could show it on the field.
The sight last Saturday of Derek Wolfe being taken from CenturyLink Field in Seattle via ambulance put a scare into a lot of Broncos fans; we all held our breaths to see whether his hands and feet would move.
Wolfe is fortunate - he’s listed as only day-to-day with his neck injury, but the difference in how it was handled over 5-10 years ago is a major positive development for players in the NFL. Let’s talk about some improvements the league has put in place.
Even a year or two ago, players were still constantly being sent back in whether they should have been or not. Teams had not been required to hire independent neurologists in the past - but in the future, they will have to. Despite my feelings on how long it’s taken the league to get these procedures in place, it’s good to see so many initiatives coming along.
When the trainers were out working on Derek Wolfe’s injury during the Seattle game, I found myself thinking, “Thank heavens Malik Jackson has been stepping up.” Jackson may not be at Wolfe’s level yet, but reports out of training camp have mentioned Jackson’s work almost daily. Wolfe’s need to recover fully before the opener will mean even more reps for Malik.
Jack Del Rio believes in the importance of a front seven that attacks the offense constantly; he believes in it for defending the pass as well as the run. He recently commented:
Everywhere I’ve been, if you go back to Baltimore and Carolina and Jacksonville, it starts up front on defense. We’ve been fortunate to acquire and develop good players and put together a good front. I feel confident we’ll be able to do that here. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re busy doing that now in terms of developing guys we have. We’ve added a couple guys obviously in the draft and a free agent here or there. We’re going to make it competitive. We’re going to push that group. We’re going to expect the front to really help us play great defense.
Denver’s preseason-opening win at San Francisco featured just one touchdown - a fumble forced by Nate Irving and returned to paydirt by Shaun Phillips. Considering that these are the two players that may be most impacted by a possible suspension of Von Miller, I thought this would be a good play to look at.
The play starts at 7:28 of the second quarter; SF has been backed up by a good punt by Britton Colquitt and a penalty on the return, but a missed tackle by Omar Bolden on a pass to Kassim Osgood has them in 2nd and 1.
Many teams will try a long pass in that down and distance, counting on a third down run if needed to convert the first down. Instead, still deep in his own zone, Scott Tolzien hands off to D.J. Harper (36) for a run play around left tackle, and the whole game changes.
Broncos offensive tackle Vinston Painter was often overwhelmed in the preseason opener at San Francisco (he wasn’t alone - tenth-overall pick Chance Warmack learned that the NFL is different in his own first game), but the rookie has also been getting some positive comments from the coaching staff. This is what Jeff Legwold had to say, over at the Worldwide Leader:
When the Broncos selected Painter in the sixth round this past April, they saw an athletic project with a pile of potential. What they got was a player who has steadily worked his way up the depth chart, some by necessity because of injuries and some because he has advanced slightly more quickly than expected. Painter has worked much of the time as the backup right tackle, just behind Orlando Franklin. But the coaching staff showed this past week it doesn't think he's quite ready for work with the starters yet. Rather than simply elevating Painter after Franklin was injured, the coaches jumbled things up front, moving Louis Vasquez to right tackle in one practice and Chris Clark there in another.
Among those getting consistently high grades from training camp onlookers like Cecil Lammey and Andrew Mason has been second-year safety Duke Ihenacho. An undrafted rookie in 2012, the San Jose State alum had been described as one of the best free agents in the country last year by Pat Kirwan.
Duke spent the year on the practice squad, developing the NFL body that John Fox always refers to, and spent considerable time in the film room learning the intricacies of his craft. He drew attention immediately during this year’s OTAs and seems to have something new being written on him almost daily. On July 29, Mason wrote,
Several companies are working to create safer helmets for the NFL, one of them being the Simpson-Ganassi helmet. Its designer, Bill Simpson, is already in the Halls of Fame of five different motor racing sports, for his development of a system of safer head and neck stabilization for racing drivers.
His business partner in the football helmet project, Chip Ganassi, credits a Simpson racing helmet for saving his life during a devastating 1984 crash at Michigan International Speedway. Simpson also worked on the restraint system for the Apollo Lunar Rover on its moon mission, among other credentials.
Simpson was introduced to Tom Moore, Peyton Manning’s long-time mentor, back in 2010. The two of them hit it off immediately, and Simpson joined Moore at an October 3, 2010 game that featured the Colts against the Jaguars. WR Austin Collie was knocked out during the game, and another player was carted from the field after a cranial impact. Simpson later inquired as to the players’ health, and Moore said to him lightly that concussions were ‘just part of the game’. Simpson was aghast.
On the heels of Ryan Clady's new five-year contract, I was thinking about the importance of various players and positions with regard to the changes that are evident in the league. In the pass-centric game that is the modern NFL, there has been an increasing and well-warranted examination of the importance of the left offensive tackle position.
Questions remain as to how much more important it is or isn’t than any other position on the front line. Is locking up Clady at a partly guaranteed cost of $52.5 million dollars over five years wasting too much capital on a single LOT?
Jay Cutler is familiarizing himself with a new offensive coordinator and playbook for the third time in as many years, although new head coach Marc Trestman will be running the show and calling the plays over new new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Writes Eli Kaberon:
When asked about digesting Trestman’s offense in time for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Bengals, Cutler told the media, “It takes time. It’s every day, just trying to get better and trying to learn the offense so that it’s less thinking and more just reacting out there."
“Whenever you want to get into it, it’s a three-year process to learn an offense,” Cutler said. “It just is what it is. It takes time. It’s hard to go out there Year One and blow the doors off. But we’re going to do the best we can with the time allowed and we’ll see where we’re at.”