Of training camp performance evaluations, Denver's new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has said,
Really...right now you can't put too much stock in the depth chart.
Offense or defense, he’s right. You can’t write a camp update without talking about how the players are doing, but in the first week of camp, it’s good to remember that many of the updates are describing what will not be permanent moves.
There’s a long way to go, and the team is going to try plenty of different looks; several won’t mean much over time. Some guys are getting looked at for positions that they will take over as the preseason unwinds, but many of the changes are just ways of exploring options. What’s more important right now is watching to see what the players have as their strengths and weaknesses when going up against each other, to decide who fits where. Next Thursday, the players will get to show how far they’ve come in Chicago against the Bears, who have improved their team since the 2011 season.
One of the things that catches the eye at Dove Valley this year is the presence of Broncos greats who hadn't been around much in prior years. If it wasn’t enough to have John Elway constantly looking on, Karl Mecklenburg is now helping out both the linebackers and defensive linemen. Von Miller described him as a future Hall of Famer, and I hope he’s right. John Lynch also came by to give a motivational speed on the first day of camp that the players said they loved to hear.
Rod Smith knows how to fire up a room, and Denver had him in on the first day of training camp to do so. Alfred Williams is around as part of his talk show, while Mark Schlereth and Clarence Kay stopped by on the same day. Tom Jackson also came by with the ESPN crew and chatted with some players. There’s always the Resident Legend, John Elway, who is architecting the welcoming of these luminaries and the renovation of these Broncos.
Former general manager John Beake was even at practice. There was also John Grant, a defensive end for the Broncos from 1973-79 who was on Denver’s first Super Bowl team back in 1977. It’s long past time that Denver brought in the guys who built the tradition that today’s players should hope to emulate. I think it’s a great motivator.
Denver wants to remind the players that they play for a franchise that built a tradition of winning. They aren’t going to stop until they get back to and conquer the Super Bowl, and they’re bringing in iconic players to share their wisdom on exactly how you accomplish that. That’s been missing for a while. It’s time it came back.
Since I can’t think of a thing that I could say on Peyton Manning that hasn’t been said (my thesaurus is running out of superlatives), I’m going to look at other areas today. I’ll start with Brock Osweiler, a guy who hopefully won’t play for another two or four years.
In just the brief time since the scouting combine, Brock has been impressing onlookers with the noticeable improvement in his mechanics. After five days of camp, he was even more comfortable out there, as he’s learning things from Adam Gase, Mike McCoy and the GOAT himself.
In Denver, I suppose you have to specify Manning or Elway when you use that acronym. Both could be the target, but I’m referencing Manning this time.
Cecil Lammey describes Oz as having a rocket arm, but it needs to improve its guidance systems. He’s been a little late getting the ball out at times, but he also showed some surprising mobility in the Sunday and Monday practices, although it’s not his forte. His footwork has, from all accounts, been surprisingly good. Since he should have years to clean things up, visible improvement is a good start. He’s not very mobile, but he’s not a total statue, either. He’s there to use his 6-8 height to see over the linemen and to get the ball out to his targets, and he’s been getting better with each week since the draft. As long as he continues to make visible progress, he’ll grab the backup position soon, perhaps after this camp. Head coach John Fox says that the QBs behind Manning are currently “2a, 2b and 2c.”
The offensive line
A lot of fans have some concerns about the interior line. It’s reasonable.
Over on Twitter, one fan asked of Cecil Lammey:
You had some nice things to say about Warren and Vickerson, are they that good or are Beadles and Walton that bad?
Afraid it's the latter, although Warren looked great LY b4 injury, I say move OFranklin inside, make RHarris RT #weshallsee
Ouch. This followed some drills where the OL was porous at best. No matter how much I may like these two as people, Beadles and Walton aren’t getting the job done.
Ted is right in that the quality of the offensive line hasn’t been a huge issue with Manning due to his lightning analysis of the defense and his quick release, but it’s also worth considering that head coach Jim Caldwell laid the blame for the team's SB 44 loss squarely on the offensive line - you can hear him saying so at the end of the full broadcast, so it’s not like the OL doesn’t need to step up when Manning’s behind center.
Ryan Harris is a solid pass protector, if he takes on RT (I’m hopeful). Denver wants to have an effective running game, and the interior line right now doesn’t get a strong push when they need it.
To give him his due, J.D. Walton held his own against Sealver Siliga in the one-on-one pit drill on Monday. He stood the big DT up and won the leverage battle. Get your pad level under the defender’s, and it only takes the ability to move him three inches to put him at your convenience. On the other hand, Siliga is third string right now.
Getting the runs
Willis McGahee is running with fresh legs and often dominating in the middle, from all sources I can find. He’s not as good in trying to swing outside on a carry, although he can catch a swing pass, stutter, and take it to the end zone as he did on Monday. He’s got his slot on the team nailed down. Behind him are four players. Only two of them are likely to survive the summer.
Ronnie Hillman continues to impress in both running the ball and in receiving. His blocking is a work in progress, which was expected. Hillman is unusual in that he’s essentially a one-cut runner, but uses a quick hop-step for his cut. He’s surprisingly effective up through the box and comfortable letting his speed take him outside. He’s able to juke and avoid tackles in the second level as well, and should be an excellent complement for McGahee. Although he’s deceptive, he’s not a dancer, and that’s one of the best things about his running. He’s able to sway, juke, and go without losing speed, and he rarely runs laterally. He’ll take a couple of hard yards up the middle or slash through the first level and go for it.
After those two, the battle includes Lance Ball, who may have the lead. Ball has showed somewhat more explosion than last season and has some skills in all phases of his position - blocking, receiving and running the ball.
Knowshon Moreno is just getting back from an ACL tear that required surgery. Although his production has fallen off each year, Denver is giving him a good chance in training camp to show that he’s developed. If he doesn’t, look to one of the remaining three: Jeremiah Johnson, Mario Fannin, and Xavier Omon.
Jeremiah Johnson may be more interesting - he’s the more explosive of them. He needs to become more consistent, but flashes a lot of big play ability. He doesn’t mind going through the tackles, but will dance at times if he doesn’t see his lane opening. He’s making it hard to cut him.
Sadly, Fannin hasn’t shown much so far. He’s big, he’s fast, and he is great in space, but he hasn’t shown the ability to see a crease when pressure is coming into the backfield. He doesn’t do well in a tight area, and he loses power when stepping laterally. I had hopes for him, since he seems healthy. He still has time, but has to do something to get noticed, or he may end up down on the practice squad, at best. Xavier Omon is also trying to make the squad, but he’s clearly outclassed so far. He’s a power-oriented, straightahead runner, and he’s good at it. He’s just somewhat limited.
At fullback, an interesting dichotomy has emerged. Austin Sylvester is blasting open big holes for the RBs. While not as powerful a blocker, Chris Gronkowski is a better runner/receiver. We’ll get an idea of what Denver wants from their fullback when the final choice is made.
It’s not a shock to anyone who’s read a camp commentary that Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are impressing, with Decker playing the better of the two right now. Bubba Caldwell and Brandon Stokley have also seemed to solidify their slots on the wide receiving corps.
At the 50-second mark of this video, Stokley makes a catch that results in dead silence until everyone realizes that Stokley had actually come up with the ball. The crowd then explodes.
Decker continues to lead all receivers, and the Broncos have used him all over the field. Lammey felt that he got his best routes out of the slot, where he gets a couple of extra steps to set up the defender as he gets into his routes, but he can be moved anywhere. Demaryius Thomas has a different style and may be the X receiver (open/weakside, outside position) this season. Andre Caldwell can play the slot or the Z receiver (closed/strongside, outside position), while Stokes has the slot position in his blood. Expect to see all four moved around frequently to create confusion and search out mismatches. Someone will have to step up for the fifth receiver position.
Julius Thomas doesn’t seem comfortable on his repaired ankle, although he’s not limping. He has to accept that he’ll only get a certain number of reps and has to do his best to make them count. He’s so new to football that much of this is still foreign to him.
Jacob Tamme, on the other hand, continues to have the kind of rapport with Manning that Stokes and Deck have, making the Broncos aerial attack even more merciless. Joel Dreessen blocks more strongly but doesn’t have the same receiving skills as Tamme.
The new Buick advertising logo on the practice jerseys just looks amateur. I know that Roger Goodell liked to use the word ‘monetize’ quite a bit in the past, but here’s another one that might fit:
They aren’t NASCARs, folks. Product positioning has gotten out of hand.
The defense is up next - see you then.