The first week of training camp is too early to tell most things. There were some things that stood out, though, and these seemed to be worth watching:
1. Friday was only Day 2, but second-round draft pick Derek Wolfe was turning some heads with his intensity and focus. He’s been running with the second unit as the RDE, but given the talent in front of him, I would have been shocked if they started him any higher. He’s going to have to put on some muscle weight to make it into the interior on the first two downs, but he was placed with the first team nickel unit in Friday’s work. That’s a place that he might get some reps this season - it suits his quickness and technique.
I’ve been following Derek as much as possible and he’s made it clear that unlike a lot of defensive linemen just out of college, he understands that what he’s doing is technique intensive, technique dependent. That’s going to serve him well. He also seems to have a heck of an attitude - prepared, hard working, and totally committed. This is not a guy I’d worry about off the field - he’s busy. He’s working out, studying the playbook, or studying film. When guys in the offseason tweet about commitment on Saturday night, or talk about how they were just getting back from working out, it’s a good sign.
2. Wide receiver Eric Decker and quarterback Peyton Manning already have a noticeable connection. Decker has shown that regardless of footspeed, he’s got the chops to get loose on long TDs and the technique to create shorter route openings that Manning can thread the ball through. Demaryius Thomas has more speed than Decker, and from all reports, he has really improved his routes. Manning’s game may be the short to intermediate passing approach, but no defense can sleep on either Decker or Thomas going long. It’s not exactly shocking, but seeing it beats expecting it, all day long.
3. Bubba Caldwell is a heck of a free agent pickup, and Denver seems to know what they want from him; he was getting a look at PR/KR on Day 2. He’s also showed that he can also an explosive play threat - his speed up the seam can challenge the cornerbacks, and they’re showing some skill in covering him. Tracy Porter beat him more on Day 2. Speaking of cornerbacks, Drayton Florence has taken most of the first-string reps at nickelback - Chris Harris did a great job last season, but Denver’s looking hard at whether they can improve on the 72.9% completion rate he allowed (PFF).
4. Linebackers coach Richard Smith is constantly telling his guys, “You’ve got to talk out there!” Communication is a huge issue, especially with such a young group. As expected, Wesley Woodyard is filling in for D.J. Williams, and Danny Trevathan has taken reps with the first-team nickel squad: he’s also pulled in a couple of INTs. Joe Mays has drawn comments on his improved speed and new-found coverage ability. It’s good to hear that kind of report about such a high-energy, intense player.
Mays didn’t come into Denver as a finished product - he said that he got a great deal out of the lockout-created workouts with Brian Dawkins, and at his request, Dawk spoke to him about how he could improve as a player. Obviously, he’s one of the guys who listens and puts good advice into practice. Von Miller has set improving his run defense and coverage skills as his focus this coming year - no one needs to tell him to improve his pass rushing. More of a push from the interior line will create more confusion for him and Elvis Dumervil to exploit. So far, those four linebackers have gotten the comments. Nate Irving was noted by Cecil Lammey as ‘getting outplayed by Joe Mays.'
5. The interior defensive line has had a lot of good things to report. Ty Warren reportedly looks healthy and rested, and he’s apparently showing the people out there why he’s been kept through his injury process - Malik Jackson (who drew some good comments in other action, showing his quickness in pass rushing while working with the third-team DTs) got rag-dolled by Ty in a drill. We’ll see how it goes in pads, but initial reports are good to hear.
Big kudos to nose tackle Mitch Unrein for his spell in the first unit while Justin Bannan’s calf heals. Unrein has beaten out offseason favorite Sealver Siliga for that slot so far. Kevin Vickerson appears to have put on his new weight out of sheer muscle, according to the camp viewers. There’s a lot to be happy about with the DL, so far.
6. Overall, Tracy Porter is winning his share of battles against Peyton Manning, although Decker and Thomas in particular are challenges for anyone. Not that many cornerbacks get to be polished by going up against the likes of both Drew Brees and Peyton Manning during practice, so it’s good to see him working hard on it. Porter is reported to be as fast on the field as his clippings (and film) would indicate. He and Florence at nickel have both had a good start with the team. The offseason free agent signings appear to have been fruitful.
7. Thank you, John Elway.
This group still has to prove it against some of the perennial playoff contenders in the fall, but getting to watch footage of this group of players is already encouraging. It’s been a long time since I had this kind of feeling going into camp. Between free agency and the draft, Elway managed to improve every level of the team - from QB to Safety - in this last offseason.
Think about it. Since the end of the 2011 season, the team has added:
- Philip Blake and C.J. Davis on the offensive line
- PM at quarterback
- Bubba Caldwell and Brandon Stokley at wide receiver.
- Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen at tight end
- Ronnie Hillman at running back - who’s starting at the back and showing some early moves.
- Derek Wolfe, Justin Bannan, and Malik Jackson on the defensive line
- Danny Trevathan at linebacker
- Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence at cornerback and nickelback
- Mike Adams at safety
When’s the last time that you saw an entire team upgraded in a single offseason, especially when you include the addition of a Hall of Fame quarterback? I think that it’s unparalleled - I’ve never seen the like. Whatever the outcome during the season, the franchise has taken a huge step forward.