The whole roster has been in camp for about a week now, and the first depth chart has come out. The battles are picking up. You shouldn’t put too much faith in an initial training camp depth chart, but there are some things that are worth watching. We’ll talk about them below.
I wanted to note that courtesy of the new CBA, the rookie signings took a lot less time, carried little angst, and the young guys generally got into camp on time. If the new rookie scale does nothing else, it’s an utter winner on that basis alone. Nothing slows down a good player’s progress like missing part or all of camp - especially his first as a pro. It had turned into a pointless circus that infected the draft and signing process like a virus, in which neither side won much of anything. I like this a lot better because it’s better for the players, coaches and the teams.
Quotes of the Week
Love or hate him, Peter King got this one right:
I think Shannon Sharpe's speech was the best Hall of Fame speech I've ever heard. Yes, better than Michael Irvin's.
Former NFL Films Vice President Phil Tuckett, to Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News, on what has happened to NFL Films since the league put NFL Network and league broadcast czars Steve Bornstein and Howard Katz in charge of the company.
They're destroying that company. It's a cold-blooded killing. Bornstein and Katz are just cold-eyed network killers. They don't care about what we represented. Their approach is how much cheap crap can you turn out as quickly as possible so we can stick it on this godawful network that we've created.
You hate to see that. The worst thing is, from where I sit he’s right.
Clancy Barone talked here about the obvious comparisons we all like to make between Thomas and San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. Barone was an assistant coach in San Diego early in Gates’ career there and has a singular insight. He’s understandably reluctant to put such high expectations on Thomas this early in his career.
That’s always going to be the obvious connection people are drawn to, but I think it is unfair, and I have told him that. You don’t want to buy into that. Antonio is going to end his career probably being the best tight end to ever play the game. He’s such a fantastic player. But both are great people, very sincere, very humble. That’s the foundation. I know he has the foundation to do it because of his mindset and his attitude.
I don’t want him to be the next Antonio Gates. I’d like to see him be the best Julius Thomas that he can be, which will be plenty. Everything I see of him I like. His blocking is a work in progress, but there’s no lack of willingness behind the effort, and his athletic talent will permit him to develop technique. Technique comes with time and repetition, but effort comes from the heart and he seems to have it. Good model player, from everything I could research.
Add that to what PFW says right now, that,
No player has been more impressive in Broncos camp than rookie TE Julius Thomas. The fourth-round pick has great athleticism and has impressed coaches with his ability to make plays all over the field. Thomas has lined up on the line, in the slot and outside, and has been effective in all three spots.
Mike McCoy has been looking at new ways to use the position, to keep up with what the league is doing and perhaps outdo it. They thought through the best ways to develop the position, and it ended up being some combination of Daniel Fells, who’s taken over first by playing the more well-rounded game, the receiving talents of Julius Thomas, a question on the mostly-receiving Dan Gronkowski, another on Dante Rosario and a question on the talented but erratic Virgil Green.
I thought that I’d start out The Broncos Buffet with some good Broncos news: This one’s nice to hear:
The starting O-line holding its own in 1-on-1 drills vs. D-line. Closest battle Ayers vs. Franklin -- Ayers beat him 2nd time w/ spin move.
There were several others to the same extent - not being there, I’m open to it, and the pros were also reporting it. Ayers is going to turn a lot of heads this year - the new players around him, the new position and the new scheme are going to all work in his favor. I'd guess that by this time next year there won't be talk of what a 'bust' he's been. And, in that other year, Franklin is going to be handling all kinds of moves a lot better than he does now. But, how good is he now?
"Orlando is one of the best tackles I've gone against," defensive prodigy Von Miller said. "I go up against him every day, and it's a challenge. You've got to mix it up every day. Hopefully, we'll be like Ryan Clady and Elvis. They've been going against each other every day for three, four years. You've got to mix it up so when you go in the game it will be easier."
It’s fair to say that I’d be even more impressed if it was Ty Warren, or at least Elvis Dumervil saying so since they’ve been up against more tackles, but it’s still a great compliment. By the way, you might have noticed that both Warren and Marcus Thomas rotated at Kevin Vickerson’s role as DT/UT on Monday and Vick played with the seconds. Brings up some fun thoughts of Miller, Ayers, Warren, Bunkley and Doom on a blitz. Cowabunga! That’s a pretty stout front for any situation, really. Jeremy Jarmon had at least two sacks and a hurry on Monday against the first-teamers - he’s also shown signs of coming along. He’s been in a 3-4 base, but was always said to be better suited to a 4-3. Looks like it might be true - he’s in the #2 slot on the new depth chart at LDE, backing up Ayers and he’s playing like an animal from there, pressuring the QBs. Derrick Harvey is on the other side at RDE. Depth? DL? Who knew? Well carried out.
Hey, have you ever gone to a ballpark and hit in the batting cages? Most of us have, some more than others. If you do it a lot, eventually you move the speed up a bit. You stay with it, and the speed moves up more over time. NFL players are like that, only they're better athletes than we are. Most of them aren’t static, although we all have that concept of them in our heads at times. Their skill is moving, developing, especially at certain points in their careers: most later decline at some point. Orlando Franklin has been working hard since he hit Dove Valley, has gotten attention for his work ethic, and he’s got Ayers and Miller to beat the bejabbers out of him pretty much daily. I’ve watched games from his sophomore, junior and senior years of college now, looking for one clear progression of change, and I’ve seen it. He just kept improving, noticeably. The odds are, he’ll keep getting better now, too. If he starts, he will likely as not struggle at times this year, but he’ll also develop markedly. I’m more interested in him in three years - if a) his body holds up and b) he keeps developing, he’ll be a solid right tackle. If not - it would be nice to have a solid backup in the wings.
As a note to that end, the OL got a bit of revenge on Tuesday with their goal-line package after struggling earlier on. There will be other days when the D will dominate, or the OL again. It’s a long way from settled - one always gets started a little faster. It’s nice to hear that the OL stepped up its game as a group - with the group the Broncos have on the DL, there’s no way that the D just isn’t up to attacking them. You have to wonder how many people mentioned the OL problem of late, and whether there’s some pride involved. Either way - congrats to them all. I’d love to see a lot of bitter, tough battles between the OL and DL - it speaks well of the level that each group will play at over the year. I’m a big believer that you have to beat the best to be the best.
And that does make me feel a little better. Not completely. Just better.
Like a lot of us, I follow the tweets during each practice, particularly those of Andrew Mason, Cecil Lammey, the team's official account, and one of Lindsay Jones’ Twitter addresses, sometimes Josina Anderson, Scott Wright and a few more, usually a few players plus whoever is interesting that day. I loved this exchange:
@VicLombardi - @davidanderson89 why are you returning punts?
@DavidAnderson89 - @VicLombardi Because I run fast and catch balls for a living.
@DavidAnderson89 - @VicLombardi Why are you asking such interesting questions? Because you are either. . slow, unathletic, pathetic, uncoachable, or you reached your potential in 5th grade. Or all
@VicLombardi - @davidanderson89 I may not be able to outrace you in a 40, but i'll outype your ass all day, every day
Like that, with absurdist stream of consciousness humor. They had quite a time - and it was pretty funny for a while. A media guy who jokes with players isn’t a bad thing. It’s a game, after all. It’s nice to have some fun with it. Things can get too angst-ridden, even with all these great plot lines.
No question, the two biggest LB stories have been Joe Mays - stopping runs, grabbing fumbles and even grabbing an INT or two, and Von Miller - with his incredible cornering and speed, but they’re not the only ones. Nate Irving looks like everything Denver thought they were getting, no matter where he is on the depth chart (if he’s third string, I love our depth), and Braxton Kelley has been handing out big hits like they’re get out of jail free cards. I wrote about Kelley this offseason - he’s gained a lot of weight as muscle mass, he’s still fast and he’s gunning for a slot in a highly competitive situation. Actually, there’s a Broncography on him and another on Mike Mohamed, who has been handling much of D.J. Williams’ role while D.J. nursed a hamstring pull. Wes Woodyard, who just got to camp, is now taking some reps at Will and I look forward to seeing his potential new role and production. D.J.’s also coming back, so they can get a look at him. Even Lee Robinson has gotten some acclaim for putting a big hit on Brandon Minor and he’s listed as the #2 Sam with Mario Haggan as the #2 Mike (Yeah, I’m not too sure on that either). It’s going to be a tough group to make, which is just what you want to hear. There are gong to be some cuts that I’ll feel attached to, but the best will stay.
For those who said the other day that they haven’t caught anything on Von Miller, I wanted you to know this: Miller has been racking up ‘sacks’, working well in coverage, grabbing interceptions and generally creating havoc, just as they wanted him to. Cecil Lammey noted on an August 6 tweet,
Miller was schooling everyone (again) and froze Herb Taylor in his tracks w/great outside in speed move, lightning fast!...Taylor set up to the outside cuz Von showed speed on the edge, Von then cut inside crisply and OT never got a hand on him...the next rep Von used a sick spin move to get by Taylor, so good even Dwight Freeney says 'DAAAMMNN!'
That pretty much sums it up. Miller also had a sack when blitzing off the edge against Kyle Orton on Monday. It was just another practice, most of it position drills. When the ball is snapped, he’s a blur. Miller is showing that he’s likely to be an immediate, serious impact player: sacks, coverage, INTs, stuffing the run. That’s what you want out of the second-overall pick and all signs show that Denver has a big playmaker in him. When you realize that this defense got the equivalent of two top #1 defensive picks, in getting Von in the draft and Doom back from injury, and consider the other changes, you can see Von as a big part of an even bigger improvement.
This was from Monday:
@Denver_Broncos - The D-line is working on batting away passes at the line using from a JUGS machine. Von Miller did drill too -- caught the balls one-handed.
That young man is an outrageous talent. The Denver Broncos are getting a new face on the franchise, right along with Dumervil (whose shaved, rounded head and Motown-esque beard are a great look for a human projectile). The 15 lb. of new muscle (he’s now 260, and no longer undersized at all) looks, well, huge, on a guy who already had outstanding functional strength. Frankly, Doom looks like a tackle’s nightmare. Give him Miller, Ayers, Ty Warren and/or Brodrick Bunkley at DT and suddenly, magically, the Broncos have a front that has to be respected, planned for, cajoled about and responded to. It’s one of the two basic keys to overwhelming offenses - the first forcing them to respond to you, rather than the other way around. The second is just what Dennis Allen said it was...
Fear. It’s a nice start.
Best story of the week was Brian Dawkins signing for $4 million less to stay with the team - it’s a bargain. He’s got all the credibility in the locker room a guy can have, and he’s endlessly energetic and hardworking - I’m glad that he’ll be staying on. Although less mentioned, the play of Andre' Goodman and the depth that Syd’Quan Thompson (who’s struggling with a minor pulled groin) provide are potentially essential this season. Syd’Quan trails Nate Jones on the first depth chart, behind him at third string for what little that’s worth right now. Brandon Bing isn’t listed highly, but he’s making a lot of nice plays, including some INTs. He’s someone I think I’ll keep an eye on. Chris Harris has also made some noise.
As noted previously, Cassius Vaughn has shown great development at CB in addition to his potential as a returner (and the two fumbles that he recovered on STs last year) with the second CB unit, and is coming in at nickelback, which calls into question what will happen with Thompson (depth, at the very least. It’s a long season, and depth is key). The modern nickelback is essentially a starter, so Vaughn has passed up Perrish Cox, Jones and Thompson as well as the rookies. Vaughn had two more INTs on Tuesday - suddenly, he’s really coming into his own and just keeps improving. There were signs of it last year, but you don’t really know how the next act will play out. He’s making sure that folks do.
The DL has to get pressure, and the secondary has to keep the receivers covered while the big guys do their thing. Both look to be improved, which is great. The change in the defense is remarkable, and I look forward to seeing if it works as well in game situations. This is also why, when you watch film from the year before, that you don’t become attached to the previous outcome. Players develop and change - you want to look at how they are currently doing, not how they did.
Rahim Moore has continued to show why he’s playing with the first team, and that’s where the depth chart has him. It’s how they’re having him practice, too - Moore is clearly head and shoulders above where a lot of folks had him prior to camp. I was concerned with the lack of time with the scheme, the loss of OTAs and camps, but I’m starting to question my underlying perspective - they may not matter as much as we’ve expected, although some level of them makes sense. Hard to say, but Moore looks exactly like a young NFL starter should. He’s got confidence in his coverage skills, he diagnoses plays well at his point in experience and he hits a lot harder than most people expected.
It’s early, but he’s also impressed me with what people like Champ Bailey say about him. Moore was wearing a long blue jersey beneath his whites to imitate Champ, and that imitation has gone way past sartorial splendor. Moore has been glued to his hip, asking questions, clarifying techniques, plays and roles, and rarely making the same mistakes. Bailey seems pleased:
I guess that means I'm old. I had guys that I looked up to that I played with, so I can relate to what he's going through.
As for Rahim? He was hanging out, doing extra work after practice.
Being on this grass is like heaven. It's the only place I feel safe. It's always good to get that extra because someone else is running off the field. When you stay on the field, it makes you that much better.
Man, it’s nice to get back to football. By the way, current rumor is that it will be Quinton Carter who spells Dawkins at SS. That might impact Darcel McBath’s situation - it’s worth keeping an eye on. My question is, who’s better - McBath or Nate Jones? It might come down to that.
It was great to see questions about this from a few fans, and I appreciate Ted hitting some of his own high points. I’ve been working on organizing some info that will be posted here time over time: my sole problem is that there’s a small book’s worth in it and I’m trying for enjoyable basics, not War and Peace. I’m going to start adding smaller sections regularly until the topic is pretty well covered - perhaps some of the other staff will even chime in once in a while, as Ted was kind enough to.
When I wrote the protocols for the Under Further Review group over at MHR, I put some simple stuff together for them and as they got better it got more complex over time, so there’s some basics there I can adapt to a new approach, if you don’t mind giving me some feedback as we go. The more you know, the more fun you can have, but you don’t have to know much to start. Just try to leave any preconceived notions behind - you’ll find that a lot of ours aren’t that accurate as you get deeper into it, so just focus on having fun with it from the first. You’ll quickly catch how intricately it’s intertwined, which is eye-opening as the details begin to unfold, a few at a time.
Head Coach John Fox has announced that the starters will play 12-15 snaps at Dallas tomorrow night. I’m about ready to see the players hitting someone else - I’d bet that they are, too.