First, my apologies for the tardiness of this report. With the Broncos taking the afternoon off to celebrate Gary Zimmerman's induction into the Hall of Fame, I was fortunate enough to get an early flight back home Saturday afternoon/evening. Then, of course, I had to get involved with being a dad again, something all fathers know whenever they are away for a few days. That left little time to get this out and for that I apologize.
That said, I want to take a moment to thank the Denver Broncos Media Relations staff, including Patrick Smythe and his folks for making me feel welcome and giving me anything and everything I needed to make my job easier. I also want to thank the Broncos internal Media staff, including Kyle Sonneman, Dave Gaylinn and others for making sure I didn't feel the wrath of Fred, the resident bad-ass security guy for the Broncos. We have talked many times about the CLASSY type of organization the Broncos are, and it doesn't stop on the field. These guys and gals are all class off the field as well, and it starts at the top with Mr. Bowlen and goes all the way down to the interns in the media room. Thanks to all of you again!
With all the Thank You's out of the way, let's break down what I saw on my final day of seeing practice up close and in person.....
Several Broncos who has missed a few days of practice were back in pads while a coupl others missed their first full day of workouts. RB Michael Pittman and FB Peyton Hillis returned, while the following 4 players sat out the workout - S Hamza Abdullah(Groin), LB Boss Bailey(Right Knee), TE Chad Mustard(Right Hamstring) and C Tom Nalen(Left Knee). From what I saw, no one was hurt during the workout.
This was easily the biggest crowd of the time I was here, and after a slow start the crowds and attention seem to be building. Despite near record, triple digit heat, the fans and players were energetic and appeared ready to get to work. At one point early in warmups, Jay Cutler had the crowd doing the wave. It was a fun atmosphere between the team and the fan base that adores them.
While the team was still in shorts, to go with their shoulder pads and helmets, there appeared to me more hiiting today that in the past couple. With the team having the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday to rest I am sure the coaches put extra emphasis on having a strong practice. While still not the same as being in full pads, the energy on the field more closely resembled what we would expect to see during the Pre-Season.
The overall energy level of the practice was solid, but it was a bit sloppy as well. At several points in the practice players on both sides of the ball were chewed out of jumping off-sides or false start infractions, including, DE Elvis Dumervil, OL Erik Pears and TE Tony Scheffler
Despite getting less than stellar reviews before I arrived, I though OL Ryan Harris has looked strong from what I have seen live. Sure, he has been less than impressive in 1-on-1 drills, but the Broncos offensive line is built for group success and Harris has looked strong within the system. Being injured much of last year's training camp didn't help Harris' cause, and this Camp is very much like a rookie camp for him. Montrae Holland had better get back, and fast, or he could find himself out of a job.
I have been impressed by Nate Webster so far. He seems to be as healthy and athletic as at any point in the last 3 years. He does tend to be pout of position, but he now can make up for it with speed. He is my leader for the starting MLB job.
Andre Hall has also looked strong, running some with the 1st team at running back. He has good field vision and is a load to bring down. He's been a name to watch in the past but injuries have slowed his progress. Now healthy, Hall is making things very difficult for the decision makers. Selvin Young has done nothing to lose the starting job, and he is still the starter in my mind. Hall, however, has earned some carries.
Jarvis Moss is coming along, though it is rather slowly. He made some nice plays during 7 X 7 drills though he is still running with the 2nd team. He states that he is healthy and ready to roll, but I am beginning to question whether or not he will ever become a 1st Round talent.
The star of the day had to be K Matt Prater. The Broncos worked on Field Goals during the middle part of the workout and Prater was nothing short of perfect, 10/10 from the following distances - 35, 35, 40, 40, 43,43, 46,46,58 and yes, an incredible 68 yards! He easily had 5 yards to spare as well. Yes, we need to wait until the lights are on to see if Prater can handle the real pressure, but there is NO DOUBTING this kids legs. His kick-offs have also averaged 5-8 yards deep into the end-zone as well. If that wasn't enough, Prater ending the workout with a 54-yard field goal to "win the game" during the final 2-minute drill.
Anthony Alridge was working some with the 3rd team offense. I don't know if there is a place on the team for him in 2008, but his speed is something teams are going to have a hard time dealing with. When he wants to get to the corner on sweep plays it is almost impossible to stop him.
After getting dominated for the most part throughout Friday's practice, the D-Line was getting some pressure during 11 X 11 drills. While there aren't "sacks" per say, the whistle will blow if the refs or coaches think the QB would have been taken down. This happened on 3 different occasions, twice to Ramsey and once to Cutler, and Cutler was hurried into bad throws on a few other occasions. The defense was also bringing some different rush packages from thir linebackers which was refreshing to see.
The battle of the day was Brandon Marshall V. Domonique Foxworth when the 1st Team offense was going against the 2nd Team defense. In two separate Red Zone drills Marshall made incredible catches against Foxworth to score. I really don't think there is a DB in the League right now that can stop Marshall 1-on-1. That includes our own All-World corner.
Eddie Royal continued to impress, catching a WR screen, making two players miss, before streaking down the far sideline. Royal is elusive as a wide receiver, something that is going to do him well because of his apparent lack of size. After practice, he spent time with QB Darrell Hackney working on audible signs used during no-huddle/hurry-up situations. The kid wants to learn and isn't resting on his athleticism alone.
Patrick Ramsey had another rough day. He was "sacked" 3 different time and had a couple of passes batted down during Red Zone work. Maybe it is just the comparison when working next to Cutler, but Ramsey rarely seems to know where he is going to deliver the football after his pre-snap and post snap reads. In short, it takes him way too long to deliver the football.
The efficiency of the offense in the red zone is a key to this team's success in 2008. After 3 days of watching practice, the best I can say is it is still a work in progress. Of course, any play that includes getting the ball to #15 seems to work like a charm.
While many think Daniel Graham's main responsibility will be to protect Ryan Clady at LT, I see him being a much larger part of the passing offense. He looks to be much more comfortable in the offense and he has showed good hands, especially in the red zone. Graham is still going to be counted on to block, but don't be surprised if he has a breakout season in the reception category as well.
While working with the 3rd team defense, Jordan Beck looked completely lost on a screen pass to Ryan Torain for an easy TD.
After 3 days of watching Elvis Dumervil, there is no doubt in my mind he can be an every down player in 2008. On one specific play during today's workout, he easily disposed of Erik Pears to blow up a running play in the back-field. He is going to be a star in this League.
Josh Barrett continued to impress. He is a bit rough around the edges, and playing safety in the NFL can take time, but he definitely has "it". He's a bit of a throwback as well, making ball carriers pay for coming into his territory.
Jay Cutler has definitely improved when it comes to reading defenses. His decisions are much quicker and he is doing a much better job stepping into throws instead of throwing off his back foot. The result is even more velocity and accuracy as well.
So ended my time in Denver with the Broncos. I saw a lot, learned even more, and came away impressed by the speed and youth injected into the roster. Has my opinion changed of what I think this team can be in 2008? No. If anything, I feel better about what I thought prior to my trip. This is a young football team, that became even younger with the departure of John Lynch. With youth will come growing pains. There is a lot of talent, of course, and whenever you have youth, speed and talent anything can happen.