With the final leg of OTAs for the Denver Broncos next week, the players will run through this week's mandatory minicamp with a little more control over their own practices. Coaches will likely review and correct mistakes tomorrow or the next day. The point will be to get players into more game-like situations where they will need to think and react as if things were real. Fortunately, John Fox elaborates a bit further below.
For a team as deeply talented as the Denver Bronocs, this time of the year has to get coaches incredibly excited to coach. Even for a guy who keeps his professionalism out front, you can sense his excitement for 2014. When asked how the team looks he said, "Good, good. Attitude’s been great. Guys working hard, both in the weight room, in the meeting room and as well on the field. So it’s a good bunch. They’re working very, very hard."
The biggest thing about this team right now is focus. Last year, after such a devastating defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in double overtime, there was much talk of focus and determination. It worked, but then the Super Bowl came along and the entire team from the head coach on down seemed to lose that focus for two weeks and we all remember the results. Hopefully that is another lesson learned for this club as they head into 2014 again improving focus and drive.
"We’re doing everything we can to improve in all three phases", Fox said of improving the team, "Again, you’ve got to be a complete team to win it all and we did fall short, and we’re trying to get better so we don’t fall short."
Baby steps, people. This team has now failed in every way possible, so the next logical baby step is a world championship. Denver is now tied with the New England Patriots with the second most AFC Championship titles in history, one behind the Pittsburgh Steelers eight titles. It's now time to chip away at that winning percentage in Super Bowls.
So, what's the big difference between OTAs and minicamp? It's a question that caught me off guard too, but was glad John Fox also covered that question yesterday saying, "They give us a little more time on the field daily. But with the new CBA, you get one real practice and you get walkthrough practice without helmets. So they’re similar but they’re different schedules and they’re all very good opportunities because you get a pretty live practice, going offense against defense on the field."
Rookie first round draft pick, Bradley Roby, signed his contract yesterday as well. All 2014 NFL Draft picks are now under contract with the Denver Broncos. Of Roby, Fox said, "I’ve been very impressed. It’s not too big for him. He’s obviously got the physical skills. Anytime you take a guy in the first round, you feel that way. I’ve really been impressed with what he’s done, how he’s conducted himself as a Bronco thus far."
Speaking of Roby, he and Emmanuel Sanders had a big time collision that made the rounds of questioning after practice. Fox wasn't too worried about it, saying, "It’s part of football. There are collisions. It’s a combative game. You try to avoid it as best you can but sometimes you’re not going to be able to avoid all the situations but they both popped up and everything’s good."
Most interesting was the number of reps Cody Latimer has been getting so early in his career. Apparently, badgering Peyton Manning with questions is a good way to get up to speed as quickly as possible for a young player.
Of the extra reps Latimer is seeing, Fox said, "Yeah, it’ll progress. His team reps picked up. He’s been going through individual. We want to be smart, especially this time of year, but he’s been very impressive in what I’ve seen him do."
It is always good to see a rookie succeeding early. It would be incredible to see him contribute successfully and significantly to the Broncos 2014 Super Bowl run, but I suspect the extra reps are an anomaly and like most rookie wide receivers it will be a full year before he is ready for real playing time.
To close things out, Coach Fox mentioned that Quanterus Smith is healthy and finally getting his shot at making the roster. Fox said he was a guy they thought highly enough of to draft two years ago.
All-world stud quarterback, Peyton Manning, opened his first question of the day explaining how minicamp feels different than regular OTAs.
"It’s an extension of the OTAs," explained Manning, "Obviously we had more time to be over here to watch the film of today’s practice this afternoon, correct that, and then go into a late afternoon walkthrough where you can slow things down and do a little more teaching. You’re allowed more time, which I think it’s important to take advantage of it. Definitely, because of the time, it’s different than OTAs."
Umm, okay. So we start with it being just an extension of OTAs to being different to OTAs at the end. I guess I'll got with minicamp being different than regular OTAs on this one. If anything, Manning just appreciates every second he is able to spend working with the offensive unit.
"I think it’s very important, it’s the way you build a passing game. We do routes versus air, which you guys, half of you are on your cell phones when we’re out here doing that, I don’t know how much you watch. But we try to start and build on that and then you take that to seven on seven versus the defense, which is kind of step two. And then step three is live with the offense linemen in there. So what you want is you want the live periods to feel like routes versus air because you know that timing with D.T. and Julius so well," Peyton explained, "Can you get six years worth of timing in some mini camps and OTAs? No, you can’t. But you try, you try to get on the same page. The more you know where a receiver’s going to be, the more accurate you are and I think the more velocity you can have on a pass if you know where he’s going."
These practices, every single one of them, is important to Manning. If more quarterbacks understood and approached the position like he does, there would be a lot more quality quarterbacks in this league. The NFL is all about timing and rhythm, so if you can't find either then you are in for a long day at the office.
Coach Fox covered for the guy who made the mistake in the collision between rookie, Bradley Roby and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but Peyton was a little less forgiving.
"You never want to see a collision out here. I think it was a busted coverage, sometimes a guy is not supposed to be there and he’s there and it ends up causing a collision," explained Manning, "So I don’t like to see anyone go down but you’re certainly glad when it happens and somebody pops back up."
Poor rookie. He just got called out by The Man. Hopefully, Roby will use this as a learning experience. The last guy you'd want annoyed with you as a rookie is a future Hall of Famer and the guy who makes the most money on the team.
I touched briefly earlier on how this team seems to be making baby steps each season towards winning a Super Bowl and really, there are no more life lessons for this team to learn. This is the year it must all come together. Manning explained far better than I did, saying, "There’s no question. There’s no doubt that we learned from the 2012 season and how it finished and I thought that made us a better team in 2013. We would like to go a step further this season and use 2013 to learn from the good and the bad and we talk about going out and earning it every day and going out and trying to be better every day and focusing on the now. (Coach) Luke (Richesson) says it all the time, ‘When is life happening? Right now.’ That’s kind of our theme and I think guys have bought into that philosophy and are doing a good job with it."
DT: "Manning's arm is getting stronger still"
A few months removed from breaking the receptions record in the Super Bowl, Demaryius Thomas is still feeling the sting of that loss.
There was much ado about the Broncos players getting their AFC Championship rings, but Peyton Manning only cares about one ring and it shows in how he responded to that line of questioning. He was terse when asked if it was bittersweet to receive the ring, saying, "Like I said, we have addressed last season and we have started trying to be a better team starting back in February when guys start lifting weights February 27th and April 20th when the official offseason program started. We have addressed that and we’re trying to be a better team this year because of last season."
And when asked if he will ever wear it, Manning stated, "Probably not."
Well there you have it. There is not much more a guy can say to show that winning is the only thing that matters, so any season that ends in a loss is a season best moved on from. I really hope we get to see him hoist that Lombardi Trophy one last time before he rides off into the sunset.
The media wasn't done with him just yet, asking him one final question about Demaryius Thomas' comment last week about his arm being even stronger this offseason than it was last season.
"I like having that feedback," said Mannning, "I can learn a lot off of that. I do the same thing for receivers. I tell receivers, ‘Wow, you’re really coming out of the stance, I’m having to throw the ball a lot sooner to keep you from outrunning.’ So anytime you get feedback, from both players, telling DeMarcus Ware, ‘Wow, you look quick off the ball’ ... anytime a player gives you feedback, I take that seriously and hopefully that means making some progress."
It's hard not love everything about this locker room and football team. All that is missing is what was missing after a cold day this past February.
Signing his contract made him a late addition to the player availability schedule, so Bradley Roby got his first taste of the media after a practice. After the perfunctory "how did you like signing your contract" type of questions, we got to some good ones.
A big reason why I thought Roby would be able to contribute immediately in 2014 was because the learning curve for a cornerback wasn't as large as it would be for say, a wide receiver.
Bradley Roby signs his rookie contract
The Denver Broncos' entire 2014 draft class is signed, sealed and delivered as of Tuesday afternoon.
"It’s going pretty good," Roby said in response to the learning process so far, "The defense, at corner, you’re only going to run only a certain amount of coverages anyway. It’s just about learning the terminology and when to check this and that, stuff like that. I’ve been getting with the older guys and they’ve helped me a lot. I’ve been getting it done."
Thankfully, he said all the right things about the collision with Emmanuel Sanders, with no kind of knuckleheaded rookie response. Asked if it was an accident, Roby replied, "Definitely, I wasn’t trying to hit him. We don’t have pads on, that’s silly to think that I was really trying to hit him. Things like that happen, it’s football. I’m glad he was OK. I apologized to him and let him know. He’s a veteran, I don’t want him to think that some young dude’s trying to hit him without pads on. I just let him know the situation and we’re good."
Out of all the cornerbacks of this particular draft class, I felt Roby was the only guy that fit the kind of Seattle Seahawks style of secondary play that John Elway is obviously trying to imitate in Denver. With the letting go of both Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, while bringing in T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby, it shows that Elway wants a physical secondary that will frustrate opposing offenses.
Roby apparently has a Richard Sherman-like zeal for jawing other players. When asked about it, Roby said, "Off the field, I know I’m a rookie. I don’t want them to try to do all these things to me, so I’m very respectful of all the veterans. I get along with them well. But on the field, that’s totally different. It doesn’t matter how old you are, I don’t apologize for anything on the field. So that’s totally different."
I know that will rub some people the wrong way as it does to me when Richard Sherman does it, but deep down inside, I wish Richard Sherman was playing for the Broncos instead of the Seahawks. You take nasty on defense where ever you can get it.
It will only help Roby having to go up against Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas in practice. When asked about this, Roby agreed saying, "That’s great for me. When I first got drafted, that’s something I thought about, ‘I’m going to be going against D.T., Peyton Manning and Emmanuel Sanders every day. Wes Welker every day. Just preparing with them guys, I know that there’s nobody out there I’m going to see that’s too much better than them, if any. I’m delighted about that, I love to compete. So I just want to do that every day."
Pinch me please. I still can't believe this kid is a Bronco. Legion of Boom, move over, its the Continental Divide and the passes are all blocked! Sorry, that's the best nickname I've been able to come up with so far...
Kevin Vickerson's line of questions centered around his health to start things off. It doesn't sound like he his ahead of schedule. Vickerson expressed his hope to get back on the field by Week 1 without any setbacks. Given that fact, it's going to be difficult for him to unseat Sylvester Williams for that second defensive tackle spot, but he'll get his opportunities as the season progresses.
Asked about his goals for 2014, the Big Vick had little hesitation saying, "I want to go to the Pro Bowl. I want to be one of the best D-Tackles in this league. That’s never going to stop my ambition to be the best. Just trying to help these guys, the younger guys I have with me. Just bring them along and try to catch up to where I left off."
And just when I think there will be no way he becomes a clear cut starting defensive tackle in 2014, he lets everyone know his weight is holding steady at 330 pounds. So let me backtrack a bit and say that I would not rule him out to take over for the younger guy on the interior line as the season progresses.
When asked specifically about Sylvester Williams, he said, "Sly came on (strong) last year. He played some good ball for us last year. Right now he’s becoming more of himself in his role. He’s learning the plays more and being more fast and playing with and identifying blocks well. That’s all you can ask from the young guys, to have this transition go from one level to the next. So he’s been doing a good job so far."
I don't know about you, but I feel really good about the depth at defensive tackle. It's not every day that a team can claim to have no less than three "starter" quality defensive tackles on their roster competing for two starting positions. The rotation there should keep all three guys fresh throughout the entire season ... provided they all stay healthy.
It is clear that Terrance Knighton is the force to be reckoned with in the middle and asked what its like teaming up with him, Vickerson said, "Sometimes, during the season, we struggled a little bit against some teams. But at the same time, we still ended up at the same spot where we wanted to be at. So it’s always good to be in there with him, but at the same time, if you can help and you can coach him and see, like you said, just try to help him see what you see, and little things like that, little techniques. It always helps when they give another guy a perspective on something."
Focus is a word that needs to be written here. I have been watching this franchise closely for the better part of a decade and never have I seen players so focused on helping each other get better and not have egos play a determinedly role in those efforts. I say decade, because up until then I only watched the games and highlights. This offseason stuff is almost more interesting than the in-season stuff (not counting the actual games of course). Anyway, I cannot express how excited I am getting after each of these interviews. It's like one flows to the next...and my excitement grows. Is it the same for you?
As MHR reported yesterday, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are looking to combine for as many sacks as any one team in the NFL. To put that into perspective, that would be around 30 sacks. Plenty doable if you look at the historical feats these two have already accomplished.
Based on those quotes, it is plenty evident that Ware is warming up to his new surroundings. Asked about being more comfortable now, he said, "When you first come into a new team, you just try to figure out the guys, the personnel and how you really fit in. But now it’s getting toward that grind time. You’ve already been doing the workouts, you’ve done a little bit of the OTAs and now you’re starting the mini camp and you really get into the steak and potatoes of everything. Everything is really coming along really well. You feel like you’re part of the team and we had a great practice today."
Like the secondary being pitted against Demaryius Thomas and Peyton Manning, Ware gets to go up against Ryan Clady. It's such a luxury to have elite NFL players going up against elite NFL players. Ware was asked about Clady's development since he went up against him when Clady was a rookie in 2008.
"When you look at a guy like Clady and how athletic he is, especially from his rookie season when I played him, I knew he was going to be one of those tackles to be reckoned with. Now he’s gotten a lot of maturity, he’s gotten a lot of experience and he’s crafty. He’s one of those guys where it’s not just, ‘Oh, he’s athletic, he’s out there playing like that.’ Now he’s playing with maturity, with experience and he knows what to do."
I would almost label this a stupid question, since there is little debate that Clady is one of the premier left tackles in the NFL, having been successful year in and year out, but perhaps the questioner was just giving Ware an opportunity to sing praises Clady's way. And for that, I thank you.
On his leadership style, Ware replied, "At the end of the day, all leaders always lead by example. But sometimes you have to be vocal to the point where when everybody’s out there tired, you’ve got to have some false enthusiasm a little bit. At the end of the day, you have to get out there and you have to get the job done play after play, because every guy ... you want to be able to give them your all. So you’ve got to be able to do the same thing."
This is a style of leadership most men respect and gravitate to. Based on my observations of how this locker room operates, there has to be a dozen other guys who lead just like DeMarcus Ware does. It's a thing of beauty after so many years of seeing the country club of Mike Shanahan's years and the brutal dictatorship that was Josh McDaniels.