This is bittersweet for me because it is my last report. Once done, I will head to the airport and back home. I miss my girls and am glad to be heading home, but the past 4 days or so have been incredible My thanks to the Denver Broncos for allowing me, and by extension you, access to the inside. A 2-year veteran now, I am already looking forward to next year.
Enough mushy stuff, let's get back to the football. It has been easy to see over the first 4 days of camp that Josh McDaniels is taking the task of rebuilding this football team seriously. Not from a pure aspect of the roster, either. The Broncos had become a team void of fundamentals, with little regard for the details. How many times under Mike Shanahan were mistakes or turnovers accepted as "part of the game". Surely they are, but simply because something is EXPECTED doesn't mean it should be ACCEPTED.
In a sport when one mistake, one mental or physical miscue, can cost a team a win, a playoff spot, or more, the attention to detail, the mastery of the fundamentals is what can separate 10-6 from 8-8 or 8-8 from 6-10. It will be a focus now, and the Broncos should be better for it as the season goes on.
Each practice has been a building block to the next one, and each day has seen an increase in 7x7 and 11x11 work. One can't succeed in a team environment if they can't succeed against another person or blocking sled. It has been that focus that is going to benefit this team in 2009. The physicality of the workouts, practicing in pads, is going to help this team. They may not be the most talented team every Sunday, but they will be as prepared as anyone. That is a step in the right direction.
Now, on to some thoughts from my final practice at Dove Valley...In the past there were practices dedicated to Special Teams. Usually in the afternoon, these workouts would include only players that were on the Special Teams units and would last 75 minutes or so. While I can't say there won't be a workout like that this year, there has yet to be one and with the work going into special teams during the main practice I'd venture to say there won't be. It is the efficient use like this of the practice time available that impresses me about the way these workouts have been scheduled.
Whether you support McDaniels or not, I'd be interested to hear anyone say they aren't impressed by how this camp is being run from an organizational standpoint. There are very few wasted movements and the team gets in and out of team/individual drills fast.
Each workout is filled with teaching. Specifically the D-Line, getting a ton of one-on-one instruction. Today's focus - spacing and getting low. In a 3-4 defense, it is the job of the defensive line to hold their ground in order to allow the linebackers to make plays in space. How well the Broncos' defense picks up the 3-4 will depend largely on this unit getting it done.
The O-line was working on exploding off the ball, doubling the D-end, sealing the edge, and getting to the next level (LB or S). Of the new guys, Mitch Erickson seemed to be getting the most praise from Rick Dennison while Black Schlueter was struggling just a bit.
The special teams work included punt team - specifically on punts coming from mid-field, both covering them from a punt standpoint and retuning them as well. Eddie Royal, Matthew Willis and Alphonso Smith were all returning punts.
At one point, the QBs were in a pod all by themselves working on play-action/bootleg. Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd were standing in different spots - flat, the middle, far pylon of the end zone - and each quarterback would practice booting to his right. That, of course, is against the grain for Chris Simms, and he struggled just a bit. Kyle Orton, however, looked pretty good making all the throws. More on Orton later.
At the same time, Linebackers were in a pod with the DBs practicing their footwork dropping in coverage. For Elvis Dumervil and Tim Crowder, two former D-Ends trying to convert to LB, this will be the hardest transition.
One quick note about Josh McDaniels. He is all over the field. He gets heavily involved in all the workouts, all positions. Whether it is going over technique with defensive linemen or dropping in coverage during wide receiver drills, McDaniels is in the middle of all of it. If anyone thought that McDaniels, as a QB Coach/Offensive Coordinator, would only be working with the QBs, you are largely mistaken.
On to 11x11, where during Red Zone work Champ Bailey proved he still has it. Bailey stepped in front of C.J. Jones to juggle, then intercept, a Chris Simms pass in the end zone. Bailey can still go get the football.
Time Crowder is really playing well. With Jarvis Moss in limbo and Robert Ayers still holding out (could change at any minute), Crowder is really taking advantage of the opportunity to play. At one point during the workout, Crowder took Nate Swift down to the ground hard on a completion across the middle. At another point, Eddie Royal got a bit annoyed with Crowder's physicality, leading to screams of "Don't get mad, this is football" from some of the defensive coaches.
Tom Brandstater.....Where can I begin. The kid has some tools, no doubt about it. He is raw, however, and really needs to work on his mechanics. I guess what I am saying is not to expect any late-round, Tom Brady-type magic when it comes to Brandstater's progress this season.
As for the other quarterbacks, Kyle Orton is beginning to look more comfortable in the offense. I am going to give all the QBs a bit of a pass, no pun intended, when it comes to their roller-coaster performance this week. It is going to take time, and reps, to learn a new offense and there are going to be bumps in the road. Let's be honest, the final exam isn't until September 13th, over 5 weeks away.
During one play, Marcus Thomas had to cover Daniel Graham after a shift. With the vocal encouragement of his defensive teammates on the sidelines, Thomas did his best to keep up with the TE on his drag route. Graham made the catch, as the ball just squeezed past the arm of a diving Thomas. Solid effort, indeed.
Some group sprints ended the working part of the practice, but as is the case with the other days, the team goes back to their pods and finishes with what I would describe as a light cool-down. The teaching never stops, however, and there is little time wasted.
One last impression. I have been very impressed with Mike Nolan. He is energetic, is involved with his players and passionate about what he is trying to accomplish. Perhaps it is simply a surprise to me, but I didn't expect that from the guy I saw coach the 49ers.