We haven't seen the Broncos have a joint practice with another team since the Cowboys in 2008. That year was a bit, how should I say this, troubling. Jay Cutler was in his (who'd have guessed it) last season with the Broncos as they finished a third straight season without a playoff berth. Mike "Coach For Life" Shanahan was jettisoned out of Denver after an 8-8 season, and Hurricane Josh showed up much to nobody's pleasure.
So why have another joint practice? Are we trying to give John Fox and Peyton Manning a hint or something? No, it isn't anything like that, or at least I hope it isn't. It's just another way that teams think they can get better in the offseason. Lets face it, you can only beat up on your own players so many times before you have the schematics of the opposing side figured out, and lets not forget that things tend to get chippy out there, even with teammates.
My only hesitation with bringing in a team to practice with is that it won't necessarily make the Broncos any better. The Broncos are the odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl, so what good could possibly come from allowing their practice blueprint and plays be held under review by a rival AFC team? Forget about this being the worst place team Texans, because Matt Schaub gave them that title. This team with a new quarterback could be dangerous. So why give them any more ammo to fire at us if we meet them in the playoffs? Unfortunately, I don't have those answers, so instead, here are my Five Things I Want To See during this week of practice with the Texans.
1. Can Ryan Clady and company stop Jadeveon Clowney?
Although he isn't listed as a defensive end, the Texans use him like one. Think of him as this draft's Von Miller. He can play on and off the line, and he plays like his hair is on fire. He was the first pick for a reason, and unlike Mario Williams from the past, the Texans look to have found the real, undisputed, franchise lineman they've been chasing for almost a decade. Again, I know he isn't a pure defensive end, but he sure does line up that way an awful lot. He will be a true test of Clady's health as well as the Broncos running backs' ability to block. Perhaps Chris Clark will get tested too, but I have a feeling he'll be busy with someone else. Who you ask? ...
2. Can Chris Clark hold off J.J. Watt?
I'm beginning to think that I know why the Broncos wanted to scrimmage against the Texans. It is because they might have the best defensive line in all of football, outside of Denver of course (sorry Seattle, you aren't there anymore). If Chris Clark and the running backs can stave off J.J. Watt, then they'll be well prepared for any NFC team that might be lining up opposite of them come February. Going against arguably of the most disruptive defensive player in the league rep after rep, scheme after scheme, will only make Clark that much better and HOPEFULLY prepare him for the playoff push that will inevitably have dominant pass rushers.
3. Test our running game.
We've heard the "balanced attack" message since the dust settled in New York. It's now time to put that lip service to the test. Focus on the run against a stout defensive line. Get the running backs and offensive line gelling so that the burden of moving the ball doesn't rest solely on Peyton Manning. I'm talking a lot about the two lines here, but the old adage about having to win the battle in the trenches still holds true. The Broncos need to prove to themselves that they aren't a one dimensional team. They need the swagger and confidence in their ability to run the ball, and I'd rather them work on that aspect against a team when the scoreboard is irrelevant than when the outcome actually matters. (note: Yes, I realize the scoreboard doesn't matter in preseason games, but roster spots do. I'd rather see them doing this in practice against another team before the bright lights are shining and roster cuts are to be made).
4. Keep the turnovers coming.
The Broncos had a horrible turnover difference last season and are looking to fix that for this season. So far, they are off to a fantastic start. I would love to see them keeping this trend going against yet another team, even though this is only a practice. Their ability to create turnovers against unfamiliar opponents and plays will only make their adaptability in real games that much better. This is one scrimmage where I'd love nothing more than to watch our defense completely steal our offenses' spotlight because they won't be against our offense.
5. Don't help the Texans out too much
I would hate it if the Texans came out of these scrimmages looking much better than they did entering simply because we gave away intel. Unlike preseason games, these are practices where playbooks are pretty open and weaknesses are exploited and scrutinized. I'd like to see the Broncos keep pretty tight lipped about these things and to keep their weaknesses and plays pretty close to the vest. There's no reason why we should be giving the Texans more from this practice than what we will be taking from it.
Bonus #6 Don't get into any fights!
Yes, things will get chippy out there, and by the end of the week, both teams will be wanting to rip each others' throats out, but remember what Peyton said, you have to be smart out there. There will be times in games where someone gets under your skin and you sure as heck can't be taking a swing at them. So treat it like a game and keep your composure and smarts. There is no need to lose your cool right now. Be safe and leave these practices healthy. Live to play another game!
What are you hoping to see in Broncos-Texans joint practices?