The Denver Broncos wrapped up the final OTA session with a mandatory minicamp this week. We will now a have a long six week wait until training camp begins in late July or early August.
Though pads weren’t used and no contact is the rule during OTAs, we still got a first live action of the 2018 season. Much has been reported and discussed, but here are the biggest takeaways from the Broncos offseason training activities.
Case Keenum has filled the leadership void at quarterback
What the last several weeks has taught us is that the void in leadership at the quarterback position was much worse than any of us could have imagined. To go from Peyton Manning to a couple of inexperienced fringe starters in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch should have set off alarm bells for everyone.
Keenum challenged the defense and made plenty of plays in the red zone. While we can’t read too much into these unpadded practice sessions, these are important first steps in building confidence in his teammates.
The coaching staff has had nothing but praise of Keenum. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave noted his work ethic in particular.
“He’s a winner, number one,” Musgrave said of Keenum. “He approaches every day the same way—professional. Very much into it, and I think the guys have very much rallied around both on offense and on defense just because he’s the same guy every day. He’s consistent and definitely cares about his teammates.”
That leads back to the leadership void at quarterback the Broncos were suffering from the last two seasons. The position is too important not to have a strong personality to guide the offense.
Now we just have to wait and see if these strong practice sessions and Keenum’s leadership ability translates into good padded practices in August.
The defense appears to be rebounding nicely
Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.
That was a recurring theme from these OTA sessions. As good as Keenum’s offense was at times, the defense got their fair share of big plays out of the deal. There were deflected passes, interceptions and, of course, pressure.
With DeMarcus Ware also hired onto the Broncos staff as a pass rush consultant, the young players are going to be getting tips from one of the best in NFL history - as well as from one of the best in the NFL game today in Von Miller.
“It’s huge,” Head coach Vance Joseph said of Ware’s involvement. “The knowledge that D-Ware brings about pass rush, the experiences and playing against different types of tackles and different types of schemes—DeMarcus played in this exact scheme his entire career from Dallas with Wade [Phillips] to Wade here. He has great knowledge about our scheme also.”
The biggest issue the Broncos defense had in 2017 was the lack of a consistent pass rush from anyone not named Von Miller. The addition of Bradley Chubb should help that situation, which should also lead to more turnover opportunities.
“It’s that Batman-and-Robin type of relationship,” Defensive coordinator said of the relationship between Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. “Right now, Bradley is just listening. He’s all ears, trying to take in as much information because obviously Von is one of the best pass rushers in the game. It’s been good just to see those guys talk in meetings, get on the field, spend some time one-on-one going through drills and different things they’re doing with their hands. He’s definitely going to benefit from being in the same room with Von.
We should see a big improvement in the defense in 2018.
Come September, 31 other teams will be wondering how they let Von Miller and Bradley Chubb end up on the same team.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) May 30, 2018
Broncos are stacked at the wide receiver position
Behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos appear to have a wealth of depth at the wide receiver position. Both rookie draft picks Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton have been impressing everyone during OTAs.
“They’re very mature kids,” Musgrave said of the Broncos rookie wide receivers. “Since day one they have really attacked the playbook. They’re out there working hard. I think we can count on them. The coaches, the players, we feel like they’re reliable. They show up every day. We’re thankful that they’re on our team.”
Then you throw in Carlos Henderson, Isaiah McKenzie, and Jordan Taylor who will all be looking to compete for roster spots in training camp and you have a position group that is pretty deep talent-wise.
The rookies have been the most impressive, however, as Sutton’s ability to make the incredible catch and his red zone abilities have looked impressive during OTAs. Hamilton has received high praise for his ability to get open running precise routes. Though it may be early, they both look like they will challenge for playing time in key situations this season.
Position battles to watch during Broncos training camp
Once the Broncos start training camp, there are a couple of position battles that we should all be very interested in. Out of the four I think will be the most important, three are on offense.
The Broncos decided to go young at the position with the release of veteran C.J. Anderson this offseason. Third-year player Devontae Booker is now the most experienced running back on the roster with De’Angelo Henderson entering his second season. Denver then added Royce Freeman and David Williams in the 2018 NFL Draft and picked up Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent.
The competition for playing time will easily be the most interesting position competition of training camp this Summer. Booker figures to be one of the 1a or 1b starters in the backfield and, so far, Freeman has been impressive enough to be mentioned as the 1a back frequently during OTAs. However, nothing is set in stone at the position.
“You never know with that group,” Keenum said of the young running backs on the roster. “You never know which of the guys are going to step up or which of the guys are going to have to step up, so you want to work with all of them. You want to talk through all different decisions and things with all of those guys. I think they’ve all come along. I think they’ve all come a long way and I’m excited to see those guys when they put pads on. That’s really when the competition gets going for the running backs, when you put the pads on and you see those guys running down hill.”
Keenum is right, it is hard to know which young running back is going to emerge as the biggest contributor aside Booker this season.
The one position John Elway and his team failed to address in free agency and the draft was an interior guard position. They did draft Sam Jones in the sixth round, but it is unlikely a sixth rounder will be able to fight his way into the starting five as a rookie.
That said, the position group on one side is fairly weak, so Jones will have a shot. Connor McGovern seems to be the penciled-in starter, with Max Garcia and even Menelik Watson rotating inside. All three of those players struggled last season.
“We have a group in mind, but you have to figure out who can play multiple positions,” Joseph said of the offensive line. “That’s fundamental. You want guys who can swing between guard and tackle and between center and guard. That’s going to happen, but you want to find five guys who you can count on.”
From Joseph’s mindset, it looks like they know its going to be a problem - as is overall depth on the offensive line. The coaches are focused on filling the roster with players who can play a lot of different positions along the offensive line.
While this strategy feels like it could be problematic long-term over a 16-game regular season, especially when injuries come down, it is the only logical way to address the talent deficiencies the coaching staff is faced with at one interior guard position and the overall depth of the line.
Until Elway fixes it via trade, free agency, or the NFL Draft, the coaches will do what they have to do to limit the damage of a talent-weak position.
Training camp will be the most important time for us to evaluate how McGovern might be developing as an NFL lineman. He may be the Broncos only hope of finding a reliable every game starter opposite Ronald Leary at the guard position.
The 2018 OTA’s for the Denver Broncos was a show often stolen by second-year tight end Jake Butt. He has been making plays in the red zone and developing the kind of chemistry with Keenum that will get him playing time.
After sitting out his rookie year, Butt came into this offseason ready to make an impact.
“Jake is working hard, of course he’s hungry because he had to sit out with his injury,” Musgrave said of Jake Butt. “But whether or not it’s the tight end position or outside the numbers in the wide receiver’s spot, he’s got the body control to get open. He’s going to be a terrific asset for us.”
The tight end position was another that Elway and company decided not to address in free agency or the draft really. They did take Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round, but he is unlikely to challenge for the starting job his rookie year.
For now, the competition will be between Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt. That will be one training camp battle worth watching and it is a battle that will have huge implications on how successful the Broncos offense will be this season.
The interior of the Broncos defensive line seems absolutely stacked with talent. It is hard to postulate who might emerge as a starter with Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko. My bet is on Shelby Harris, but with guys like Adam Gotsis and DeMarcus Walker pushing for playing time it could be anyone’s guess once the pads come on. Throw in a veteran like Clinton McDonald and the position starts to look very crowded.
I personally like Harris due to his pass rushing abilities and he graded out very well last season. The biggest change on defense is the coaches focusing on scheming to a players strengths with the play calls.
“People are playing towards their strengths this year,” Shelby Harris said. “We’re going to have guys rushing the passer. We’re going to have guys trying to stop guys from catching the ball and everything. I like what we’re doing this year a lot. I feel like it fits our strengths a lot more. We added a little bit more. So, we’ll see once we actually get to real competition. Because everything was good during OTAs. Everything from OTAs it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! We’re going to win the Super Bowl 100-0 (laughing).’ But we’ve got to wait until we actually start getting some live competition. And then judge it from there.”
On a talented defense, most of the starting positions have been figured out already. There might be some jostling on the depth chart at cornerback, but the only position that has a bunch of players similarly talented would be the interior of the defensive line. It should be the most important position battle on that side of the ball in training camp.
What were your key takeaway’s from OTA’s? Share in the comments section below.