In case you somehow missed it, the Broncos preseason is halfway over already. When the Broncos visit Washington next Friday it will be the dress rehearsal for the opener and while Chad Kelly has eaten up a ton of the media attention there have been a few other great developments for the orange and blue.
Despite the outcomes, the offensive foundation has been built.
Through 2 games, the Broncos have heavily featured sets I mentioned during my Musgrave study (parts 1, 2, and 3 here), even using a vertical concept on first and goal with the first team offense against Chicago. One play that really caught my eye came in the first game against Minnesota: the Lead Draw. Chris Brown of ESPN (then Grantland) covered it’s success extensively with the Adrian Peterson Vikings, but the exciting part is how the play could fit the Broncos’ backs.
While the line and quarterback act as if it’s a pass play on the snap in order to cause defensive hesitation, Andy Janovich or an H-back moves to lead. Brown called it a perfect combination of deceptive power and it would create additional aid for the offensive line while utilizing Janovich to help the ball carrier build a full head of steam.
Speaking of the ball carrier, we’re long past the point where Royce Freeman should be considered the heavy favorite for the job. Booker may start but I’d lose some sleep if Musgrave and Joseph fail to notice that the rookie back is a far more effective. He possesses a deadly combination of raw power, shiftiness and vision.
Musgrave Under the Microscope
The first thing that sticks out about the play above is how the formation forces the Bears defense to devote so much attention to trips set. Musgrave specialized in forcing this kind of pinch on the opposing coordinator during his time in Oakland and with the WR corps as it currently looks he’ll do it frequently this season as well.
It’s notable that the back is aligned to the right of Case Keenum here. By doing so the most logical run threat is towards the bunch, which means that the backers are favoring that side. What’s fun about this play though is that the three receiver side was little more than a decoy for where the real action was.
On the snap Jeff Heuerman makes like he’s running a fade, while Devontae Booker runs an arrow route.
Notice that Heuerman looks doubled here, but Booker is drawing attention.
It’s a fun play and one that the Broncos can keep in their back pocket for short yardage situations to come.
This could be the deepest receiving corps the Broncos have ever had.
WR1: Demaryius Thomas- a top ten receiver in the NFL.
WR2: Emmanuel Sanders- a little over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns in his Broncos tenure
WR3: a tossup between Courtland Sutton, who’s routinely made highlight plays through camp and has the kind of raw tools you dream about, and DaeSean Hamilton who’s a special kind of worker.
What’s being lost in the shuffle with these four though? Tim Patrick has looked legit.
The Broncos represent Patrick’s third stop in the league after he spent parts of the 2017 season in Baltimore and San Francisco. He stands 6’4, 210 lbs and knows how to use his frame to make catches over defenders. In college he didn’t have an extensive route tree so he’ll still need polish in that area, but the talent is there if he can stay healthy.
During the Bears broadcast it was leaked that the Broncos hope to carry 6 receivers out of camp. As of now the best guess is that Isaiah McKenzie is the favorite in part because of his return prowess and the explosive flashes he’s shown. Obviously fumbles have marred that a great deal and they cropped up again against the Bears, but the talent is there.
Josey Jewell shows a ton of promise
“Outlaw” has been a fan favorite since the day he was drafted around Denver, which led me to a wary bit of skepticism that the Iowa linebacker could match the hype. At different times over the summer I watched a bit of his tape here and there but concluded it best to see how he adjusted to NFL speed before I really focused my eye on him.
He was impressive, but I can also see why he fell to the 4th round of the NFL draft. In case you missed the combine this year, Jewell ran a 4.82 40 yard dash. He’s faster in pads because he has very good instincts to the ball and it helps him to anticipate where it’s going. Additionally, his lateral mobility is elite which helps him to shift quickly from one direction to the other. This showed up when he was matched up against the new Giant Saquon Barkley during their collegiate careers, but as shown in the play above, Jewell’s lack of top end speed means he really can’t afford to take a false step.
Another question to ask as game 2 bleeds into 3 is if he can consistently take good angles to the ball. Everyone notices the good plays, but there are a few of these sprinkled in as well.
On the surface, this is a small issue, but one that will be exacerbated if Jewell is forced into action against players like Kareem Hunt or Melvin Gordon. It’s obviously very early though and I’d expect plays like this to become even less frequent as Jewell acclimates to NFL speed.
The last concern I had while watching the Vikings game was that Jewell was locked up by a blocker from time to time. This happens to every backer, but it was a question when Jewell was drafted and something he’ll need to improve at.
3 & Out: Other impressive defenders.
1st and 10: Shelby Harris
Longtime readers of GIF Horse will know that I’ve dedicated an entire summer film study to Shelby Harris, but it looks like he’s poised to pick up right where he left off in 2017.
It will be interesting to see how Bill Kollar deploys the defensive line, as the position group is probably the deepest one on the team.
2nd and 7: Jeff Holland
Another player I took an extensive look at this summer, Holland’s been so good through two games that he deserves another mention. It’s very early, but Elway appears to have unearthed another gem in the undrafted rubble this year.
3rd and 4: DeMarcus Walker
Basically the forgotten man from the 2017 class, Walker spent the offseason gaining weight and changing positions to become a full time defensive linemen. He’s taken to the changes like a fish to water and could cause Clinton McDonald some sleepless nights as the final cut day creeps closer.
4th and 1: Brandon Marshall
2018 is a critical year for Brandon Marshall. The 6-year veteran signed a $32 million extension in 2016, but following the season Elway could move on with all but $4 M of the remaining saved. At the time of the signing a $9 M cap hit seemed like a bargain given Marshall’s standout play, but last season was an injury marred one. There has already been some rumblings that Josey Jewell could potentially replace him or Todd Davis.
While that may be exciting for Iowa fans, if the Broncos D is going to remain among the very best in the league this season, they need Marshall to return to his standout play. It’s looked like he’s ready to do just that through two games.
Who’s excited you? Let me know in the comments and I’ll make a point to study up on them this week!