The Denver Broncos entered the 2019 offseason needing help at the tight end and corner positions - and presumably they got it.
The most veteran of the tight end group, Jeff Heuerman, was given a two-year, $8 million deal. Third-year tight end Jake Butt and second-year tight end Troy Fumagalli are working back from injuries, so the Broncos could suddenly be looking at a healthy stable of Big 10 tight ends when the Hall of Fame Game rolls around in August.
Teaming first-round draft pick Noah Fant, who projects as the ‘move’ tight end, with Heuerman or Butt could be a dynamic duo in the new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s offense.
Although Heuerman has been plagued with injuries, the veteran says he feels great and the entire TE corps is motivated for the new offense - especially with the addition of a stud rookie.
“Noah’s a good player, and when we add good players it’s good for the team,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to have a good team to win games. We’re working together and it’s going to be good. We’re all learning a new offense, and it’s going to be exciting.”
And whatever his role, Heuerman is ready for it.
“Honestly, no matter what, I want to show up every day, and I’m going to do what’s asked of me and work as hard as I can,” he said. “Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do— whether it’s blocking, running routes or whatever it is.”
Working with new quarterback Joe Flacco has also been a highlight for the veteran tight end.
“He’s a great quarterback and he brings that experience side and that confidence from being around and doing so much. It’s nice to play with him,” Heuerman said, adding that Flacco is not just a step ahead of everyone else but more like “six years” ahead. “He’s seen a lot of football and played a lot of football. ...To have a guy calling plays that’s been around … that’s huge at the quarterback position. There are a lot of us that really appreciate that and it helps kind of the flow of the offense and getting everybody where they need to be and what they need to do.”
Helping the tight ends do that is TE coach Wade Harman, and Heuerman likes his style.
“He is awesome and a great coach. He’s a really technical coach. He knows a lot of tight end technical stuff, which is really good,” Heuerman said. “He’s teaching us a lot in that room so we’re excited to have him.”
Although Heuerman admits there’s an adjustment to learning a new system every time there’s a coaching change, the process has been going smoothly so far.
“Any time you get new coaching staff everything is so new. They’ve never been on the field with you and you’ve never been on the field with them,” he said. “Coach Fangio is awesome. I really like him and how he handles himself. We’re just excited to get this thing rolling.”
Guys on the other side of the ball are also excited about the coaching staff and the direction it is taking the team - perhaps no one more than former Bears corner Bryce Callahan, who is rejoining the coach he likes to call “the Godfather.”
“He just has that kind of (motions with his hands) this swag to him. Kind of like mafia guys,” Callahan said laughing. “I couldn’t even just nail it down. It’s just how he carries himself and he’s always straightforward with you. I guess he has a type of mafia background, I don’t know (laughing). I’m just kidding.”
But Callahan isn’t kidding about the success of his former defensive coordinator.
“[Fangio] is never too high, never too low. He’s a straightforward guy. He puts you in position to make plays,” Callahan said, adding that the key to success in Fangio’s defense is “ just staying in your playbook, studying, knowing what the guy next to you has to do so you can work off of him. It makes it a lot easier when you understand other peoples’ positions and you can play off of them. You know to play your position better.”
The fifth-year veteran out of Rice is coming off a healthy 39 solo tackles in 2018 and will be much-needed this year as Denver tries to figure out how to deal with the likes of Antonio Brown, Sammy Watkins and Keenan Allen to name a few.
Even though Callahan has excelled in the slot, he told reporters after the second day of OTAs that he was playing more outside - putting some speculation on whether coaches were preparing for the possibility that Chris Harris Jr.’s contract doesn’t get worked out for the Pro Bowler to return to the Broncos this season.
Callahan, who played outside corner in college, said he liked the change.
“It’s been going pretty good,” he said, adding it will be “up to the coaches to decide” if he plays outside during the season. “I’ve been playing on the outside more and I like it. Beautiful scenery, so I can’t complain.”
The veteran corner was placed on injured reserve last season for a broken foot suffered in December against the Rams. He noted that the best way he can prevent injuries is to stay on top of healthy habits.
“You can try to prevent injuries as much as possible,” he added. “A good diet, always stretching, making sure you’re getting your body worked on. Stuff happens, but I’ve been trying to keep on top of all of that stuff.”
He’s going to have to stay on top of it if he’s going to go against some of the best wide receivers and tight ends in the league. But playing opposite a QB like Flacco has its advantages, Callahan noted.
“He has a cannon. I’m getting good looks every practice. That’s a good thing,” he said, adding that facing a fast quarterback with a big arms means corners have to play smarter. “I’d say you have to get some keys pre-snap and know what you’re going against—down and distance and what tendancies they like to do. Just little things that help you play your position better. You have to then make plays on the ball.”
And it’s not just the quarterback, it’s the receivers too, Callahan said.
“We’ve got a solid receiving group,” he added. “We’ve got size, we’ve got speed, good routes, hands — I’m excited about that.”