Yogi Berra would have liked Broncos’ practice yesterday - it was 90 percent mental. And the other half was physical.
The math never added up for Berra but the sentiment has always been sound - a big part of any game is the mental side.
So that’s a big reason why Broncos’ coach Nathaniel Hackett ramped down Friday’s practice in favor of “a jog through” - all reps taking place at half-speed and no contact - to work on the mental part of the game and let players’ bodies recover.
“There are so many things you want to cover, and this game is so mental,” he said. “Everybody talks about the physical attributes people have and the amazing plays that they make. But nobody talks about their amazing intelligence. This is the ability to just grow that more and more, so that’s what why we love to do that.”
And after just starting out for two days after a month off, Hackett knew the third day was critical for not going overboard.
“My philosophy has always been—I learned this while I was with Green Bay, I thought it was awesome—it’s always about those three days. Three days is when all kinds of bad stuff happens,” he added, noting that he’s learned this to be true. “You want to be sure you can get them fresh, so you can go back real hard on that fourth day. So that’s what we will do continuing as we move forward. We’ll just make sure that we go nice and hard a couple days and always have a little refresher to get their legs back.”
The coach also acknowledged that a walk-through can be beneficial for getting more reps too.
“Way more,” he said. “The last period—that’s probably the most reps we’ve gotten since we’ve been out here. That’s where you give and take.”
Hackett noted that he’s also setting up the team for the season’s give and take.
“To get through this entire season you have to learn how to practice with that jog-through mentality,” he said.
The coach was impressed with the energy level despite the half-speed practice, calling that “truly a test” to see how they’d handle it with helmets on. D.J. Jones had what Hackett called “an incident” where he batted a ball down, but that was the only infraction.
“I’m unbelievably impressed on how locked in they were. We didn’t have many mental errors at al,” Hackett said. “The guys were ready to communicate and talk—which is what you are trying to create in that environment. Going two days with the conditioning tests, we want to be sure that they’re ready to rock and roll tomorrow.”
Today’s practice is back to normal before a day off Sunday, getting ready for Tuesday’s first practice in pads.
“In the end, it’s about availability. You want the whole year; you want all the guys that we need,” Hackett said, adding that he treats the process scientifically, meeting with players individually to figure out what works best for them. “So I want to be sure they are doing everything the right way and learning how to take care of their bodies.”
Jerry Jeudy, who knows about injuries after spending time on IR last season, appreciated the mental rep day and noted that for a wide receiver there’s plenty to process and benefit from such a practice.
“It’s a lot of new formations, new plays, new schemes and little details you have to make sure you stay in-tune with,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing really as a receiver is that you have to know every position as a receiving corps, and just know where to be at and why you’re there at the same time.”
Jeudy has been voluntarily sitting in on the quarterback meetings to better understand the offense.
“It helps me a lot. Just sitting in the quarterback room and understanding their language, understanding their thought process and each play to understand which read they’re looking at first against what coverage,” Jeudy said. “[It] really helps me with my route. So I just wanted to go in there and learn as much as I can. The more I learn the better I can get. so that’s what I decided to do.”
Hackett noted the day before that Jeudy has impressed him in practice.
“I love the way he has attacked this training camp up to this point. I know it is early and it’s a long ways away, but he’s been really great,” Hackett said. “Just seeing him around more, working harder throughout everything he has been doing. He is just a very focused person. He asks great questions at coaches meetings—he calls me out a couple of times, which is awesome. I love that.”
Jeudy’s quarterback has taken notice too.
“What I love is how our receivers sit in the front of the room, taking notes and highlighting,” Wilson said after Thursday’s workout. “Jerry was in our QB meeting for an hour just for fun and just to listen and just to study and understand it all. That’s a credit to him and his work ethic.”