Players have officially reported to camp!
Rookies are learning the ropes, playbooks are being installed, meetings are being held, and most importantly, ‘overreaction season’ is upon us for fans and media alike.
This first week may represent the start of the ‘Nathaniel Hackett + Russell Wilson’ era, but players are still not wearing full pads, and full contact isn’t taking place. While it’s wonderful to finally catch a glimpse of Russell Wilson in the glorious blue and orange and watch him complete those sweet, sweet walkthrough TDs, it’s important to temper any expectations or excitement based on the first week of practice.
That being said, there were plenty of things of note that did occur through the first week of camp. While I’m not one of the lucky ones in attendance, I do want to share my biggest takeaways from the post-practice press conferences and my takes on some of the notes from those with boots on the ground at Denver Broncos Training Camp.
The Starting RT Job is Calvin Anderson’s to lose.
Billy Turner and Tom Compton both made their ways to the PUP list. While the signing of Cameron Fleming may bring questions as to the coaching staff’s confidence in Anderson’s ability, Denver simply needed tackles to get them through the camp and preseason. Fleming was barely serviceable in his time last season and projects as the backup tackle along with Quinn Bailey until Turner and Compton can return.
Not quite the Tackle Battle we were promised, but providing Calvin ample opportunity to gel with the other linemen before the season starts and allowing Turner and Compton the amount of time necessary to heal is the smart move. Hackett has made it no secret he wants positional flexibility from his entire team, but especially his offensive line, Fleming provides that at both tackle spots along with some familiarity with the other guys in the locker room from last season.
Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams will see a similar backfield split to last season.
Nathaniel Hackett LOVES Melvin Gordon, and rightfully so; Melvin is great. A big storyline throughout the offseason has been the belief that Javonte will seize a lion’s share of the Denver workload and become one of the contenders for the NFL’s rushing crown. While I still believe Javonte is in line for an incredible year, I think it’s clear Hackett plans to heavily utilize both backs.
Denver’s rushing attack should be incredibly potent behind the one-two punch of Wiliams and Gordon. Based on what we’ve seen from Green Bay’s offense in recent years, they’ll both receive ample opportunity in the passing game. I expect them both to have great seasons and that the retention of Melvin will only prolong the career of Williams, but I don’t expect Javonte to dominate the workload or end near the top of the league in yards or carries.
Melvin Gordon was the #Broncos most consistent rusher in 2021, and I can't wait to see his vision shine in the new zone-heavy scheme.— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) June 5, 2022
Does Gordon achieve a third straight season with double-digit touchdowns in 2022?#BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/dFnE3dRHXA
Eric Saubert making a push for the Starting TE job.
Eric Saubert is a favorite of mine and a player who has excelled the first few days of camp. Hackett’s offense loves to utilize tight ends, and a lot of them. He emphasized the need for these guys to do multiple things well–that’s something Saubert has that the other guys in the TE room don’t.
Albert O. is a field-stretching mismatch creator for the offense to work around, but we haven’t seen him as a difference-making blocker. Dulcich is a rookie who I expect to primarily see redzone usage, and Tomlinson hasn’t shown the receiving chops throughout his career to qualify him as a true dual-threat. Saubert was Denver’s best run-blocking tight end last season and managed to haul in a touchdown. Reports early on sound like he’s built a quick connection with Russ, and he’s attended all of Wilson’s private workouts along with the other receivers.
Don’t be surprised if Eric’s flexibility along with the extra time spent with Wilson buys him some extra playtime once the season gets going. Hackett’s offense will require players who excel at multiple things to keep defenses guessing as to how they’ll be used, and the tight end on Denver’s roster who best fits that description is Eric Saubert.
Justin Simmons & Patrick Surtain keep getting better.
Earlier in the offseason, ESPN polled people around the league on the top players at every position. Justin Simmons was voted the best safety in the NFL, Patrick Surtain came in 7th for corners. This is amazing on its own, to have two top of their position talents lined up in the same secondary, and I expect these two to lead Denver’s pass defense to one of the league’s elite units.
But what’s even more impressive you may ask?
They both have seemingly gotten even better.
There aren’t many flashy highlights with no pads and contact especially on the defensive side of the ball, but both Surtain and Simmons have made their presence known to the new superstar in town, Russell Wilson.
Whether it be perfectly placed fades to Courtland Sutton that PS2 miraculously gets a fingertip on at the last second, or a deep shot to Jeudy only interrupted by the precision timed jumps of Simmons, these two have entered camp hungrier than we’ve ever seen, and clearly want to steal some of the ‘Russell Wilson’ spotlight for their own.
I’m personally giddy to see PS2 make a case as the league’s best corner, and I’m hopeful this will finally be the year Justin Simmons gets to showcase his talents on the NFL Playoff stage.
Montrell Washington has been the most impressive rookie thus far.
Some major caveats here, as this should kind of be expected. These non padded, light contact practices are where players of Washington’s build shine. He gets to flash his agility and speed (which he simply has more of than everyone else) in an environment where he can’t be de-cleated by larger bodies over the middle.
That being said; flash, Montrell certainly has. He’s been by far the best option as a returner and shown ability as a gadget player in Hackett’s offense. He’s been mentioned by Hackett in pressers and brought up constantly by local media throughout practices.
Montrell’s promising start is something to keep an eye on as pads are put on Tuesday and the smaller, more agile players have to be wary of the looming killshot from Kareem Jackson. Hopefully he’s up to the task as an additional deep threat, gadget player, and effective return man can only help Denver’s pursuit of a fourth Lombardi.
Netane Muti making a push for a starting Guard spot.
2020 sixth round draft pick Netane Muti is one of the pound for pound best athletes on the Broncos roster. A highly rated prospect throughout his collegiate career, Muti fell due to injuries, including multiple season ending Achilles injuries and a Lisfranc injury. He ended his time at Fresno State appearing in a total of 19 games and headed to the NFL combine, where he blew away scouts with 44 reps on the bench press.
His strength, size, and as we’ve seen thus far throughout camp, his great mobility, will help him immensely in the outside-zone centric offense Hackett plans on implementing.
Muti has spent the early days of camp rotating with the first team offensive line and impressing coaches and teammates alike. It could signal an opportunity for Muti to initially start over LG Dalton Risner, but Hackett has repeatedly mentioned the importance of quality depth at every position and the need for backups to feel comfortable in the starting rotation.
With Risner, Muti, Glasgow, and Meinerz, the two guard spots look to be one of the more hotly contested position battles of camp. I expect Muti to have some highlight blocks downfield once the pads come on, and if he impresses enough we could see him given the starting role week one.
We’re so close to week one against Seattle, yet it feels so far away... I love training camp as much as the next guy (which I imagine isn’t much at all), but I’m counting down the seconds to that first kickoff and praying Denver can avoid major injuries. Hackett’s approach so far is wise, slowly conditioning the players back into football shape and emphasizing understanding of the playbook over full speed practice. I’m excited to see what else he has in store for the rest of camp, and seeing how he goes about helping the players develop as a whole.
While I do my best to account for everything that’s taking place at Broncos camp, I want to share where you can find minute-by-minute updates of everything happening, from the people who are actually there!