Week 2 of Denver Broncos training camp has come and gone and with it saw the first of many padded practices of the ‘Nathaniel Hackett’ era. While pads and full speed football brought about plenty of highlight plays, it also quickly reminded all in Broncos Country that full-contact sports sadly mean injuries.
Broncos faithful of the last couple years are all too familiar with the dreaded preseason injury to a star player that completely derails a season. Luckily, this year we have Russell Wilson to somewhat offset the pain of losing key players.
The responsibility now falls on the Coaches to find the guys to fill those roles deeper on the roster, and George Paton to bring in talented players throughout the preseason to be sure no stone is left unturned.
The second week of practices are done and dusted, but what are the main takeaways?
I’ve got you covered!
Tim Patrick and Damarea Crockett suffer ACL tears
The excitement for the first padded practice quickly turned to dread on Tuesday, as both Tim Patrick and Damarea Crockett went down with non-contact knee injuries. MRI’s would later reveal they both tore their ACLs, and their 2022 seasons are over before they could even begin.
An awful blow for both players as they were both having stellar camps prior to injury, with Crockett pushing Mike Boone for the RB3 role and Tim Patrick fitting the physical profile and route tree to become a Russell Wilson star receiver. Luckily for fans, and for Patrick, this happens after he’s already signed his sizable contract extension to keep him in Denver beyond this season.
Patrick’s impact on the passing attack can’t be overemphasized, as he’s arguably been the Broncos’ most reliable target the last two seasons, hauling in 104 catches for 1,476 yards and 11 TDs. Now the receiving core consists of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler; a room with tons of talent but lacking in experience and consistency. KJ Hamler is only one year removed from an ACL tear and it’s unlikely we see him at 100% this season. Jeudy has yet to show the ability to be a consistently reliable second option (though he has all the ability in the world to do so). Tim’s role as a reliable 3rd down target, redzone target, and run-blocker is one that will be sorely missed for Denver in 2022, as they lack proven options deeper on the depth chart to fill those needs.
Luckily, this is why you acquire Russell Wilson, as he is talented enough to keep this offense afloat and then some even with the absence of Patrick. Look for Hackett and Outten to prioritize more utilization of backs and tight ends in the pass game, and hopefully some of the younger guys are ready to step up in Tim’s place.
In the wake of these injuries, Denver signed WR Darrius Shepherd and RB Max Borghi. Shepherd spent 2019 and 2020 in Green Bay under Hackett, where he struggled as a returner but showed some flashes in the pass game, and Max Borghi is a UDFA out of Washington State.
Both have had the occasional play throughout camp, but I doubt either makes the day one roster. Hopefully they show enough camp that they secure roles on the practice squad, otherwise they fill the role of ‘camp bodies’.
Newly signed Broncos receiver Darrius Shepherd had an impressive 2019 preseason with Nathaniel Hackett in GB. Easy separator, great open field ability, decent hands, and even has some return ability. #BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/Zw4iGgq4wK— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) August 4, 2022
Backup CBs are making plays
Patrick Surtain and Ronald Darby have been putting on a clinic throughout camp, much to the frustration of Nathaniel Hackett. I expect the two of them (along with K’wuan Williams when he’s healthy) to be one of the elite CB tandems in the league. But what’s equally as exciting as the talent displayed by Denver’s starters is the play coaches have seen from their younger backup corners.
Since pads came on, Damarri Mathis has been a revelation. He’s fast, scrappy, physical, and when the ball is in the air… a ballhawk. He plays suffocating coverage downfield, and brings to the table a type of swagger and energy teams need in their locker room.
He had arguably the highlight of camp when trailing Kaden Davis on a crossing route, he baited QB Brett Rypien into a questionable throw and secured the INT flexing his explosiveness with a wild diving catch.
With K’waun Williams sidelined a major question has been who will receive the initial snaps in the nickel, for the time being, it is Essang Bassey. But fans should keep an eye on 7th round pick out of Wisconsin, Faion Hicks. Hicks has been productive against the reserves playing outside but has started to get some looks inside due to the lack of depth.
Between Mathis, Hicks, Bassey, Ojemeudia and Bless Austin, Denver has a plethora of quality options battling for a few available roster spots. I expect the rookies to have an edge which means guys like Michael Ojemeudia and Bless Austin could find themselves on the roster bubble. When/if they do, it may be wise for George Paton to make some calls to see if they can be traded to recoup some draft capital.
Had to go back and watch Damarri Mathis shutting down Justyn Ross and Dacari Collins. Feisty at the line of scrimmage, and plays the ball unbelievably well when it's in the air. pic.twitter.com/fiuFDtkgad— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) August 2, 2022
Montrell Washington continues to impress
No player has had a better training camp than Montrell Washington. I won’t sugarcoat it– I was not a huge fan of the Montrell Washington pick at the time. I’d never seen his tape, hadn’t heard his name, was underwhelmed by his measurables, yada yada yada. How good could this undersized receiver from Stamford REALLY be?
He’s good, like really good.
Every. Single. Day. He catches a deep bomb touchdown, and as I hope the last point made evident, DENVER HAS A LOT OF GREAT CORNERS. Montrell is simply too quick and fast for them to handle.
He has immediate chemistry with not only starter Russell Wilson but also possible backup QB Brett Rypien, catching numerous touchdowns from both throughout the second week. Not only is he a threat on the longball, but in redzone and two-minute Washington was frequently utilized as an immediate separator off the line.
Before camp, my hopes for Washington began and ended with him being an average to slightly above average return specialist. Now? I expect him to see a couple specialized touches on offense every week when healthy.
Do I expect him to be a 100 target player? Or contend for OROTY? No. But he’s proven he more than belongs on an NFL offense and has enough juice in the tank to necessitate the ball in his hands a few times a game.
With the loss of Tim Patrick,’ these players with specialized roles become all the more crucial. Expect guys like Hamler, Washington, Dulcich, and Boone to be major X-factors in the success of Denver’s offense this season.
Baron Browning flashes massive potential
One of the major headlines of Denver’s defense has been the transition of OSU product Baron Browning from inside linebacker to edge rusher. Once again, I won’t sugarcoat. I have no idea why a team that lacks depth at linebacker, with excess depth at edge would shift a promising young player at linebacker to the edge. Baron Browning was a beast offball last year and I thought he would be manning the middle of the Bronco defense for years to come.
That wasn’t the case though, as Browning has spent the offseason and training camp developing his abilities as a pass rusher and once again… I think I was wrong.
Browning showed promise as a rusher in college but was never given ample opportunity to do so. His athletic testing is simply outrageous and on paper, he’s one of the more athletic pass rushers in the entire league. In a league dominated by passing, the value of a pass rusher far outweighs that of an offball linebacker.
Still, even with all of this in his favor, I was hesitant to believe he possessed the ability to make the change to productive pass rusher.
Well, after the second week of training camp my worries have been calmed. Baron Browning is a freak, with a capital F. His blend of explosiveness and bend is rare enough on its own, but what has really stood out is his play against the run. While Malik Reed and Nik Bonitto are more one dimensional and lack the anchor to set the edge, Browning has been stout at the point of attack and his time playing offball has helped him with his diagnosis of run plays. He’s generating pressures on Wilson and blowing up runs behind the line of scrimmage on a regular basis.
Browning could find himself as the 3rd pass rusher in the rotation behind Chubb and Gregory, which I see as an upgrade over the past couple years of Malik Reed.
That does it for the second week of Broncos Training Camp. Plenty of exciting storylines to follow and heated camp battles that are becoming more interesting by the second.
Going into the 3rd week I expect the intensity to only increase as on Thursday, August 11th the Cowboys come to town for a day of joint practices that promises to be physical, before the two teams meet on August 13th for the first preseason game of their respective seasons.
In other words… TELEVISED BRONCOS FOOTBALL IS ALMOST BACK.
Just need everyone to make it through another week of camp fully healthy. Fingers crossed.