Training camp season for the NFL is officially upon us, with some teams having already reported to camp, and some (like the Denver Broncos) only days away.
For fans, this is a time to celebrate, as it is essentially the equivalent feeling one would have as a kid after a long road trip and finally seeing “Disney World just ahead” signs. After months of waiting for the action return, the excitement of it being just around the corner is cause for celebration.
For players, the feeling is a little more personal, to say the least, and a lot more intense. Not every player enters camp with the comfort of guys like Patrick Mahomes, Justin Jefferson, TJ Watt, and other players who know their worth and know that they are safe. Others, of all ages, might be fighting to make a spot. Even others may be trying to prove themselves worthy of a more featured role that could pay future dividend on and off the field.
The Broncos are no different, and here are five players with the most to gain during camp.
Samaje Perine, running back
Assuming he is healthy as has been reported, Javonte Williams will enter the season as the primary ball carrier for the Broncos, but the offseason signing of Perine insured a quality backup who can carry a decent load.
However, it’s no secret that the Broncos have expressed interest in signing star running back free agent Dalvin Cook as well, someone who would take a lion’s share of carries. He is someone who is going to take a lot of money to sign, though, and could initiate a bidding war. Perine is someone with talent, limited mileage, and promising skills.
If he shows enough RB1 capabilities throughout camp and the preseason, he could elevate himself to more of a featured ball carrier role alongside Williams and not push the front office into opening up the checkbook for someone like Cook.
Nik Bonitto, outside linebacker
Drafted in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the team had high hopes for Bonitto to make early contributions as a pass rusher during his rookie season, but even with injuries plaguing the defensive front seven, he had trouble seeing the field. The team will enter camp with veterans Randy Gregory and Frank Clark as the most proven pass rushers, but an unfortunate injury to Baron Browning that landed him on PUP could serve as an opportunity for Bonitto.
The young defensive specialist was highly skilled during his college days and exhibits elite athleticism, but during his rookie year, he came along slowly and tended to be too one-dimensional and lacking in certain mechanical areas.
Yet, he’ll now have an opportunity to showcase every bit of an improvement in camp, and with one less competitor for him on the field, he could find himself in the first team rotation if he is able to capitalize.
Greg Dulcich, tight end
Sean Payton loves him some athletic, receiving tight ends. Look back at Jimmy Graham’s film with the Saints for reference. And Dulcich, the second year tight end out of UCLA could be utilized the same way in Payton’s Broncos offense.
The tight lipped Payton doesn’t divulge much information about his team to the media, but in the rare instances he decides to open up, he has highlighted Dulcich as someone he sees with the potential to be a big time weapon. Arguably the most impressive rookie this past season for the team, Dulcich was one of the few offensive bright spots to provide hope for the future.
Just how high is his ceiling, though? The youngster showed enough flashes last season to make onlookers believe he end up on the elite tight end list along with names like Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, and others. As of now, he has shown to be a quality difference maker and matchup problem, but if he shows out in camp and translates it to the regular season, he could end up a star, which would bode well for his long-term future.
Jarrett Stidham, quarterback
This isn’t a “most to lose” list, as who needs that kind of negativity leading into camp, but if it was, Russell Wilson would be at the top of the list.
Quite possibly, if not probably, a last chance rather than second chance of sorts for Wilson, #3 needs to show without any reasonable doubt that he is the man for this job. He had no one to push him last offseason, but now, he’ll have an experienced player with starting caliber skills who was brought in by the new head coach right alongside him.
Stidham looked more than capable in a start last season vs. a defensive juggernaut in the San Francisco 49ers, and at just 26 years old, he has plenty of room ahead. However, it’s not just what he can gain for himself on the field that can be a difference.
As aforementioned, Wilson was able to coast through last training camp with no one to challenge him. If Stidham can show enough to light a fire under Wilson and help get him back to form, it would be a huge gain for the Broncos, and it would get Payton and the front office’s attention as someone they could eventually hand the reins down to.
Damarri Mathis, defensive back
Poor Damarri Mathis did not exactly have a starting debut he’d like to remember, getting called for four pass interference penalties against the Los Angeles Chargers in October of 2022. Yet, while that could have been traumatic for some young players, Mathis took at as an opportunity to shake it off and get better.
He gradually improved every game throughout the rest of his rookie season, becoming at least a player worthy of starter snaps by the end. Now, he’ll enter camp as the presumptive starter on the other side of Pat Surtain II.
Surtain is too good in coverage to get many balls thrown his way, so Mathis can expect a lot of early attention. If he can show more improvement and can hold his own against the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Marvin Mims, he could solidify his starting position rather than just keeping the spot warm for rookie Riley Moss.
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