Good morning, Broncos Country!
As the Broncos head to San Diego for their Week 13 matchup against AFC West foe while numerous Pro Bowlers are sidelined with injuries, it's clear that the outcome of this game - and likely this season - could easily be up to a bunch of young guns.
Wait. Young Guns?
As in that 1980s Academy Award-worthy screenplay starring Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland about the Wild West adventures of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War?
That sounds eerily familiar - Brock the Kid, AFC West, Lombardi War. Whoa. Mind blown.
OK, so maybe it's not all that mind-blowing, but these young players are definitely playing a key role in getting this team in position to fight for it all down the stretch.
Coach Gary Kubiak even said so, noting the team has a number of young guys stepping into big shoes to get the job done - such as rookies Max Garcia and Darius Kilgo and obviously new starting QB, Brock Osweiler.
Garcia, who got his first NFL start last week to fill in for an dinged up Evan Mathis (who had to come in when Louis Vasquez came out), was nominated for Pepsi Rookie of the Week for his strong performance on the offensive line against the Patriots.
"I'm just impressed with Max in general," Kubiak said Thursday, noting that the Pats game was a "big, big stage" for the rookie. "I think that we're all just excited for him because he's worked so hard and put himself in position and we'll see. If Max continues to play at a high level, he's going to continue to get a lot of reps out there, so far so good."
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison likes what he sees in Garcia so far too, reiterating that the hard work has paid off.
"He's really progressed, but that's going to happen with a young guy just getting reps," Dennison said of Garcia. "When we had him moving in and out of the lineup and taking a series here and there, those reps were great experience for him, and it's paying off now."
But Garcia isn't even the only inexperienced player the Broncos will be relying on for the game plan this weekend - and maybe beyond.
Wide receiver Cody Latimer has been gradually proving that his second-round draft selection was not a waste as he's gotten a little more involved in the 'Bossweiler offense' the past two weeks and has also proved to be a wrecking ball on special teams (in which he created a forced fumble in last weekend against the Patriots).
"I think he did a great job," special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said of Latimer. "We needed him in the game. He knew we needed him in the game. The play before the fumble - that he caused by the way, too - it started to come out a little bit, but that was a good hit by him. He needs to get some credit for that and making that play. We're really pleased with him. That's not the first play that he's made. We just need him to keep going like he is."
On defense, backup linebackers Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett have been regular contributors all season but even moreso after the injuries to DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. Special teams ace and backup safety David Bruton Jr. filled in admirably for Ward and will likely be starting for him again this weekend and Ward rehabs an ankle sprain.
"A lot of confidence," Aqib Talib said of Bruton coming in. "He has ball skills. He's super smart - he's one of the smartest guys on our team. He definitely can cover really well. They have a good tight end who he'll have his hands full with this week."
An injury to nose tackle Sylvester Williams last weekend (on the same play in which Ward was injured) meant rookie Darius Kilgo was called in to watch over the middle.
"I think Darius played well for us early in the season, so we'll see," Kubiak said of Kilgo's likelhood for playing again this weekend. "It's just another example of a young guy that's going to need to step up for us."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips noted that even though the defense has depth, it's tough to never skip a beat when starters are out.
"Kilgo will have to get more snaps, I'm sure, which he's ready for," Phillips said. "We feel good about our backup people and they have played well, but anytime you've got two Pro Bowl players out and Sly, who is a really good player, it's a little bit tougher defensively."
Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller has been proud of the way Ray and Barrett have taken on more snaps and more responsibility as they've gotten more game experience.
"They continue to get better," Miller said after practice Thursday. "That's just how it is in the National Football League. It just takes time to learn the simple things. That's what they're doing. They're learning the simple things and it's helping them be more complete players."
Ware also sees great things from Barrett and Ray.
"They're the dirty duo," Ware says of the two, adding Lerentee McCray to the mix. "Those guys have really been rushing the passer effectively and been doing what they need to do. We have second-string guys that play just like the first-string and did well in the Patriots game. They came in, played well and I'm really just looking forward to those guys stepping up this week and doing the same thing again."
Kubiak is a pretty big believer in young players learning from the veterans, and he's certain the high level of play from the young guys the past few games is thanks to their own hard work and being able to watch such top talent ahead of them.
"Those young and smart guys, they watch these veterans," Kubiak said, noting Mathis and Vasquez on the O-line. "I think that Max has learned from Lou, learned from Evan and he's worked hard. He had his turn, we took it away, it came back and he has taken advantage of it. So we just need to keep going."
Taking advantage of the opportunity when your number is called has been the understatement of the season so far for Osweiler. With future HOF-er Peyton Manning on the bench, Oz has finally had an opportunity to prove he hasn't been wasting time as the backup but rather has been studying, preparing just in case a moment like this arrived.
"If you're a young player - kind of like Brock watching Peyton for all of this period of time -there's no doubt in my mind that some of the things that he's done these last two weeks is because of his ability to sit there and watch a great one do it," Kubiak said.
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