Good morning, Broncos Country!
As minicamp came to a close yesterday and there were whispers of whether the Broncos may be interested in former Eagles guard Evan Mathis, Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff were talking up their young and inexperienced players and the week of minicamp.
"I thought it was really good," Kubiak said of the three-day camp in which the purpose was to work older players on a lot of individual reps and conditioning while spending a lot of time teaching the younger players. "I think we continue to improve with our young guys. That's our mission right now."
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was also positive - if not deflective - regarding progress on special teams. Noting that a windy first day made for a tough practice, the coach felt good about where they ended up. Though he's still not willing to say if any one player has emerged as a returner - or the kicker.
"I believe it was the first day of camp and we had a couple drops there, but for the most part it's been real solid," DeCamillis said. "It's been good up to this point, and we'll have a better answer for you going into training camp."
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DeCamillis confirmed that Emmanuel Sanders is taking kick returns, but the coach wouldn't say if the No. 2 wide receiver would be handling that this season.
"He's done a good job back there catching them when we've had him back there," DeCamillis said, emphasizing that the choice of who plays special teams is "something we have to talk about as we go through it."
One thing the special teams coach was sure of - the goal is to have just three kicking specialists: a kicker, a punter and a long snapper.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said after minicamp that he has no doubt the Broncos will have a good defense. Just how good is going to be up to the players and how aggressive they are going to be.
"How good we can be depends on where we go from now through training camp and into the season," Phillips said, adding that scheme design has something to do with the success too. "We have some good players. If your scheme doesn't fit a good player, then you've got to change your scheme. We've got some good players and we've got to fit them in there."
But even beyond their assessments of minicamp generally, the three coaches had some surprisingly candid things to say about a lot of different players as the team prepares for its final OTAs next week and then heads into a long July break:
On Cody Latimer
"I've been really impressed," Kubiak said of his second-year wide receiver.
Noting that Latimer struggled keeping up with the playbook last year, which held him back, Kubiak believes Latimer is more comfortable now - and it's paying off.
"I see a fine young player. I liked him coming out. I'm really excited about what he can bring, and I know he's a lot better now than when he started. So just, I'm excited moving forward."
So is Broncos Country. In fact, Peyton's probably doing this:
On Owen Daniels
"He's the same player he's always been," Kubiak noted of the tight end who he's coached since Owens entered the League. "He's very bright, he's got great hands, and [he] takes care of himself."
The head coach also likes Owens' approach about playing. "He's had some individual success, and he's looking for the ultimate team success, so it's great to have him here."
Heading into July's training camp, Kubiak said he would probably rest Owens some because the coach believes a lot of players need to have a different strategy.
"He's a guy that's probably going to work two out of three days when we go to camp, and I know what I'm going to get from him," Kubiak said. "I know what type of player he is, and I'm going to be smart with him as we get him to September."
On Ben Garland
The former defensive lineman at Air Force who switched to the O-line after joining the Broncos has been penciled in as a starter on the offensive line going into training camp, but Kubiak emphasized on Wednesday that Garland still has to prove himself.
"He's the greatest kid in the world. He works harder than anybody. He's the first one here, last one to leave," the head coach said, noting Garland is often already there when Kubiak arrives at 5:15 a.m. "But he's got to get out there, he's got to go through camp, he's got to get the reps up. All the offensive reps, all the protections, those things. And we'll see. But we're rooting for him."
Quarterback Peyton Manning said Garland has improved and is working hard to fight for a job on the line.
"He's going to fight and scratch and claw, and those are the kind of guys you like in there with you trying to protect you and trying to help you," Manning said.
On Gino Gradkowski
The former center from Baltimore, who didn't start last year but had been a 16-game starter in 2013, is providing a lot of competition to that position, Kubiak said.
"I like the way he moves. So, if anything he's made us real competitive at that position," Kubiak said. "If somebody like Matt [Paradis] is going to step up, he's going to have to beat out a really good player. So, we'll be a better team in the long haul because of those two guys going at it."
Manning said Wednesday that he's been enjoying playing with Gradkowski.
"He's a tough guy. Like Garland, he's a guy that's going to fight and going to compete to the end," Manning said. "He was a full-time starter two years ago for just an outstanding team organization like Baltimore, so he understands what it takes to work hard, win and compete at the high level."
On rookie Shane Ray
The Broncos' first-round draft pick - who has been sidelined from OTAs while he nursed back a turftoe-like injury that he didn't rehab properly - was hampered this week from a strained quad muscle and saw only limited action.
"I'd loved if he had had the full summer," Kubiak said, noting that Ray and others will be sticking around Dove Valley in July to aggressively rehab their nagging injuries. "But I think we've been very smart. He has kind of been doing more 7-on-7 and individual [work]. We hope to get him in some team reps next week. And then summer will be really important to him."
Phillips noted that Ray has taken full advantage of his study time and has been telling coaches what to do on every play.
"Shane Ray is coming along real well in the classroom. He needs to take it to the field," Phillips said, adding that Ray will play both sides of the field. "He hadn't had as much work as we'd like. He got a little bit more work today. I think that next week will be a big week for him."
On Chase Vaughn
The outside linebacker who most recently came from an Arena League football team has "shown up well," Phillips noted.
"He's done a solid job for a young player. He's got a ways to go like those young guys," Phillips said. "He's got very good footwork. It takes that to start with. You'd like him to be a little taller and little bigger, but good players come in all kinds of packages. He's got an opportunity."
On Sylvester Williams
Saying that he believes Sylvester Williams has really progressed well this offseason, Phillips said the lineman is one of four guys who has really moved forward in minicamp.
"I think ‘Sly' has done an exceptional job. I feel real good about him," Phillips said. "Sly has been exceptional. I think he's really taken over the nose guard position. I think he can play a three-technique, but I think he's done really well. I'm really pleased with where he is."
Kubiak added he was concerned about the nose position but thanks in part to coaching from Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Kollar, that group is looking better.
"I think Vance Walker has made a lot of progress. I think ‘Sly' has had a really good offseason," Kubiak said. "But I like the way [defensive line coach] Bill [Kollar] works and they've responded to Bill and I think they've done a good job."
Kubiak likes how his D-Line coach Bill Kollar works ... and "how #Broncos have responded to him." I mean, the guy WRESTLED A BEAR!— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) June 11, 2015
Phillips is also happy with rookie Darius Kilgo's work these past few weeks.
"I think he's really come on," Phillips said, acknowledging that some of the issue with the big line guys is just getting in shape. "Some of it is a learning progress, especially for the rookie guys, but we've concentrated on the young guys this last week. I think they've progressed well, including Darius."
On Karl Schmitz
Having not played more than a half a season of high school football followed by just one college season, the fact that Karl Schmitz is competing for a spot on the roster is amazing in itself.
But the YouTube sensation kicker is beginning to pick it up, DeCamillis said.
"He's getting better. It was little rough to start; he just didn't know what he was doing a lot of times," DeCamillis said. The kicking is fine but things like lining up in the right spot and how to punt in certain situations have been new to him. "But he's gotten better."
Young guys must 'step up'
Regardless who ends up where, Kubiak knows he and the Broncos are going to have to rely on a lot of young guys - and that means several are going to have to step up in a big way.
"I think there are a bunch of young players that are going to surprise people," Kubiak said Thursday. "I think that we are going to have some guys step up that maybe people didn't expect. I think there are some guys that have made a lot of progress as players."
Kubiak acknowledged that the Broncos are going to be "young up front," but he thinks the recent minicamp and upcoming practices will mean a lot for their required fast development.
"I think we've gotten some guys that have gained a lot of confidence through the course of this month," he said.
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