By Cecil Lammey
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning makes a pass during training camp at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre at Dove Valley on July 26, 2012. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
It’s that time of year again as the Denver Broncos have kicked off their training camp at Dove Valley. This is always my favorite time of year as we get to see the Broncos go through practice every day. I’ve watched this team in rookie minicamp, OTAs, and minicamp this offseason but none of that matches training camp. The Broncos have several position battles that will shake out over the next month and practice (plus the preseason) are where those battles are won.
No. 18 Peyton Manning: The offense looked a little rusty today after what I saw during minicamp and OTAs. Both Manning and head coach John Fox commented after practice that it looked (and felt) like the first day after a long break. “I think it felt like a first day of training camp practice with the almost a six-week layoff. I thought the defense had their way a few times.” Manning said. His arm strength looked better than it did last year at time and he’s already shown great chemistry with WR Wes Welker.
No. 17 Brock Osweiler: I liked what I saw from Osweiler today. His rocket arm was on full display and he was zipping passes into tight coverage. The play of the day was a 50+ yard TD pass from Osweiler to rookie WR Tavarres King. The throw was into double coverage, split defenders, and hit King in perfect stride. I do feel Osweiler needs to throw with better touch. Some players are having a difficult time hauling in his passes because they come in so hot. It’s great to have a rocket arm but he doesn’t need to fire short passes to wide open receivers with such velocity. That’s a skill that should come with more time and experience.
No. 2 Zac Dysert: Dysert struggled in rookie minicamp, OTAs, and minicamp so it should come as no surprise that he continued to struggle today. Many passes were off the mark, too high, and behind his receivers. He also continued to throw interceptions in practice and make bad decisions with the football. In addition to bad passes there were some throws that didn’t even get past the line of scrimmage. The rookie QB was staring down targets and D-Linemen were easily swatting passes to the ground. Dysert is a streaky QB. When he’s on, he’s in the zone. When he’s off, he’s really off. He hasn’t found the ‘zone’ yet as a pro.
No. 8 Ryan Katz: I don’t have many notes on Katz. I did see him throw with good touch and I like his tight spiral.
No. 21 Ronnie Hillman: Hillman opened up camp at the top of the depth chart for the Broncos. The starting job seems like his to lose and he wants to prove that he can be the lead back. Hillman made several big runs today and was the only RB to get first-team reps on team drills. The Broncos did start out in a walkthrough at the beginning of practice where Hillman, Montee Ball, and Knowshon Moreno all got on the field with the top unit. However, when the carries mattered it was Hillman and only Hillman receiving valuable practice time. I asked Fox if he still thought Hillman was capable of being a full time back (something he told me at the 2013 Scouting Combine). “I think he has developed a pro body, which does take a while for rookies when they come into this league and he’s done a tremendous job. So, he has done nothing but strengthen my thoughts that he is capable and he looked very good today, as well as in the offseason.” Fox said. The zone blocking system is making big cutback lanes and Hillman is the fastest RB on the roster and now he’s more decisive than he was as a rookie. Some feel Hillman will be the starter but could have a short leash if rookie Montee Ball impresses in camp.
No. 38 Montee Ball: Ball kept getting swallowed up as a runner. He was running with the second team so the blocking wasn’t the best. He did have a nice spin move to gain positive yardage in the hole. Ball also impressed me with his hands and concentration as a receiver. He gathered in a low pass while staying in stride, then quickly turned upfield for positive yardage. Ball said after practice that he had lofty goals in 2013. “My goal is to be the featured back. That’s what I’m shooting for, that’s what I’m working hard for and that’s my goal. But if not, I most definitely just want to contribute and try to get the starting job sometime in the season.” He’ll get a chance to be the lead back in what is likely to be a RBBC for the Broncos this season.
No. 27 Knowshon Moreno: When the team did a walkthrough at the beginning of practice we saw Moreno get on the field with the first team offense. The veteran RB was third in the pecking order today but looked good catching passes out of the backfield.
No. 35 Lance Ball: Ball was only ahead of undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson in the pecking order today.
No. 37 Jeremiah Johnson: Johnson didn’t make it into my notebook today.
No. 39 C.J. Anderson: Anderson has a huge lower body. Not many notes today, but I expect him to look good when he can make contact with shoulder pads on later in camp.
No. 22 Jacob Hester: Hester can do a little bit of everything. The Broncos are wisely trying out a few different things with Hester to show off that versatility. With the numbers crunch at TE, WR, and in the secondary I think the Broncos could save a roster spot by only carrying three RBs (Hillman, M. Ball, Moreno) and one fullback (Hester).
No. 88 Demaryius Thomas: Thomas continued to make big plays. He’ll shine as Manning’s favorite target in 2013. On plays where he couldn’t get to the football he was visibly upset. He expects the best from himself and doesn’t want to let the team down. Thomas took a page from former Broncos QB Tim Tebow as he was really excited for day one. “I’m excited just to be back, to be healthy, and to come out here to compete against my teammates and see all the fans that came out. I’m excited,” Thomas said.
No. 83 Wes Welker: Welker is a professional ankle breaker. You have to wear a brace when watching him from field level. He gets open every time, every time! Welker is already showing strong chemistry with QB Peyton Manning and should become a favorite target. On short yardage situations the Broncos don’t need to bang it between the tackles hoping for a first-down. They can just run Welker on a jerk route and he’ll move the chains.
No. 87 Eric Decker: Decker was working routes all over the field today. He was working the sideline with ease and making sure to get two feet down. I expect his numbers to go down with the addition of Welker but he could still be a near 1,000 yard receiver. It wouldn’t surprise me if Manning threw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. There’s enough to go around for all three receivers. Decker did work a deep route that Manning put just out of reach. That timing should be back the closer we get to the regular season.
No. 11 Trindon Holliday: Holliday will make the final roster because he’s a world-class return man. However, he leaves a lot to be desired as a receiver. It’s not just his lack of size, Holliday body catches (or drops) too many passes.
No. 12 Andre Caldwell: It’s a make or break year for Caldwell with the Broncos. He’s got a chance to make the final roster and see the field when the Broncos line up with a four WR set. Caldwell was making crisp cuts and doing a good job of looking in the football. Osweiler and Caldwell had a good thing going today for most of practice.
No. 15 Tavarres King: King made the play of the day I described earlier and was a constant standout in practice. The rookie was known for his cushion eating speed in college and was able to get on top the defense in a hurry today. However, he flashed run after the catch ability I hadn’t seen much of on tape or at the Senior Bowl. I also noted King was ‘feisty’ today. He was showing a lot of fight for passes that were contested and he would snatch them out of the air.
No. 89 Greg Orton: Orton is a favorite of the media and there are several people who have called him a “sleeper” in camp. He could certainly make the final roster but it’s going to be extremely difficult, especially with Holliday eating up a WR spot. I don’t think the Broncos will carry seven WRs which places Orton firmly on the roster bubble. He can make difficult catches and scooped in a low pass today that made the fans in attendance cheer.
No. 16 Quincy McDuffie: He stood out to me at rookie minicamp and was getting some attention from Broncos fans today too. McDuffie is blazing quick and can make cuts at speed without slowing down.
No. 10 Gerell Robinson: Robinson made a couple of nice grabs but his concentration is inconsistent. It seems like he’s trying to do too much on certain catches. He’ll bobble or drop passes because he’s too busy thinking about running after the catch. Robinson seemed to be playing a little out of control today and his routes/cuts were sloppy.
No. 13 Kemonte’ Bateman: Not many notes on Bateman, but he did make it in for a play where he tipped a low pass up to himself and gathered it in while staying in stride.
No. 19 Lamaar Thomas: Thomas didn’t make the notebook today.
No. 84 Jacob Tamme: Tamme made an extended catch that was noteworthy. What else was noteworthy was how he was losing reps to Julius Thomas. We’ve got a move TE battle brewing in the Mile High City.
No. 81 Joel Dreesen: Dreesen was back after missing minicamp with a minor knee scope. I say he makes the final roster because he’s the team’s best blocker at the position. He caught a high pass today, but bobbled and dropped a pass that hit him in the numbers. Dreesen commented about the differences from last year to this year after practice, “Our knowledge of the offense and [comfort level] with each other, I’d say we’re a lot more ahead this year than last year. A little rusty, a little rusty in certain areas, but it’s the first day. We’ve got a lot of work in front of us.”
No. 80 Julius Thomas: Thomas was the star of the day. He was boxing out smaller defenders and showing off his downfield speed. Many of his catches drew “oohs” from the crowd at Dove Valley. He can line up in multiple positions and is dangerous when getting a clean release from motion at the snap of the ball. He’s finally healthy and could win the starting TE job if he continues to impress at training camp.
No. 85 Virgil Green: Green has developed a better pro game during his short career. He’s a much better blocker in addition to being a decent receiver. He’s still fourth in the pecking order and didn’t make many noteworthy plays.
No. 82 Lucas Reed: I like Reed’s all-around game. He’s a strong blocker and can make difficult catches. He does a good job of looking in passes but offers little after the catch.
No. 25 Chris Harris: Harris versus Welker was one of the best battles to watch today. Welker got the best of him many times but it didn’t stop Harris from fighting on every snap. I love his heart and effort.
No. 91 Robert Ayers: Ayers did a good job of collapsing the pocket and setting the edge. He was going against interim LT Chris Clark so that may change when Ryan Clady gets into team drills.
No. 97 Malik Jackson: I saw him toss aside rookie OT Vinston Painter to get after the QB. Jackson isn’t flashy but is nasty with his power moves. He’s an interesting name to watch that many don’t bring up when talking about getting added pressure.