ENGLEWOOD, Colo—The Denver Broncos 2015 class of rookies all coalesced on Dove Valley yesterday for their first taste of professional football—the Mile High kind. Rookie mini-camp is in full effect, as is the spirit of competition, an ethos that has driven each player their entire lives.
Head coach Gary Kubiak understands the Bronco way. He was drafted by the Broncos in 1983 as a quarterback, playing for almost a decade, and went on to be an offensive assistant for their back-to-back Super Bowl championships of the 1997 and 1998 seasons. That common ground and shared history is what drew John Elway to tap Kubiak as the new head man in Denver. Yesterday, "Kubes" revealed what his message to the rookies was.
“First off, you want them to realize what it is to be a Bronco, so there are a lot of things involved with that,” he said. “[Vice President of Public Relations] Patrick [Smyth] did a great job and [Director of Player Development] Ray [Jackson] did a great job with the players last night discussing those types of things. We’re trying to teach them how to work, the expectations for when we go practice and how we meet. But really what you’re trying to get them ready for is Monday because this is a shock. They walk in here and all these vets are in here. That’s intimidating for these kids who you’re trying to get settled down a little bit before we put them with the group. We try to get all that done this weekend.”
One of the most inspiring rookie stories and maybe one of the biggest draft steals in NFL history, running back Terrell Davis, is the epitome of how to make the most of an opportunity. A sixth round pick in 1995, Davis exploded on the scene in a preseason game in Tokyo, Japan—covering a kick of all things.
“Yeah, I showed them a little thing on T.D. going back to when he covered the kick,” Kubiak said. “The story of how he got noticed as a player. They can’t go out there today and cover a kick and hit somebody, but you are just trying to prove who you are and how you can take the thing from the meeting room to the practice field. That’s important. What can a guy handle? Then when he goes out there today, most guys are flying around this morning, which everybody was. It will be interesting to see who is still flying around this afternoon. It’s about consistency and what they do, and seeing if we can give them an opportunity.”
Offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo, the Broncos second round pick last weekend, liked what he saw out of the 36 rookies on day one of mini-camp. As a former Colorado State player, he’s uniquely conditioned to understand and handle the thin air of Denver.
“It was fun,” he said. “A lot of stuff went in, pretty hectic. You’ve got pretty much everybody out there fresh and a lot of new things going on. So I think that being said, we had pretty good energy today. A lot of people were running around, moving around and getting used to the altitude. I thought it was a pretty good practice in terms of energy and emotion.”
The altitude can be a significant obstacle to overcome for rookies unaccustomed to it. What advice does Sambrailo have for his teammates?
“I told them it’ll take a few days,” he said. “You’ve just got to suck it up and know that it’ll get better.’”
Many of these rookies, especially the offensive players, have never played in a pro-style offense. This weekend’s mini-camp is their first experience with one. It’s a new, sometimes trying experience. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, the Broncos third round pick out of Ohio State, talked about what he’s noticed are the biggest differences between his college system and the Broncos.
“I would say the biggest difference is just pro-style offense versus what we ran at Ohio State, which is a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “I’ve never been in a huddle before, getting a huddle call. So I guess start there (laughing). Stuff like that. We were all signals in college and in high school, so getting the huddle calls and stuff like that, just learning the pro-style offense, it’s a little different than what we ran in college, so [I have] a lot of learning ahead.”
“Just the tempo,” he said. “We were out there moving really fast. I haven’t practiced like that in a long time, probably since my true sophomore year at Maryland. So we got after it pretty well. And we were just taking reps, every other rep. So it was definitely hard and I could definitely feel the elevation. It’s different. Not being in the humidity—I don’t know which one is worse: Having no air or having all the moisture in the air. I don’t know which one is worse right now. But I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”
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As for Shane Ray, whom the Broncos traded up to select in the first round, the experience of participating in his first professional practice was surreal and something he’s not likely to ever forget.
“It’s just a dream to finally be part of an NFL club and your first day of practice—even though I wasn’t able to do much—just the experience in general was just a great feeling,” he said.
Ray will be limited in practice until his injured foot is rehabbed and 100%. As much as he wants to be out on the field competing with his teammates, he knows he has to bide his time and learn as much as he can from a distance.
“I understand it’s definitely part of the process for me to be 100 percent, because that’s the goal,” he said. “Me as a competitor, of course I would like to be out there and competing and doing what I can, but this is something I have to be smart with and take the proper direction under the medical staff. Hopefully I’ll be ready to go whenever they feel like it’s that time.”
Like Ray himself, Broncos fans want to know when they can expect to see Ray out on the field doing what he does best—getting after the quarterback. Kubiak spoke to what the immediate plan is for Ray, as well as the goal for when he can get back out on the field.
“What we’re doing is kind of an evaluation period right now,” he said. “I had our doctors look at the foot and where it’s at. He’s been working and wants to work, but we wanted to take this weekend to kind of put our plan together exactly how we want to proceed forward.”
As to whether the Broncos expect Ray to compete on the grid-iron at all during the offseason, Kubiak is optimistic.
“I would expect him to,” he said. “He actually has to go back to Kansas City next week because of his graduation date. He’s one of our players that actually can’t come back. I’m not sure if I have the date. I want to say the 18th or something like that. He’s got to go back. When he comes back, yeah, we’re expecting him to put in the work right away. We knew from the beginning we were going to use this weekend for an evaluation process.”
Just remember, Broncos Country, good things come to those who wait. The Broncos have a plan for Ray and an excellent medical staff. He’ll be out on the field as soon as possible, but it’s clear from Kubiak’s comments that the team expects Ray to compete on the field, probably no later than training camp.
Rookie tight end Jeff Heuerman tore the ACL in his left knee yesterday and will miss the entire 2015 season. It's bad news, but he is expected to make a full recovery.