Since the Denver Broncos 2014-15 season came to an end, a lot has changed at Dove Valley. Gone is John Fox, Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase—in are Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips and Rick Dennison. Star players like Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton and Orlando Franklin have departed via the open waters of unrestricted free agency.
The way these changes will manifest most is in the switch to a new offensive and defensive philosophy. On offense, the Broncos will move towards Kubiak’s version of the zone running scheme, which could help the team take advantage of their stable of talented young running backs, as well as hopefully take some of the pressure off of the aging Peyton Manning.
Although John Elway was A-ok in allowing Julius Thomas to walk, he made a concerted effort to retain tight end Virgil Green. Green and Thomas entered the league together as part of the Broncos 2011 draft class. From there, their careers diverged.
Following two injury-plagued years, Thomas broke onto the scene in 2013 as one of Manning’s numerous weapons in the passing game. Thomas ended up going to two Pro Bowls, before leaving the team. Green, on the other hand, contributed more as a blocker, and continued to develop his abilities as a pass-catcher.
Now, Green will likely be leaned on to contribute more in the passing game, with Thomas gone. The Broncos signed Owen Daniels, but being on the wrong side of 30, Daniels might take a backseat to the younger Green, who is entering the prime of his career.
In this piece, we’re going to study some film on Virgil Green, all of which took place in Week 17 last season. In so doing, what will emerge is a talented tight end, capable of contributing in every offensive facet for the Broncos. Green is a well of untapped potential just waiting to explode on the scene, much like Thomas did in 2013. The onus is on Kubiak to facilitate that. It will pay dividends for the Broncos.
All animated images via NFL Rewind.
Play No. 1
The Raiders are in their nickel sub-package, with a single-high safety. Strong safety Charles Woodson is down on the box, in what looks like TE coverage responsibilities, as he follows Green in motion. But its a zone coverage and he loses Green when the ball is snapped, because Wes Welker’s route draws him in, leaving the TE wide open.
The Broncos are lined up in 11 personnel, with two receives split to the left. Green starts out in-line next to the right tackle. Peyton Manning calls for motion and Green goes from right to left. At the snap, Green leaks out into the left flat, Manning immediately recognizes his cushion and completes the pass to Green for a seven-yard gain.
This play shows that even in the simple things—a basic catch and run—Green can be counted on to get the job done. There’s nothing flashy in this play—just clean execution.
Play No. 2
The Raiders are in their base defense, with Khalil Mack under. They’re giving the Broncos a single-high safety look, with the strong safety playing in the box as another linebacker on the strong side.
The Broncos are in 11-personnel, with Manning under center. Green starts out split wide in the left slot. Manning calls him in motion into the backfield. When the ball is snapped, Green is basically a fullback in the offset “I” formation.
The Broncos run a counter, sucking the defense left. LG Franklin pulls, while Green crosses the formation and seals off the right side, taking out the linebacker, allowing Ronnie Hillman to turn the corner and get downfield. This play shows Green’s seek-and-destroy blocking acumen and his versatility. Split him out wide, or line him up as a fullback/H-back and let him set the edge.
Play No. 3
This play happens in the fourth quarter. The Broncos are drubbing the Raiders, which gives Brock Osweiler the opportunity to see some snaps. The Raiders are in their nickel sub-package. They start out with a two-deep shell, but the strong safety creeps into the box right before the snap—just what the Broncos want.
The Broncos are in 11-personnel, with Osweiler in the shotgun. The Broncos fake the draw, freezing the not-so-sneaky safety momentarily, which allows Green a free release down the right seam. Osweiler makes the correct read and a nice throw. Green hauls it in and gets a few extra yards after the catch, netting the Broncos 38 yards.
In this play, we see that Green can be used in the Broncos downfield passing game. He has underrated hands and the athleticism to get yards after the catch.
Play No. 4
Following Green’s 38-yard catch and run, the Broncos are in business on the six-yard line. The Raiders are in their base defense, but arrayed for goal line responsibilities. The Broncos are showing a jumbo 12-personnel look, with swing tackle Chris Clark as the inside tight end, with Green outside on the right of the line.
At the snap, the play flows left, but RB Jeremy Stewart makes the correct read, when he sees the enormous hole opened up by Clark and Green on the backside. Stewart makes the cut, gains five yards. Green initially takes on the linebacker at the point of attack, blocking him long enough to open the hole, before moving on the next level and taking the defensive back out of the play.
Again we see Green’s proficiency as a blocker. In Gary Kubiak’s run-oriented zone scheme, Green’s versatility should be maximized. If Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison don’t find ways to keep Green on the field, they’ll be in dereliction of duty.
Play No. 5
The Raiders are in their goal line defense. The Broncos are again in a jumbo 12-personnel formation, with Clark lined up next to LT Ryan Clady and Green split out in the right slot. From the shotgun, Osweiler motions for RB Stewart to switch from the left to the right of him—and we see why.
At the snap, the offense rolls right, including Stewart (to protect Osweiler). The Broncos run a kind of pick play here, with WR Andre Caldwell running a slant, which impedes Green’s defender just long enough for the big TE to get open. Osweiler makes the throw and it results in the first touchdown of Green’s career.
Here we see that Green can be used in a variety of ways in the Broncos passing game. In fact, if the Broncos chose to utilize Green on the field in the same way that they did Julius Thomas, I’m confident Green would put up similar numbers. His athleticism is underrated but his strength and power as a blocker, make him arguably a superior option to Thomas, which makes me wonder why the previous Broncos offensive staff didn’t utilize him more.
This game vs. the Raiders was his most productive as a pass-catcher, but keep in mind that Green toiled for years as the Broncos run-blocking tight end. He's put on film game-after-game of impressive production. In Week 17, he was really able to showcase his abilities in the passing game, which makes for an interesting case study and convincing evidence that he's reached critical mass—ready to explode.