The first seven days of training camp for the Denver Broncos are in the books. One of the stronger themes of Gary Kubiak’s first training camp at Dove Valley, as the head coach of the Broncos, has been physicality—and youth.
Since he was hired in January, Kubiak hasn’t been shy about his plan to feature the youth of the Broncos roster. It’s a paradigm shift dramatically opposite of John Fox’s penchant for almost exclusively favoring veterans.
The Broncos have continued to learn and install their new systems, both on offense and defense. Observers might surmise that the offense is ahead of the defense early on, but Kubiak doesn’t see it that way.
“Oh no, I think we're battling back and forth,” Kubiak said Thursday. “I look at practice today, we made some big plays on offense today and we made big plays on defense. I think toward the end of practice, defensively we really picked it up.”
More Broncos Camp Stories
The special teams competition has been intense. The specialists have been battling it out, as have the hopefuls in the return game. Here’s a quick review of what we’ve learned from the first week of Broncos camp.
When All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady went down with a torn ACL in OTAs, the logical jump was that Chris Clark would take his place. Instead, Kubiak moved rookie second round pick Ty Sambrailo over from right tackle. A rookie protecting Peyton Manning’s blindside? It takes hubris.
So far, that investment of faith in Sambrailo has yet to provide a return. The former Colorado State standout has been very up and down. He’s lacked functional strength and the ability to anchor. But inconsistency is to be expected from a rookie not only making the jump to the pros, but into the starting lineup.
Peyton Manning has looked laser-sharp in camp thus far. Working under center more than he probably ever has in his career, the Sheriff is settling into Kubiak’s zone offense like the five-time MVP that he is. Kubiak has continued to make good on his plan to rest the veterans, as Manning and other tenured players sat out Monday’s practice.
Although we’ve heard the obligatory “Of course Manning looks great—it’s August—wait ‘til December” mantra on Twitter and elsewhere, there was a big question on the minds of many as to whether the transition to Kubiak’s offense would work. So far, it’s been a resounding success for Manning.
All throughout the offseason, that vocal minority in Broncos Country pining for the beginning of the Osweiler Era, couldn’t wait to see how the 6-foot-8 former Sun Devil would look in Kubiak’s scheme. For his size, he’s very mobile and moves well outside the pocket.
He has the cannon arm for the deep ball that would serve him well in the play-action game. It would only be a matter of time before he was showing up the 39-year-old Manning—so the narrative went. Unfortunately, Osweiler has had some growing pains, as he assimilates his new playbook.
Kubiak emphasizes footwork technique from under center. Osweiler has struggled to get it down, which makes sense, as his first three pro seasons were spent in the shotgun. On Monday, when he got the chance to run the first-team offense, Osweiler was less than inspiring.
It’s all still very new to Osweiler, who showed real signs of progress at this time last year. He might not be lighting it up in camp right now, but he’s proven that he could lead a run-heavy offense, at the very least. There’s time yet for young Osweiler.
Anderson has looked good in his fist camp as the incumbent starter. Kubiak recently talked about Anderson as a "bell-cow" in this offense and from what we've seen so far in camp, 2015 is shaping up to be a very productive year for the former undrafted rookie free agent.
The former two-way Duke standout has stepped into the zone blocking system like a natural. He's been his usual physical self and is already on his way to cementing himself a place on the final roster. He runs with authority and acts the role of the perpetrator with the ball in his hands.
Max Garcia has parlayed a prolific collegiate career and an outstanding performance at the Senior Bowl into a growing role inside Broncos camp. Used primarily as Louis Vasquez’s backup at right guard during OTAs, Garcia has increasingly earned reps with the first-team—at left guard.
He’s powerful. He has strong, violent hands. And he works his tail off. He’s even been heard growling on the field. That type of intensity is exactly what the Broncos need in the trenches and if Garcia can keep it up, it could result in a starting job come Week 1.
Harris was signed as a knee-jerk reaction to Clady’s injury. Brought in for depth at the tackle position, Harris has been running with the ones at right tackle for the last few days in a row, relegating Chris Clark to the second team.
It’s too early to know whether this is permanent, as Kubiak has stated that they’re going to continue to shuffle the O-line to get longer looks at guys, but it’s clear that the Broncos like what they’ve seen from their former 2007 third round pick.
Like Garcia, Matt Paradis has earned himself an opportunity with the first team. Drafted in the sixth round last year, Paradis redshirted his rookie season on the practice squad. But with Kubiak’s focus on the zone blocking scheme, Paradis’ athleticism has served him well in camp thus far.
Gino Gradkowski was brought in to be the veteran anchor at center, but he hasn’t done anything particularly special in camp thus far. Paradis playing with the ones could simply be a result of the Broncos just moving guys around, but more likely, it’s because he could be the better option at center. Don’t discount Garcia as an option there either.
Schofield has been a pleasant surprise in camp. A 2014 third round pick, he didn't dress for a single game as a rookie, but he's been embraced by Kubiak and company in his second year. He's shown well in one-on-one and team drills. He's in the conversation for right tackle at this point in time.
Latimer spent all offseason running with the first team, as Demaryius Thomas held out from team activities. The extra time has paid dividends for the second-year wideout, as he has made play-after-play in camp thus far.
Thomas is being worked back into full activity and Emmanuel Sanders injured his hamstring yesterday, which means even more rep opportunities for Latimer and more chances to continue to build rapport with Manning.
Barring an epically unforeseen circumstance, Britton Colquitt will be the Broncos punter again in 2015, as they waived Karl Schmitz on Thursday. Colquitt restructured his contract earlier this week, which paved the way to letting Schmitz go. The former Tennessee Volunteer will get another shot to be the punter in Denver.
Connor Barth & Brandon McManus
The other collateral effect of Schmitz getting waived trickles down to Barth and McManus. The Broncos do not want to carry four specialists again in 2015, which puts the onus on Barth to improve his kickoff distance. He’s proven his field goal accuracy already.
For McManus, it’s the opposite issue. He has the booming leg, but hasn’t been consistent on field goal conversions. This is one of the more intriguing battles to watch as the Broncos get closer to preseason action, where in-game situations should separate one of these guys from the other.
Todd Davis & Steven Johnson
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips opined this week that the Broncos group of backup inside linebackers might be the best he's ever had. Davis and Johnson are the muses for that compliment. Filling in for two injured starters, they've both taken a huge step forward in their development and seem to be naturals for playing inside in the 3-4 defense.
Shane Ray has learned early that speed and athleticism doesn’t always win the day in the NFL. Everyone is quick. Everyone is strong and athletic. For Ray to truly shine, he has to embrace technique and really hone in.
He’s getting the best training a pass rusher could get from DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. As time goes on, we should see Ray settle in and start making more plays. He hasn’t been devoid of them thus far in camp, but consistency has been the issue.
Taylor has displayed his enormous catch radius and phenomenal hands in camp thus far, catching just about everything thrown his way. He is really stoking the competition at the bottom of the receiver depth chart. If he keeps it up, Andre Caldwell could be out of a job.
Patton earned a place in camp for his abilities as a returner in the kicking game, but he’s progressed every day and is now making plays on offense. He’s relatively diminutive, but runs with an authority and decisiveness of a much bigger player. He’s explosive. And he’s giving Jordan Norwood a run for his money.
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