Wednesday, before the Denver Broncos officially kicked off their 2016 training camp, head coach Gary Kubiak took some time to address the team. As much as we in the media, and the fans, want to talk about the Broncos beginning their bid to defend their World Championship, the team isn't quite viewing it that way.
“I talked to them about focusing on everything moving forward," Kubiak said Tuesday. "I told them that we’re not defending anything, we’re chasing the next one and we’re going to work on the next one. I want them focused that way as a football team.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1688594-mhh-premium-how-you-can-s... As Kubiak told his players, the Broncos still have a long way to go. There's a reason NFL teams host training camp—before the preseason—and before the regular season gets under way.
A lot has changed at Dove Valley since the Broncos hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February. Thursday, however, they began their bid to repeat as World Champions, and chase the "next one".
Day One of training camp is in the books. Let's talk about the things that jumped out today.
Fan Attendance Down
Last year, the Broncos opened up Day One of camp with a fan attendance of more than 4,000. Today, the Broncos clocked 3,407 fans in attendance.
Coming off a Super Bowl win, you'd think that fan scrutiny would climb. So why the decline in attendance?
No Peyton Manning. As hopeful as fans are that under GM John Elway's stewardship the Broncos will continue to compete for World Championships, there's no question that when Manning hung up his cleats, he took a little bit of that sizzle with him.
However, the Broncos do have a rookie first-round quarterback in the mix, Paxton Lynch. One would think that his arrival would bring it's own brand of mania. But, he's got a long way to go to match the star-power of the NFL's only 5-time MVP.
Now it's up to the new faces at quarterback, and the other team leaders, to keep the fan excitement thriving. We'll see how attendance shakes out in the coming weeks.
Broncos Defensive Backs Wearing Blinders
The Broncos No Fly Zone secondary are implementing a new technique to give them an additional advantage in 2016. They're wearing blinders. Yes, real blinders, like the ones real-life Broncos might wear.
Mark Sanchez Shines
If you think about it, QB Mark Sanchez doesn't have it easy. Not only is he being asked to replace Peyton Manning, he's also being faced with the task of taking over the starting quarterback duties of a defending World Champion.
All while trying to fend off a first-round pick behind him.
By the time the Broncos had finished OTAs in June, Sanchez had risen to the top of the depth chart. As much as Elway says the QB competition is "wide open", for now, Sanchez has a hold of the first team reps.
In the team drill period of practice today, Sanchez ran with the first team, Trevor Siemian the second team, and Paxton Lynch with the third team.
“It was a great start, but it's only a start," Sanchez said after practice. "It’s fun to get back out here and get it moving around and throw it down the field a little bit. I thought we had a good day."
For his part, Gary Kubiak was impressed with Sanchez's first day at camp.
“I saw good things," Kubiak said. "I thought Mark was very sharp in practice. I have to go back and watch some film, but he just looked confident. Smart players know exactly what’s coming the first day. They’ve looked at scripts, they know what’s going on in practice and you can see the difference in their preparation."
For an inexperienced guy like Lynch—still learning the playbook and the basics of his technique, his mind can be going a mile-a-minute, instead of reacting like it's second nature. Still, even Lynch earned some praise from his head coach.
"All of a sudden a young kid comes out here and his mind starts wandering," Kubiak said. "A lot of people out here watching them and they get a little stage fright, so to speak, but our guys came back good. I liked the way they bounced around.”
You can see it somewhat in the video above. Sanchez—and Siemian—are crisp and sharp in their movements and technique, while Lynch is just a hair behind them.
“Everybody's got a different way of learning," Sanchez said. "I'm a flash-card guy for memorization type stuff. To be able to speak the language, that's important to me right away, knowing exactly what these things mean and doing them almost like vocab word in junior high or high school. After that, it's getting into the film and understanding why we're calling certain plays, what coverages we want and once you get more experience on the field with those plays you just get a better understanding. Obviously every rep—even when you're not in—every rep and walk through can only help you and get you moving in the right direction “
Sanchez is capitalizing on his opportunity now, trying to put so much space between he and the other two QBs that there won't be enough time to bridge the gap before the season starts.
Kapri Bibbs Leapfrogs The Competition
But, that's now how it shook out on Day One. Anderson took his reps with the first team, but Hillman—Denver's leading rusher in 2015—took a backseat to Bibbs, who ran with the second team.
Hillman was with the third team, while Thompson brought up the rear with the fourth team, while also seeing some reps at fullback. Booker saw action, but is still being eased back into taking full reps, as he's still recovering from his torn MCL suffered last fall at Utah.
Just yesterday, the Broncos jettisoned Cyrus Gray to make room for recently-signed receiver Marlon Brown. That makes the Broncos a little short-handed at running back, especially for the beginning of camp. After practice, Kubiak shared his thoughts on the RB situation and Kapri Bibbs, a player in his third season with the Broncos—very much in a make-or-break camp.
“You guys see we’ve got four backs, which is probably unusual for training camp," Kubiak said. "You maybe take five at least, but I feel really good with Juwan doing a little bit of both [halfback and fullback], so it’s going to be very competitive. Books [Booker] got turned loose today and did almost everything. I think maybe not the last period, but yes,Kapri is a different player than I had last year.”
It seems like every year, Kapri Bibbs does just enough to garner some training camp buzz, but when it comes down to the final cut-downs, finds himself on the outside looking in. Will this be the season he breaks that tradition? Only time will tell.
And it remains to be seen where Bibbs will fit in, once the rookie Booker returns to full reps. The Broncos have some very high hopes for their fourth round pick.
Players Still Acclimating To The Altitude
Physical conditioning has always been of the utmost importance for Broncos players, competing at 5,280 feet above sea level. Some in league circles consider Denver's altitude to be an unfair advantage for the Broncos.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1690274-broncos-sign-te-john-phil... Tell Phil Taylor about fairness. The big 335-pound defensive tackle is a newcomer to the Mile High City, and struggled in his first day at Broncos camp, vomiting about 40 minutes into the proceedings.
For the veterans who've played in Denver before, the task of acclimating can be daunting. But they know what to expect and their bodies have that muscle memory.
For the new guys playing in Denver for the first time, it can be a tremendous obstacle. But, hey, if Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton can handle it, Phil Taylor should get his legs underneath him soon enough.
Von Miller Being Eased Back Into Football
Von Miller spent the entire offseason away from the Broncos and football, holding out while negotiating a long-term extension with John Elway. Miller says he kept "grinding" to stay in football shape throughout the offseason, but the Broncos would rather be safe than sorry.
Former franchise-tagged offensive tackle Ryan Clady skipped OTAs in 2013. When he and the Broncos finally agreed on a new deal, he returned to camp not quite in football shape and ended up suffering a lisfranc injury in Week 2, spending the balance of the season on injured reserve.
The Broncos just invested $70 million guaranteed in Von Miller and they want to make sure they get a good return on that investment. To start camp, Miller received limited reps in team drills and spent much of his time on the sideline, working with strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson.
However, the Super Bowl 50 MVP still took some time with the fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Demaryius Thomas Focused In
Even though Demaryius Thomas eclipsed the 100-catch mark and more than 1,300 yards, he didn't seem to be at his best in 2015. As a franchise-tagged player last year, he too skipped OTAs, getting to camp in the nick of time, and with a new Kubiak offense to learn, it set him back some when the regular season came around.
However, with a year in the system under his belt, Thomas seems to be rejuvenated and much more collected this time around.
“He’s very focused," Kubiak said. "I think you saw that today. He practiced really good today. D.T. and I texted probably five or six times in the last week, talking to me about preparation and expectations and those types of things. So yes, I see a great focus from him. I think he was disappointed in some things last year, but he still had a pretty darn good year. He’s a big piece of this puzzle and we need him playing great and I think he’s working his way toward playing that way.”
With uncertainty at quarterback, the Broncos need their three-time Pro Bowl receiver at 100 percent, helping to lead the way in the offensive huddle, while also making plays on the grid-iron. He's off to a great start.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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