“That’s what I’ve been ready for," third-year cornerback Bradley Roby said. "I’m tired of all talking and all the things like that. I’m just ready to play. I feel like it’s coming around fast, but I love to play. I can’t wait really.”
Until they land in Illinois and greet old friends John Fox and Jay Cutler, the Broncos still have plenty to figure out. They still have to name a starting quarterback. The battle to land the third wide receiver spot is still up for grabs. Multiple players are vying to provide depth at cornerback.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1688594-mhh-premium-how-you-can-s..."Our practices are very competitive," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We do a lot of good things offensively. The defense came back and had a pick-six today. We’re doing good things. The offense comes back at the end. I think we are very competitive. That’s a good thing. As a coach it’s what you want to see from your teams.”
Competition has engulfed Broncos camp this year, and this morning's practice was no letdown.
Siemian Gaining Ground
The second-year pro with the second most experience, Trevor Siemian, has been making a strong case to get the nod at starting quarterback against the Bears. Siemian has undoubtedly become tired of the criticism he's received lately for not being aggressive enough with his decision-making. Eager to shake the Checkdown Charlie accusations, Siemian came out slinging this morning, impressing his head coach.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1693156-when-can-we-expect-a-qb-d... "He knows exactly what we are doing," Kubiak said. "He’s really a first year player in a lot of ways. You see him getting better. He had a really good practice today. Trevor is just a confident kid."
Another eye-opening play saw Siemian boot to his right, avoid the pursuit of an incoming Von Miller, and deliver a strike to tight end Virgil Green. The ability to execute the staple of Kubiak's offense will catch the eye of the decision makers.
The second-year passer has been shedding his inner-Alex Smith in favor of a more loose-cannon alter ego. Credit to him--it's been working. If Siemian is serious about making a push to lead the starting offense in week one, he can't be hiding anything in his toolbox. He has a bigger arm than Mark Sanchez, so he might as well let loose occasionally and show it off to the powers that be in Dove Valley.
“Trevor has a really good arm, you guys see that," Kubiak said. "He spins it really good and has the ability to get the ball down the field. He is understanding when to give guys chances, back shoulder balls, things like that. That’s just him improving as we go.”
Sanchez, his competitor, didn't have quite as successful a morning as Siemian.
The USC alum made frequent use of his big targets like Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler, but a big mistake marred his morning performance. On a pass intended for Sanders, Bradley Roby swooped in at the last second, stole the ball, and took it back the other way. Pick six.
“I finally got a pick," Roby said. "I missed some picks this camp, but I was finally able to make it happen. I just did my job and read the quarterback. Just putting it in the end zone, that’s what I wanted to do all the time. I’m just happy I got one.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1693336-latimer-fowler-showing-ou... This might be a positive highlight had the focus been on Roby, but since we already know he's a premier cornerback in the NFL, it becomes a mark against Sanchez. Is it fair? Maybe not, but it's certainly the reality.
Kubiak spoke about the decision making of the quarterback:
"I can tell you right now, as a coach, one of the things I’m coaching Mark on is when plays get extended, sometimes plays get long and some of his decision process needs to be better. That’s something we are working on. I want them to be aggressive and go make plays. Obviously the responsibility of protecting the game, not just the ball, but the game is part of their position. You have to be a good decision maker."
Decision making certainly becomes easier when the field is cut in half as much as it is in the bootleg offense, but for a quarterback like Sanchez who has been plagued by turnovers in his career, making the correct read is priority number one.
The Patchwork Offensive Line
Unfortunately, the reality of the Broncos training room is that it's populated by the big guys wearing jersey numbers that range from the 50's to the 70's.
The offensive line has seen injuries to players like Donald Stephenson (missed practice with a calf injury), Ty Sambrailo, and Max Garcia. Today, there was some concern about the anchor of the line as well.
Center Matt Paradis hit the turf and then walked off under his own power, albeit flanked by trainers. Thankfully, it wasn't as dire as it looked.
“He got the wind knocked out of him," Kubiak said. "Matt is not going to miss a play. We had a very competitive practice. I don’t know what happened. I have to go back and look. He was fine. He went back in.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1693093-broncos-swap-offensive-li... That's the best news that a battered offensive line like that of the Broncos could have heard. Paradis is the most consistent component of the group. When Kubiak says that Matt doesn't miss a play, he's not exaggerating; Paradis played every offensive snap for the Broncos last year. Centers don't get their due as much as a tackle might, but his consistency kept the offense afloat at many times in 2015.
To fill in for the other injured members of the line, the Broncos played former Oregon Duck Darrion Weems at right guard and Michael Schofield at right tackle. Schofield may not be the stalwart at tackle that many expected given his pedigree, but his head coach likes his versatility and attitude.
“Right now Michael can play anywhere but center," Kubiak said. "If you were a Super Bowl starter and all of a sudden you were a backup going to camp, a lot of guys would [be] bothered. They’d go in the tank, so to speak. Michael is motivated to become a better player. We’ve brought guys in here to push him and he has responded."
Especially with the poor shape the line is in currently, Schofield is an incredibly valuable piece up front. You would typically want all of your starters to have defined roles on the offensive line, but a backup that can serve as a utility guy like Schofield is a huge asset. Being able to play multiple positions on the line isn't as easy as one might think (see Chris Clark), and that nearly guarantees a spot for Schofield in 2016.
Turning the Corner
The Broncos are hopeful that Aqib Talib will be able to practice next week, but his absence has allowed a number of players to step up and compete for more snaps.
The first cornerback to make a big impact in camp was Kayvon Webster, who really shined during the first few sessions of the year. While he makes a case for an extension, second-year corner Taurean Nixon has also been getting increased reps.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1693006-understanding-kubiak-s-wc... "Just going in with my position group and every day what I need to work on and learning everything that I need to learn to actually make this team each year and give it a good stride come the last preseason game," the former Tulane cornerback said. "I’m just taking every rep I can take and making the best of it.”
Nixon was famously the victim of Jordan Taylor's one-handed catch, but he's been steadily improving in his sophomore season.
"You have guys in the league who are here for four or five or 10 plus years, and those guys know how to do things right," Nixon said. "The biggest thing I’ve learned is to take care of my body off the field and be able to shake back every day. That’s one thing I didn’t do in college.”
Nixon is still climbing the ranks, but Bradley Roby is out to prove that he belongs in the starting lineup.
“I kind of already have been doing that. It’s really just taking advantage of every rep, definitely with the ones," Roby said. "I run with those guys, so it’s not like I’m getting used to playing anything different. It’s just playing in base coverage or other coverage that’s a little bit different. It’s good to get this experience for sure.”
The nickel defense is essentially the standard in today's passing league, which means a team's third cornerback is so much important than it might have been even a decade ago. When the Broncos inevitably ease Talib back into the lineup, Roby will likely draw the opponent's best outside receiver ( Alshon Jeffery for the Bears), Chris Harris will kick into the slot, and the third man, Webster, will take the outside spot opposite Roby.
The Broncos would obviously prefer that Talib return sooner rather than later, but the depth at cornerback keeps the situation from becoming a crisis.
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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.