The pads came off on Monday morning, leaving just a helmeted group of Denver Broncos preparing for Thursday night's preseason opener at the Chicago Bears. Pads or not, the team took the field with plenty of energy, which Head Coach Gary Kubiak noted after practice.
“I thought our effort was good," Kubiak said. "I think the first hour of practice offensively might be as good as we’ve practiced. The last half hour, 45 minutes, we have to be better. Defensively we made some big plays towards the end of practice. Ones and twos repped a lot. We took the pads off them and got a lot of reps in hurry-up [offense]. We’re getting ready to play a game.”
With a tangible goal on the horizon, players and coaches took the intensity up a notch.
“You’ve seen a couple fights out here," running back C.J. Anderson said. "Hopefully we got those out of the way. Hopefully we’re not fighting in Chicago and getting people kicked out of games. We don’t want that. We get to go beat up on another team. We take our brothers against their band of brothers, and let’s go have some fun.”
Plenty of fun was had, a notable Bronco made his long-awaited return, and roster revelations ruled the conversation. Let's take a look at how it all went down on day 12.
Let's Get This Party Co-Started
Just before this morning's practice, the Broncos dropped the heavily-anticipated first official depth chart of the season. Those who were waiting on a starting quarterback announcement were left disappointed, as Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian were rather ambiguously listed as co-number one quarterbacks.
That's all well and good for now, but as we've all learned from 1986 masterpiece Highlander, there can be only one. With that in mind, Gary Kubiak gave a semi-concrete timetable for when the single, solitary starter will be announced.
“Probably tomorrow. We’ll see," Kubiak said. "We wanted to have a good practice today. We’re still working against each other today. We’ll probably settle down with Chicago a little bit more tomorrow, and make that decision. They are all going to play.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1693930-broncos-release-first-dep... Ultimately, it's not a huge deal who trots out with the starting offense on Thursday. The only thing that will truly matter come game time is who makes the most of their snaps from under center, regardless of order. The fact that Sanchez and Siemian were dead even on the depth chart reflects the coaches' beliefs that their respective performances have been fairly even.
The opportunity for each of them to separate themselves will come with the live bullets (so to speak) that they'll face in Chicago. They'll each get their turn against the Bears defense, and their play, good or bad, will dictate the future of the competition.
Both quarterbacks can make their case to start on Thursday, but for Sanchez, just knowing what to expect and how to prepare gives him an advantage.
“You just have to approach it like you’re going to play the whole game," Sanchez said. "You always want to start fast, take care of the ball, finish strong and readjust at half time. You have to have all of those things in your head. Obviously that is going to get cut short this first week, but you’re preparing like you’re going to play until they pull you out.”
Trevor Siemian, who hasn't started a game since completing seven passes in a victory over Purdue in November of 2014, will stick with what's given him the chance in the first place.
“I hope not much changes in my operation," Siemian said. "It’s a game and that’s where you’re graded at. For me, just going through my keys and keeping it the same as here and carrying it over.”
Unfortunately, neither passer made a strong bid to start on Thursday. For the second straight practice, Sanchez saw one of his balls go for a touchdown the wrong way. After making his read, No. 6 threw a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, plucked out of the air by Bradley Roby, and returned for a defensive touchdown. On the bright side, Roby has been on the positive end of a pick-six for two straight practices.
Siemian, on the other hand, found some success, but also stagnated at times. He received the first set of reps with the number one offense, but to little avail. He found Bennie Fowler for a deep touchdown in seven-on-seven drills and slung a few completions to co-starting tight end Jeff Heuerman, but went three-and-out on a series as well.
Overall, knowing the fierce level of competition that lies on the other side of the ball, Siemian took it in stride.
“I think I’ve done alright," Siemian said. "Obviously there are some things that I want to get better at, but that’s going to come, especially against our defense. They’re going to get their licks in and we’ll roll with it, and hopefully get your shots in when you get those chances. I think we’re all getting better for that reason.”
Today's practice was a bit of a setback for rookie Paxton Lynch, who sits alone at the bottom of the depth chart. Too often, he overthrew receivers and sailed simple passes. Like Siemian though, Lynch's confidence won't be built up or torn down after one day.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1688594-mhh-premium-how-you-can-s..."I came out here and didn't have the best of days after an off day," Lynch said. "The offense started off good like coach said, and at the end the defense kind of got after us. I'll put that behind me and move on to tomorrow because we have a game this week. I'm just doing what I have to do and taking the reps as I get them right now.”
Thursday's game will be a huge test for the rookie. For the first time, he'll be able to put the mobility and rocket arm that made him a first rounder on display.
Talib Back in Action
For the first time since a bullet passed through his upper right thigh in early June, cornerback Aqib Talib physically participated in team activities.
“That was the most important thing, to put these cleats back on to have a chance to come out here and run again," Talib said. "It was a blessing to be out here. I really appreciate it.”
Individual drills went well for the cornerback, who broke up a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Kalif Raymond. As they have with Von Miller, the Broncos will ease him back into action. Gary Kubiak spoke about that process.
"All of our work is toward him getting ready to play and getting him to Carolina," Kubiak said. "If he makes the progress that I watched him make the past three or four days, hopefully we’re talking about him getting some time against the Rams. We’ll see. I probably shouldn’t go there yet, but I think he’s doing a good job and that he’s going to progress really quickly.”
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1694029-broncos-waive-dl-anunike-... When prodded about the event that led directly to his prolonged absence, Talib kept things very close to the vest.
“The situation is still under review and we have to respect that process," Talib said. "I’m not going to talk about that right now, but I feel great. I did some one-on-ones today. I felt pretty good on the field.”
The major concern surrounding Talib is whether or not he will be suspended and, if so, how long he'll be away from the team. All that can be offered until the NFL makes an official is just speculation and heresay, so his status during the preseason is all that be approached with any type of certainty.
“We will see how it goes," Talib said. "We’ll take it day-to-day. We’ll stay on Greek’s timeline. If they tell me that I’m good enough to go, then I’ll be good enough to go.”
Like Kubiak said, don't expect to see Talib until week three when the Los Angeles Rams come to Denver.
Although the big corner was able to participate today, a few other Broncos were absent. Center James Ferentz, wide receiver Jordan Taylor, and right tackle Donald Stephenson were all kept out of Monday's practice.
“James’ knee swelled up on him a little bit. He wanted to practice but I had to kick him out this morning to keep track of him," Kubiak said. "He’s going to play a lot on Thursday. Same thing with Jordan. His hamstring was growing a little tight, so I sat those guys. They would have been out here had I not said anything. I have certain guys that I know are going to play a great deal Thursday.”
While the rest sounds precautionary for Ferentz and Taylor, Stephenson hasn't practiced since Friday on account of a calf injury. Cue undrafted rookie Lars Hanson.
Booker Getting Praise
Rookie Devontae Booker was one of a handful of Broncos that were co-inhabitants of their depth chart position, sharing the backup running back spot with Ronnie Hillman. However, listening to the way his coaches and teammates spoke about him today, it sounds like he might be close to taking sole responsibility of the back-up duties.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1693587-are-hillman-s-days-in-den... “He’s impressive," Kubiak said. "Today, he was really doing some great stuff. He’s right there. We know how he’s pushing our veteran players. The thing that’s been impressive with Booker, is how well he’s done mentally, football wise. He’s keeping up on third down. We have a really good player there, so we’ll see how far he can come. We’ll play him a lot in the preseason."
The head coach wasn't the only one who spoke highly of the rookie from Utah; Mark Sanchez has been taking note of Booker's work thus far.
"He competes hard," Sanchez said. "He wants the ball and he wants to nail the protection. He doesn’t just want to be in the right position; he wants to flatten that linebacker. He wants to be in the right spot, in the flat route and catch that ball and go. He doesn’t just want to catch the ball and fall down. He’s trying to make that big play all the time. He’s doing great. He’s everything you could ask for in rookie."
Finally, when he was asked who has caught his eye during training camp, Aqib Talib quickly brought up Booker.
"Devontae looks great. He’s putting his foot in the ground. I think he is going to be a good player for us. It’s a lot of guys out there making plays.”
Praise is one thing, but production is another. With a big performance in the next few preseason games, Booker can earn himself more carries come September.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.