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AFC West

Denver Broncos Training Camp Report

Phillip Lindsay. Photo by Jeffery Beall. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en

We are halfway through Training Camp in 2020 and the Denver Broncos are looking to get back to the playoffs this year. This team has loaded up on offensive firepower and has high expectations from the defense, but will that be enough? With no offseason programs and a truncated training camp, there are more questions than usual for the Broncos in late August. 

OFFENSE:
One of the biggest questions this offseason is how new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme will look and how will all of the new weapons fit into the offense. To this point it’s been a mixed bag with more positives than negatives, which is promising considering the lack of in-person work that could be done before camp. 

We have to start by talking about Drew Lock. The second year quarterback is the unquestioned starter this year and is the X-factor for this team, and he’s looked as good as advertised. It appears as though Lock’s footwork is better in the pocket this season. The second year quarterback has also been praised for his mobility and composure throughout camp, which is something that we saw during his five starts last season. Beyond having to dodge Von Miller and Bradley Chubb each practice, Lock has looked very comfortable in the new offense. The early consensus is that Lock took full advantage of his offseason and is primed for a big sophomore season. 

 

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As many expected, first round pick Jerry Jeudy has been the star of the show. He came into camp and made an immediate impact on the offense. His route running and overall footwork has been worth the hype. The Alabama alum gets separation on every route he runs while making it look easy. If you don’t believe me, just ask defensive veterans Kareem Jackson and A.J. Bouye who face Jeudy everyday. Jackson, a 10 year vet, said that Jeudy “can get in and out of his breaks better than anyone I’ve ever seen before”. While Bouye, a new face in the Broncos secondary, raved how he “loves” facing off against Jeudy because it’s making him a better cornerback. Even Emmanuel Sanders, former Broncos wide receiver and last player to wear No. 10,  reached out to the rookie for advice. This kid is the real deal and is just what this Broncos offense has needed the last few years. 

 

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While Jeudy has been the talk of the town, other skill positions have also looked strong in camp. Cortland Sutton has continued exceeding expectations and is this team’s No. 1 wide receiver for a reason. The third year wide receiver has been Lock’s favorite target in camp, although there have been a few head scratching drops. The running back competition between Phillip Lindsay and newcomer Melvin Gordon has been a hot-topic in camp. As expected, the two running backs have split touches throughout camp. Gordon has been a real asset in the receiving game, while Lindsay brings that energy and toughness on every rep. Gordon has missed the last few days with an elbow injury, but will hopefully be ready for the opener. Royce Freeman, the expected No. 3 RB, has had a strong camp and has also been in the mix. The tight end room has also been surprisingly competitive in camp, which will lead to a tough decision on cut-day. Noah Fant is the definite starter while Nick Vannett will be the primary in-line blocker, but guys on the bubble like Jake Butt and Troy Fumagali have looked great. Rookie Albert Okwuegbunam has also shown flashes during camp and could carve out a nice role in the offense. 

It’s no secret that the offensive line is the weakest part of the team and has looked a little shaky to start camp. The two guard spots are rock solid with second year Dalton Risner and free agent signee Graham Glasnow. Garrett Bolles has continued to start at LT, and has done a decent job thus far in camp. However, don’t be fooled, Bolles has struggled against Miller and Chubb (as everyone does). The former Utah Ute isn’t perfect, but he’s the best option for the Broncos right now and has seen improvement. Center has been a revolving door, with multiple guys getting first team reps. Rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III from LSU is the most compelling player in the hunt and has been praised for his high football IQ, but will need to beat out Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottmann. Right tackle has been a question mark after Ja’wuan James opted out of the season. Elijah Wilkinson will likely be the starter there, but he hasn’t impressed much during camp so far. First team right tackle reps have also been given to Jake Rodgers while recent signee Demar Dotson is working with the third-string. A lot of the pressure has seemed to come from the right edge throughout camp. Offensive Line coach and Hall of Famer Mike Munchak still has work to do, but has this group trending upwards from years past. 

A big question coming into camp was how far along would Lock and the offense’s understanding be with a new coordinator, new playbook, and a virtual offseason. While there is still a lot of work to be done, they are farther along than I was expecting. The season opener is quickly approaching, and while there will be rust, Lock has this group moving in the right direction. 

Offensive Training Camp MVPs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Drew Lock 

Offensive Training Camp Sleepers: Jake Butt, Royce Freeman, Albert Okwegbunam

 

DEFENSE:

The theme for the Broncos defensively has been continuity. Beyond a few changes, there wasn’t much roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball from last season. Now in year two of Head Coach Vig Fangio’s scheme, the defense will look to improve their chemistry and make their mark.

We are a little more than halfway through camp and the defensive line has dominated. The Broncos added five time pro-bowler Jurell Casey, re-signed Shelby Harris, and retained Mike Purcell up front. All three of those guys have had a great camp, especially Casey who is filling Derek Wolfe’s role this year. The former Titan has been a monster in the running and passing game, where he will make life even easier for Miller and Chubb. This group’s success has extended beyond the starters as second year player Dre’Mont Jones has continued to impress after a strong end to the 2019 season. It is worth noting that some of this success may just be an indication of how bad our offensive line truly is, but I’ll give them the benefit of doubt until I see them play Week 1. 

Our linebacker corp is thin and wasn’t really addressed this offseason, which I found surprising. That being said, our starters are solid but depth will always be a concern of mine. Alexander Johnson and Todd Davis are a perfect yin-yang pairing. They play off of each other very well and both made concerted efforts to improve their coverage skills during the offseason. Behind them, Josey Jewell and rookie Justin Strnad have been getting the bulk of the second team reps. On the outside, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, who is fully healthy, are menaces. Miller looks bigger and stronger than ever before, which is terrifying. The outside depth is also strong with the likes of Jeremy Attachou and Malik Reed. If this group can stay healthy, more on that in a minute, they could have a great year. I expect the pass rush to be back to Bronco Country’s normal standard and wouldn’t be surprised to see both Chubb and Von eclipse 10 sacks. 

 

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The secondary also may have some depth issues, but the starters have looked good thus far in camp. A.J. Bouye has been the defensive MVP of training camp with a handful of interceptions. He seems to be learning Fangio’s scheme quickly and will be a pivotal player for the Broncos this season. We are also getting our first look at Bryce Callahan in a Broncos uniform. After last season’s nightmare, Callahan is 100% healthy and is proving to be a solid No. 2 cornerback, although he’ll likely spend the majority of his time in the slot. The competition for the third cornerback spot has been under a microscope this camp. De’Vante Bausby has looked the best in camp and is likely leading that competition, but Coach Fangio hasn’t tipped his hand yet. Davontae Harris, Issac Yiadom, and rookie Michael Ojemudia are still in the running for that role as well. The Broncos safeties were great last season and didn’t miss a step over the offseason. Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are an elite pairing and look even more comfortable in their second year with Fangio. 

 

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Defensive Training Camp MVPs: Jurell Casey, A.J. Bouye, and Von Miller

Defensive Training Camp Sleepers: Dre’Mont Jones, De’Vante Bausby, and Issac Yiadom

 

INJURIES:

This could be the Broncos undoing. As I mentioned, depth isn’t a strength for this team and the injury bug has already hit this team as eleven players were held out of practice the other day. Unfortunately, a lot of key players that I mentioned above are laboring through some injuries right now. 

Two key rookies, KJ Hamler and Justin Strnad, aren’t starting their careers as expected. Strnad will miss the 2020 season after needing wrist surgery. As I mentioned, he was playing a lot with the second unit and was poised to be a big help on special teams. Meanwhile, Hamler is fighting a hamstring issue, which forced him to miss the combine earlier this summer. The Penn State rookie relies on his speed, so I’d rather the Broncos think about the future as Hamler begins recovering because he’s an important piece to the puzzle. 

Veteran inside linebacker Todd Davis injured his calf a few days ago and will be sidelined for at least a couple of weeks. Davis had a similar calf injury during last season’s training camp; however, this one isn’t as severe. Hopefully Davis will be ready to go in Week 1, as that position group is already thin. Not only is Davis the starter, but he is also a captain and play-caller for the defensive unit. 

Others such as WR Juwann Winfree (groin), CB Michael Ojemudia (quad), TE Austin Fort (knee), DB Alijah Holder (soft tissue), CB De’Vante Bausby (soft tissue), OLB Malik Carney (illness), WR Tim Patrick (soft tissue) and DL Mike Purcell (calf) have also been sidelined during training camp. With our Week 1 matchup vs. the Titans just on the horizon, it’s critical that these guys can get healthy. Injuries will definitely be something to watch. 2020 has already been hard enough, the last thing we need is the injury bug to kick us while we’re down. 

 

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