Broncos Training Camp Day 10 Report: The Russell Wilson difference
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Too often in recent Broncos training camps, “move the ball” was anything but. The defense usually took the measure of an offense that spun through quarterbacks in those game-condition periods.
That has changed in the last two practices.
And while Nathaniel Hackett acknowledged that the defense was “probably” ahead of the offense, the offense has caught up.
“It’s continually evenly matched. The defense is really good, and the offense is starting to understand what we’re doing. We just finished our install up, so, now, there’s no new stuff. So, they just get to go out there and play football.”
But the guy playing — and leading — the offense is a huge reason why the first-team offense has more consistently moved the ball in “move the ball” periods. And Russell Wilson again delivered in the two-minute offense, just as he did Thursday in guiding the first-teamers to a touchdown.
This time, Wilson got a field goal out of a drive that began at the offense’s 35-yard line with no timeouts and 1:42 left in the first half. And he did so with the primary thrust coming via undrafted rookie wide receiver Brandon Johnson.
Johnson, like Jalen Virgil, Trey Quinn and Seth Williams, has seen his first-team reps increase in recent days thanks to injuries to Tim Patrick, Tyrie Cleveland, Kendall Hinton (who returned Saturday) and the continued recovery of KJ Hamler. And after some dynamic work early in practice in a one-on-one period, Wilson hit him when he flashed open deep after getting separation from Ronald Darby.
Wilson stepped away from Dre’Mont Jones’ pressure to hit Johnson for 31 yards, turning third-and-5 at the offense’s 40-yard line into first-and-10 at the defense’s 25-yard line. Two plays later, Wilson hit Johnson for a 6-yard gain to move the sticks before the drive finally stalled in the final seconds of the first half, leading to a 32-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
Wilson is at his best in crunch time — even in practice. Two days earlier, he hit Courtland Sutton deep down the left sideline on fourth-and-4 in a scenario in which the offense was behind by four points.
Eventually, such moments won’t be a novelty to Broncos fans. But today, they symbolize a franchise shaking off six years of detritus.
“That’s just genetic, man. You know it,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “It’s just the gene. Not everybody has it. Fortunately, he was blessed with that. The man’s clutch.
“You don’t just show up on game day and do it. You do it out here.”
Gordon saw it first-hand in college at Wisconsin, so this is nothing new to him. But that doesn’t make it any less special.
“It’s like I’ve always felt when I was a little young kid coming in the doors at Wisconsin,” Gordon said. “He got that aura that, no matter what, you’re always in the game. That’s how I always felt when he was there. I’ve always felt like we was in the game.
“We could be down 14 with 30 seconds left. I always felt like, ‘If I got Russell Wilson, I’ve got a shot.'”
THE FIRST CAMP FIGHT …
… took place midway through Saturday’s work between guard Ben Braden and defensive end McTelvin Agim after a team-period run play, leading to a brief skirmish … and ending with both Braden and Agim taking a break from practice. Hackett sent both of them off the field.
Sending players off after a fracas — even a small one — is Hackett’s m.o.
“In the end, that’s what happens in a game,” Hackett said. “In a game, if something like that happens, somebody’s out, potentially for the whole game, and it hurts the team.
“… I know that it’s a heated battle out there, but it’s all about controlled aggression. No matter what happens, you can’t throw a punch. You can’t do anything like that. That’s not what we want. That’s not what we coach.
“After that, we talked and cleared the air, made sure they were all good, and they were able to come back on the field.”
And eventually, they might hug it out later.
“We had some scuffles in the spring, and [the coaches] made the guys hug in the team meeting room in front of everybody,” center Lloyd Cushenberry said.
DO THE JOG-THROUGH DAYS MAKE PAD DAYS MORE INTENSE?
From the field-level view, it appeared that way Saturday. And when asked after practice, Gordon agreed that the full-pad work this year is more intense than it was in previous years, when full-pad days stacked up.
A reason why? It’s as simple as accountability.
“He [Hackett] looks out for us; it’s our job to look out for him,” Gordon explained. “And when I say that, what I mean is, if he’s going to give us a day to rest our legs and get our bodies right, he expects us to come out here and be pros.
“Be out here moving fast. Can’t be sluggish. That’s what I mean by, ‘if he looks out for us, we look out for him.'”
- Josh Johnson and the the No. 2 offense also drove to a score in the “move-the-ball” period, marching 55 yards to a 35-yard McManus field goal. A 19-yard Johnson-to-Kendall Hinton pass near the left sideline and an 8-yard, fourth-and-3 pass from Johnson to Trey Quinn were the key plays.
- Dre’Mont Jones continued to wreck plays, and was especially dominant against the run Saturday.
- There was a slight wrinkle to practice, as Hackett had his wide receivers and tight ends go one-on-one for passes against the cornerbacks and safeties. Perhaps the high point wasn’t a catch; it was Jerry Jeudy working past Pat Surtain II as he ran for the end zone. Jeudy eased outside of the second-year cornerback and got separation downfield. Surtain eventually recovered and regained ground late, but the only thing preventing the touchdown was an overthrow. Jeudy later beat Essang Bassey for a deep pass from Russell Wilson in the one-on-one period, then did the same again in a team period. As I wrote in my notebook, “10’s get-off is sublime.”
- WR Jalen Virgil also provided another apex in the one-on-ones, working down the left seam on a stutter-go route for a long touchdown.
- TE Albert Okwuegbnuam capitalized on a nice play design to get open down the right side for a long pass from Wilson early in the first team period.
- OLBs Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto rotated in for some first-team snaps again Saturday. Each had multiple pressures, with Bonitto logging two rushes on backup quarterbacks that could have been sacks in game conditions. Fellow backup edge rusher Aaron Patrick also added a rush that could have been a sack of Brett Rypien at full contact.
- First-team edge rushers Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed both had pressures of Wilson that could have been sacks in game conditions. On one of Chubb’s pressures, he whipped past right guard Quinn Meinerz, barely giving Wilson a chance to get set. Reed quite noticeably held up after bursting off the right edge on his sack midway through practice, allowing the play to continue. Wilson hit Jerry Jeudy on the pass that happened after the would-be sack.
- Recently signed RB Max Borghi looks exceptionally quick and hits holes with purpose. He looks like he could become a preseason-game darling if he gets enough opportunities.
- Cornerback Ronald Darby made a good break on the ball to prevent a Wilson-to-Okwuegbunam connection. The defected pass nearly landed in Justin Simmons’ grasp, but the safety couldn’t corral the ball for the interception.
- Wilson hit Courtland Sutton down the left seam for a short touchdown pass in the team red-zone period.
- WR Trey Quinn had a leaping touchdown grab from Josh Johnson during the team-red zone period, catching the pass in the left side of the end zone despite coverage from CB Bless Austin and ILB Justin Strnad.
- Hackett went for the all-black look Saturday, wearing a t-shirt that said, “Broncos Darkside” on the front of it that scratched the Star Wars-adoring coach’s pop-cultural itch. “I believe it was the D-line that came up with this,” Hackett said. “So, it’s pretty good. They call themselves the Dark Side. Sometimes, you’ve got to support everybody. Offense was upset with me, but that’s the good thing about being the head coach.”
- Rookie center Luke Wattenberg received a handful of first-team snaps Saturday. However, the first snap didn’t go well, as he and Wilson had a fumbled center-snap exchange. They quickly settled down and there were no issues after that. “You’re only going to find out how those young guys are if they’re thrown in there,” Hackett said. “How does it feel when all of a sudden Russell Wilson is taking the snap from you? So, we have to get through that … Those guys have got to be on the same page to where if we do need him, he’s ready to rock.”
- Center Lloyd Cushenberry and Wilson also had a fumbled exchange of their own. Browning picked up the football from the ground and promptly sprinted downfield for what would have been a long fumble return and a potential touchdown in game conditions.
- Hackett said after practice that he has not decided whether he will play his starters in the preseason games. “I want to do what’s right for the team. That’s all I care about,” he said.
- Hackett’s father, Paul, watched practice from the sideline.
Nathaniel Hackett says his D-line calls itself the “Dark Side.” Thus, the “Dark Side” t-shirt. pic.twitter.com/rJguxelK5E
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) August 6, 2022
- S Caden Sterns returned to practice after having a hip infusion Thursday. Sterns immediately returned to his role in the Broncos’ dime package.
- WR Kendall Hinton practiced Saturday after missing the previous two days with a knee issue. Hinton had a full workload.
- G Netane Muti watched practice from the sideline, wearing a bucket hat. The Broncos are evaluating Muti’s knee, Hackett said.
- The team continues to be cautious with rookie edge rusher Christopher Allen. After recovering from a Lisfranc injury suffered last year, Allen’s reps are monitored, and he worked Saturday in shorts and shells.
- OLB Jonathon Cooper remains sidelined in the wake of finger surgery during OTAs. Cooper has been in uniform throughout most of camp, but has largely worked on the side field. “We’re just making sure he’s good, Hackett said.”
- WR KJ Hamler continues to be limited to individual work as he progresses back from a torn ACL and dislocated hip suffered last September.
After a string of days in the 90s, the Broncos practiced in more moderate conditions Saturday. The temperature rose from 76°F to 84°F under fair skies.
The Broncos get an off-day Sunday before returning to practice Monday at 10 a.m. MDT. They are expected to have two robust practices before a Wednesday jog-through preceding Thursday’s joint session with the Dallas Cowboys.