Five players with something to prove at Denver Broncos OTAs
May 24, 2023, 6:36 PM
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverSports.com)
Phase 3 of Broncos organized team activities began Tuesday. But it’s Thursday morning that will bring the first glimpse for Denver-area media at the Sean Payton-led Broncos.
Per NFL rules established in conjunction with the Pro Football Writers of America, each team must open one day per week of Phase 3 to media who regularly cover the team. Given Payton’s preference for his team to be “anonymous donors” and to go about their offseason work in the shadows, far from the spotlight, one surmises that he’d just as soon keep the doors padlocked and the cameras — even those from the team’s own robust internal media operation — away.
But the bylaws dictate otherwise.
So, the smartphones and cameras will be out for individual periods. Pens and notepads will find good use. Some onlookers will brandish binoculars for a better view.
Through those lenses, a few players will warrant close scrutiny.
1. RUSSELL WILSON
Could it be anyone else? While the Broncos’ quarterback room isn’t the site of one of the summer’s most prominent competitions, Wilson’s adaptation to Payton — both in terms of coaching style and scheme — should be one of the most fascinating storylines to monitor. It’s a change from last year’s happy-go-lucky, good-vibes offseason, but Wilson appears to be ready for it.
2. DAMARRI MATHIS
Mathis’ growth last year was one of the bright spots in a dim campaign. He learned from a penalty-flooded first start at Los Angeles in Week 6 and became one of the league’s steadiest rookies within weeks. His progress helped make injured CB Ronald Darby expendable; the Broncos released Darby in March to create salary-cap space.
But into the room steps third-round pick Riley Moss. His first work is expected to be at cornerback. Mathis didn’t need a push, but Moss should provide it nonetheless.
The Broncos have high hopes for Moss, evidenced by their willingness to sacrifice a third-round pick next year to move up 25 spots and select him this year. But if Mathis continues on the ascendant trajectory of last year, don’t expect Moss to dislodge him anytime soon.
3. TIM PATRICK
With an ACL injury nine months in the rear-view mirror, one will want to gauge his progress. Given that he only had the single ligament tear, he should be well ahead of RB Javonte Williams in his recovery. Williams’ injury also came nearly two months after Patrick, putting both not only in different rehabilitation protocols, but on divergent timelines.
The Broncos don’t want to rush Patrick. But at the same time, Wilson needs Patrick’s steady hands. And the team as a whole needs the energy and feistiness with which he attacks his work.
4. RANDY GREGORY
Rotator-cuff surgery shortly after he signed with the Broncos last March augured a first Denver year defined by injuries and rehab work. He wasn’t ready for the start of training camp — but did recover in time to play the regular-season opener, albeit in a rotational role. But by Week 4, he was injured again, this time undergoing arthroscopic surgery to trim the meniscus in his knee. He returned for two games and 34 snaps later in the season.
So far, so good for Gregory.
“Randy is doing well,” Payton said earlier this month.
The offseason is one thing, the regular season can be another. But if Gregory can earn the new coaching staff’s trust, they’ll find ways to capitalize on his length and speed.
5. JARRETT STIDHAM
Whether it’s the backup or the starter, it all begins with the quarterback. And Payton eschewed other more experienced options to add Stidham has Wilson’s understudy, citing the former Auburn passer’s upside.
“I think he’s a No. 2 whose arrow is moving in a direction where we feel like he can become an NFL starter in our league,” Payton said in March. “The evaluation was pretty crystal clear for all of us. I think he’s someone that’s going to be great in the room. He’s smart. Quietly, that was an important [signing] for us.”
It will be a while before we know how important. But solid work now could add some spice — and, at minimum, give the Broncos a better understudy at QB than last year.