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Despite Nuggets Fever, Broncos OTAs provide interesting clues

Jun 2, 2023, 7:01 AM

The Denver Broncos are going through another week of practice at Centura Health Training Center. On Thursday, their practice was once again open to the media.

Broncos head coach Sean Payton is focused on building a winner. He’s also having fun watching the Nuggets as they compete for their first NBA title.

“It’s exciting for the city. When you think of this for a second—in two years, the Kroenkes have won a Super Bowl, have won a Stanley Cup and they’re in a position to win an NBA championship. It’s good to be a Kroenke for the last two years. That’s pretty impressive to have that type of success. I’m excited for the city to watch these guys. Yeah, we’ll have a chance to go.” Payton said.

Here are some of my thoughts from Broncos OTAs.

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Third Down Tells A Lot

The team was working on third-down situations on Thursday, and it revealed a lot about what still needs work this offseason. Broncos starting quarterback Russell Wilson had some good plays, and he had to make some plays under duress.

The Broncos offensive line needs time to gel. I like the focus they had on the O-line, and the Broncos certainly made splash moves in free agency when they spent big money on left guard Ben Powers and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. On Thursday, it was clear to see that pass protection is still something to work on.

It just makes sense given the time of year, and it makes sense given the team has left tackle Garett Bolles coming back from an injury in addition to their two new starters. Wilson has the ability to make plays on the run, and I like how he is getting the timing down in Payton’s offense. In addition, I think Wilson is going to exhaust all options as a passer before taking off to run. The Broncos need to ensure that Wilson gets enough time to go through those progressions, and feeling pressure in third-down situations will help hone the talent they have up front.

Payton had some good things to say about Wilson.

“He’s doing well. Today I thought was a good day. Today was a third-down (practice). There’s a challenge in OTAs with third down. The challenge in third down is you have to contest every throw. Within the framework of OTAs, it’s hard to do that. They understand it. I’ll whistle them and just talk about the period. We can see if there’s a sack, we can see if the (defensive backs) are in position. Generally speaking, especially on those early yards, we’re contesting every throw. It’s a little bit less challenging when you’re in first and second down playing zone defense. He’s doing well,” Payton said.

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Opposite Surtain

Everyone knows that Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain is one of the best in the league. He’s not going to get a lot of passes thrown his way, but the player opposite of him should get plenty of looks from opposing quarterbacks. In fact, the player who lines up opposite of Surtain will likely get picked on during a game.

I feel good about what we’ve seen from second-year CB Damarri Mathis. Last year as a rookie, Mathis was thrust into the starting lineup and he was exposed. Mathis did not let his bad play – and opponents’ big plays – stick in his brain, and he showed the short memory that good cornerbacks must have. We’ll see if Mathis wins the job opposite of Surtain, but others will be competing for the job.

I like second-year CB Ja’Quan McMillian. Undrafted out of East Carolina, McMillian spent his rookie season developing on the Broncos’ practice squad. He looks to be taking that next step in his career, and he’s pushing for the 53-man roster. In fact, McMillian could push for a starting job. It sounds outlandish, and it may not be what most expected, but McMillian is the type of player with the confidence and bravado to take on the challenge the starter opposite of Surtain will face on a weekly basis.

Payton knows that scheme can help coverage and players who will get more targets.

“Sometimes the coverage can dictate that, too. It’s a great question, though. I think that pressure falls [on that player] a little bit more on third down when you decide by the game plan that you want to take a certain player out of the game. On the other side, the balls are going to come your way. If we’re rolling one direction, ‘cloud’ for instance, with safety help, it’s hard to force the ball over there. It becomes more prevalent in man-coverage schemes than sometimes in zone (coverage schemes), but it’s good question,” Payton said.

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Learning From the Nuggets

Everyone is wrapped up in what the Denver Nuggets are doing. On Thursday, the entire team was anticipating Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. I’m sure the guys on the Broncos are happy with the 1-0 lead. Looking at what the Nuggets are doing, the Broncos have to feel more pressure to perform.

The Nuggets have built things the hard way. They are not a super team, but they do have superstars – who are unselfish and all about winning together. The Broncos lack a superstar quarterback, so they are building things the hard way – just like the Nuggets. They need to win together like the Nuggets are doing, and that comes with respect and focus in the locker room.

The Broncos need to build a winning culture. They haven’t had that since QB Peyton Manning was running the show. The team lost their way over the last six seasons, and with Payton they are hopeful to get back on the right track. Winning is contagious, and the work in the offseason will help establish the culture. With proper culture comes high expectations – something the Broncos used to have. I feel Payton will get things right after a half decade of things going wrong.

Payton acknowledged he’s taking inspiration from the Nuggets.

“When I’ve watched them—we all get caught up and you get excited—but the star players are unselfish, and I feel like it’s a team that enjoys each other. I’m going to guess that they probably do things together off the court and I don’t know that that’s the case with every team. Literally last week, I was just having a conversation with Mike Krzyzewski about something else, and then I asked the question, ‘How do you like to match up with the Heat?’ He mentioned culture with both teams. I think you see that with our team, and I think you see it from the Heat as well. It’s why they are the last two teams remaining. From a beginner’s perspective, when I watch them, you feel that and that’s impressive.” Payton said.

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Despite Nuggets Fever, Broncos OTAs provide interesting clues