Jaleel McLaughlin proved to be worthy of more opportunities

Aug 14, 2023, 5:54 AM

The Denver Broncos played their first preseason game under head coach Sean Payton, but came up short against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night. It was a thrilling game, something we don’t get with many preseason games, but I wish the Broncos would have won.

I like when we finally get to see the Broncos play in a game. Sure, the preseason games don’t count but they do matter, and I look forward to the exhibition season every year.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep Wrangler TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.


Just Like Camp

Broncos QB Russell Wilson began the preseason just like he began training camp – rough. However, just like over the last five days of camp, Wilson did improve with the more time he had out there against the Cardinals.

Overall, I like what Wilson showed in his first game under Payton. He was throwing to the middle of the field regularly, something others say he can’t do with success, and his throws were mostly on time. I do think more trust can be built in this system, and it showed in plays like the outside pass to WR Courtland Sutton. On that pass, which was complete and a nice play, things could have been better if Wilson would’ve trusted things faster. Sutton caught the pass, slipped, and then got up for a minimal gain. Had Wilson been on time, Sutton had wide-open spaces in front of him and there’s a chance he could’ve scored.

Wilson did show great courage facing the “Cover 0” look the Cardinals gave him more than a few times. The book is out on Wilson; blitz him and put him under duress. If he reacts the way he did on the touchdown pass to WR Jerry Jeudy, then that narrative will change. The beauty of Payton’s system is that players are schemed open against most any coverage. When Wilson is sharper with his reads, and trusts the system more, this passing game is going to be tough to beat.

I would imagine that Wilson will be sharper earlier in the next preseason game. If he struggles early, like he did against the Cardinals, then I believe Wilson will get better the more he plays. It’s going to take some time to fully integrate Payton’s offense, so it’s best to continue to have patience in Wilson’s play.


Blocking Matters

The first depth chart was released last week before the game against the Cardinals, and many were surprised that TE Adam Trautman was listed as the starter. I was not one of those people. Anyone who has watched training camp with a trained eye has seen what Trautman can do in this offense, and you could have also seen the shortcoming of second-year TE Greg Dulcich.

As Trautman told me in the first week of camp, blocking matters in this offense. If you struggle as a blocker, as Dulcich does, then it’s a “tell” for the defense when you’re on the field. I believe Dulcich has the chance to improve as a blocker, but Trautman is clearly ahead of him in that department. You could see that in the preseason game against the Cardinals. Trautman is in there for first, and second downs. Dulcich is on the field for third-down (obvious passing) situations. Both are on the field in certain two-TE sets.

Trautman dropped the first pass of the game – it was a bit behind him – but finished the game with two catches for 18 yards. He played more snaps (15) than Dulcich (10) and ran more routes (9 compared to 7). Trautman did not do much as a receiver, but Dulcich did not have a single target in the game. We could see Dulcich do more, and with his speed it will only take one or two shots for him to make a big play – but to get on the field more consistently he needs to at least be an effort blocker. Look at the run by RB Samaje Perine below and watch the beautiful blocks by Trautman on the play. I’m not saying Dulcich needs to do that, but he needs to be better in the blocking part of his game.

Dulcich has talent as a pass-catcher, but if he can’t block effectively then it doesn’t matter. Trautman is the lead tight end because he’s their best tight end. He’s not the fastest, nor the strongest, but Trautman has the best combination of skills that Payton covets.


Move Him Up!

I refuse to participate in the “faux outrage” that comes every year when the initial depth chart is released. I think it’s surface level analysis to lose sleep or have surprise over a depth chart. It’s something the team must do before the first preseason game, and it’s not the be-all/end-all when it comes to putting together the roster. However, I do think there are some messages hidden within the depth chart.

Jaleel McLaughlin is the third-best back on this roster, yet when the first depth chart was released, he was at the bottom. Tyler Badie was listed as the no.3 back behind Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine with Tony Jones as the no.4 back. McLaughlin was behind both, and he was the last back to get on the field against the Cardinals. When McLaughlin got onto the field, he helped the Broncos third-string offense drive down the field for a score. McLaughlin is a speed merchant at the position, but he’s not afraid of taking it between the tackles.

His touchdown was between the tackles, and McLaughlin only had a long carry of seven yards, yet he averaged 5.0 yards per carry. He also showcased what he could do as a receiver with one catch for 12 yards to move the chains. McLaughlin brought an instant energy to the field, something none of the other backs really did. Denver may want to bury him on the depth chart so he can be snuck through to the practice squad, but in this one game McLaughlin might have done too much for them to do that.

The is no doubt that McLaughlin can make plays, and I anticipate that he will be moving up the depth chart as the preseason continues. It would be foolish for the Broncos to try and sneak him through to the practice squad. I believe there’s a good chance a running back-needy team could scoop him up if the Broncos expose him to waivers. I hope McLaughlin makes the 53-man roster, and I hope Payton begins putting together a package of plays for the talented undrafted rookie back.


Not Popular but Great

I’m a fan of what I like, and what I like isn’t always the most popular. Whether it’s music, football players, or comic books, I gravitate toward what excites me and that doesn’t always follow the mainstream. I like being unique, and that’s why my tastes appear to be all over the place. In music, I love Bay Area thrash metal bands like Death Angel or Testament. While other metal bands from that era are huge (Metallica, Megadeth, etc), I prefer the lesser-known bands.

In football, I like collecting jerseys of players who went to teams for a limited time or who are better known with other teams. I have a custom-made Eric Dickerson Atlanta Falcons jersey which I love. Dickerson was a favorite of mine growing up, and he played for the Falcons for three games in 1993 before retiring due to a neck injury. People will all know the Hall of Fame back, but few remember that he did play with the Falcons.

With comic books, one of my favorite titles is “Grimjack” by First Comics. That was an independent comic book company back in the 80s, but Grimjack had a cult following. Count me as one of those followers, and it’s why I was so thrilled with a cover I recently commissioned done for my independent comic book company that was an homage to the “Demon Wars” story from the pages of Grimjack. Homage covers are huge in comic books, and I know many won’t remember those Grimjack issues (although the Russo brothers did write a screenplay for Grimjack after they finished Avengers: Endgame), but I remember it and I love it. I’ve had the “Dragon Wars” story in my head for nearly 20 years, and I’ve had the idea to homage those covers for the Suimmortal origin story for about the same amount of time. It’s a thrill to see something I’ve dreamed about come to life on the page.

What’s your favorite thing (song, comic, movie, etc) that is not popular? Hit me up on social networking and let me know!


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