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Broncos Joint Practice Observations: Offense literally punches back

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 17, 2019

 

 

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The San Francisco 49ers’ defense punched the Denver Broncos’ offense in the mouth in the team’s first joint practice session on Friday.

On Saturday, in round two, the Broncos returned the blow.

The Broncos wrapped up joint practices, and training camp for that matter, on a much-needed upswing in front of the likes of Mike Shanahan and, of course, John Elway.

As always, BSN Denver was on hand for the team’s 20th training camp practice of the year. Here’s what went down with the Broncos’ offense up against the 49ers’ defense on Saturday.

BOUNCEBACK

Saturday started like a bad flashback. The first pass play of the day wasn’t just incomplete, it was as bad as it could be without a turnover. Joe Flacco threw the ball one way, while Courtland Sutton went the other as both were on completely different pages on a short pass in the flat. It appeared the Broncos were living the same nightmare they had one day before.

“It wasn’t very good. It wasn’t very good in any way shape or form,” Vic Fangio said on Saturday, evaluating the offense’s performance from Friday after watching the tape.

But then it all changed.

DaeSean Hamilton got the offense on track with a short completion over the middle of the field followed by another short completion to Royce Freeman on a crossing route. Sure, they were both for minimal gain, but it was traction—something foreign to Friday’s practice.

The next period, the first-team unit caught fire as Sutton had a leaping one-handed catch deep down the right sideline over the daunting All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. The 40-yard gain was exactly what Denver’s offense so desperately needed. A heartbeat had finally returned to Rich Scangarello’s unit.

The period ended with three more completions with a false start thrown in the mix. Two of the completions were to Phillip Lindsay as he was lined up as a receiver and the third was a swing pass to Devontae Booker out of the backfield.

Freeman then got in the receiving mix, pulling in a screen pass and shifting his way through the 49ers’ defense for a gain of 20 during the next full-team period. The play worked so well, Scangarello dialed up two play-action screen passes to running backs the following two plays—another to Freeman and one to Lindsay.

After dinking and dunking, more fireworks were in store as Flacco hit Emmanuel Sanders 35 yards down the right sideline. To be fair, in a game Flacco could have very well been sacked as the edge rusher was able to get by Garett Bolles on the outside.

At this point, the ball hadn’t hit the ground since the very first pass of the day. The Broncos’ offense was rolling.

“That’s part of being a good football team is responding to tough days,” Flacco said on Friday, subtly challenging his unit for Saturday’s practice.

They certainly responded.

The passing game did come back to Earth, specifically when the field got shorter during a red-zone period, but it didn’t look like Friday’s practice by any means. Flacco connected deep again, this time to Sanders on a post.

During the final move-the-ball period, Denver’s offense picked up as many, if not more, first downs in a five-minute span than they did during the entire practice on Friday. In a hurry-up situation, Flacco moved the first-string offense from deep in their own territory to midfield by checking down to a myriad of receivers, including a beautiful one-handed catch from Booker.

“I think Joe’s still getting a feel for the offense. That’s going to take some time,” John Elway said in his annual training camp wrap up press conference on Saturday.

“He had his best year four years ago with Gary [Kubiak], but the offense is still advanced. He’s still getting used to it, but he seems to be getting more and more comfortable with it. He’ll get better as he gets more playtime with these preseason games. He’s been out there one series. I think he needs to get more game time and he’ll play more this week.”

In the joint practices, Flacco and the offense certainly proved the more time they have, the better they get.

A JOLT OF ENERGY

After a dreadful performance from his group on Friday, Scangarello challenged his players to adapt to the 49ers and “match their speed and intensity.” He said if they did that on Saturday, they’d be “just fine.”

Just fine is a fitting phrase to use for how Denver’s offense performed, thanks in large part to Denver’s squad living up to Scangarello’s challenge.

“I think that we came out a little bit flat yesterday. Like Emmanuel Sanders said, we didn’t run the energy,” Dalton Risner admitted on Saturday. “We came out today, and by all means, we were going to run the energy. I’m not going to speak for the offense, because I’m not one of the veterans, but I feel like we had great energy today. If you have to get into a little scrum to do that, I think that’s fine.”

And a little, or sizably bigger, scrum is precisely what happened as both teams were jolted with energy.

With the 49ers’ sideline hooting and hollering from the get-go, and Denver relatively quiet for a second-straight day, the big boys up front took matters into their own hands. Midway through practice, Risner and a few other offensive linemen started to talk smack in the faces of the 49ers’ defensive lineman after a play.

The parties separated without outside intervention, but two things were clear—the Broncos’ weren’t going to be quiet, and something bigger was about to go down.

That’s precisely what happened a few plays later when the entire Broncos’ offense and entire 49ers’ defense went at it. Two large groups swarmed together like bees, and for the most part, it was a big mosh pit-type atmosphere with pushing and shoving to be had by all.

But there were haymakers thrown, most notably by Phillip Lindsay.

Brendan Langley and Bug Howard were kicked out of practice immediately following the fight. Fangio was not on that field but instructed his coaches they could kick players out of practice if they deemed it necessary.

“Like Fangio said, if you throw hands, you’re going to get kicked out of practice, so I was just kinda hoppin’ around, talkin’ and actin’ cool,” Risner said with a laugh, explaining the role he took in the skirmish.

Clearly, Langley and Howard, two players who can’t afford to miss any practice time, broke the rules, and were sent to the showers early.

“We had a better day today. I don’t know that we met the intensity yesterday that the ‘9ers put out there, and that’s up to us,” Elway stated on Saturday.

Although the 49ers were the louder team to begin practice, there was no question the Broncos brought the much-needed heat on Saturday.

ELWAY’S TALENT ON THE RISE

The Broncos are relying on their young talent like never before. After last year’s rookie class delivered in a major way, the bar has been raised for Elway’s 2019 class.

So far, so good for Elway’s top-three picks as they finish their first training camp, most notably his new QB.

As he walked to the podium to address the media, Elway gave Drew Lock a teammate-like shoulder-pad smack, not hiding his love and excitement for the kid one bit.

He then went on to say the rookie “continues to get better.”

“You know he’s been overloaded. Any time you have young guy like that, he’s going to have his good days, and he’s going to have his bad days,” Elway said, fairly evaluating Lock. “Obviously, we’re excited still about the talent that he has and what he’s showed. He’s flashed. A lot. But, it’s a big jump for him, especially with what we’re doing offensively and verbiage that goes along with it. That’s going to take him some time. He’s done a nice job.”

The pick right before Lock drew even more praise during Elway’s 10-minute presser. After saying he believes the offensive line is better than they were last year, the general manager specifically singled out the left side of the line.

“They’re working really well on the left side,” Elway stated, before dropping a pretty significant comment. “Risner’s been good for Garett as well as Mike [Munchak] has too.”

Elway admitted the rookie second-round pick has been good for the team’s former first-round pick entering his third season. That’s some mighty-fine praise for the Colorado Native.

And last, but certainly not least, Elway said first-round pick Noah Fant has been “good” and what the team thought he would be. Elway, however, didn’t draw on the 6-foot-4, 249-pounders receiving skills as to what’s caught his eye.

“The thing that we’re really excited about is the fact he’s a better blocker,” Elway stated. “He’s physical and still can get better there, but very physical and stick his nose in there. And very strong. I think he can be a guy that can be a Y—can be a great down-field threat, but also be able to block and do a good job in the blocking game and the run game. We’re excited about Noah.”

For a second-straight year, the excitement level’s at an all-time high for Elway’s rookie class coming out of camp.

ADDITIONAL TIDBITS

  • Mike Shanahan admitted he was “close” to returning as the Broncos’ head coach following the 2017 season.
    • “I was close. I was close,” the Broncos’ former coach said on Saturday as he attended joint practices. “But one thing that has to happen is you all have to be on the same page and one thing you got to make sure of when you are a head football coach that the owner, the GM, the quarterback are all on the same page. If it doesn’t happen, the chances that you win a Super Bowl aren’t very good. Anyway—if that situation happened, I was going to take it. If not—but anyways, I had a great conversation with John as everybody knows and it didn’t work out. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for the right reasons.”
  • The catch of the day runner up—to Sutton’s one-handed grab over Sherman—was courtesy of Tim Patrick. The lengthy receiver went up in the back of the end zone and tipped a pass from Brett Rypien to himself, which he corralled with one hand as he got both of his feet in bounds before falling out of the back of the end zone.
  • The bronze medal for the catch of the day was courtesy of Kelvin McKnight, who pulled in a fantastic one-handed catch. The ball literally just stuck to the left hand of the rookie receiver as he was on the run.
  • Devontae Jackson showed big-time burst in the run game. He took advantage of extra reps with Khalfani Muhammad out due to a minor injury.
  • Kevin Hogan connected with Langley deep on the right sideline. The receiver had big-time separation before easily trotting into the end zone during 7-on-7.
  • Von Miller did not practice saying it was just a routine rest day and that he expects to play on Monday night.
  • Dymonte Thomas was excused from practice.
  • Muhammad, Malik Reed, Will Parks, Su’a Cravens, Joe Jones, Todd Davis, Theo Riddick and Andy Janovich also did not practice.

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