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Despite abundant talent, Broncos' tight ends admittedly concerning for coaching staff

Sam Cowhick Avatar
July 29, 2016


The Broncos offense is certainly under construction. Just two days into training camp, the reemergence of a run-heavy, play-action heavy approach to the offense is blatant and repetitive, but who will be on the field to run that offense is far from clear.

After the highly publicized quarterback competition comes the unknown potential of the talented tight end group. While the staff clings to the athleticism of the group, the fact remains they have not seen any of them play much throughout the offseason. The time is now to evaluate what will be a big part of the Broncos plans to move the ball.

“When I look at Jeff, and I look at Virgil, I think we’ve got two really good players, but let’s face it, they did not go through the offseason,” Kubiak admitted Tuesday. “I don’t want to say it’s a question mark with our offensive football team right now, but we’ve got to get that group going the same way I think we’ve got all the groups going throughout the course of the offseason. It’s going to be up to them. I think other guys have come in and done a good job.”

The team was relying on six-year Broncos veteran Virgil Green and last year’s third-round draft pick Jeff Heuerman to take over the starting jobs, but offseason injuries have delayed any foothold of those two spots. Former Houston Texan and draft selection of Kubiak, Garrett Graham joined the team April 25 and rookie Henry Krieger-Coble have been benefiting from Green’s and Heuerman’s absences from offseason workouts and OTAs.

Wednesday, after the tight ends finally practiced as a full group, the team waived tight end Manasseh Garner and signed eighth-year tight end John Phillips, formerly of the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. The competition will certainly heat up as training camp progresses, a fact that is not lost on even the most experienced Bronco in the group.

“I think every year you have to come in and compete for the right to be on the field, so it is wide open,” Green said Wednesday following practice. “Right now there really is no depth chart so anybody can move up based on how you perform.”

Green is coming off of a finger injury that required surgery in the offseason. He has consistently been called on in mostly a blocking role throughout his career with the Broncos. He caught a career-high 14 passes for 187 yards and one touchdown in the 2015-16 season but was a distant second when it came to tight end targets behind former Bronco Owen Daniels, who caught 51 passes for 578 yards and five touchdowns over the 2015-16 regular and postseason. However, Green’s optimism always peaks as training camp starts saying, “For me, every year I come go into camp thinking opportunities are endless.”

Heuerman, a talented tight end from Ohio State University, unfortunately, missed his entire rookie season after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in rookie camp. The team has extremely high expectations for the pseudo-rookie after watching him rehabilitate from the injury and study throughout the team’s run to Super Bowl 50. He was visibly excited to finish his first day of training camp Wednesday but also tempered the significance of one practice.

“I mean, the biggest thing is it’s just day one of training camp,” he said. “Being consistent, being consistent for six months is what it is all about.”

The tight ends will be asked to do a lot in Kubiak’s offense. There will likely be two tight ends on the field often during games, and although there will be specific skill sets from each individual, the need for versatility will be big as the roster spots dwindle in the coming weeks.

“For me, personally, I have learned both of them so I can play ‘Y’ or ‘F’, and that is what most of the guys are trying to do. The more versatile you can be the better,” Graham said Thursday.

Graham came over from Houston after six seasons with the Texans. His career best season came in 2013 when he pulled down 49 receptions for 545 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he appeared in just eight games (two starts) and caught just four passes. He was a healthy scratch for the tail end of the Texans season, including their AFC Wild Card game. He appears to be currently mixing in with the second team tight ends but has also been impressed with the group as a whole and Green’s knowledge of the system.

“It’s a good comradery among the tight end group,” he said earnestly. “Everybody is helping each other out, and Virgil is a good leader and a good guy. It has been great.”

Graham will now be sharing the uphill battle with Phillips but also rookie Krieger-Coble who arrived as an undrafted college free agent from the University of Iowa. He finished his senior season with the second highest receptions (35) and receiving yards (405) for the Hawkeyes and became a consistent pass-catching tight end. Krieger-Coble’s transition to the Broncos may be eased by the connection between Kubiak and his mentor, Iowa’s Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis.

“I think there are some similarities with what we did at Iowa,” he said Wednesday. “We ran a pro-style of offense and the connection between Coach Davis and Coach Kubiak is definitely there so some of the concepts I understand, it is just learning but more complex aspects of the offense.”

Not just Krieger-Coble, but everyone, including Green, will have to familiarize themselves with the 2016 Broncos offense. While it has been just two days and comradery is still plentiful, there are scant opportunities to push for the starting jobs. The Broncos have seen their fair share of great tight ends over the years, and while the picture is not yet clear if they have one, Kubiak is certainly hoping he will know soon.


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