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Five takeaways from the Broncos’ first preseason game

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 12, 2018

DENVER — Real football is finally back.

For the first time in 223 days, the Denver Broncos took the field at Broncos Stadium at Mile High for an actual game on Saturday night.

While it was just a preseason game, it was the most informative event on the outlook of the 2018 Broncos up to this point.

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

It takes time

The NFL is, in fact, tough and thus, instant gratification is hard to come by.

Saturday, the Broncos found this out first hand in two respects.

As impressive as Case Keenum has looked with his myriad of weapons in the passing game through the first two weeks of training camp, it was very clear that it will take time for the chemistry to translate to the game field.

In the first team’s two series, they failed to pick up a single first down, while only racking up seven total yards.

“We didn’t move the ball at all,” head coach Vance Joseph said, disappointed after his team’s 42-28 loss. “I think it was three-and-out both times. Disappointing, obviously you want guys to go out there and at least have a decent drive, but we didn’t do that.”

Despite the lack of success, Joseph had no hesitations pulling the first-team group since it was part of the plan entering the night.

“It wasn’t worth it to play our starters past two series and get someone nicked,” Joseph elaborated. “It’s not worth it in the preseason. They’ll play more next week, obviously.”

The other harsh reality the team found out was rookies — even an impressive rookie class that the Broncos appear to have — need some time to marinate.

Overall, the youngsters certainly weren’t bad, but they didn’t have the instant grand impact they’ve been touted to posses outside of the running back room (read below).

Bradley Chubb, the lauded No. 5 overall pick, finished with one tackle and second-round receiver Courtland Sutton — the star of training camp up to this point — had one reception for a mere three yards.

His most notable play was mistiming his jump on a sideline ball from Keenum, which would have extended one of the first team drives.

Third-round pick, cornerback Isaac Yiadom, had his work cutout for him as he was faced up against the Vikings stellar receiving corps. In the first quarter alone, Kirk Cousins and Trevor Siemian took advantage of the rookie, completing three balls on him.

As fun as it would have been for Broncos Country to see Keenum light it up against his former team, and to see the entire rookie class look like veterans, it wasn’t realistic.

This doesn’t mean it won’t happen this year; it just may take some time.

Backup competition?

After John Elway publicly stated there was going to be a competition for the backup quarterback position between Chad Kelly and Paxton Lynch in the spring, there’s been no sign of a competition on the field since.

Now, there may be one in the works.

“We’ll see. We’ll watch the tape and see where we are,” Joseph said when asked if Kelly will receive second-team reps in the future.

Coming in as the team’s second-team quarterback, former first-round pick Lynch had a forgettable performance — completing six passes on 11 attempts for 24 yards to go along with one interception and one sack.

Joseph characterized his performance as “up and down” before applauding third-string quarterback Kelly for his first NFL showing.

“Chad, he’s played well,” Joseph said with a rare positive outlook on the team’s first game. “He played well tonight outside of the one interception which led to a score for those guys. He is a guy that plays with a lot of confidence — that’s a good deal.”

In Kelly’s first two series he did what neither Keenum nor Lynch could do on multiple levels. First and foremost was throw for a touchdown, as he did in both series, and the second was gain more than two first downs.

Before Kelly entered the game, the Broncos had 75 net yards. Kelly had 75 net yards on his first series.

In all four of Kelly’s series in a quarter and a half of work, he led his unit to a total of 224 yards.

First sign of running-back separation

Entering the night, the Broncos’ starting running back job was as wide open as the Eastern Colorado plains. Devontae Booker was listed as the starter on the team’s first depth chart, but Joseph largely said that was due to his veteran presence.

Through 11 training camp practices, not one running back had shown enough to have a noticeable lead on the rest of the pack, let alone take the job.

Saturday, rookie third-round back Royce Freeman showed why he should roll ahead of the competition.

On four carries, Freeman averages an incredible 9.5 yards per carry, in large part due to his 23-yard touchdown run in which he showed patience, vision and big-play potential as he hit the sideline for the end zone.

Taking a similar approach as he did to the backup quarterback competition, Joseph said “we’ll see” when asked if Freeman did enough to take the lead for the starting job.

“It’s still early. He had a nice touchdown run,” Joseph said on the rookie. “Again, I haven’t watched the tape; it’s hard to see from the sideline how he’s done in protection and different runs he had. I couldn’t tell from the sideline. We’ll see.”

The starting quarterback, who Freeman had one series with, didn’t hold back on his praise for the rookie, unlike his coach.

“Royce did a really good job of peeling back side for a blitzing safety,” Keenum said. “When backs know what’s going on, plus they can run the ball, it really helps.”

The other back that stood out was undrafted rookie, and local product, Phillip Lindsay. Playing with the backups, Lindsay took his opportunity and ran with it — combining for 47 offensive yards including a 19-yard touchdown reception from Kelly.

Throughout the beginning of camp, Lindsay has impressed as an offensive weapon, separating himself as the team’s best weapon out of the backfield in the passing game.

Isaiah McKenzie’s redemption tour

Not one player had a more meaningful play in the first preseason game than second-year pro, Isaiah McKenzie. After six fumbles last year, Joseph and the Broncos drew wide criticism for bringing the returner back for a second go-around.

McKenzie wasted no time showing why he was given a second shot.

After catching a punt at his own 22-yard line, McKenzie hesitated for a full second — which felt like an eternity in the press box, even drawing grumbles — before the speedy returner took off toward the left sideline and didn’t look back — racking up 78 yards, a touchdown and, most importantly, zero fumbles.

Joseph classified the play after the game as “huge” for the talented returner.

“He’s obviously a talent. His issue last year wasn’t talent, it was more decision making,” Joseph opened up. “We’re helping him fix that so he can help us win games.”

Will Parks making the leap

Up until training camp, all of the talk about a young talented safety surrounded Su’a Cravens.

Since the start of training camp, when football was actually on the field, Parks has run away with that storyline.

He only added to that Saturday night.

Playing across many different units, and playing many different roles — from high safety to blitzing linebacker — Parks was the Broncos’ most impressive defensive player on the night.

Parks did it all on Saturday night, including sacking his former quarterback, Trevor Siemian, a team-high five tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass breakup.

Add his impressive performance against the Vikings to the growing offseason accomplishments, including being the recipient of Keenum’s first interception of camp. No. 34 is here to stay.


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