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Editor’s note: With the Broncos and Bears splitting their respective offense and defense between two the fields at the UC Health Training center, we split up to have one pair of eyes on each field at all times. In this piece, we focused on the Broncos’ offense.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos welcomed in the Chicago Bears on Wednesday for the first of two joint practices, culminating with Saturday night’s preseason matchup.
On the north field, the Broncos offense matched up against the Bears defense. On the south field, it was the opposite.
I was posted up on the north side with the Broncos offense, here’s what went down.
Protection = Perfection
All offseason, we’ve talked about how good Case Keenum can be under pressure. All the stats that show how much of an aid he can be for the offensive line. On Wednesday, we got a look at what he can do when the offensive line helps him.
It started on the very first throw of the day in 11-on-11 work.
Case Keenum dropped back, scanned the right side of the field, then to the middle of the field and finally, to his left, where Demaryius Thomas was cutting toward the middle of the field deep in the secondary. Keenum unleashed a rocket right onto the hands of Thomas—who was looking particularly spry on this day—who made the catch and took it the rest of the way for the score.
On the very next play, Keenum once again got great protection from his men up front, giving him time to find Jeff Heuerman running up the seam and connect on another big gainer.
Later, Keenum found Isaiah McKenzie for a deep touchdown, once again with the protection holding up.
Finally, during a late scrimmage period in practice, Keenum once again dropped back with plenty of time, surveyed the field with all day to throw and hit Thomas again on almost the exact same route from earlier, getting the team into the red zone.
The protection on the day was the best I’ve seen from this group—which may be a testament to how good the Broncos pass rush is more than anything—and Keenum put on a nice display of how well he can use that time.
As the Broncos first-team offense seemed to win the day, it was the line that powered them to it, something that hasn’t been said in quite some time.
Stock up on Sanders Stock
Here lies Kyle Fuller, Feb. 16 1992-Aug. 15th 2018.
It was a good run.
As the Broncos and Bears got their day started with some one-on-one work, the team’s matched up their best on their best. One of those matchups was Emmanuel Sanders on fourth-year corner Kyle Fuller.
Let’s just say it was ugly.
In six matchups, Fuller never stood a chance on Sanders as he hauled in all six passes, including a deep ball down the right sideline. In all fairness, one-on-ones present a fairly large advantage for the offense, but these weren’t even all that close.
As a cherry on top, on the last rep of the set, Emmanuel put on and inside-out move that spun Fuller nearly out of his shoes and onto the ground. Yikes.
The Sanders Show was so entertaining, in fact, that it even drew the attention of one Broncos defensive coach.
“Wore. Him. Out.” The coach said
The big day for Sanders continued for the entirety of the day as he hauled in multiple passes from Keenum, getting constant separation from Fuller and anyone else who attempted to match up with him.
When I spoke with Sanders briefly after the practice, though, he couldn’t get his mind off of one play. The one play he didn’t make.
“I had him again on the Sluggo!” He said, disappointed.
A Sluggo route is essentially a fake post route turned into a corner route. The wide receiver breaks hard to the middle of the field and then cuts it back hard toward the corner. After executing that route perfectly, sending Fuller into a spin cycle, Sanders was wide open up the left sideline, and Case Keenum delivered a perfect ball. As he tried to make sure he kept his feet in bounds, Sanders lost the ball a little bit, bobbled it and dropped it.
After a fantastic day, that was what Sanders couldn’t get his mind off of. That should tell you a little bit about the type of competitor No. 10 is.
There is no greater indication of a quarterback’s trust in a wide receiver than how much he targets that receiver on third down, in the red zone and in the two-minute drill.
On Case Keenum’s first (preseason) third down as a Bronco, he looked for Courtland Sutton and although that ball was overthrown, the trend continued in Wednesday’s practice.
Keenum targeted Sutton’s massive frame on multiple third downs on the day, each going for completions and third downs. Chad Kelly also looked Sutton’s way on many third downs, when he had that option.
As has been the case during other practices throughout camp, Keenum also looked towards No. 14 on his first play of the two-minute drill with the “game” on the line. Unfortunately, Sutton slipped and actually came out of the practice for an apparent injury, but he ended up coming back out and Vance Joseph said after practice that he is fine.
In Sutton’s absence, roster-hopeful Tim Patrick filled in and was targeted twice, once for a third-down conversion and once for the catch that got the Broncos into field goal position, leading to the Brandon McManus “winner” from 45 yards out.
Speaking of McManus, he also booted a 57-yarder for the “win” to cap off Chad Kelly’s attempt at the two-minute drill, a drive in which Kelly connected twice with John Diarse and once with Jordan Leslie to set up the attempt.
Earlier in practice, though, McManus put on a show, zig-zagging backward from hashmark to hashmark and drilling kicks through the uprights, one ofter another.
All in all, McManus hit from 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 49, 50, 52 and 55 consecutively, for a streak of 10 in a row.
The streak did end on the last attempt when McManus missed from 59 to wrap up the period.
- Chad Kelly had a less-than-stellar day as the Bears second unit created a lot of pressure, putting No. 6 under duress for most of the day.
- Kelly didn’t respond too well to the pressure, taking off more than you would like, throwing an interception and nearly throwing one more.
- Paxton Lynch did not look great running with the third team, struggling to make big plays and throwing an inexplicable interception in 7-on-7 drills.
- It wasn’t just Emmanuel who showed out in one-on-ones, the entire Broncos receiving corps had their way with the Chicago DBs in an all-around impressive display.
- Both Phillip Lindsay and De’Angelo Henderson had great days catching the ball out of the backfield. Both had big gains on screens and quite a few catches.
- For a back who is listed fifth on the depth chart, Lindsay sure gets a lot of burn with the first team.
- As for one defensive note, I loved the fire displayed by cornerback Issac Yiadom after getting beat in one-on-ones and catching some smack talk from the horde of Bears receivers on the sideline.
- Yiadom called out each one, saying if they want to talk smack they have to line up with him. On his next rep, the rookie got a pass breakup.
- I guess when you line up against the Broncos’ receivers, you don’t have much to be afraid of.
- While they didn’t break off any big runs, the running backs had quite a few runs between five and seven yards. They also got stuffed a few too many times.
- Tim Patrick had a nice practice, just the latest in a long line of good practices for the former Utah Ute.
- There were no scuffles on the day. The most intense things got was when Andy Janovich popped a safety a little too hard for his liking on a run block. The two were separated almost instantly.
Injury and Availability Notes
- Courtland Sutton left practice with a knee injury, but did return. After practice, Joseph said Sutton is “fine.”
- Chris Harris Jr. strained his oblique muscle during Tuesday’s practice and “just couldn’t go today. Hopefully, he can go Saturday,” according to the head coach.
- Shaq Barrett has a “minor” hamstring injury. “He should be back fairly quick,” Joseph said. “Hopefully he plays Saturday.”
- Su’a Cravens missed Wednesday’s practice with a lingering sore knee. Joseph hopes Cravens is back at practice this week and hopes he can play against his former team, Washington, in the third preseason game.
- Joseph expects Ron Leary to play in the second preseason game.
- Sam Jones back spasms that he sustained on Tuesday were worse than initially believed, but he should be back in two to three days.
- Others that did not practice included: Troy Fumagalli, Dymonte Thomas, Sam Jones, Michael Hunter and J.J. Dielman.