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Joint Practice Takeaways: Why a boring practice was a good sign for the Broncos' offense

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 16, 2018

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. — That’s a wrap!

After 15 practices, one preseason game and countless hours of meetings and film study, training camp 2018 came to an end on Thursday at the UCHealth Training Center. It wrapped up in grand fashion, too.

Not only did the world get a rare John Elway media encounter, the Denver Broncos concluded camp with their second of two practices against the Chicago Bears.

The word head coach Vance Joseph used to describe their joint practices held true to the Broncos’ offense on Thursday.

That word was “sharp.”

THE BIG THREE

On Wednesday, the Broncos’ big three was on the defensive side of the ball.

Thursday, it was three big plays on offense.

Coming off marginal gains on their first two plays, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave drew up a big one.

Starting roughly at midfield, Case Keenum sold the defense on a stretch run to the left side, peeled back to the right and launched a deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders as he streaked from the left sideline to the right. Sanders caught the ball in stride from a perfect pass from Keenum that was thrown with the right combination of touch and zip.

After that big completion, the big-play offense went dormant until waking up near the end of practice.

In the second-to-last team period, Keenum connected with Sanders on yet another 40-yard bomb, this time down the left sideline over Bears’ defensive back Marcus Cooper Sr.

The very next play, Keenum took his shot again, this time to Isaiah McKenzie.

Starting from the left numbers, McKenzie turned on the burners, speeding past the Bears’ defense. By the time Keenum noticed No. 16, McKenzie was wide open in the middle of the field heading toward the right entrance of the end zone.

McKenzie had to significantly slow down and completely turn his body around to catch Keenum’s under-thrown ball, but the second-year receiver made a nice play on the ball to bring in the 40-yard reception.

Keenum would have had four big plays on the day if Sanders would have held onto another 40-yard pass that somehow hit his hands despite triple coverage downfield.

Those, however, were the end of the excitement from the Broncos’ offense on Thursday.

GAME MANAGER

Some, and potentially most, would call a game manager boring.

Joseph, however, would call a game manager his ideal quarterback.

“As an NFL quarterback, as a starter, you have to be a game manager,” Joseph explained earlier in camp.

“When folks say, ‘I don’t want a game manager,’ I say, ‘I do.’ I want a guy who’s going to take care of the football and manage the football game for us. Someone spoke to it earlier, what’s our formula to win? We don’t know yet, but I know one thing, taking care of the football is part of it. That’s one of Case’s strengths, taking care of the football.”

Thursday was a textbook example of Case doing just that.

Outside of Keenum’s three deep completions mentioned above, he was about as boring as it comes. In a good way.

Despite lining up three and four wide most of the day, Keenum consistently went through his reads and consistently took the check down.

On the day, Keenum’s favorite target wasn’t a player, but instead an area on the field: Seven yards within the line of scrimmage. Because of this, tight ends had their fair share of use as well as backs out of the backfield.

The day went something like this: Check down, dump down, check down, dump down.

But what wasn’t included in that series was any type of turnover—something that haunted the Broncos last year.

In a game, Thursday’s pass offense would have been good enough to keep the team in any game. In other words, they were “sharp.”

BUTT’S GOT THEIR BACK

Jake Butt is widely known for his potential as a receiver.

Thursday, he wanted to prove he’s not just a receiving tight end, but a well-rounded one.

On Keenum’s first deep ball to Sanders, Butt stabilized his quarterback’s blind side. Going up against an edge defender one-on-one, Butt kept the defensive lineman from pushing him back or breaking the pocket.

Butt had multiple plays like this on Thursday and won every single matchup against Chicago’s edge defenders.

His most impressive block came during a special, special teams period.

Running unique high-intensity special teams drills near the end of practice, Butt had the block of the drill even with the likes of Austin Traylor and Andy Janovich partaking.

With over 50 players participating in this drill, only one, Butt, completely took his defender out of the field of play.

No. 80 had multiple receptions on the day, but his blocking was what shined.

No. 7 SPEAKS

Fittingly, the first questions throw John Elway’s way during his end-of-training-camp presser were about the much talked about backup quarterback position.

It’s becoming more clear each and every day that Chad Kelly has this week to prove to the team that he can be their backup quarterback.

“We’ll wait and see what happens. We’ll wait through this week and see what happens and go from there,” Elway said when asked if the team will consider bringing in a veteran quarterback. “I feel like we still have time.”

In terms of Kelly, Elway wasn’t surprised the second-year player has success in the first preseason game.

“He’s a competitive guy, he’s played a lot of snaps, and he’s instinctive,” Elway said. “He took advantage of the opportunity that he had. He was looking forward to going out and playing and chomping at the bit. It did not surprise me, the way Chad played. He played very well. He’s got good instincts. He deserved the chance to play with the twos this week.”

Kelly had a fine day on Thursday. He held onto the ball too long a few times, but made no major mistakes.

Elway would not comment what Paxton Lynch’s future with the team would be if the former first-round pick did not regain the backup position.

“I’m not going to get into the hypotheticals right now. We’ll cross that bridge—we still haven’t played two preseason games yet,” he said sternly. “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.”

When asked if the team would be interested in Colin Kaepernick if they did indeed sign a veteran, Elway made his stance very clear.

“Colin had his chance to be here. We offered him a contract. He didn’t take it,” he said, grabbing national headlines. “As I said in my deposition—and I don’t know if I’m legally able to say this—he’s had his chance to be here. He passed it.”

INJURY AND AVAILABILITY NOTES

  • Shamarko Thomas left practice due to the heat and is expected to be fine moving forward.
  • Menelik Watson had an MRI Thursday morning on his strained pectoral muscle that has kept him out of multiple practices. The team is awaiting the results.
  • Troy Fumagalli missed another practice Thursday. Joseph said, “he’s really sore.” This is the same soreness he had in the spring, and the team does not know his timeline.
  • Chris Harris Jr. is day-to-day with his strained oblique. He was held out of practice Thursday for a second-straight day for precautionary reasons. Joseph is optimistic he’ll be ready to play Saturday against the Bears.
  • Su’a Cravens, Shaq Barrett, Michael Hunter, Dymonte Thomas, J.J. Dielman and Sam Jones also did not practice on Thursday.

ADDITIONAL TIDBITS

  • Max Garcia has taken backup reps at center with Dielman and Jones out of practice. “The more you can do as a swing guard for us the better he’s going to be,” according to Joseph.
  • After practice, Joseph said Jeff Heuerman has looked “great” in his two practices back from practice. He had multiple catches from Keenum on Thursday. All were short.
  • “We’re going to play quite a bit,” Joseph said, explaining how long the starters will play in the second preseason game. “Not too much where we expose guys, but we’re going to play. We have to play. We played about six or seven snaps last week on offense and about 14 on defense. I’m looking at a quarter, quarter and a half with our ones and our twos will play until we see progress and we’ll play our threes late.”
  • “We’ll see” if Von Miller will play on Saturday, according to Joseph. “Last year he didn’t play until Week 3. I think he had four plays, one sack, one quarterback pressure; he did okay. So we’ll see.”
  • As mentioned above, Musgrave utilized a sizable amount of four-receiver sets. Along with Demaryius Thomas, Courtland Sutton and Sanders, the fourth receiver often included a running back, tight end or even Andy Janovich at times. DaeSean Hamilton also had his fair share of reps as the team’s fourth receiver.
  • Royce Freeman received his fair share of first-team reps on Thursday, kicking most of his opportunities to the outside. At times, it worked as he was able to create separation as he turned the corner. Other times, he was met by faster defenders who stopped him in his tracks.
  • Phillip Lindsay also showed separation at times on Thursday, cutting back a run designed for the left and finding an opening for a 10-yard gain.
  • Devontae Booker displayed nice vision on one run as he patiently waited for a hole to open, cut back and then made one final cut up the field for a first down. He had other runs, however, where he ran into the back of the offensive lineman for a minimal gain.

PLAY OF THE DAY

Look no further than the very first run play of the day on the offensive side of the ball.

No, it’s not play-of-the-day regular Courtland Sutton.

No, it’s not Keenum.

No, it’s not Sanders or Thomas.

It’s former first-round pick, Garett Bolles.

On a stretch play to Freeman on Bolles side, the second-year player hooked onto former Bronco Danny Trevathan and took him on a free ride, driving him all the way out of bounds and to the ground.

The play was reminiscent of the block Michael Oher had in the movie The Blind Side, although Bolles’ block was a bit less dramatic.

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