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Training Camp Takeaways: Change is in the air

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
August 14, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After a disappointing performance in their preseason opener, change was in the air at Denver Broncos headquarters on Monday afternoon.

The first change, the practice itself. A practice that wasn’t originally on the training camp schedule. The next change, the time of the session, an afternoon start after 11 morning starts to begin training camp. Next, some new faces; in wake of a season-ending injury to Jamal Carter, the team signed safety Shamarko Thomas. The team also signed linebacker A.J. Johnson and waived linebacker Stansley Maponga. The biggest change, though, was at backup quarterback, where Chad Kelly rightfully took the reins from Paxton Lynch.

With change as the obvious theme on the day, a related theme served as an underlying force throughout the practice.

No Bull

With Kelly taking Lynch’s job and Johnson taking Maponga’s job, the message felt clear, step up or step out. Monday’s practice held that feel for its entirety.

The coaching staff was not tolerating any funny business throughout, making the session the most business-like of any up to this point.

Various coaches got on their players throughout the day, reminding them that walking was unacceptable and so is repeating mistakes. What resulted was a practice with players who were locked in. Not much dancing or goofing off on the sidelines, just football.

What it told me was that Vance Joseph is not wasting any time this year. He’s admitted many times that he felt last year he let too much slide before stepping in and taking action, whether it was from coaches or players. After the team, especially the starters, laid an egg in their preseason opener, it felt like Joseph was on a mission to make it clear that mediocrity—or worse—will not be tolerated.

It was nice to see.

Run Royce Run

After having the best game of the running back group—at least from a running standpoint—on Saturday night, rookie back Royce Freeman followed it up with a strong practice on Monday afternoon.

Working with the first team in the second set of team drills, Freeman took a handoff, cut into the hole and burst through it with speed, finding open space all the way down to the goal line, where he likely could have broken another tackle to get into the end zone.

Later, in the same set of team drills, this time with the third team, Freeman busted another run for what was definitely a touchdown.

After practice, Joseph said the running back depth chart is still fluid, but “obviously Book and Royce are going to be our lead guys again this Saturday.”

As I see it, Freeman has a slight edge on Booker right now in the running department. If he can hold up in pass protection during the preseason, he has a really great chance to be the team’s starting back come Week 1.

The Great Jewell Jersey Mystery

Author’s note: This was really only a great mystery to me but I think I solved it so I’m sharing.

As mentioned above, the Broncos brought in two new players on Monday, Shamarko Thomas and A.J. Johnson. When Thomas came out to practice, though, he was interestingly wearing Josey Jewell’s No. 47 jersey.

If you didn’t know any better, you may have feared for a second that the corresponding move in the signing of Johnson, a linebacker, was the release of Jewell. Of course, that wasn’t the case as it was Stansley Maponga who got the chop, but No. 59 was still on the field. That, as we now know, was Josey Jewell.

My original theory was that Jewell had decided he wasn’t a big fan of No. 47, one of the few linebacker numbers that were available when he was drafted, so when 59 became available, he jumped on it.

That was all flipped on its head, though, when Josey was walking off of the field and I asked him, “Didn’t like 47?”

“I loved 47!” He said as he slipped inside the door, not giving me time for a follow-up.

Naturally, I got out my magnifying glass and pipe. Here’s what I found.

In the NFL, safeties are only allowed to wear jerseys between the numbers 20 and 49. So, with Jamal Carter going to IR, and his No. 20 is not available because he will still technically be on the team, that left no “legal” numbers available for Thomas to wear in his range. But with Maponga being released, a new linebacker number was available. So by moving Jewell to 59, the 47 jersey could be given to Thomas.

There’s just one catch—there actually was a safety-eligible number available when Thomas walked into the building that wouldn’t have required anybody to change numbers.

No. 24—a number that hasn’t been worn since 2013, when Broncos great and future hall-of-famer Champ Bailey last donned it.

Yes, in order to (rightfully) preserve No. 24, the Broncos did some shuffling.

This actually goes all the way back to when Bradley Roby was drafted in 2014. At the time, he told the Denver Post that he saw No. 24 was available and asked John Elway, but Elway told him “I’ll have to think about that.”

“Now that I have been here, met Champ, gone to his retirement ceremony and seen first-hand how much he meant to this organization, I would never wear it,” Roby continued in the Q&A. “I knew he was great. I just wanted a number other than 29. What Champ did here, nobody will ever match. His number will be retired here.”

The Broncos say there are no official plans for 24 to be retired, nor is the obvious aversion to handing the number out a direct indication of a future retirement of the number. For now, it’s a nice show of respect for Champ for the team to let his number breathe for a good while.

If the team were to retire his number, though, next season—Champ’s first year of Hall-of-Fame eligibility—would be a mighty fine time.

As for Thomas, it seems to be a good sign that the team wanted him to have a number he can keep if he were to make the 53-man roster. They could have given him a number like 67 or 78 until he proved his worth.

Other notes

  • After struggling in the game on Saturday, Case Keenum looked like he was back in the saddle on Monday.
    • Keenum had multiple nice connections with Emmanuel Sanders, something that has been a constant at camp but was absent on Saturday.
  • Courtland Sutton had a nice practice after a quiet preseason opener. Chad Kelly relished his new opportunity to throw to No. 14, targeting him four times (all completions) in his first six attempts as the second-string QB.
  • Emmanuel Sanders and Bradley Roby got in each other’s faces after Roby made a fairly demonstrative attempt to strip the ball from Sanders.
  • Phillip Lindsay once again saw multiple reps with the first team.
  • Both River Cracraft and Tim Patrick had nice practices, each hauling in a touchdown at one point.
  • At the end of practice, the first-team offense had a nice “game-winning” drive.
    • Given the ball at their own 35 with 1:30 to go, down by one point, Keenum led the offense into scoring position—featuring a nice throw and catch on third down between he and Courtland Sutton—and kicker Brandon McManus converted a 50-yard “game-winning” field goal as time expired.

Injury and Availability Notes

  • For the first time in a couple of weeks, Jeff Heuerman (knee) was a full participant in practice.
  • As mentioned above, Jamal Carter has been placed on IR with a torn hamstring.
  • Fellow safety Dymonte Thomas is expected to miss “a week or two” with an injury suffered in Saturday’s game.
  • Su’a Cravens (knee) is expected to return to practice this week.
  • Ron Leary is expected to be back at practice tomorrow.
  • Tight end Austin Traylor missed practice on Monday with an injury suffered in Saturday’s game.
  • Tramaine Brock was a full participant at practice.

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