ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — We’re less than one week from preseason Broncos football, and head coach Sean Payton will be putting his starters on the field.
“I haven’t shelled it out yet, but they’re going to play,” Payton said after Saturday’s practice. “We’ll figure out how many snaps. We typically break a game into three phases—first, second, third phase. And then special teams, we might just do two phases, but we’ll have a plan, especially as we get into next week. I’ve got a few notes written down. I don’t have a pitch count. I don’t have an exclusion list— if someone’s got a light injury that we back off—but we can expect our guys to play a little bit.”
Payton confirmed that Russell Wilson is slated to play Friday night, when the Broncos take on the Cardinals in Arizona.
The Broncos have an off day on Sunday, their second of camp, before returning to the field for a media-only practice on Monday. Since fans aren’t allowed, media isn’t allowed to report what happens on the field, so the next camp notes from DNVR won’t come until Tuesday.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday will be Broncos practice, Thursday will be Cardinals emphasis,” Payton said. “We’ll travel Thursday night, walk through Friday, then play Friday night and come home. In the regular season, the whole week would be obviously devoted to the game. In the preseason, you’re still putting in stuff.”
Here’s what went down on Saturday…
- OLB Frank Clark wasn’t at practice on Saturday. He was late to Friday’s practice and missed two practices earlier in the week. Sean Payton said there was nothing to report and expects him back on Monday.
- OLB Randy Gregory worked on the side field. Payton said Gregory “tweaked his ankle” when he intercepted a pass in Friday’s practice.
- DL DJ Jones worked on the side field for a third consecutive practice.
- S Justin Simmons and CB Pat Surtain II got breathers during team drills, but looked on from the sideline.
Russell leads a game-winning drive
For the first time this training camp, Russell Wilson looked like a superstar quarterback on Saturday.
In the final two-minute drill of the day, Wilson’s offense got the ball at their own 41-yard line with 51 seconds on the clock and two timeouts. They faced a six-point deficit, so they needed a touchdown.
Brandon Johnson ran a hitch on the right sideline in front of Damarri Mathis, and picked up eight yards but didn’t get out of bounds. On second down, Jaleel McLaughlin ran an out route from the backfield with Alex Singleton in coverage. He had a half step of separation, but Wilson led his back too far. Singleton would have made the tackle for a short gain and the Broncos would have been forced to use a timeout, so he may have missed the throw intentionally.
On 3rd & 2, Wilson hit Marquez Callaway on an out route in front of Caden Sterns for a four-yard gain. Timeout.
Now the offense was at the plus 47-yard line with 24 seconds and one timeout remaining. Jerry Jeudy aligned on the right boundary across from Mathis and beat the cornerback up the sideline. Wilson threw the deep ball and hit Jeudy over his shoulder halfway through the end zone and Jeudy held onto the ball as he went to the ground for a touchdown with 12 seconds on the clocl. Touchdown. Wilson probably could have put one more step of air under the ball, but that’s nit-picking, since the play was the best of camp for the Broncos’ offense.
The Broncos’ defense was without five starters; DJ Jones, Randy Gregory, Frank Clark, Justin Simmons and Pat Surtain. Jones, Gregory and Clark didn’t participate in practice meaningfully. Simmons and Surtain rested during the drill.
Regardless, Jeudy lined up against Mathis in single coverage, and that could happen even if the starting secondary was on the field. Maybe the edge rushers would have provided pressure, but that’s just speculation.
With Surtain and Simmons on the field, the Broncos have the best deep ball defense in the league for my money. If you want to devalue today’s touchdown because they were off the field, that’s fine. But you better have been giving Wilson a bump when he was going up against the Broncos’ stacked secondary for nine consecutive practices.
The first two-minute drill is ugly
While the second and final two-minute drill was a stellar showing, the first one was not.
The Broncos’ starters took the field with 1:53 on the clock, facing a three-point deficit. They got the ball on their own 25-yard line with two timeouts.
The first play was a holding call on Lloyd Cushenberry. The second play was a false start by Garett Bolles. The sequence was eerily reminiscent of the first two-minute drill of camp, when Mike McGlinchey and Greg Dulcich both false started before the Broncos got a snap off on Friday.
After laying into the offenders on Friday, Sean Payton wasn’t as explicit on Saturday.
“Again, we had penalty, penalty,” Payton said. “We’re working through some of that. I’ve said this repeatedly—there are ebbs and flows to some of these drills.”
All of a sudden, the Broncos stared down a 1st & 25. Wilson thought tight end Adam Trautman was going to continue his drag route, but he stopped in the middle of the field. The miscommunication turned a likely gain of three or four yards into an incompletion.
On 2nd & 25, Wilson stepped up in the pocket and completed a short pass across the middle.
On 3rd & 18, Marquez Callaway beat Ja’Quan McMillian on a deep out route, and Wilson delivered a perfect ball two yards past the sticks, but the referees decided Callaway didn’t get both feet down in bounds, which ended the drive.
The Smash Brothers make plays
We had our first Smash Brothers sequence of camp on Saturday.
During the first round of team drills, Josey Jewell blitzed up the middle. Russell Wilson lobbed a high ball to Greg Dulcich in the flat for a one-yard gain, but in a game situation Jewell would have drilled Wilson. Wilson might not have even gotten the pass off, so crediting Jewell with the sack might be fair.
On the very next play, Singleton blitzed. Garett Bolles and Samaje Perine double-teamed Nik Bonitto on the edge, opening up a massive lane. Under typical pass protection rules, Perine would have been responsible for Singleton, so he was probably at fault. Singleton ran untouched to Wilson for an easy sack. Since Singleton wasn’t allowed to tackle the quarterback, Wilson had time to hit Albert Okwuegbunam in the flat with Jewell in coverage. Jewell threw a peanut punch and knocked the ball out for a fumble a few yards downfield.
Both players have flashed often during camp, but this was the most dominant stretch from the Broncos’ inside linebackers so far.
And a new Smash Brother could be on the way…
Drew Sanders hasn’t produced consistently during camp, but every couple of days he makes an eye-grabbing play. On Saturday he clotheslined Michael Bandy on a jet sweep. It wasn’t textbook by any means, but Sanders had the size and strength to knock Bandy to the ground with one arm. He’s a physical freak.
Offensive line vs. defensive line
The Broncos held one-on-ones between their linemen for the third time in training camp, but they also held a separate session that mixed two-on-twos and three-on-twos, providing work with stunts.
As always, this section can be a little dense.
Here’s what went down…
- Jonathon Cooper turned the corner on Mike McGlinchey, but would’ve needed significant interior pressure for the quarterback to be pushed deep enough for him to have an angle for a sack. McGlinchey manhandled Marcus Haynes, who won a rep against reserves later in practice.
- Quinn Meinerz stuffed Jonathan Harris, who beat him on both reps on Friday. He and McGlinchey won their duo rep later in practice.
- Lloyd Cushenberry stuffed Tyler Lancaster and PJ Mustipher on separate reps. He and Ben Powers beat Lancaster and Forrest Merrill later on. Merrill had an otherwise great first practice with the Broncos.
- Garett Bolles manhandled Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper. In duo reps, Bolles and Ben Powers split their matchups against Bonitto and Zach Allen. The duo opened a big hole for Javonte Williams on the first rep of team drills. Powers also blew up Chris Allen to open a running lane in team drills.
- Jordan Jackson pushed Quinn Bailey into the backfield. He beat Kyle Fuller with a spin move later in the drills. Jackson also had a sack of Jarrett Stidham in two-minute drills, capping a great outing.
- Elijah Garcia beat Kyle Fuller up the middle. Fuller was also called for holding Thomas Incoom later on. During team drills, Fuller missed Ray Wilborn on a blitz.
- Cam Fleming stopped Thomas Incoom and pancaked Chris Allen.
- Alex Palczewski and Will Sherman handled a stunt from Marcus Haynes and Haggai Ndubuisi perfectly. They couldn’t handle Jordan Jackson and Jonathon Cooper, though.
- By my count, Henry Byrd won every rep he participated in, which includes pancaking Zach Allen on a solo block.
Wide receivers vs. cornerbacks
I’ll be honest… most of my attention was on the trenches. But I peeked at the receivers as much as I could, and here’s what I caught.
- Courtland Sutton caught a comeback against Damarri Mathis. Mathis had a diving rejection downfield against Jerry Jeudy. Sutton beat Surtain on an out route, but dropped the ball and was called for pushing off.
- Michael Bandy stopped in front of Art Green for a catch. Nick Williams caught a slant after a sharp release against Green.
- Delonte Hood had a deep pass breakup against Marvin Mims.
- Tremon Smith had a good cover against Marquez Callaway down the sideline and Callaway couldn’t jump over Smith for the catch.
- Fabian Moreau locked up Lil’Jordan Humphrey down the sideline in one-on-ones, and then knocked the ball away from him on a goal-line fade during team drills.
- Isaiah Prince has strung together a couple of good practices. He pancaked Marcus Haynes on Saturday. Prince is in play for the third tackle job.
- Elliott Fry kicked all of the field goals, despite Brett Maher being in attendance. Fry hit from 36, 38, 40, 43, 48, 50 and 55 yards, but missed from 53 yards during a field goal drill. He also hit a 42-yarder at the end of a two-minute drill.
- Jerry Jeudy picked up a big gain on a jet sweep because K’Waun Williams and Kareem Jackson collided just outside the tackle box and both went to the ground.
- Delonte Hood undercut an out route to Lil’Jordan Humphrey during team drills but the ball bounced off his hands.
- Zach Allen batted a Russell Wilson pass at the line of scrimmage.
- Jonathon Cooper beat Mike McGlinchey for a sack of Wilson in team drills.
- Wilson hit Semaje Perine in the flat off of play-action to convert a two-point conversion attempt. Ben DiNucci hit Tony Jones Jr. to convert another attempt. Jones caught three short passes from Jarrett Stidham in a two-minute drill.
- Thomas Incoom sacked Jarrett Stidham in a two-minute drill. Incoom beat Demontrey Jacobs, who also was called for holding earlier in team drills.