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Training Camp Takeaways: The future shines as the vets rest

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 8, 2018

Editor’s note: Welcome into one of many, many BSN Denver observation pieces to come this offseason. A fan favorite in the past, these stories will be posted after each and every training camp practice. Who is standing out, who is lagging behind and who is looking like the favorite in each of the position battles? Those questions and many more will be answered right here.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos did a little bit of time traveling on Wednesday, in multiple different ways.

With many notable alumni visiting for the day — the likes of Rod Smith, Daniel Graham and Ray Crockett, to name a few — head coach Vance Joseph gave a little preview of what this team could look like in the future.

To do that, he awarded a vet rest day to the notable stars on the team. In the absence of Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Darian Stewart, Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Derek Wolfe, Joseph liked what he saw.

“DIDN’T MISS A BEAT”

The future looked bright for the Broncos’ offense, even without the longest tenured receiving duo in the NFL on the field.

Instead of Sanders and Thomas lining up wide, the rookies, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, were the outside guys. In terms of the two C’s, chemistry and comfort, the rookies looked nothing like rookies playing alongside Case the entire day.

Hamilton connected with Keenum on multiple passes, including a 10-yard comeback near the right sideline where No. 17 created separation with the cornerback with a precise break and a veteran-like nudge.

“It wasn’t much drop off as far as knowing what to do, and that’s important. Those two guys are talented,” Joseph said after practice, talking about Sutton and Hamilton before giving the biggest compliment of the offseason to the two rookies. “If 88 and 10 go down, I think we’re in good shape there with 14 and 17.”

While Sutton looked the part, and knew the part, he had his most disappointing day of camp to date. Entering the day, Sutton was not only performing well for a rookie, he had been one of the best, if not the best, players on the entire team.

With no drops to his name before Wednesday, he racked up two as the team’s No. 1 receiver. The first drop happened when cornerback Bradley Roby swatted the ball out of Sutton’s hands as he attempted to bring it into his body after an initial bobble.

The second was almost out of a comedy script as a high, but catchable, rocket pass from Keenum not only flew threw through Sutton’s hands, but then went right to River Cracraft, also slipping through his hands.

Alongside the two rookies in the starting formation was Cracraft, a second-year receiver, lined up in his natural slot position.

Jokingly nicknamed “CrayCray” after practice by Keenum, No. 15 worked the field well and showed a solid connection with the starting quarterback, especially over the middle of the field, hauling in a low pass ten yards downfield.

“He’s playing well. He’s doing really well. I like throwing him the ball. He’s a friendly target,” Keenum said, not missing a beat with his compliments. “I think you like having a guy like that you can move inside, outside. He’s shifty. He’s got good separation at the top end of his routes, and he’s learning too, just like a lot of those young guys.”

With all of the compliments for the young players after practice, Joseph took a step back, reminding everyone none of this matters if it doesn’t translate to the games, “it’s a controlled environment, so we’ll see on Saturday with our young guys how they improve.”

After years of not even having a third receiver, it appears the Broncos have at least four, if not five. And potentially even six (read below).

THE TALL CONNECTION

Both Paxton Lynch and wide receiver Tim Patrick are tall. On Wednesday, they were both on the same wavelength, too.

The duo didn’t just connect on one, or two, or three passes, but they nearly filled out an entire hand with four completed passes on the day.

The first was a beautiful leaping grab 45 yards down the field in the front left corner of the end zone as Patrick extended up and over the defensive back to come down with the score.

The next was even prettier as Patrick made a one-handed grab down the right sideline for 20 yards with C.J. Smith smothering him. The pass was right on the money from Lynch and Patrick had no choice but to use one hand to catch the ball in stride as his other hand was caught up with Smith.

The pass and catch were so perfect, in fact, they were awarded the prestigious BSN Denver play of the day honors.

The next two weren’t as flashy, but were certainly nothing to overlook. With coverage draped all over him, Patrick made a clean catch on the left sideline on a comeback route after Lynch put the ball exactly where it needed to be.

The final catch was low in the middle of the field for 10 yards.

SHANE NOT SETTLING

With Von Miller getting the day off for a vet rest day, Shane Ray got his starting spot back for a day and took complete advantage of it.

Roughly 24 hours after finding out the No. 5-overall pick, Bradley Chubb, had jumped him on the depth chart for the starting outside backer spot, Ray had his hair on fire from the get-go.

On one of the first plays of the day, the former first-round pick blew up starting right tackle Jared Veldheer, which blew up Bill Musgrave’s designed run play to the right side. Ray had De’Angelo Henderson five yards behind the line of scrimmage before Veldheer even knew what happened.

Plays later, Ray threw left guard Ron Leary to the ground.

Later in practice, Ray and Adam Gotsis — who also had an impressive practice — pushed the right side of the offensive line so far back in the pocket so quickly, Keenum had to escape the pocket — something he rarely does — and take off to the left sideline before dumping the ball down.

Finally, in the final team period of the day, Ray had a run stop on 3rd-and-5 at the line of scrimmage.

RUNNING RECEIVERS

With little clarity coming from the running back room 10 practices into camp, some of the backs tried to create separation in another way.

Instead of getting it done on the ground, they turned to the air.

On Wednesday, Devontae Booker and David Williams were active catching passes from the quarterbacks, but no running back took advantage of the air more than Phillip Lindsay.

On the day, the undrafted rookie from Colorado hauled in five passes including two on a touchdown drive led by Chad Kelly. The touchdown was a screen pass to Lindsay in the flat, which he took in the end zone himself.

Four of Lindsay’s passes were out of the backfield, but on one he was actually lined up as a receiver. Kelly and Lindsay developed quite the connection on the day, while Lynch and Lindsay connected once.

INJURY AND AVAILABILITY NOTES

  • Todd Davis took a helmet to the sternum during practice and left for the remainder of the day. Joseph said, “He’s fine. More precautionary with Todd.”
  • Isaiah McKenzie is “fine” after leaving the field during practice holding his right arm. He returned to the practice field before the end of practice.
  • Joseph Jones has a sprained foot. His status for game day is still up in the air.
  • Tramaine Brock practiced for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury a week ago. However, he took off his pads midway though practice and watched the rest from the sideline.
  • Clinton McDonald did not practice but was on the sideline. Joseph said McDonald’s shoulder is being evaluated. It’s the same shoulder he had an infection in that held him out the entire offseason. McDonald said it’s not the same issue from before.
  • Troy Fumagalli (groin), Jeff Heuerman (knee), Joseph Jones (foot) and Su’a Cravens (knee) did not practice.
  • Menelik Watson missed practice with a sore pectoral muscle; the team is waiting on doctors approval for him to return to practice.

ADDITIONAL TIDBITS

  • Joseph said Heuerman doesn’t necessarily need to make it back to the practice field soon in order for him to make the team. Joseph called the notion that he needs to return to the field to make the team “extreme.”
    • “He’s a guy that we’re hoping can help us at tight end.”
  • In place of other vets that had a rest day on Wednesday, Isaac Yiadom and Will Parks played a significant role on the defense, stepping in for Harris Jr. and Stewart.
  • Austin Traylor received a heavy dose of first-team reps, contributing in the run game as well as being one of Keenum’s go-to targets on the day.
  • With Harris Jr. resting, Bradley Roby became the team’s No. 1 corner for the day and lived up to it. Along with the pass breakup on Sutton, Roby scooped up Case’s third interception of camp. After Shelby Harris tipped the ball at the line, Roby laid out to pick the ball off before it hit the ground.
  • After missing over a week of camp, receiver Philly Brown got a shot at returning kicks for the first time on Wednesday.
  • Although the team was only wearing shoulder pads, there were multiple different scuffles on the field. Jeff Holland and Leon Johnson got into it after Holland popped Johnson in the helmet. Brown and Marcus Rios got into a rushing match before Su’a Cravens broke the two up. Finally, a group scrum broke out between the two lines. None were serious brawls.
  • Once Davis left the field midway through practice, Josey Jewell stepped in for first-team reps, even calling the defensive plays.
  • Brandon McManus went a perfect 10-for-10 during the team period, including nailing a 57-yarder (after being iced) and a 61-yarder.

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