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What we learned at Broncos camp today: Two young defensive players continue to turn heads in week two of training camp

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 5, 2022

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Following the longest practice of camp on Thursday, Nathaniel Hackett dialed Friday’s practice way back to set up another intense practice to end the week on Saturday.

Despite the jog-through, we still learned a few tidbits from the Broncos’ ninth practice of camp.

Who won the day: Defensive depth

After getting their feet under them them in the first week of camp, Baron Browning and Damarri Mathis have dominated the second week of training camp up to this point.

Watching Browning turn backup offensive lineman into turnstiles early in the week makes it easy to forget he didn’t play outside linebacker last year. As a rookie in 2021, the third-round pick out of Ohio State played insider backer. And played the position really well in the second half of the season.

But when Hackett and Ejiro Evero came to town in the offseason, they decided to take a gamble and move the 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker to the outside.

“In this league, it’s about getting to the quarterback first and foremost. You can never have too many rushers. We wanted to see what it looked like when he was down there,” Hackett said on Monday, reexplaining the decision to move Browning to OLB in the offseason. “Let’s give it a shot and see what happens.”

So far, so great.

After posting multiple sacks early in the week with the second-team defense, Browning was given significantly more snaps with the first-team as the week went on. Playing across from Bradley Chubb, with Randy Gregory sidelined, Browning’s looked like a natural pass rusher.

“Watching him play that position has been definitely even better than we even thought,” Hackett said on Monday. “We kind of had a feel he would be good there—his ability to bend, his ability to anchor, being able to shut that edge off… He had a couple of moves early, when we first got pads on, some up and unders that were just unbelievable.”

The buzz coming from the building is all about Browning’s “special,” as one source put it, bend.

Browning has an opportunity to solidify himself as Denver’s starting outside linebacker opposite Chubb for as long as Gregory remains sidelined.

“We had to transition him from being off cover and learning those techniques and he’s picked those up pretty well,” Hackett added on Friday.

During Tuesday’s practice, No. 27 was draped all over receivers, including a diving pass break up. On the very next padded practice, on Thursday, Mathis came up with a diving interception.

“He made an awesome interception yesterday cutting across the field,” Hackett explained. “It wasn’t just the technique, but just that extra effort to continually trust himself and run underneath the ball. So that was great to see.”

Mathis has impressed so much, in fact, that he’s beginning to get playing time with the first-team defense with K’Waun Williams sidelined with an injury.

“He’s just picking it up. It’s a little different for him just because of how he’s played in the past, but he’s picking it up real well,” the head coach added about the 5-foot-11, 195-pound corner.

Injuries

  • Randy Gregory, Billy Turner and K.J. Hamler are all on the “right track,” according to Hackett. “We want those guys Week 1. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
  • Hackett is hoping to get K’Waun Williams back “sooner than later,” but was noncommittal on a timeframe for the veteran slot corner’s return. Williams exited Saturday’s practice with a knee injury. “He’s such a valuable person for us going against him and the things he’s done,” Hackett added. “We’re just going to work him back in the right way and just continually rehab him and make sure he’s good. But we’re hoping sooner than later.”
  • P.J. Locke practiced on Friday after going down on the last play of Thursday’s practice.
  • Christopher Allen returned to practice after having a rest day.

Existing injuries

  • D.J. Jones, Caden Sterns and Kendall Hinton did not practice.
  • Tyrie Cleveland doesn’t have a timetable to return after being hit in the throat during Monday’s practice.
  • Randy Gregory, Billy Turner and Tom Compton on the PUP.
  • Both Tim Patrick and Damarea Crockett have been placed on the injured reserve after tearing their ACLs.

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