ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Thursday was for heat lovers.
Not only was the sun beating down in the 90-degree heat, but Russell Wilson was heating it up on the field.
Here’s what went down during the Denver Broncos’ eighth practice of training camp.
Who won the day: Offense
For the first time in training camp, Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense easily stole the show.
After a shaky start, highlighted by three sacks in the first two team periods, the offense got rolling once they moved into the red zone.
Wilson picked up steam as he found Montrell Washington open on the right side of the field coming off a play-action boot. Russ hit the rookie who was able to beat Jonas Griffith into the end zone for six.
The offense again found the end zone two periods later when Russ once again had success moving to his right. As Wilson sprinted to the right sideline, Greg Dulcich found an open spot in the defense, which allowed Russ to throw across his body and hit the rookie tight end for a score.
“He caught a touchdown on the right, which was great because the play Russell made was awesome,” Hackett said after practice. “It was just a great feel for [Dulcich]… He was covered and kind of ran to get open and found a sweet spot.”
The next period, Wilson connected on four-straight passes, including a 35-yard completion to Courtland Sutton as he found separation on a deep-over route from P.J. Locke.
Up to that point, Wilson was having his best practice of camp. Then Russ took it to a new level.
Starting from their own 20, the offense was down 14-10 with 1:48 left on the clock. They had to get a touchdown. An offsides and 17-yard completion to Albert Okwuegbunam quickly moved the offense near midfield with plenty of time remaining.
Then, Wilson overthrew Sutton on a quick out route. The impressive day nearly vanished for Wilson when a pass went right through Jonas Griffith’s hands, which would have clinched the period for the defense. But Griffith’s buttery hands gave Wilson another shot.
On 3rd-and-long, Russ connected with Jerry Jeudy on a short slant.
That put the offense in a tricky 4th-and-4 from midfield.
Instead of trying to just get to the first-down market, Wilson went for it all.
As Wilson dropped back, he manipulated the pocket to buy time and tossed up a 35-yard pass down the left sideline. With Ronald Darby all over Sutton, the 6-foot-4 receiver went up and over No. 23, securing the ball with both hands before coming to the ground.
Complete. First down in the red zone.
But that was not how the offense had drawn it up.
“That was kind of funny. That was pretty cool. We had something that we wanted to get to there, a little miscommunication, which actually turned into a different play that we really didn’t know what was going to happen, but that’s sometime how great plays happen,” Hackett said happily baffled after practice, talking about the big-time play. “Courtland ran a beautiful route. Love how he flattened it. Russ did a great job. We had great protection up front, he stepped to the left and got explosive.”
With the ball in the red zone, Russ wasted no time ending the game.
On 1st-and-10 from the 18, Russ dropped back and hit Trey Quinn on a deep slant for the game-winning touchdown. That was the first time the Broncos have done a move-the-ball period in a game-winning situation.
“It was really great. It was great working with Russ through that one and watching him,” the head coach said, discussing the impressive touchdown drive. “He called that last play, which was absolutely fantastic and hit it for the touchdown. It’s just one of those things. You just want to see progressions. You always want to see guys getting better slowly but surely, but that was good. We’ve got a long way to go, but that was really nice to see.”
While the touchdown drive was no-doubt impressive, it was what happened behind the scenes that showed why No. 3 is a special quarterback.
In crunch time, it was Wilson, not Hackett, deciding the final plays.
“I’m always kind of in his ear, but it’s his choice, whatever he’s feeling,” Hackett said on who calls the plays in those situations. “I try to plant some seeds in his mind, some plays that we have collaborated on with a list of things we want to accomplish and plays we want to run, especially in the situation having to get down the field in large chunks. I give him those, we talk about them and he runs with them.”
On Thursday, Russ dialed up all the right plays—even fighting through miscommunications—to run his team down the field for their first decisive win of training camp.
Play of the day
Russ to Sutton easily could have been the play of the day, but they already got their shine. That was the predictable answer.
Instead, the play of the day goes to potentially the least predictable player on the roster: Darrius Shepherd.
During Wednesday’s practice, Shepherd was a member of the New York Generals of the USFL. On Thursday morning, he signed with the Broncos. Hours later, he caught a 60-yard bomb from Josh Johnson for a touchdown.
“It’s actually an option for the wide receiver to stop or go. And my man ‘Schep’ decided he was going. He wasn’t thinking about nothing else,” Hackett said, describing the touchdown pass. “What was awesome was the timing of the quarterback. I believe you guys have seen that a couple of—at least one other time. I think we had Courtland on one that PS2 broke up. So to be able to get that one—it was perfect rhythm by the quarterback, great protection and there was no indecision. He took it to the house.”
The newest member of the Broncos burned by the second-team defense as he tore down the field, hauling in a perfect pass from Johnson on his was into the end zone.
“It was pretty funny. That was his first play and everybody was mad, ‘He’s got to do more dirty work before he gets those,'” Hackett said.
Not a bad first day in the office for Shepherd.
Greg Dulcich — Not only is the rookie tight end getting first-team reps in team periods, he’s catching touchdowns from Wilson. He’s gone from a limited participant to the end zone in just the second week of camp.
Baron Browning — No. 56 was working across from No. 55 with the first-team defense for much of Thursday’s practice. With Randy Gregory sidelined, Browning has a legitimate shot at starting at outside linebacker for Denver.
DeShawn Williams — The defensive lineman had not one, but two sacks on the first two pass plays of practice.
- Kareem Jackson did not practice with a rest day, or as Hackett jokingly said, “I could just say old.”
- Caden Sterns did not practice for the first time in camp because the team “just wanted to take care of some things.” Sterns had an injection in his hip. The team hopes the backup safety returns for Saturday’s practice.
- Kendall Hinton did not practice for a second-straight day with a knee injury.
- D.J. Jones missed his third-straight practice. He missed Tuesday and Wednesday as the team let him do maintenance on his back. Hackett said on Thursday the team wanted to rest the defensive lineman, but added “hopefully we have some exciting, amazing news for that coming in the next day or so.”
- Christopher Allen did not practice as the team wanted to rest him as he’s returning from an injury he suffered last year in college.
- Tyrie Cleveland had a cartilage injury that Hackett has never heard of before. Hackett said “Everything is fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll be back.”
- Both Tim Patrick and Damarea Crockett tore their ACL in Tuesday’s practice and are expected to miss the season.
- Randy Gregory, Billy Turner and Tom Compton on the PUP.