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Cecil blog: Players to watch at Champ Camp

Denver Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman: Players to Watch at Champ Camp

The Denver Broncos have kicked off training camp once again as they prepare for the 2016 season. With Super Bowl 50 in the rearview mirror, the team is solely focused on the task ahead. Training camp is a time when players come out of nowhere, fade into the background or solidify themselves as key contributors for this Super Bowl caliber team.

With “Champ Camp” underway, there are several storylines which are going to unfold for us over the course of the next few weeks. Tight end Jeff Heuerman is certainly a player for fans to watch when attending training camp at UC Health Training Center.

Flashes in College

Heuerman was a player who didn’t post eye-popping numbers in college at Ohio State. In fact, he really hasn’t ‘flashed’ on film since 2013. In his final season with the Buckeyes (2014), Heuerman finished with only 17 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t a big part of the passing game as the team focused more on their rushing attack and receiving weapons like wide receiver Devin Smith and Michael Thomas.

Heuerman faded into the background that season as the Buckeyes went on to win it all in the College Football Playoff. However, he must have done something for the Broncos to select him in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft.

Seen as the future of the Broncos at the tight end position, Heuerman didn’t see the field but for only a few days before injuring his knee. That injury was so severe that it knocked him out for all of the 2015 season. As the Broncos went on to win the Super Bowl, Heuerman was left to watch from the sidelines.

Various nagging injuries, including foot problems, held Heuerman back as a collegian. Now, his pro career has started off with a major injury that he has to fight back from.

Need at the Position

The tight end is a key position in the Gary Kubiak offense. The Broncos are going to have a balanced offense, but to the rest of the ‘pass-happy’ NFL they are going to look like a run-heavy system. While they want to run the ball as much as possible, when they do go through the air the tight end can be a heavily-targeted position.

After the first day of camp, Heuerman feels good about what’s ahead.

“I feel good. The biggest thing is putting the (work) to the field. It was a great day. I felt good out there and [Head Coach Gary] Kubiak said in team meeting we looked good coming back for the first practice, so it was good.”

The Broncos need to find a quality starting tight end, and Heuerman is going to get every opportunity he can to prove himself in training camp.

The Competition

Green was known—almost only—as a receiving tight end when he was in college at Nevada. He was the favorite target of Colin Kaepernick during their collegiate days with the Wolfpack, but in the pros Green hasn’t been relied on as a receiver much at all. To his credit, he has become a more well-rounded player after developing as a blocker but now it seems his ability as a receiver is ignored.Virgil Green had a career-high 12 catches last year, and he may be able to beat that number this year. A seventh-round pick in 2011, Green spent years on the team as primarily a blocker while former Broncos tight end Julius Thomas gathered in all the catches. With Thomas moving on in free agency last year, I felt it was time for Green to showcase his ability as a receiver. That didn’t happen, but does it happen this year?

The Broncos didn’t draft a tight end this year, but they did add a talented one as a college free agent. Henry Krieger-Coble had a good senior season at Iowa in 2015 as the team went undefeated he caught 35 passes for 405 yards and one touchdown. A multi-sport athlete in high school, Kreiger-Coble lined up at three different positions in college. He’s versatile, competitive and can line up as an in-line tight end or split out wide if needed.

So far in camp, Krieger-Coble shows off his athleticism daily but it looks like he needs to add some more weight to his frame. A year on the practice squad could do just that, and Krieger-Coble is an interesting developmental prospect for the Broncos.

Earlier this year in free agency, the Broncos went out and added veteran Garrett Graham. He knows the Kubiak system like the back of his hand as he was drafted by the Kubiak-led Houston Texans in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. After letting Owen Daniels go in free agency, it made a ton of sense to bring in a player like Graham. His comfort in the offense shows through each day in practice so far as he’s looking good as a receiver and blocker.

On Thursday, the Broncos added John Phillips from the free agent market. The big-bodied tight end has been in the league for several years after the Dallas Cowboys initially picked him up as a sixth-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft. He’s always reminded me of former Steelers tight end Heath Miller (although not as fast) because he can block and catch with ease. His ability on special teams gives him a leg up in the competition at tight end, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Phillips make the 53-man roster as the fourth tight end on the depth chart.

2016 Observations

Heuerman is one of the players I’m watching closely every day in training camp. In three days of work, he has not made my notebook for any plays of note—good or bad. This is something I was not expecting as Heuerman is getting plenty of work on the practice field.

The second-year tight end knows he has to show consistency each day in practice.

“The biggest thing is that it’s day one of training camp. Like [Head Coach Gary] Kubiak just said, you get through the first 30 minutes of practice and realize you have six months ahead of you. So being consistent for six months is what it’s all about.”

While he hasn’t burst onto the scene this year in practice, Heuerman knows the long road ahead of him.

“It’s football practice. You’ve done it before. It’s not your first time practicing. Like I said, it’s just about being consistent day in and day out for six months. That’s the goal.”

The pads come on Sunday, and we’ll see if Heuerman starts to have some ‘flash’ plays after that.

-Cecil

**Top Photo John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images