BRONCOS

Broncos poised for joint-practice camp work with the Dallas Cowboys

May 18, 2022, 11:25 AM | Updated: May 19, 2022, 11:44 pm
Melvin Gordon...
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Maybe it’s not a test, but the first quiz of the Nathaniel Hackett era will come against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Broncos hosting the Cowboys for at least one joint practice at training camp this summer. The Broncos announced Wednesday afternoon that the teams would hold a joint practice at UCHealth Training Center on Aug. 11 — two days before they meet in the preseason opener at Empower Field at Mile High.

USA Today‘s Jori Epstein first reported the news Wednesday morning:

This is expected to be the Broncos’ only joint-practice work of the preseason. They have preseason games at Buffalo on Aug. 20 and at home against Minnesota on Aug. 27.

Joint practices have become routine for the Broncos. This will mark the seventh time in the last eight seasons that Denver has taken part in joint sessions during training camp. The only exception was in the pandemic-altered 2020 season.

Prior to 2014, such work happened infrequently over the years.  In 1996, the Broncos hosted the Carolina Panthers for two days of work in Greeley; they were one of a few teams who visited over the years the Broncos trained at the University of Northern Colorado. Denver had two years of joint sessions with the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium and its surrounding fields in 2003 and 2005. Those are best remembered for the dreadful conditions; outdoor practices took place in temperatures approaching 100 degrees with searing humidity. (In 2003, then-Broncos safety Lee Flowers was unable to practice one day because he became nauseous due to the conditions.)

“You just sweat a lot,” Jake Plummer said after one of the 2005 joint practices in Houston.

The Broncos followed that with back-to-back years of work with the Dallas Cowboys: 2007 in Irving, Texas and 2008 at Broncos headquarters. The ’08 practices were featured on that year’s edition of “Hard Knocks,” which spotlighted the Cowboys.

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LOOKING BACK AT RECENT JOINT PRACTICES

One storyline that recurs is how often joint practices serve as a harbinger of what is to come — particularly in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

2014: Denver hosted the Texans for two joint sessions. Coming off of a 2-14 season, Houston came to Dove Valley with a chip on its collective shoulder and a desire to prove something against the then-defending AFC champions. The sessions were contentious:

The work was capped by Peyton Manning drawing an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in the preseason game between the clubs. Officials assessed the flag after Manning taunted then-Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. Manning was justified; his infraction came after Swearinger gave Wes Welker a shot to the head with his shoulder.

2015: The Broncos began their run to Super Bowl 50 with two days of practices against the San Francisco 49ers at UCHealth Training Center. Fans could not observe the sessions, as they took place after the close of training camp. The work was defined by the arrival of guard Evan Mathis, a free-agent pickup who signed with the team that week and became one of the final pieces of the Broncos’ title-winning lineup.

2016: Denver hosted the 49ers for two days at UCHealth Training Center. In a hint of the season to come, the Broncos’ offense was clunky, but their defense dominated:

2017: Returning the favor, the Broncos trekked to Santa Clara, Calif. for two days of work with the 49ers. Trevor Siemian sealed his win in the QB competition with Paxton Lynch — although Lynch did have arguably his greatest day of practice:

Four days and a lousy preseason performance for Lynch later …

(Narrator’s voice: “Lynch was never ready.”)

A practice-field DJ set the groove for the work:

2018: The Broncos hosted the Chicago Bears, working under the direction of then-first-year head coach Matt Nagy. Case Keenum continued his almost-mistake-free training camp — a fat lot of good that did. Professionalism and calm defined the series. “It’s the first joint practice I’ve been a part of and there wasn’t a brawl,” guard Ron Leary said after the initial joint practice.

The Broncos struggle decovering Bears tight ends in the practices, leading to Trey Burton shredding the defense for four catches — including a touchdown — early in the preseason game that weekend. Denver’s 2018 defense never figured this out, and the season began its plummet nearly four months later when San Francisco’s George Kittle ransacks the Broncos for 210 yards on seven catches — including an 85-yard touchdown catch-and-run on which he is wide-open by several yards — in just one half.

2019: Vic Fangio’s first training camp as Broncos head coach ended with a pair of sessions against the 49ers, who eventually won their seventh NFC championship at the end of that season. The difference in outlook and energy between the teams was apparent, especially on the first day of practice, when Denver’s offense struggled to generate anything against the 49ers’ defense. “We let them kind of set the tone,” quarterback Joe Flacco said.

2021: Denver’s first road joint practice in four years came against the Minnesota Vikings in the return to George Paton’s old stomping grounds.

The story was the “50-50” quarterback battle between ex-Vikings first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. Those practices were the only preseason snaps each passer had against an opposing first-team defense. Lock was intercepted in a move-the-ball opportunity one day while Bridgewater threw multiple interceptions in red-zone work the next day, dampening hopes that either could be the Broncos’ long-term answer at QB.

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