TRAINING CAMP 2022

Ask Mase: What’s different about Broncos training camp?

Jul 31, 2022, 11:10 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2022, 8:38 pm
Broncos training-camp crowd...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

And on the fifth day, the Broncos rested … and I unpacked boxes and got my home office and remote-broadcast backdrop (mostly) set up. You’ll see it soon in our shows here at DenverFan.com.

But for now, let’s plunge into the mailbag like Scrooge McDuck diving into a room of gold pieces …

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First, there’s the absence of seven-on-seven work, about which I wrote in Saturday’s report. This also means no nine-on-seven periods — which have been rare in recent years, anyhow — and, to date, no one-on-one work. Usually, seven-on-seven periods offer the chance for offensive linemen to work against edge rushers and defensive linemen. But Nathaniel Hackett and his staff want to maximize team reps and focus on the players working together as a unit.

Second, training camp looks, feels and sounds different — and it’s not just because of Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett’s enthusiasm. Nor is it because the pace at which plays happen is quicker. It’s because the hills of UCHealth Training Center are alive with the sound of music.

I don’t know every song, but that doesn’t matter. After the tepid experience of the last three training camps, any sound is an improvement. And for the ones that ring familiar, I find myself bobbing my head. In my mind, I rapped along to “The Real Slim Shady” as it echoed around the practice fields.

That is, except when Dwayne Stukes is at work.

Denver’s new special-teams coordinator and protege of former Broncos assistant Joe DeCamillis wants the sound down during special-teams periods.

“[Hackett] said, ‘Would you want music during the special-teams period?’ I prefer not to because I want to hear our guys communicate,” Stukes said Saturday when I asked him about it.

“Obviously, the stadium is going to be loud and things of that sort, but implementing a new system, having new guys communicating different things so they don’t go back to the past, I would prefer not to have music at this point. It could change maybe next year.

“But right now, the focus should be football. They can jam out and dance when defense is going against offense. When we’re playing special teams, because we have limited reps, we need to lock in and get our work done.”

It says a lot about Hackett that he let Stukes determine the environment in which he wanted to coach his unit. Hackett enthusiastically embraced the idea of music at practice when the subject arose at his first press conference in January.

But what is interesting about Stukes’ response is how similar his sentiments are to Vic Fangio, who said this in 2019:

“Anybody’s who’s been a position coach or an assistant coach — they don’t like the music because it makes it hard to talk to your guys, so I don’t see the benefit of having music out there. I was an assistant coach and I don’t want to have to drum out the noise to talk to my players.”

A moment later, Fangio said it “made no sense” to have music drown out his communication with players.

So, for both Stukes and Fangio, it’s all about communication.

Having become re-accustomed to music at practice, the quiet is jarring. But for Stukes to work, onlookers — and players, too — must make like Depeche Mode and enjoy the silence.

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From Bob Levine in Denver:

Are the players and coaches not only working on a new and better playbook, but starting on remembering clock management and how important it is throughout camp, exhibition and regular season? Are new ownership group and management actually working on Russell Wilson’s extension right now? Is there a reason the Broncos are not drafting a middle linebacker as it been a need for some time?

Thoughtful questions, and I’ll answer one-by-one:

1. Clock management will come into play if and when the Broncos work on specific game-condition situations beyond the broad red-zone and third-down simulations. They haven’t gotten there yet. Everything they did in the first four days of practice was actually a refresher of a day of OTA work. This is so the players can have firm command of the core offensive and defensive concepts. Game management is a priority, and the Broncos MUST do better at this than in the Joseph and Fangio eras. But it’s something that likely lurks in the work to come over the next month.

2. The new ownership group can’t formally jump into matters such as Wilson’s contract until the purchase is complete. So, with approval from owners expected on Aug. 9 and the sale finalized shortly after that. But that being said, it takes two sides to make a deal. Not only must ownership put forth an offer, but Wilson must be ready to take it. And if Wilson bet on himself this year to potentially increase his value, one wouldn’t be surprised.

3. A key reason why the Broncos haven’t drafted an inside linebacker is positional value. Off-ball linebackers aren’t among the core-four positions around which most teams try to build their foundations in the 2020s NFL. Part of that is due to the increased prevalence of nickel and dime sub packages. Effectively, the nickel is the base defense in terms of percentage of snaps, and an inside linebacker comes off the field quite often on those plays. Further, the Broncos have excelled at finding inside linebackers in late rounds and off of the waiver wire — including Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis. Josey Jewell earned a second contract as a fourth-round pick. Why would the Broncos use a high pick on an inside linebacker when their scouting staff has proven masterful at finding quality players via other means?

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From Carsonic in Orlando, Fla:

New terminology suggestion. YAC means Yards After Catch, right? But what about Yards After Contact — also a significant stat. I think it’s time to disambiguate them and start talking about YACa and YACo (not to be confused with a certain Animaniac). Agree or disagree?

Completely agree, but perhaps there is a way to better differentiate than having the lower-case letters on the end of the abbreviation. The problem with referring to “catch” as “reception” is because then it becomes “YAR” … and that can be confused as short-hand for “yards” or “yardage.”

Hmmm … any suggestions are welcome. But, yes, there must be some form of differentiation.

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From Fernando in Copper Mountain:

Hey Mase,

Longtime fan, you’re my favorite Broncos reporter. Also a Brett Rypien fan (for the backup role). Just wondering, how has Ryp looked so far compared to Josh Johnson in the backup competition? I keep reading about plus plays made by Rypien while not hearing much about JJ. Any insight? What’s your take so far? Thanks!

First, thank you for the kind words. The use of Johnson and Rypien has been interesting. Johnson is typically up second behind Wilson, and he usually ends up with more snaps over the course of practice. Johnson generally makes good decisions, and he looks solid. But he also has more snaps against the No. 2 defense. That unit has some difference-making talent, particularly edge rushers Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto. Safeties P.J. Locke and Caden Sterns also help provide a sturdy challenge for the No. 2 offense. Rypien more often faces the third-team defense, and the results are what you expect for someone in his fourth camp. He knows the drill.

The joint practice against the Cowboys and three preseason games are likely to tell the tale for Rypien and Johnson — especially if the starters play little in the preseason games.

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Wide receiver is deep, but running back is stacked. One can argue that Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon are the best non-QB skill-position players on the roster. Williams is probably a top-10 back right now, and Gordon would be the best RB in the room for half of the teams in the league, in my opinion. The Broncos lucked out that Gordon lingered on the market because of the bias against aging backs. As an eight-year veteran, Gordon is, by current value of running backs, as old as the hills. But he looks young and spry, and two of his three best per-carry seasons were in the last two campaigns.

So, if the goal is to get the best players on the field and use them the most, could that mean more running — especially early — than most expect? Do not be surprised if this is the case.

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17-0. (But only because the Broncos will be closer to that than 0-17, so, yes, they’ll have a winning record. But seriously, I’m sticking with 11-6.)

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From Jeff in Lindsborg, Kan.:

Mase – Remember folks in Kansas can read …” I’d still much rather drive through Nebraska than Kansas” …

Kansas is a stronghold of Broncos fans who make their home in this beautiful red state – rooting for the orange and blue. Salina’s 1150 KSAL Radio is quite possibly the farthest eastern Broncos radio affiliate in Broncos Country.

Be kind – rewind – Go Broncos!

I was wondering if anyone would object to my driving preference of the Cornhusker State to the Sunflower State!

But as for the drive, well … western Kansas via Interstate 70 is a tough stretch to tackle on one’s own. When I moved to Colorado from Florida in 2002, I was blown away by the sparseness of it all. I also nearly fell asleep at the wheel. This was in the age before podcasts and satellite-radio capability in almost every car. I recall fiddling with the radio and finding nothing but weather bulletins and sermons. (It was Sunday, though.)

What makes the drive through Nebraska a bit easier is the natural scenery provided by the fact that I-80 roughly parallels the Platte River for much of the drive. Further, you encounter decent-sized cities roughly every hour for a while once you traverse west past Lincoln. Going west to east, you hit Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte — all cities of at least 20,000 residents.

(And did you know the Broncos and Raiders once played a preseason game in North Platte? They met in 1967, the same year in which the Broncos became the first AFL team to defeat an NFL club in preseason play. Floyd Little, in his first year as a Bronco, played. Denver won, 21-17 — but the Broncos kept their starters in longer. Two weeks later, when it counted for real, Oakland walloped Denver 51-0. Denver hasn’t lost by 50 or more points since then — although the Raiders came close in 2010, throttling the Josh McDaniels-led Broncos, 59-14.)

That said, it is a bit tough for the last 84 miles along I-80 and I-76 until you cross the Colorado border.

In Kansas along I-70, once you drive west of Hays, there isn’t a town larger than 6,000 for the last 156 miles to the Colorado border. It might seem like splitting hairs to say that Nebraska has an 84-mile stretch that is remote while Kansas’ is 72 miles longer. But when the miles and hours accumulate and one is driving alone, these sorts of things matter.


Got a question? Submit it here to be a part of the next edition of the “Ask Mase” mailbag, dropping weekly at DenverFan.com!

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