Broncos Training Camp Day 8 Report: This is why you got Russell Wilson
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sometimes, I think Broncos Country has forgotten what it’s like to have a training camp with a firmly-established, top-shelf quarterback.
Three of the first six post-Super Bowl 50 training camps began with the starting QB undecided. Another began with a then-rookie Drew Lock getting more attention than starter Joe Flacco. And the 2018 and 2020 camps had clearly-delineated starters in Case Keenum and Lock, respectively — but neither was set as a long-term answer.
Dear reader, those days are over.
You don’t have to worry anymore. You don’t have to fret over a quarterback missing his target.
You’ve got Russell Wilson.
This is like when you had Peyton Manning in 2012. You have a future Hall of Famer with a Lombardi Trophy on his shelf preparing for a new year with new targets in a different scheme.
And like Manning a decade ago, Wilson works on what he needs to do: crossing routes, quick timing. Stuff that he wants to improve so that this season and the ones beyond in Denver can look even better than his last few years.
Yet the tone of the discussions in recent days was curious. That Wilson was off. That the offense was clunky at times. But Wilson wasn’t off. Like Manning, he’s learning what he has in his receivers. He’s learning how his skills fit in Hackett’s version of the outside-zone scheme.
News flash: He’s going to be just fine.
And if you want a tangible piece of evidence for that, you got it at the end of Thursday’s practice.
The offense had this scenario against the No. 1 defense:
- Down 14-10
- 1:48 left in the fourth quarter
- Two timeouts
- First-and-10 at its 20-yard line
After a defensive offside penalty, Wilson hit Albert Okwuegbunam for a 17-yard gain. But two incompletions and a dead-ball false-start infraction followed. Moments later, Wilson and the offense had third-and-15 at their 37.
And that’s where Wilson went to work.
First, he was sensible. He didn’t try to get the long yardage back in one chunk. And when he saw Jeudy with separation on a quick slant, he took it. Just like that, Wilson and the offense had 11 yards back.
That left fourth-and-4. And Wilson took his chance then, firing for Courtland Sutton down the left sideline.
It hasn’t taken Wilson long to learn that if you give Sutton a chance, he has decent odds of making the play. He settled under the ball just past coverage from Ronald Darby for a 34-yard reception down the left side of the field.
Wilson, Mr. Deep Strike, had done it again.
One play later, he hit Trey Quinn — one of a few receivers to move up due to injuries — for the touchdown. The offense celebrated as if it was a late-season divisional clash.
“He called that last play, which was absolutely fantastic, and hit it for the touchdown,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “So, you just want to always see progressions.”
Indeed, it was a milestone series. It shows that Wilson and the offense are on the right track — as if evidence was needed.
“Two-minute is typically one of the hardest things to get going for a brand-new offense,” Hackett said. “Just getting everybody on the same page, because everything’s happening so fast, trying to process situations, all those things.
“To see that happen on only the second time we’ve done it — the first time at the end of game — was really great. It was great working with Russ through that one.”
And the phrase “working with Russ” is key. Because Hackett and Wilson confer before practices about points of emphasis and plays they want to incorporate into the day’s work.
“It’s a combination of both of us. I try to plant some seeds in his mind,” Hackett said. ” … We’ve collaborated on a list of plays we want to try and accomplish.”
But Wilson also has rein, too.
“I give him those, we talk about it, and then he runs with it,” Hackett said. I’m always kind of in his ear, but it’s his choice. Whatever he’s feeling.”
Thursday he ran — all the way to a touchdown in the kind of late-game scenario for which they acquired No. 3.
You can’t do this sort of thing with just any quarterback. You need someone with experience, accuracy, proficiency and acumen. Those are the elite quarterbacks, and Wilson definitely resides in that neighborhood.
So, stop worrying Broncos fans. Let Panthers and Seahawks fans nibble their fingernails about the day-to-day ups and downs of their quarterback competitions.
You’ve got Russ. Let him cook.
PLAY OF THE DAY:
Signed because the Broncos needed an extra receiver, Darrius Shepherd has an advantage as he joins the Broncos: He played 192 snaps for the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, when Hackett was their offensive coordinator.
“A lot of similarities,” Shepherd said of the Packers’ and Broncos’ schemes.
So, when the call came in early in practice, giving Shepherd an option on his route, he knew exactly what to do. He kept going on a post route.
“That one there, it’s actually an option for the wide receiver to either stop or go,” Hackett said. “My man ‘Shep’ decided he was going. He wasn’t thinking about nothing else.
And when Josh Johnson delivered a letter-perfect strike, Shepherd had a 60-yard touchdown catch.
With that heater of a play, Shepherd announced his presence with authority.
“It’s not a bad start to get adjusted to being with the guys,” Shepherd said.
Hackett joked: “That was his first play, and everyone was mad. He’s got to do a little more dirty work before he gets those.”
That said, Shepherd actually did the dirty work throughout the spring and early summer. He came to the Broncos after playing for the New Jersey Generals in the sparsely-attended USFL.
Those games took place in mostly barren, empty stadiums that Shepherd compared with NFL games in 2020. During that bizarre season, the COVID-19 pandemic forced games to take place in sparsely-populated or completely empty venues. Still, the work helped for when he had a chance to work in front of a real crowd Thursday.
Shepherd said that he reached out to Hackett in the winter, when he became the Broncos’ head coach. With a need at wide receiver, Hackett returned the favor this week.
“He played a lot of football for us,” Hackett said. “He’s a guy that you can depend on: tough, smart guy. We’re happy that he can come in here and help us out.”
- Toward the end of practice, Hackett divided the team over two fields, with first-teamers and key rotational players on the south field and reserves on the north field. Hackett did this for the two jog-through practices July 29 and Aug. 3. But this was the first time in training camp that he split the team for a full-speed session. “It’s great. We did that at a lot of places I’ve been. It’s great because, one, the players get the reps that they wouldn’t have, so you kind of get double reps in less time. So, we ended up getting 12 reps in, maybe, four minutes,” Hackett said.
- At backup quarterback, Hackett said that he “didn’t think anything’s solidified” in the competition between Josh Johnson and Brett Rypien. “‘Ryp’ has great days; Josh does great things,” Hackett noted.
- That being said, Thursday’s practice definitely belonged to Johnson, whose deep strike electrified the crowd. Rypien, meanwhile, threw two interceptions, including one that saw J.R. Reed deflect a pass skyward, allowing second-year safety Jamar Johnson to pick it off.
- Fourth-round pick Damarri Mathis continued his solid camp by recording the first of those two INTs. The fourth-year quarterback looked for Kaden Davis near the right sideline, but Mathis read the route and dove for the INT.
- Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto and Aaron Patrick all rotated in for first-team work at edge rusher Thursday. Browning had a pressure of Wilson that forced him into a throwaway during a red-zone period, while Bonitto had a pressure, although Wilson still completed the pass to Mike Boone.
- Working on the first unit, DL DeShawn Williams had a pair of pressures that would have likely been sacks in game conditions. Browning helped set up one of them by working inside of Albert Okwuegbunam to cut off Wilson’s escape route, allowing Williams’ pressure to defuse the play.
- Wilson had a 25-yard connection to Sutton down the right sideline early in practice. A nice block by Calvin Anderson on Dre’Mont Jones gave Wilson the time he needed to make the play. But Jones later struck back with a play that would have been a sack in game conditions, taking advantage of strong coverage that left no one open.
- Sutton had three deep receptions from Wilson Thursday: His move-the-ball catch, the afore-mentioned 25-yarder and a deep catch down the middle in front of P.J. Locke.
- Josey Jewell had a perfect diagnosis of a handoff to Javonte Williams during a red-zone period. On the play, Jewell shot through the gap and forcing Williams to the right for what would have been a potential loss of yardage in game conditions.
- Jonas Griffith got his hand in to break up a potential red-zone connection from Wilson to TE Eric Tomlinson.
- Injuries to Tim Patrick, Tyrie Cleveland and Kendall Hinton allowed young players such as Trey Quinn, Seth Williams and Montrell Washington to get plenty of first-team repetitions Thursday. Washington caught a touchdown pass during a team red-zone period, flashing across to the right side and allowing Wilson to find him on the rollout.
- Graham Glasgow rotated over to center with the No. 2 offensive line. Luke Wattenberg and Netane Muti flanked him at left and right guard, respectively.
- Pat Surtain II nearly intercepted Wilson during the red-zone period. The second-year cornerback had a potential INT skip off his hands on a pass intended for Jeudy.
- In the continuing punter battle, Sam Martin had a good day. His four punts ranged between 4.40 and 4.86 seconds, including two rugby-style punts that he dropped inside the 20. Corliss Waitman also went 2-for-2 on dropping punts inside the 20, including one that bounced at the 7-yard line and died at the 8. But Waitman had wider hang-time variance. He began his four-punt period with a short clunker that turned end-over-end and stayed in the air for just 3.54 seconds. But he also had a blast down the left side of the field that hung up for 5.06 seconds.
- Safety Kareem Jackson received a veteran rest day. “I could just say, ‘old,'” Hackett joked. P.J. Locke took his place. Locke was hurt on the final play of practice and examined on the field, but he walked back into the building under his own power.
- Safety/dime back Caden Sterns had a hip injection and did not practice. The Broncos hope he returns for their next padded practice Saturday.
- WR Tyrie Cleveland is expected to miss a few weeks after taking a shot to the throat during Monday’s practice. “There’s a little cartilage thing going on there, so it’s a little bit unique,” Hackett said. “I’ve actually never heard of it before. Everything is fine, he’ll be fine, and he’ll be back. It’s just one of those things where because of the uniqueness of it, we want to be sure.” Hackett added that with an injury like Cleveland’s, “you want to kind of slow-play” his return to action.
- DL D.J. Jones remained out with a back issue.
- ILB Christopher Allen got a rest day as he continues working up to a full workload following the Lisfranc injury he suffered early last season at Alabama. “It’s just been so long since he’s played football,” Hackett said. “So, for him to go out there, bang a little bit the other day, we just want to make sure we’re resting him and slowly working him in.”
- WR KJ Hamler saw individual work. Hamler wore a brace on his left knee after going without it for Wednesday’s jog-through practice.
- WR Kendall Hinton remained sidelined with a knee issue.
- RB Melvin Gordon’s lower leg was examined by a trainer late in practice. He subsequently tested himself out and looked to be at full speed. However, the coaches held Gordon out for the final periods while Mike Boone saw more work.
- TE Greg Dulcich saw his first full-speed team-period repetitions of camp Thursday as he works his way back from a hamstring injury. He caught a touchdown pass from Wilson during the red-zone period. “He only got a couple of reps. We’re trying to slowly work him in,” Hackett said.
During the practice, temperatures rose from 83°F to 90°F. But the humidity stayed down, making the day tolerable.
The Broncos are expected to have another “jog-through” session Friday at UCHealth Training Center from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. MDT. Their next full-pads practice is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. MDT.