Broncos Training Camp Day 11 Report: Wanting more on special teams
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Dwayne Stukes wanted more from his kickoff-return unit Monday morning.
The first repetition of that mid-practice special-teams period went at a slow pace. But this wasn’t a jog-through practice; the team-period repetitions that preceded it were at full speed.
Stukes, in his first year as special-teams coordinator, couldn’t abide the loafing. In no uncertain terms, he made it clear to everyone within earshot that he wanted full speed.
(And that earshot range is significant, because Stukes’ voice booms through the practice field — and it would do so even if he didn’t silence the up-tempo music soundtrack for the periods he guides.)
With limited repetitions, there wasn’t a moment to waste.
“One is, Dallas is coming here on Thursday, correct? And then we have a preseason game on Saturday. We don’t have a lot of time to prepare and get ready,” Stukes said after practice.
“So, this week right here is very valuable and important for our guys to focus and stress the details and the techniques and the fundamentals. So, obviously, we need to see more — and these guys need to be in condition.
“We have a game on Saturday. A lot of guys will play a lot of reps on special teams, offense and defense. How can you play those reps if you’re not in shape?”
Stukes’ urgent tone did not come as a surprise to kicker Brandon McManus, who described Stukes’ style thusly:
“It’s full go. He’s a former player, so he knows what it’s like to be out there. He really pushes the issue on effort, so, it’s been good so far trying to get him to get our guys going.”
Stukes has tried to focus on what he wants the Broncos’ special teams to be — not what they were. But one can’t separate his work now from the fact that the Broncos have had bottom-tier special teams for most of the five seasons.
Those five years came after the departure of Stukes’ mentor, current Rams special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. The pace at which Stukes operates bears more than a passing resemblance to DeCamillis, who had two stints with the Broncos — one under Dan Reeves and later under Gary Kubiak.
“We were very poor last year,” McManus said, “so we’ve really got to focus on turning that around and be a great third part of the game.”
To that end, Stukes plans to use the preseason games as the primary audition for his players. That means that on Saturday against the Cowboys, he wants McManus to keep his kickoffs in the field of play, rather than blasting the football out of the end zone.
When the regular season comes, having McManus line up and fire a howitzer toward the second row is a viable tactic. But in the preseason, those types of kickoffs do little good when evaluation is the point.
“Per a conversation with Coach Hackett, that would be the smart thing to do,” Stukes said. “If we boot the ball into the end zone, they take a knee, how can we evaluate some of the younger guys to see if they can contribute at a high level on special teams?
“It’s no secret. It’s not that it’s a big secret that we’re going to kick the ball in play. We need to evaluate guys with pads on to see if they’re physical.
“So, yes, we’ll kick the ball in play.”
And Stukes expects his players to have the same kind of urgency with which he coached Monday.
“It’ll be big for a lot of guys to show what they can do,” he said.
- CB Ronald Darby went down hard on the last play of practice after Courtland Sutton won a jump-ball battle against him down the left sideline. Team medical personnel examined Darby. He walked off the field under his own power before nearly all of the team went inside.
- After seeing a smattering of first-team repetitions during full-pad practices last Thursday and Saturday, rookie TE Greg Dulcich returned to the north rehab field Monday. Dulcich has been dealing with a hamstring issue since OTAs. “Hamstrings are so weird,” Hackett said. “They’re very difficult to get through. So, as he goes through that, we’re just making sure that we’re doing everything the right way.
- DL D.J. Jones joined Dulcich on the rehab field. Jones missed time in recent days because of a back issue — and also because of the birth of his child. “That’s another one we’re going to play by ear,” Hackett said. “Just want to slowly work him back in and make sure that we do that the right way, also.”
- Edge rusher Christopher Allen also worked out on the rehab field. Allen is completing his recovery from a Lisfranc injury suffered last year at Alabama.
- G Netane Muti once again watched practice from the sideline, wearing a bucket hat. The Broncos are evaluating Muti for a knee injury.
- WR KJ Hamler once again took only individual repetitions as he works his way back from knee and hip injuries.
PLAY OF THE DAY:
Rookie wide receiver Jalen Virgil is an intriguing deep threat. Monday, he caught a perfectly-placed Josh Johnson pass down the right sideline for what would have been a 50-yard gain in game conditions. Michael Ojemudia was step-for-step in coverage, but Virgil was just past him, making the grab.
- Edge rusher Malik Reed had a strong day, with a pair of pressures — including one that could have been a sack — early in practice. Reed succeeded at working around the right edge, and on one pressure got past Calvin Anderson’s outside shoulder to push Russell Wilson off of the spot. It was a tough day for Anderson, who also committed a false-start infraction.
- Darby nearly intercepted a short Wilson pass when he broke back on the football after Sutton fell while running his route, but he couldn’t corral the football. Justin Simmons also nearly picked off Wilson in the end zone.
- TE Albert Okwuegbunam had a good day and is improving at finding gaps in zone coverage. He and Wilson appear to be on the same page more frequently in recent days.
- ILB Justin Strnad had a perfect read of a Johnson handoff to Tyriek McAllister, stuffing the play for no gain. Baron Browning was also there to blow up the play during a team period midway through practice.
- The left side of the No. 1 offensive line did quite well to spring Melvin Gordon for a solid, double-digit gallop during a team period. Garett Bolles and Dalton Risner fired off in space and got upfield, giving Gordon space with which he turned upfield down the left side.
- RB Javonte Williams caught a touchdown pass in the team red-zone period, had a nice one-handed catch of a high pass from Wilson and also a solid run that saw perhaps his best cutback of camp so far.
- McManus exchanged his jersey for an official’s uniform and helped referee the practice. It’s something he’s done before in recent years, taking advantage of a day without placekicking periods during special-teams work. But not everyone was happy with his work — particularly defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. “I was getting crap from Ejiro that I was calling it one-sided, but I was calling it how I see it,” McManus said.
- McManus got nickel cornerback Essang Bassey for pass interference. Bassey made contact with Sutton just before Russell Wilson’s pass arrived. From my vantage, it was a pretty clear call.
- The Broncos practiced in shorts and shells Monday following Saturday’s full-pad practice and a Sunday rest day.
The most pleasant conditions in over a week greeted the Broncos, with temperatures rising from 73°F to 80°F under fair skies.
The Broncos return to the field at 10 a.m. MDT Tuesday morning.