BRONCOS

Broncos Training Camp Day 12 Report: Okwuegbunam as Patrick’s replacement?

Aug 9, 2022, 7:00 PM
Albert Okwuegbunam...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At 11:37 a.m. MDT on Tuesday morning, the Denver Broncos began heading down a new road.

You wouldn’t have known it on the practice field of UCHealth Training Center, however. Special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes was in the middle of a punt period — the second one of the day. Earlier in practice, he had punters Sam Martin and Corliss Waitman each boot five punts from various distances.

A low buzz emanated from the fans on the west hillside — which was in stark contrast to the applause that broke out within the meeting room in Bloomington, Minn. as NFL owners formally approved the Walton-Penner group as the new owners of the Broncos.

Nothing changed on the field at that moment.

Everything did away from it, in ways that will not become evident for weeks, months and even years to come.

No puffs of white smoke appeared over the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse. But a few minutes later, the horn blew, and the next full-team period began. But at first, something was missing.

No music.

Stukes likes to conduct his special-teams periods without a thumping playlist providing the backbeat. But no one re-started the music immediately after ending the period, as is the norm.

Fortunately, plenty noticed. It didn’t take long for the speakers to roar.

The choice? “Kickstart My Heart” by Mötley Crüe blasted.

When I get high I get high on speed
Top fuel funny car’s a drug for me
My heart, my heart
Kickstart my heart

Said Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett with a laugh, “That’s exactly what we had planned. They had requested it.”

As the guitars wailed, Russell Wilson gathered the No. 1 offense — featuring a smattering of backup receivers. The song continued.

Whoa! Yeah!
Kick start my heart, give it a start
Whoa! Yeah!
Baaaaa-byyyyy
Whoa! Yeah!
Kick start my heart, hope it never stops
Whoa! Yeah!
Ba-byyyyyyy, yeah

And let it be known that the first offensive snap of the new era was a pass: Russell Wilson hitting Andrew Beck in the left flat for a short gain. Javonte Williams followed Quinn Meinerz for a run to the left on the next play.

What happened on the next two passes was not auspicatory for the offense. First, Kendall Hinton got in front of Pat Surtain II on a crossing route, but dropped Wilson’s third-and-2 pass. Then, Wilson looked deep down the right side for Jerry Jeudy, but the pass was too far and Michael Ojemudia intercepted it, although Jeudy appeared to pull himself up as the ball soared past him, giving Ojemudia a free shot at the pick.

Oh, well. There’s plenty of time before the season — and far more time for the new bosses to get settled in and put their new stamp on things.

And with that, a new era in Broncos history began.

***

ALBERT OKWUEGBUNAM: THE TIM PATRICK REPLACEMENT?

The Broncos seem poised to use a cast of many to replace Patrick, who tore his ACL last week. But most prominent among those is tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who is frequently on the receiving end of Russell Wilson’s passes.

Okwuegbunam caught a short cross across the middle early in practice Tuesday. But his gift is in getting separation outside and finding gaps in zone coverage, especially down the seam.

“Earlier on in OTAs, picking up the system took him a while,” Hackett said. “He’s been absolutely splendid going out there right now. He’s been going out there and we’ve been putting him all over the place, from motioning, playing wide, playing ‘F’ and doing all kinds of different things.”

And if the Broncos use Okwuegbunam as a “move” tight end in space, concerns about his blocking fade. Still, Hackett said the third-year tight end shows progress at that discipline.

“That’s definitely been something we’ve wanted to work on,” Hackett said. “He had a couple of pass protections that we threw him in there. As a coach, you’re like, ‘Ok, what are we working on here?’ [Tight Ends Coach] Jake [Moreland], I think, has done an amazing job with him. He was able to block some people really well.

“He still has some things he’s got to work on, but he’s definitely improving.”

The question now becomes this: Has he improved enough to where using him isn’t tipping the offense’s hand as to its intent? The practice Thursday against the Cowboys should illuminate the degree of his progress.

***

PARTICIPATION/INJURY REPORT

  • CB Ronald Darby missed practice with a chest contusion. Darby suffered the injury on the final play of practice Wednesday when Courtland Sutton leapt over him for a deep reception from Wilson. Darby is considered “day-to-day,” Hackett said.
  • WR Courtland Sutton was limited to running off to the side due to what Hackett described as a “little shoulder thing we’re just working through.”
  • CB K’Waun Williams did not work in the team periods Tuesday.
  • After working in individual periods in recent days, WR KJ Hamler returned to the rehab field on the north side of the Broncos complex Tuesday.
  • DL Enyi Uwazurike missed practice with an ankle injury and worked out on the side field. Fellow rookie Matt Henningsen moved up in the rotation to take his spot. “We’re just trying to be smart with that to get [Uwazurike] ready for the Dallas practice,” Hackett said.
  • Safety Kareem Jackson got a veteran’s rest day. “Kareem, obviously, he’s old,” Hackett said. “So, we want to be sure we’re taking care of him. He got some good running in.”
  • Surtain sat out the second half of practice but “he’s fine,” Hackett said. With Surtain, Darby and Williams sidelined, the No. 1 secondary became Ojemudia, Damarri Mathis and nickelback Essang Bassey.
  • Tight end Greg Dulcich (hamstring) and edge rusher Christopher Allen (foot) also did not take part in the individual or team periods.
  • Edge rusher Jonathon Cooper remained limited to individual work.
  • Guard Ben Braden and RB Tyriek McAllister left practice due to injuries. Braden has a back problem, while McAllister injured his hamstring.
  • DL D.J. Jones did not work during the team periods of practice.

***

MOVE-THE-BALL NOTES:

  • A two-minute-drill period closed practice. The scenario involved a tie score at the end of the second quarter, 1:56 on the clock, three timeouts remaining for the offense, one timeout for the defense and a drive-start position at the offense’s 32-yard line.
  • Russell Wilson guided the No. 1 offense on a 10-play, 37-yard drive to a 49-yard Brandon McManus field goal. The offense overcame a Jerry Jeudy drop on the drive’s first play thanks to a 12-yard Wilson-to-Kendall Hinton pass and a fourth-and-1 conversion from the defense’s 46-yard line via a 4-yard pass to Hinton. Wilson hit Hinton once more for an 11-yard pass to bring McManus’ attempt within reasonable range. Wilson completed 5 of his 9 passes, with one incompletion coming on a throwaway.
  • Josh Johnson also led the offense to points on a 54-yard McManus field goal. Johnson and the No. 2 offense overcame a false-start penalty to begin the drive, using passes to Seth Williams and Mike Boone to provide the momentum. At one point, Baron Browning generated pressure to the point where he flattened offensive lineman Zack Johnson, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Johnson escaping for a 6-yard completion that moved the chains.
  • The No. 1 defense poured pressure on Wilson. Malik Reed, Dre’Mont Jones, Bradley Chubb, DeShawn Williams and Josey Jewell all logged pressures that could have been QB hits or sacks in game conditions.

***

NOTES:

  • The day was an up-and-down one for Jeudy, who had a perfect route down the right sideline past Pat Surtain to win a one-on-one repetition early in practice. But he also appeared to drop a pass from Wilson, although Essang Bassey got his hand in and impacted the play.
  • Ojemudia intercepted Wilson, taking advantage of an overthrown deep attempt for Jeudy to pick off a pass near the goal line.
  • Pressure poured in on Wilson throughout the day, mostly from the right side of the line. Dre’Mont Jones, DeShawn Williams, Malik Reed and Bradley Chubb all recorded plays that could have been sacks in game conditions.
  • Rookie defensive lineman Matt Henningsen flashed by bursting into the backfield to defuse run plays and multiple pressures from inside. Most of Henningsen’s best work has come during the full-pad sessions.
  • An early-practice punt period was one of the most notable of the session. Sam Martin and Corliss Waitman punted from various points on the field. Martin had five punts, while Waitman had six.
  • Both opened with punts from the back of their end zone. On his punt, Martin clocked a hang time of 3.67 seconds, while Waitman uncorked a 4.96-second blast that appeared to cover over 55 yards from the line of scrimmage (at the punt team’s 1-yard line).
  • Martin dropped a short rugby-style punt at the 15-yard line for a fair catch, with a hang time of 4.52 seconds. However, Martin also had a shank off the side of his foot that went out of bounds and had a brief 3.16-second hang time. Martin’s average hang time for five punts was 4.19 seconds, with a range of 3.16 seconds to 4.82 seconds.
  • Waitman drew cheers from the crowd for his placement punt, which came with the line of scrimmage just past midfield. He hit a 4.61-second punt that teammates downed around the 5-yard line. Waitman also averaged 4.86 seconds of hang time on his six punts, ranging from 4.60 seconds to 5.17 seconds.

***

WEATHER REPORT:

On a warm-but-not-oppressive day, tmperatures rose from 78°F to 85°F during the practice.

***

WHAT’S NEXT:

The Broncos will practice Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. It is expected to be a jog-through session.

***

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Broncos Training Camp Day 12 Report: Okwuegbunam as Patrick’s replacement?