The Broncos save the best for last, as training camp wraps up on Day 14
The Denver Broncos saved the best for last. Although they had some boring days at training camp, things ended with a bang as the Broncos held joint practice against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.
The final day of camp was the most heavily attended by the fans. The parking lot was overflowing with fans, and there was a line to get into the facility. It was like UC Health Training Center was the hottest nightclub in Denver on Thursday. It was a hot day, and the action was hot as well.
Here are some of my notes from Day 14 of training camp.
Let ‘em Have It
Going into joint practices, you knew there were going to be tempers flaring on a hot summer day. It didn’t take long until we saw some feathers get ruffled on the practice field.
About an hour into the start of practice, Broncos defensive lineman DeShawn Williams was in the middle of the Cowboys backfield and their blockers took issue with the play. Williams has been one of the best players at Broncos practice every day, and his consistent performance has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
Williams wasn’t done there. A few minutes later, the defensive lineman was back into the mix with the Cowboys blockers. And then a third time Williams was making the Cowboys upset enough to halt play for just a moment.
It’s not that Williams was doing anything after the whistle; it’s just that Williams was beating his man (men?) so dang often. I laughed as Williams has been one of my favorite Broncos over the last couple of years. I’m glad to see him start for the Broncos this year, and I can’t wait for him to get under the skin of opponents on a weekly basis like he did on Thursday against the Cowboys.
This offense can be high-powered in the passing game, but everything is set up by the rushing attack. Sure, the Broncos are going to “let Russ cook,” but he’s going to have help. That other chef in the kitchen is going to be running back Javonte Williams.
The wide zone system is perfect for a player with his skill set. Williams has a ton of power, but he’s got great vision and today was bending plays back against the grain for big gains.
Williams looked good as a runner today. He has all throughout camp, but in the most real competition he’ll face until the regular season we saw Williams get after it. He seemed to take his play to another level as a runner, and I like how he was patient to find the right hole as he stretched out runs after the handoff. Even though most know him for his power, Williams has explosiveness to his game. That was featured against the Cowboys on Thursday.
Something has gotten into tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. I’m not exactly sure why it happened, but I know when it happened, and I love it. About a week ago, Okwuegbunam just started taking over. Early in camp, guys like Eric Saubert and even Eric Tomlinson were making plays at the tight end position. There is no doubt that the tight end is going to be heavily involved in this offense, but it was looking more like a TEBC (tight end by committee) than a single tight end to get featured.
Okwuegbunam’s play over the last week has changed that notion in my eyes. He’s taken over, and yes that has been helped by the setback rookie tight end Greg Dulcich suffered with his hamstring injury. However, Okwuegbunam has taken the opportunity and ran with it. He has made play after play for Wilson – with some of them going for big gains. Against the Cowboys on Thursday, you saw Okweugbunam catch the defense off guard more than once. He’s going to be a favorite target for Wilson, and Okweugbunam is certainly a player I’ll be targeting as a TE2 with upside in my fantasy drafts.
Must Get Stuffed
Just like the offense is built off the ground game, the Broncos defense will be defined by how successful they are at stuffing the run. Today’s game is about stopping the run while dropping eight into coverage. They call this “minus-1” in coaching terms, and the best teams are good when they’re minus-1 on the field. You must be stout against the run or teams will run against you as you go with a lighter box to have better coverage players out there.
The Broncos were stuffing the run against the Cowboys first-team offense. In fact, there was one play where linebacker Bradley Chubb was scraping down the line chasing after superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott. When Elliott slowed to make a cutback, Chubb ran into him sending Elliott tumbling to the ground. It wasn’t a dirty play, but it certainly showed how all the Broncos defense is hunting the run on every play. The Broncos are going to rush the passer often. The Broncos are going to blanket cover receivers (more on that in a bit) often. None of that works as well or is as devastating as it can be if they don’t stop the run. It looks like that won’t be a problem this year.
I Stay Away
It seemed like Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t going to test Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain that much in practice. I was so waiting for Surtain to go up against superstar wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. I think that was the best matchup we were going to see on Thursday, but I was disappointed we didn’t see that come to fruition often. Lamb did make at least one big play against the Broncos secondary, but that was against Michael Ojemudia. When it came to Surtain, he just wasn’t getting many passes thrown his way.
Surtain is a Pro Bowl caliber player. In 2022, Surtain should push to be All-Pro. He’s arguably the best cornerback in the game today, and Surtain is just entering his second season. Even though he’s a young player, it looks as though Surtain is already getting the respect of other coordinators. I expect some teams to test him, but by the bye week in 2022 staying away from his side of the field should be what most every team does.