BRONCOS

Broncos Training Camp Day 14 Report: Fight, flight and fortitude

Aug 11, 2022, 9:08 PM | Updated: 9:25 pm
Kareem Jackson...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On the south field at UCHealth Training Center, Russell Wilson went up to Cowboys defenders and shook their hands before they began a series of team periods Thursday.

On that field, the Denver offense and Dallas defense went at each other crisply. Wilson guided the offense efficiently. The Cowboys intercepted him once, when Tarell Basham grabbed a pass that bounced off Brandon Johnson’s hands. But that was one of only a few blemishes on a day that saw Wilson stay on schedule.

Their day was smooth.

But on the north field, it took just three plays before Broncos edge rusher Malik Reed and Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz exchanged verbal pleasantries that weren’t all that pleasant.

That set the tone for what was to come.

Two snaps later, after a post-snap tussle that found Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz making like his college mascot — the Wisconsin Badger — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell yelled at each other. Then, safety Kareem Jackson eventually stepped in to try and restore order.

Yes, that was Jackson, the most vocal member of Denver’s defense, the one who will playfully jaw with coach Nathaniel Hackett, trying to defuse a situation.

“Sometimes I can be that guy, but 99 percent of the time, I’m usually the one pouring gas on the fire, but that 1 percent was today,” Jackson said. “So, I tried to play peacemaker — so we could get some work done.”

He did. And later, he would try to calm a situation. But he could only do so much.

One period later, following an Essang Bassey pass breakup of a Prescott-to-Simi Fehoko attempt, a full-scale fight erupted. Reed and Dallas tackle Terrence Steele were at the enter of it, but dozens of their teammates surrounded them.

Other scuffles followed. Randy Gregory, the edge rusher still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, jawed at his former team. And finally, after emotions built throughout the midday practice, Broncos defensive lineman Marquiss Spencer squared up on Dallas center Matt Farnick and threw punches.

“I think defensively, it was one of those things where guys kind of come into your backyard, and, as a kid, try to take the ball and leave with it or something like that,” Jackson said. “Defensively, that’s how guys are.

“That’s how we are as a unit. And we have to bring that intensity, and sometimes it gets a little chippy. It’s football. You’ve got 11 guys out there with egos.”

But after the practice, neither players nor coaches fretted about how the action boiled over.

“It was fine. Another day on the playground,” Jackson said.

One field was yacht rock. The other was thrash metal.

Where things were cool like jazz on a summer’s day, Wilson and the offense sailed into a rhythm — particularly on short to intermediate passes. Albert Okwuegbunam, Jerry Jeudy, Eric Saubert, Montrell Washington, Courtland Sutton and Kendall Hinton all grabbed passes.

Meanwhile, RB Javonte Williams had a pair of dynamic runs that saw him successfully cut back and follow the flow of the blockers.

And to the Broncos’ credit, this was not a joint practice like the turgid performances of 2018, 2019 and 2021. Denver had the emotional edge — and for long stretches on both fields, the physical advantage.

Yes, Prescott found success throwing in the direction of Michael Ojemudia throughout the day, including a touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb to cap the move-the-ball period for the first team.

However, Prescott and Dallas backup QB Cooper Rush were also under pressure from a slew of Broncos — none moreso than rookie Nik Bonitto, who had four plays that could have been sacks in game conditions, including one that effectively ended a Cowboys drive in the move-the-ball period.

The positives outweighed the negatives Thursday for the Broncos … and they offered another hint that this year can be different.

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ROLLING IN THE RED ZONE

A year ago in joint practices at Minnesota, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater’s struggles against Minnesota’s first-teamers, particularly in the red zone, illuminated the offensive issues to come for the Broncos.

There were no such concerns Thursday for Wilson and the Broncos offense, which got the better of Dallas repeatedly during the red zone period. Given time to throw, Wilson patiently dissected Dallas, firing a pair of touchdown passes to Hinton, one swing pass for a score to Jeudy off a play-action fake and one to Okwuegbunam in the back right corner of the end zone.

Wilson also often had plenty of time to throw, as shown here:

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NOTES:

  • This was by far the best day for Bonitto, who had two sacks against Dallas’ first-team offense and two at the expense of its second unit. Why did he flourish? “The bend,” Bradley Chubb said. “Nik Bonitto is one of the best rookies in this class. I’m excited to see what he does. I’m excited to work with him in all of those different packages that we’re going to have on the field. It’s going to be fun.”
  • Brandon McManus capped a pair of short two-minute drill drives with long field goals, including a 62-yarder for the No. 1 offense. Denver’s first team drove just 20 yards against Dallas’ No. 1 defense to that field goal.
  • DEs DeShawn Williams and Dre’Mont Jones had strong work against the run, frustrating the Cowboys’ offensive line by splitting through blockers and working into the backfield, defusing repeated first-team rushing attempts just after the handoff.
  • Denver’s pass protection held up well against the Cowboys’ pass rush. Wilson had more time to throw than he did in most of the previous full-pad practices, and used it to find a rhythm with a series of short-to-intermediate timing passes throughout practice.
  • Sam Martin and Corliss Waitman each got three punts during an early-practice period. Martin got the better of the work Thursday; his three punts had hang times ranging from 4.04 to 4.28 seconds — an average of 4.16 seconds. His punts were also longer than Waitman’s, whose average hang time was 4.15 seconds, including a 3.99-second hang time on his final punt.
  • Jackson had the defensive play of the day with a deep breakup of a Prescott attempt to Cowboys wide receiver Jalen Torbert. Working in single-high coverage, Jackson reacted quickly to Prescott’s pass and read it well to prevent a completion. “I had a chance to make a play. The receiver went up, but I didn’t want to make a collision or anything like that, so I tried to pull off him,” Jackson said. “For me, it was all about being in the right place at the right time, watching the film and those situations and trying to get better from it.”
  • Ring of Famers who attended the practice included Peyton Manning, Steve Atwater, Rod Smith and Randy Gradishar.
  • Broncos CEO Greg Penner and co-owner Carrie Walton Penner watched the practice as part of their second full day in charge of the club.

***

PARTICIPATION/INJURY REPORT

  • The Broncos got good news on RB Melvin Gordon, as his injury is a foot contusion. He did not practice Thursday. Mike Boone handled Gordon’s share of the first-team repetitions.
  • TE Greg Dulcich remained sidelined as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury. “This is something that’s never happened to him, so we just want to be sure we’re doing it the right way,” Hackett said. “I believe we counted 32 days before our first home game. As much as we want to get out there and practice every day, bang every day and all that stuff, it’s about keeping the guys fresh.”
  • CB Ronald Darby missed another day because of a chest contusion suffered on the final play of practice Aug. 8.
  • WR KJ Hamler watched from the sideline as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL and a dislocated hip suffered last September. “We’re just trying to move him in the right way,” Hackett said. “For how it’s gone, when I got here, we didn’t know where he was going to be at. At this moment, I would tell you he’s farther along than we ever thought.”
  • CB K’Waun Williams (knee) and DL D.J. Jones (back) practiced, but took part in individual drills only. Essang Bassey and Mike Purcell got the lion’s share of the work in their places, respectively. Edge rusher Jonathon Cooper also remained limited to individual work after having finger surgery in May.

***

WEATHER REPORT:

On a day in which the temperature pushed near 100°F, the mercury rose from 86°F to 91°F during the practice.

***

WHAT’S NEXT:

The Broncos open their preseason Saturday against the Cowboys at Empower Field at Mile High. Kickoff is at 7:05 p.m. MDT. The game will air on KTVD-Ch. 20 in Denver and on NFL Network nationally.

***

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