Broncos Practice Report: Offense struggles early, and KJ Hamler returns
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Under a beautiful azure Colorado sky, the Broncos’ offense was ugly for a while Thursday morning.
During a red-zone period, both the first- and second-team offense couldn’t find the end zone once. Pressure poured in on Russell Wilson. At one point, the defense logged what would have been a sack in game conditions, but given the chance to extend the play, he fired for the pylon … and Ronald Darby intercepted the pass.
“Those first two periods, that was all defense,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett.
But it was also the offense breaking down.
“The defense is playing really well, and the offense has to step up. That wasn’t good enough. They didn’t do good enough,” Hackett said, rattling off mental errors, missed blocks and drops as things that went awry.
“And it wasn’t just one guy,” Hackett added. “It was a combination of everybody.”
Then, after the period, Wilson gathered the entire offense. And when it was time for a two-minute, move-the-ball period, Wilson opened by hitting Brandon Johnson down the left sideline for a 39-yard connection, setting up a touchdown.
That was the response the coaches wanted to see.
“That was great for us,” offensive coordinator Justin Outten said. “hat was great to get hit in the mouth at practice. The defense was playing at a high level, and we had to wake up. And it was good for us to wake up and get into that [move-the-ball] period and we ended up getting an explosive touchdown.”
Overcoming adversity is something the offense must do.
As Hackett pointed out, it happened for the offense in the preseason opener against Dallas on Aug. 13. After a balky first quarter, the Broncos drove to a pair of Josh Johnson touchdown passes in the second. The offense rallied, and restored order.
That’s what happened for the first-team offense Thursday.
“That’s the whole process. They have to learn how to get through that stuff,” Hackett said.
Certainly, a factor in the early offensive struggles was availability.
On defense, Darby and K’Waun Williams returned to first-team repetitions in recent days following their training-camp injuries. Defensive lineman D.J. Jones is back to full speed after back issues and some time missed for the birth of his daughter. Jones wrecked multiple plays during those first two periods Thursday. And the first two lines of edge rushers continued to wreak havoc.
Meanwhile, first-team center Lloyd Cushenberry remained sidelined with a knee issue. Projected right tackle Billy Turner is being brought back slowly after his Aug. 15 activation from the PUP list.
“He’s just getting extra treatment,” Hackett said of Turner. “We’re making sure that he’s working through his knee and getting everything right so that he can get back here and be full speed.”
Furthermore, injuries are part and parcel of the season. Being down a pair of starters isn’t going to be an excuse in September, and it wasn’t accepted as an excuse Thursday.
But by finding its form in the final periods, the offense showed that it can pull itself out of a spiral.
“That was the way to respond, and it’s going to be a good coaching point moving into the meetings here,” Outten said.
- Wide receiver KJ Hamler was in full pads and saw individual-period work. Hamler watched the previous day’s session from the sideline.
- Hackett said that Buffalo’s decision to play the bulk of their starters Saturday won’t impact how he divvies up playing time. “That’s about our team, and our team only,” Hackett said. “The only time that will affect the things we do is during the season.”
- As for who will start at quarterback Saturday, Hackett said, “I think we’re going to go with Josh [Johnson] again.” Johnson threw a pair of touchdown passes in the preseason opener.
- Edge rusher Randy Gregory practiced for a fourth consecutive day, working in the individual period.
- Inside linebacker Jonas Griffith (dislocated elbow), wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (shot to the throat) and guard Netane Muti (knee) remained sidelined.
- Special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes reiterated his hope that “There is no secret about [it]: We want Tyrie to be one of our core special-teams players. Obviously, he’s getting evaluated as a receiver, also. That’s going to play a part into it. Whenever he’s ready to go, we welcome him with open arms.”
- Stukes added that he and his fellow special-teams coaches have already “circled guys” that they want to be core special-teamers. “We’re starting to form our core group of guys,” he said. “Again, it has to be on a consistent basis, though. They can’t show up last week vs. Dallas and disappear this week. It’s ongoing.”
- Center Luke Wattenberg practiced and saw team-period work after dealing with an ankle injury earlier this week. He earned praise from Outten, who described the fifth-round rookie as a “pro’s pro” in how he goes about his work. “That is huge,” Outten said. “He’s a guy that is going to write books of notes and do a great job with that stuff. But just getting out here and facing a defense like ours, that is extremely fast and big, you have to step up quickly or you’re going to lose ground. And once we came into rookie minicamp, I think he did a really good job. He started there, and he hasn’t looked back.”
- Tight end Greg Dulcich practiced, but continues to be brought back slowly from his hamstring injury.