BRONCOS

Broncos regroup after blowout; won’t change course in preseason finale

Aug 23, 2022, 6:27 AM
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos came back home after getting their butts kicked against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday in their second preseason game. For one more week, the media gets to watch the full practice for the Broncos as they prepare for their last preseason game of the year.

Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett wants the team to learn from the mistakes made on the road against the Bills.

“First and foremost, it is the opportunity to learn from mistakes. That’s what you have to get out of that. Otherwise, that whole game was a complete waste. Just for them, understanding what we’re trying to accomplish mentally in each rep is so important and you want to get all that stuff out right now during the preseason. Hopefully, we got a lot out during that game,” Hackett said.

Here are my notes on the Broncos to begin the week.

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Hackett Apologizes

The Broncos were embarrassed by the Bills over the weekend. It was such a bad game that Hackett apologized to Broncos fans.

“First thing I tell the fans is, I’m sorry for that game two days ago because that is not what we’re looking for. But I think the fans will understand more when we get all the way to Week 17. It goes with all those guys – Courtland (Sutton), Jerry (Jeudy) and all those guys. We want to see them in real games. We want that to happen. Looking at my past, we were 0-3 in the preseason last year with the Green Bay Packers and those guys didn’t play. But in the end, they were healthy and they were strong as we finished throughout that season. That’s what you’re always looking for,” Hackett said.

I’m glad the young head coach apologized to Broncos Country. This fan base is loyal, and Denver fans have to be among the top-five in the NFL. The last six years have not been good enough, and fans don’t need to see their favorite team – now back in the conversation of being playoff contenders – get whopped like that. Hackett needs to back up his words with outstanding play during the regular season. I have a feeling he’ll do just that.

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Gregory on Track

I’m not sure what the Broncos are going to get from outside linebacker Randy Gregory this year. Broncos general manager George Paton paid Gregory in free agency earlier this offseason, then it was revealed the veteran needed shoulder surgery afterwards.

He’s come off the PUP list and has been getting work off to the side in most practices. On Monday, Gregory was able to participate in team drills (non-contact, of course) and looked good. He’s a quick pass rusher with length and speed to make up ground on his way to the quarterback. With his salary, Gregory should be the best pass rusher on the team. If he stays healthy, getting double-digit sacks for the first time in his career is a possibility. On Monday, it looked like Gregory was on track.

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Cushenberry is Back

After missing most of practice last week, Broncos starting center Lloyd Cushenberry returned to the practice field on Monday. Cushenberry has had an up-and-down career to this point. He’s started for two seasons, but I think it’s year three when Cushenberry could really showcase his talents.

The center position takes time in the NFL. It’s rare when a player comes in and dominates at the center position from day one. Usually, it takes three years for a player to really hit their stride. Add in the fact that Pat Shurmur’s offense (power gap) did not match Cushenberry’s skill set. This Hackett offense (wide zone) works much better for a player who is known for athleticism and agility.

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Hamler Returns

It was good to see wide receiver K.J. Hamler back on the practice field on Monday. Hamler is returning from the knee/hip injury that shortened his 2021 season. He began training camp on the PUP list, as expected, but came back to practice only a few days into the process. Hamler did seem to suffer a setback during practice, and he’s had to take more time off because of it.

On Monday, Hackett said Hamler could play in the preseason finale.

“Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for. We definitely want him to get out there [and] I know he is chomping at the bit. He’s one of those guys—you tell him he can’t do something, he’s not a very happy camper and that’s what you want. You want the guys to want to get out there and want to push themselves. I’m excited for him to get out here for individuals, more team reps and just everything. Start incorporating him and seeing what he can do. For me, I just remember him from his college experience and he was a good player then, so we want to take advantage of that now and see where he’s at. We’ll see, he might be a guy that needs to get some reps in the preseason game. We’re going to communicate and make sure that he gets what he needs to get ready.” Hackett said.

I believe in Hamler’s ability as a receiver. Seeing him on the field against the Vikings would be a big win for him as he prepares for the start of the regular season. If he cannot play in the game, or suffers a setback, Hamler could begin the regular season on the PUP list.

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It’s About Performance

There are some general managers in the NFL who do not want it to look like they made a mistake. Paton has proven over the last week or so that he’s not going to be that guy. If a player does not perform, Paton has no reservations about moving on.

Two of his 2021 draft picks, safety Jamar Johnson and defensive end Marquiss Spencer, have now been released. Johnson was among the first wave of players released last week, while Spencer was waived on Monday with an injury designation. It’s nice to see that Paton is not forcing the hand of the coaching staff. I would like to see better development for some of the young prospects on the roster, but I’m happy that Paton knows performance trumps potential.

***

No Changes for Vikings

The Broncos aren’t going to play quarterback Russell Wilson in the preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. Even though he asked to play against the Bills, Hackett did not oblige his veteran superstar quarterback. On Monday, Hackett reiterated that nothing about his preseason plan is going to change after the blowout loss to the Bills.

“Yeah, I would say right now, unless some things change. Just like last week, a couple guys [and] talking with them. For me, you lose two guys for an extended amount of (time) just in this Bill’s game. I don’t want it to be anybody that could potentially be in that Seattle game,” Hackett said.

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Brace Yourselves

We saw inside linebacker Jonas Griffth back on the practice field, but he wasn’t practicing for the Broncos. Instead, Griffith was out there with a huge brace on his injured elbow. It’s going to take some time for Griffith to recover from the surgery he had to have after suffering the injury in the Broncos’ preseason opener against the Cowboys.

While Griffith misses time, the Broncos turn to veterans Joe Schobert and Alex Singleton as competitors for the spot next to Josey Jewell on the inside. With three weeks until the start of the regular season, it looks like Denver could be rotating inside linebackers when Griffith returns healthy.

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