After final camp practice, the question remains: Are the Broncos ready?
The Denver Broncos have wrapped up practices before their preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. The team must trim their roster from 80 to 53 in the coming days, and that means there are a lot of key decisions to be made before that time.
Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett knows a few spots are up for grabs with one game left, but he would not elaborate on how many there are.
“I haven’t gone through each one individually. I think we’re going to let this game play out and be able to evaluate all the guys we have and build the best 53 we can,” Hackett said.
Here are my notes on the Broncos to wrap up the week that was.
Timing is Everything
I believe in Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson. Since the day they traded for Wilson, I have proclaimed the Broncos as Super Bowl contenders. Others insist the Broncos will only make the playoffs this year, but with a quarterback like Wilson, I think the bar needs to be set higher. I think it needs to be set at the ultimate prize.
Wilson is working on the timing with his receivers in camp. This week, I saw far too many passes fall short of their intended targets. This happened at times when Wilson was launching the deep pass – the “moon balls” that he loves to throw. Wilson is statistically one of the best deep-ball throwers in the league, yet too many passes ended up short during the week of practice. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Wilson out there in the preseason to work on the timing.
He’s not going to play in the preseason at all as it was announced that Brett Rypien would start against the Vikings. Once he’s done, Josh Johnson (who started the previous two preseason games) will take over.
Even though the backups are out there at quarterback against the Vikings, Hackett knows what he needs to see from either (or both) of them.
“Consistency. Consistency is the big one. You want to be sure that they’re going out there, executing the plan, understanding when we want to change plays or keep the same play on, understanding the progressions and all those things, and making good decisions. To this point, they have made some pretty good decisions, so we want them to continually take care of the ball, also,” Hackett said.
The General is Here
Broncos’ general manager George Paton is always looking for talent. On Thursday, it was announced they signed linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel to the roster. Gemmel was undrafted out of North Carolina this year, and he spent time with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason. With the 49ers trimming their roster to 80 players, Gemmel was one they let go after two preseason games.
Gemmel is a smart player who always finds himself around the ball. He’s a coverage player, something the Broncos need desperately at inside linebacker. Gemmel is not a thumper, but he is a sound tackler who needs more special teams experience. A favorite sleeper in the scouting community, Gemmel may have to make the Broncos practice squad in order to stay with the team. A good game against the Vikings could help him do just that.
Offense is Chirpy
The Broncos defense has a ton of swagger, and most days during practice they are winning versus the Broncos offense. Even though the defense is working the offense, I still see plenty of players who like to talk smack on offense. It would be nice to see them back it up against the Broncos defense, but that didn’t happen too often in camp or practice.
This week wasn’t great for the offense. This follows the preseason game against the Bills where the offense (made of mostly backups) looked inept.
Hackett says Wednesday’s practice was sloppy, and that made him unhappy.
“I would say that’s being nice. I lost my voice, again. In the end, we have a standard. They didn’t live up to that yesterday and they owned up to it. They understood it. It wasn’t just one guy. That kind of stuff is unacceptable. You just have to continue to keep your focus. We changed the schedule a little bit, so it was a little bit different. Those are the adversity things that we’re going to face throughout the year. So, I’m excited that they had that opportunity to see those things that might have gone wrong. We watched the tape, now we are moving on,” Hackett said.
A Good Sign
We don’t yet know who is going to start at right tackle for the Broncos in Week 1. Calvin Anderson has gotten a majority of first team reps, and he’s been up-and-down for the team in the lineup. I like Anderson, but I feel like he’s best suited as a swing tackle or a left tackle in the pro game. Anderson has been getting looks as a potential starter because veteran Billy Turner has been out with an injury.
Turner practiced on Thursday, and I think this is a good sign for the team going forward. They have about two weeks before their season opener against the Seahawks. Turner has been working back onto the practice field and barring any setbacks he should be the starter at right tackle in Week 1.
Broncos’ offensive coordinator Justin Outten likes what he’s seen from Turner.
“With the situation he’s been in, you’re going to get some rust. He’s been knocking it off in (individuals). He got a couple of group period plays; he’s just getting in his rhythm. He’s finding his rhythm, again. With a veteran like Billy who is extremely positive, played a lot of ballgames, seen a lot, he’s just been a voice in that room. I joined the offensive line this morning and felt his good vibes. That’s what he does. He brings really good vibes to that room and throughout the team, not just the offensive line,” Outten said.
Special Players Make Special Plays
There is no doubt in my belief that Broncos outside linebacker Baron Browning could be the future of the position for the team. Bradley Chubb is set to be a free agent in 2023, and if he has a good season the team may not be able to afford him. Malik Reed, a key reserve for the Broncos defense, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Shaq Barrett. Years ago, Barrett was a key reserve like Reed then hit free agency and became one of the best in the league – and Barrett is now compensated as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.
Losing either one of those players, and most likely both of them, open the door for Browning to do more. He’s going to get a chance this year at outside linebacker after spending most of his rookie season in 2021 as an inside linebacker. I graded Browning as my no.50 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, and I graded him as an outside linebacker. The Broncos got him at pick 105, and I think he’s a tremendous value with All Pro upside.
Browning had a big game against the Cowboys, then he was quiet against the Bills. It would be nice to see him flash against the Vikings on Saturday.
Hackett believes in Browning’s skill and his future with the team.
“We’re always going to find a balance between getting a guy’s role and keeping guys fresh. Especially at that position, it’s rare to find a guy that’s going to play every snap, so you always have to have a good rotation there and that’s where he can help us. He can do some special things, too, so you want to find a role to utilize his skill set,” Hackett said.