ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—The team here’s last playoff appearance came in Super Bowl 50. Russell Wilson and a revamped football operation have arrived to fix that. Can they? Will they? After stops at the Bills, Packers, Bears, Colts, Bengals, Steelers, Browns, Vikings and Chiefs, here’s some of what I saw just outside Denver on another clear, warm summer day in Colorado.
1) The first thing that was noticeable here, very clearly, is the level of energy and competition in practice. Through coach Nathaniel Hackett’s first camp, the Broncos have pretty much eschewed 7-on-7 and 1-on-1s all together for 11-on-11 work—it felt like about three-quarters of Thursday’s practice was a full offense going up against a full defense. I was told that could vary a little in the coming days, with perhaps some 1-on-1s mixed in, but it is pretty much the way it’s been through camp. And the idea here, hatched by Hackett (and to some degree mirroring what he was a part of in Green Bay the last three years) is to make the most out of the 13 full-speed practices they’ll get in camp, essentially prioritizing the quality of reps the players get over the quantity.
2) Second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain II looks like an All-Pro, and I don’t think that’s even a slight embellishment. When you see him in person, his size and length stick out, and also how smooth and easy-moving he is. The new staff has also been really impressed with his demeanor—and how he never panics or wavers in his belief in himself. That’s come to life on a couple instances in which Surtain’s gotten beat early in a route this summer, only to recover and make a play on the ball (having really good recovery speed doesn’t hurt either). New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero worked with Jalen Ramsey the last couple years in Los Angeles, and while they’re different players, it’s not out of bounds to think Surtain could climb into that class this year, and become, as Ramsey is, the kind of player you can build a defense around.
3) Bradley Chubb is finally healthy, and I’d expect Denver to move him around in its front in passing situations to create problems for opposing offenses. This, of course, is a very big year for Chubb, as he readies to play on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract.
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4) Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has really improved as a blocker, and surprised the staff with how quickly he picked up, and took to, the new offense. The Broncos really like the tight end room Okwuegbunam is in, too, with Eric Tomlinson, Eric Saubert and hybrid-fullback Andrew Beck in there as well. One challenge for Hackett and offensive coordinator Justin Outten will be in how to deploy the guys in there within the offense.
5) Two other guys who look like they’ve latched on to Hackett’s offense are tailback Javonte Williams and guard Dalton Risner. The staff sees the former as an interesting combination of smooth and violent, and he’s shown his intelligence to those coaches both on and off the field. As for the latter, going to the new Shanahan-styled system was a transition that was going to require buy-in and adaptability, and the rough-and-tumble Risner has flashed both to the coaches.
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