Editor’s note: Welcome into one of many, many BSN Denver observation pieces to come this offseason. A fan favorite in the past, these stories will be posted after each and every training camp practice. Who is standing out, who is lagging behind and who is looking like the favorite in each of the position battles? Those questions and many more will be answered right here.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Crash, bang, pop. What are those noises? The sound of fully-padded football practices.
On Tuesday, for the first time since 2017, the Denver Broncos strapped on full pads.
Football, real football is back.
Here’s how the first fully padded practice of training camp went down on Tuesday morning at the UCHealth Training Center.
THE SPECTACULAR SUTTON
Four seconds left on the clock. The offense down 26-21. Ball on the defense’s 18-yard line. One final play for the win.
Case Keenum drops back, scanning the field as all his receivers head toward the end zone. With the pocket collapsing around the edges, the seven-year vet races up in the pocket and chucks one into the back left corner of the end zone.
It’s a prayer.
Rookie sensation Courtland Sutton is camped in the corner, but smothered by fellow rookie Isaac Yiadom who is between him and the ball. As the ball approaches, Sutton leaps in the air with his 6-foot-4 frame. Although Yiadom is still in front of him, it’s clear this is Sutton’s ball.
Sure enough, the rookie plucks the ball out of the air — making an incredibly difficult catch look routine — and, with the grace of a ballerina touches both feet in bounds. Touchdown. Broncos (offense) wins. A game winner for the rookie.
That was the final play for the first team offense and defense on the day and arguably the most important play of training camp so far. Not only did Sutton make the catch, Keenum trusted him so much to not target one of the veterans, but him.
That’s just the way training camp has gone for Sutton so far.
“He’s a big body with great ball skill. He has strong hands. Even when the ball is contested he can win,” head coach Vance Joseph said after watching the rookie win the game for his offense. “Obviously, you can see what he can do. Hopefully, he’s over 50 percent [in jump balls], that’ll be huge for us. Especially in the red zone.”
While Sutton is no stranger to the big play, his consistency is just as remarkable. On the day, he caught passes over the middle, short and on the sidelines. Labeled as “very raw” by the organization after the draft, Sutton’s route-running abilities have been incredibly impressive.
The dialogue around Sutton is becoming routine: Another day, another corner covering him, the same result.
“I really like those guys,” Bradley Roby said on Tuesday, talking abut DaeSean Hamilton and Sutton. “I’ve got to give it to John [Elway] and everybody up top because those are great, great picks. At first, it was like, ‘Who are these guys.’ I don’t really watch college football that much.”
“On that field, they are beasts, especially 14, Courtland. He’s getting up, snagging on guys every day. He’s a big, big guy. Solid hands.”
Keenum’s been rock solid throughout camp. On top of making himself look like a significant upgrade from the Broncos’ quarterback play last year, he’s made nearly everyone on the offense look like upgrades from last year.
One of the biggest things he’s done to accomplish that is the way he expertly manipulates the pocket. That was on full display on Tuesday.
With Von Miller and Co. coming off the edge, Keenum has had to deal with significant pressure during the first four days of camp. Instead of letting the outside pressure freak him out and force him out of the pocket, he’s stayed cool and stepped up in the pocket. An excellent example of that was the game-winning toss to Sutton.
When pressure is coming from the outside, instead of trying to escape the pocket, Keenum steps up, buying more time for himself, his receivers, and his tackles.
On Tuesday, when Keenum scrambled downfield, it was through the middle of the offensive line after stepping up to by the offense time.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s better in my opinion than what I saw on tape,” Joseph said with an enormous smile on his face. “Even talking to ‘Kube’ this morning about Case — we had him in Houston — and how much he’s grown as a quarterback — his accuracy, his command, his smarts, his feel. He’s better now than he was last year, in my opinion.”
BACKUPS NEED MORE TIME
After Tuesday’s practice, when asked how he would evaluate the play of Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly, Joseph initially responded with, “Very solid.” However, as his answer unfolded, he sidestepped.
“No one is grading practice. We don’t look at it like you look at it. It’s just practice,” the head coach said. “We have good plays, we have bad plays, and we fix the bad ones and high-five the good ones. We’re not taking stats; we’re not grading guys right now — we’re just coaching them. For us, we don’t see it that way. So I can’t answer your question because we don’t see it that way.”
On Tuesday, both Kelly and Lynch had ups and downs as they have had every day. Paxton impressed with a few nice completions in a row, while Chad hit John Diarse in stride on a post during 7-on-7.
But Kelly lobbed a ball into double coverage that was picked off by safety Trey Marshall, while Lynch took off running too soon too many times.
In defending his backup quarterbacks, Joseph pointed to the fact the team has over a month until the first game, adding, “That’s what matters. Both guys are grinding and working to get better as quarterbacks.”
There’s peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies and full pads and tempers rising.
Tuesday’s practice was an excellent example of the latter.
“It’s part of football,” Joseph said, completely dismissing the matter.
After sustaining what initially looked to be a devastating injury (read below), Derek Wolfe was furious on the sidelines as he was being checked out by trainers. Ron Leary had to come over and talk to Wolfe to calm him down.
Later, it was Leary who was getting into it, this time on the field.
After exchanging choice words in close proximity earlier in practice, Leary and Todd Davis got in a minor pushing and shoving match that was quickly broken up.
“I’ve been talking trash to Todd since the spring, and I wasn’t practicing, so all I could do was talk,” Leary explained after practice laughing. “We’ve been having some good collisions. But it’s all love. Me and Todd’s lockers are right next to each other, so it’s all love.”
On Tuesday, the Broncos found out what life without Derek Wolfe would be like. Fortunately, it was just for a matter of minutes.
Early in practice, after taking a few live snaps on the field, Wolfe found the training staff in clear discomfort, frustration and pain. After talking to them for a few minutes, they took his helmet — never a good sign — and had him take off his pads. The staff examined his upper back and neck before he walked off the field.
The worst was feared. After all, Wolfe had neck surgery earlier in the offseason.
Yet, half an hour or so later, Wolfe jogged back on the field, put his pads on and later joined the action again.
“He had a little small stinger, but he’s fine,” Joseph said. “He came back out. He’s OK.”
In the reps Wolfe missed, Joe Woods used a myriad of players to fill in in his absence.
The first player to step up was No. 5 overall pick, Bradley Chubb. During Wolfe’s absence, Chubb was almost exclusively used as a defensive end. When Chubb wasn’t taking his spot, the team rotated Shelby Harris, Adam Gotsis and even Kyle Peko.
Fortunately for Woods' defense, Wolfe is not expected to miss a single day of practice.
In the absence of Tramaine Brock at third corner, Isaac Yiadom stepped up and had an impressive day on the field. Yes, he was “Suttoned,” but at this point in camp, that's essentially a rite of passage for the defensive backs.
Early in practice, Yiadom was Isaiah McKenzie’s shadow as he blanketed him in coverage, forcing an incompletion.
“Isaac’s making plays. He’s getting better and better each day we practice,” Joseph said Tuesday. “He’s long, so he can play press coverage, and he can play the nine ball. That’s huge for corners.”
Then, as practice drew to a close and the intensity ramped up, Yiadom found himself on the field alongside Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby.
“The rookie Isaac, ‘Ike,’ ‘Little Julio,’ is what I call him, he’s playing great. These past couple days he’s picking up all of the coverages and doing a good job of competing,” fellow corner Roby said, lighting up when asked about the rookie. “He’s forcing a lot of incompletions. He’s surprised me. He’s another guy I didn’t really know much about, but he’s a good young guy, good character. He’s going to work hard.”
The longer Brock is out, the more of an opportunity Yiadom will receive to prove himself and continue to move up the depth chart.
HEALTH AND AVAILABILITY NOTES
Garett Bolles and Brandon Marshall both returned to practice Tuesday after leaving Monday’s practice with injuries. Bolles was a full participant Tuesday, but Marshall did not participate in anything that had contact due to a minor wrist injury. Marshall is expected to be back to a full participant on Wednesday.
Jeff Heuerman (knee), Marcus Rios (hips), Josey Jewell (hamstring), Tramaine Brock (hamstring), Kenny Bell (hamstring) and Philly Brown (concussion) all did not practice.
Brock is expected to “probably” miss a week with a “medium” hamstring injury.
Jake Butt is quickly developing a connection with Keenum. On the second pass of the day, Keenum hit Butt in stride for a 25-yard touchdown in the middle of the field.
Tim Patrick has picked up where he left off after having an impressive offseason. Tuesday, he caught a touchdown from Keenum in the middle of the field during a red zone period.
Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray spent a portion of the individual group part of practice with the inside linebackers. They then spent the rest of the time with the outside backers.