Broncos rookie RB Montee Ball runs through drills at minicamp
Day 2 of Broncos rookie minicamp has wrapped up at Dove Valley. Players are getting more into the swing of things as they get used to practice at the pro level.
Saturday saw some players follow up their strong performances from Friday. Other players seemed to struggle today after flashing some good things on Day 1.
Both offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio spoke to the media after practice and gave us further insight into what the Broncos could look like in 2013.
Here are my first-hand observations from Day 2 of Broncos rookie minicamp out at Dove Valley.
Adam Gase was promoted earlier this year from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator when Mike McCoy left Denver to become the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Gase was known for his close working relationship with Peyton Manning and helped the future Hall of Fame quarterback get used to his new surroundings in Denver last season.
This year Gase will have less time to spend with Manning. “I will personally be spending less time with him as far as meeting times. I’ll be in meetings, but I like to spread my time out, go a little bit with the tight ends and receivers," Gase said.
Gase is going to be in command of the entire offense. The new-look Broncos offense should be Manning-friendly in addition to featuring a new base set "11 personnel." This formation will get three wide receivers on the field at the same time and will stretch out the defense.
Gase commented on using more "11 personnel" in 2013 because the team added wide receiver Wes Welker in free agency: “We had a good mix of what we call 11/12 personnel with the tight ends, and with [WR Brandon] Stokley being in there [last season], we’ll mix it up. It’s all going to be game plan-predicated. Whatever is best for that week is probably what we’ll focus on."
In addition to more three wide receiver sets, we should also see the Broncos emphasize the outside zone stretch play after using primarily inside zone rushes in 2012. I had to ask Gase if we'd see the zone stretch play Manning used effectively with the Colts. Gase commented, “We’re going to be a little more balanced on inside/outside runs. It’s going to be predicated, obviously, on what the defense is giving us, so as the game goes, it’s probably going to change."
The running back corps was strengthened when the Broncos added Montee Ball (Wisconsin) in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. Gase likes what he's seen from Ball so far at minicamp: “I’ve enjoyed the last two days being around him. The thing that I love about Montee, that he does, is he has great vision. I never really saw him take the massive shot. He did a great job of being able to avoid the big hit."
Gase also made sure to emphasize what he's seen from second-year running back Ronnie Hillman in "Phase Two" of the offseason program:
Ronnie, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that he’s bigger. The second year being in our strength staff’s program, he really looks like he’s filled out. I think he’s still only 21. He was so young last year, and what he did in that last game was impressive, because that was a big-time situation, and I think he realized it, and I think he did a really good job of holding on to the ball and making sure he was right on everything he did.”
The Broncos should utilize an up-tempo offense in 2013 featuring Peyton Manning, the passing game and outside zone running. This could be an even more potent offense than the one we saw under Mike McCoy in 2012.
Jack Del Rio enters his second year with the Broncos in 2013. The former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars has given the Broncos something they haven't had at the defensive coordinator position in recent years—continuity. When Del Rio was hired in 2012, he became the Broncos seventh defensive coordinator in seven years. Now the defense can look forward to Year 2 under Del Rio.
When talking about Year 2, Del Rio commented, "For the most part, you work hard to establish a culture. That’s the biggest thing. You want to establish a way that you are going to do things and operate. We’ve done that. Now with the guys coming back, we ought to build on last year and go forward.”
Del Rio was fired up to talk about rookie minicamp. When asked if he enjoyed this part of the process, he said, "It’s like opening a present at Christmas time. You want to see what the present is like. We’ve added some talent; we’ve added some players that will come in and compete for spots and for roles. I definitely look forward to this time of year.”
A big concern for Broncos fans is how the team will replace Elvis Dumervil (Ravens) who they lost in free agency earlier this year. When asked if Von Miller would have a different role because of Dumervil's departure, Del Rio had this to say: “It really won’t. Von’s role is such where he does a lot—and he’ll continue to do a lot. That won’t change because Elvis isn’t here.”
The Broncos defense got a huge boost when defensive tackle Sylvester Williams slid to the 28th overall pick in the first-round of the 2013 NFL draft. Del Rio likes what he sees in the rookie:
Sylvester is a big guy. [He] has some quickness. Very serious and very determined in his approach. That is a pretty good way to begin. Come in here humble, but definitely ready to work and kind of man-up and do his job. That part has been very impressive.
I asked Del Rio about another position Broncos fans are concerned with—the middle linebacker spot. Del Rio said:
There will be some [competition]. We have a number of guys. Joe Mays was our starter last year, who is injured now. So other guys are going to get the first crack at working at it. Nate Irving was drafted here to be a middle linebacker. He’s been a backup; he’s been a special-teams player. He knows our system. He is working hard to get himself in the type of shape he needs to be in and we’ll see if he can take a step forward.
Stevie Johnson is a young man who caught our eye last year. He was primarily a special-teams player and a backup player. He knows our system and he’s excited about the opportunity. Stewart Bradley is a veteran guy that has played at a high level in the league at middle linebacker. He’s another guy in the mix."
Del Rio seemed cool and confident when answering questions today. If the Broncos are going to make a deep run in the postseason, then the defense will have to do its part to get the ball back to the offense as much as possible.
One of the ways the Broncos are going to make up for the loss of Elvis Dumervil (Ravens) is to mix in different pass-rushers from all over the formation. One of those pass rushers should be rookie Quanterus Smith.
The Broncos added Smith in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft despite the fact that he's still recovering from a 2012 knee injury he suffered at Western Kentucky. Smith was leading the NCAA in sacks last year (12.5) before missing the final two games of the year due to his knee injury. The Broncos expect him to be back for training camp and right now are monitoring his recovery closely.
If he can get back to full strength, the Broncos may have gotten a steal in the draft. Smith is an edge rusher who can bend and get under slower offensive tackles. He's a position versatile player who can line up on either side of the line. Smith played big in the biggest game of his career, recording three sacks against Alabama.
On Saturday, I had a chance to interview Smith on my ESPN radio show in Denver. He talked about being 'in the zone' that day against the Crimson Tide. "I wanted to go in the first round. I knew in that game, coming out of a small school I had to dominate. That was my mindset."
Smith also told me that he patterned his game after 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith. That's a pretty good player to emulate as a young player at a small school.
He also shared his feelings about lining up with Von Miller on defense: “It’s real exciting having the opportunity to play the opposite side of Von Miller. Growing up, he was somebody I watched when I was in college. So it’s very exciting.”
Broncos fans should be excited about Smith's upside and future with this team.
The Broncos needed to add more depth to the offensive line, and that's what they did when they selected Vinston Painter in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Painter is a mountain of a man, with the wingspan and arm strength to control opponents at the point of attack. He's a position versatile player who can line up outside at right tackle or inside at guard. Most teams only dress seven offensive linemen on game day, so it's valuable to have a player who can play multiple positions.
He's very athletic for a big man, and his fluid movement skills have stood out to me so far at rookie minicamp. Painter is known as a quality pass protector who can handle speed rushers on the edge.
He does need to improve his ability to counter a second move from a defender. Too often on film, he could get out of position when a second (usually inside) move was executed. Painter should also play with more of a nasty streak as a run blocker.
Painter really made a name for himself at the 2013 scouting combine. After practice Saturday he commented on what that performance did for his draft stock:
I’d say very important because going into the season I was basically a question mark. No one knew who I was. Of course, putting together the season that I had, it kind of raised some eyebrows like, ‘Who is this guy?’
I feel like the combine was the icing on the cake that kind of—I had to show up there for that to be the ultimate eye-opener. Where I felt as though going into it I could do what I did at the combine, I just wanted to let it show.
That was my main goal, just to allow the combine to be that opportunity to show up and let the teams know I’m here, I can play, I can perform and I’m just as good as the rest of these guys here. You just didn’t know me.”
Players with the size, athletic ability, and upside of Painter don't come around that often. The Broncos have an intriguing developmental player to work with in him.
Zac Dysert had a good first day of rookie minicamp, but I can't say he followed that up on Saturday with another strong performance.
I still liked the zip and velocity Dysert was throwing with, but his accuracy problems were on full display. There were several throws that were too long for his intended target. Yes, chemistry isn't there yet after only two days, but Dysert still failed to connect several times on "9" routes down the sidelines.
When passes were to the middle of the field, I saw a couple hit the dirt in front of the target. Perhaps this was a mechanical issue that can be corrected with better footwork. I did like Dysert's release point when throwing. He also didn't show a lack of confidence even after several passes missed the mark.
Overall, the second day of rookie minicamp was not as impressive as the first day for Dysert.
After practice, Dysert talked about his experience so far:
Obviously you’re going to have your first-and second-day lumps but I think we’ve made a good progression from Day 1 to Day 2. We’re still getting to know each other and everybody is still getting to know the offense so there are some things we need to work on.
I’m loving it right now. This is a dream come true for me. I wouldn’t rather be in any other place. I’m having a great time.
I like where the Broncos drafted Dysert, as it's a low-risk move with the potential for a strong return on their investment. Dysert likes the fit with the Broncos as well:
John Elway is obviously one of the greatest players to play the game, and Peyton [Manning], so I have two great mentors to learn from here. Like I said, I couldn’t be in a better spot. I just want to learn from these guys as much as I can and take as much from them as I can and just run with the opportunity when I get it.
Dysert is no threat to backup (and quarterback of the future) Brock Osweiler. It will be interesting to watch Dysert develop as his pro career unfolds.
Tavarres King has now flashed big-time ability two days in a row at rookie minicamp. His speed was once again on display, and he was able to get into his routes quickly. King also impressed me with an over-the-shoulder catch about 30 yards downfield that he had to twist to see the off-target pass.
King was extremely honest when commenting on the minicamp: “It’s crazy. It’s kind of like you have to be perfect out there. It’s a lot of fun. High energy—it’s kind of like making that transition from high school to college, but it’s more intensified.”
He is going to compete with veteran Andre Caldwell to be the Broncos fourth-string receiver behind Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Eric Decker. King talked about what his expectations are in 2013:
I just want to contribute any way I can to this team. I have a tremendous opportunity to learn under some of the greatest minds in the game in [QB] Peyton Manning and [WR] Wes Welker, who is a great route-runner, [WR] Eric Decker, ‘D.T.’ (WR Demaryius Thomas)—those guys are phenomenal. I have an opportunity to learn under them and perfect my game from there.
Catching passes from future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is a huge bonus for the rookie. He added:
It’s crazy. It is insane. I used to play with that guy [Manning] on Madden. It is awesome to have this opportunity just to learn and pick that guy’s brain and learn everything that he has to offer from his mind, it’s just tremendous. I’m excited about it. It’s honestly a dream come true.
I liked King's fit with the Denver Broncos when the pick was made. I'm even more excited about his upside after watching him dominate in the first two days of rookie minicamp.
As I noted on Saturday on Twitter, the player most often written down in my practice notebook was Quincy McDuffie. He flashed a little on Friday but made several standout plays on Saturday.
McDuffie was one of the fastest and most exciting players to watch in college football. He can make an impact as a runner, receiver or return man. McDuffie doesn't just have speed, but he has acceleration to get to top speed in a hurry. He also can cut at speed and doesn't slow down when he has to change direction.
Even though he measures in at 5'10" and 178 pounds, McDuffie is a feisty player who will regularly catch passes at their highest point. I saw him snare several passes that were above his head today with ease. Once the pass was secured, McDuffie could turn quickly upfield for yards after the catch.
I like the way that McDuffie would stay low when changing direction. His pad level will allow him to run through would be tacklers who try to wrap him up around the shoulders.
McDuffie also showed great balance when running through drills. He caught a pass near the sideline on a play most players would have continued out of bounds due to momentum. Instead, he was able to stop on a dime, turn quickly, and accelerate down the field in the blink of an eye.
His size and undrafted status means he will have to continually prove people wrong in order to succeed at the NFL level. It will be interesting to see if McDuffie can continue to impress through offseason training activities and training camp.