Broncos Running Backs coach Eric Studesville talks to Montee Ball
The Denver Broncos 2013 rookie minicamp wrapped up on Sunday. The rookies had three days of learning the ropes at the pro level and getting used to life as a professional. This included weight training, classes on how to use social media and getting used to the terminology in the playbook. It also included non-padded football practice.
We in the media got access to the practice field for the first time this offseason. There was no contact during this minicamp, but there certainly were storylines that emerged during this time.
Here are the five most compelling storylines from my firsthand observations out at Dove Valley for the 2013 Broncos rookie minicamp.
Alex Gibbs with the Broncos in 1998
On Sunday afternoon, Mike Klis from the Denver Post reported that Alex Gibbs would return to the Broncos as an offensive line consultant.
Gibbs, 72, is going to help out Broncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu. The two have a previous working relationship, and Gibbs is expected to stick around through the regular season.
During his first tenure with the Broncos (1995-2003), Gibbs was considered the master behind the team's zone-blocking system. Running back Terrell Davis rushed for over 2,000 yards in 1998 as the ground game was a key reason why Denver hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in both 1997 and 1998.
This hiring should be considered a good sign for rookie running back Montee Ball. Like Davis, Ball is not known as a speedy back but is adept at finding cutback lanes.
Montee Ball impressed me during Broncos minicamp on the practice field and at the podium during his press conference.
Ball has endeared himself to Broncos fans because he's a lifelong fan of the team. He likely endeared himself to Peyton Manning when he commented on Friday that his first job was to protect the quarterback.
He moved well during practice, staying light on his feet when changing direction and showing good balance through drills. Ball also caught passes cleanly each day of practice and looked like a natural receiver.
When I talked to Ball he commented on his ability to rush outside the tackles with the speed to get to the edge.
On Sunday, he said that he's getting used to the increased tempo of the pro game. “Yeah, it’s very unique, and it’s very cool how it happens. You watch and see how everybody is. But really, honestly, I was making sure that I was staying in the playbook and trying to make sure I acclimated to the climate and how fast the tempo is here.”
The question remains: Is Ball going to win the starting job in training camp? We won't know the answer until later in training camp, but as of right now, it looks like he will be given every opportunity to win the job.
Sylvester Williams certainly looks the part. He's a huge prospect with a giant wingspan and the largest hands (10.75") of any defensive tackle in this draft class.
During his post practice interview Williams impressed me with his humility and focus. He comes from a blue-collar background and doesn't take anything for granted. That type of work ethic should make him an immediate favorite of the coaching staff.
After Sunday's practice, Williams commented on what he'll take away from this rookie minicamp. “The biggest thing is, like I told myself, I’m here for good now. It’s no vacation for me. I’m here to work for the rest of this summer. I’m going to get in there with [Strength and Conditioning] Coach Luke [Richesson] and give it everything I’ve got. I’m going to get as much extra in as I can to get myself in shape because I want to help this program this fall as much as I can.”
Williams should be able to get into the mix on the defensive line quickly. He'll compete with veterans Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson in training camp. The three players will battle for the two defensive tackle spots in the Broncos' 4-3 scheme.
If Williams doesn't win the starting job to begin the season, he should at least get into the lineup as an important part of the rotation. I feel Williams has the natural talent, size, functional strength and work ethic to win the starting job after camp.
Quanterus Smith should be able to get onto the field as a part-time pass-rusher in 2013. He is still recovering from last season's knee injury but should be 100 percent healthy by the start of training camp.
Sunday after practice, Broncos head coach John Fox talked about when he expects Smith to be ready. “I think you’re going to be impressed. I know we were when he was healthy. Unfortunately injuries are part of the game. You deal with them and come back. We had a starting quarterback that had kind of that issue a year ago. We’ll make sure he’s healthy before he’s out there. Our medical people will do a good job with monitoring that moving forward.”
The Broncos have three of the top 15 wide receivers in the game today. Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker are called the "Big Three" for a good reason.
Denver's quarterback Peyton Manning could post even better numbers than he did in 2012. In fact, if Manning threw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career, I wouldn't be surprised.
It's great to have that trio at the top of the depth chart, but the team needs to have quality players ready behind them. With the addition of fifth-round pick Tavarres King (Georgia) in the 2013 NFL draft, it has that. Players like Greg Orton, Gerell Robinson, and undrafted rookie Quincy McDuffie will also make the battle for backup wide receiver positions interesting.
On Sunday, I interviewed King on my ESPN radio show in Denver.
I asked him first about his rookie minicamp experience. "It's been awesome man. It's just been a lot of learning. Trying to learn the offense, what to do, and how to do it. Just trying to get the ins and outs of what it means to be a pro."
King also commented on his speed at the pro level. "Speed is speed. The biggest part of my game is my speed. If I can utilize that the way I did in college then hopefully I can do some successful things here in Denver."
When asked about his role, King said "My job this year is to learn behind those guys [Thomas, Welker, Decker] and then take it from there."
King could win the fourth string job, but he'll have to hold off veterans like Andre Caldwell to do so. Orton, Robinson and McDuffie should be in the mix too.
Orton showed well all three days of camp, and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase is excited to see more. “He was having a good camp last year and he got hurt, so I think that little bit of a setback kind of affected him as far as being able to make the roster. Bringing him back on the practice squad, we got to watch him every day against the defense, and he gets open a lot. This year will be a great opportunity for him to compete for one of those spots, and he’s very competitive on special teams, as well.”
I like Robinson's size/speed combination but would like to see better concentration from him in training camp.
McDuffie was a player I highlighted in yesterday's report. He's got the speed and elusiveness to contribute as a receiver or as a return man.
The Broncos may have a "Big Three" at the top of the depth chart, but the rest of the guys at the position can make plays. It will be interesting to see how this battle shapes up in training camp.
Zac Dysert is a player I watched closely all through rookie minicamp. He had his ups and downs during the three days of practice, but I expect him to come back to team minicamp on May 20 a lot sharper.
Dysert is a developmental quarterback who is not going to push Brock Osweiler for the backup job behind Peyton Manning in 2013.
I like where the Broncos drafted him (seventh round) and feel that he's a low-risk, medium-reward player.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase talked about developing young quarterbacks and why he liked the team hiring Greg Knapp as their new quarterback's coach. "That was the great thing about hiring Coach Knapp: his track record of developing young quarterbacks is outstanding, with T.J. Yates in Houston—Jeff Garcia, I was lucky to be with him later in his career and he credited Coach Knapp with almost everything he accomplished. I’m just glad that we have him on our staff.”
Ryan Katz played at John Fox's alma mater San Diego State but is only a camp arm in my opinion. He could land a spot on the practice squad if he impresses in camp.
After practice on Sunday, Fox commented on both rookie quarterbacks. "Both those guys (Katz and QB Zac Dysert) are real smart, real sharp guys. They’ll get brought up to speed pretty quick between [QB] Brock [Osweiler] and [QB] Peyton [Manning] tomorrow. But I think they’ll hold their own. They’re sharp guys and very impressive.”
I've always said that good teams draft and develop quarterbacks as often as they possibly can. It's the toughest position to play in football, and there's always a chance you can strike gold with a late-round or undrafted quarterback.
That's a wrap for my rookie minicamp reports. Stay tuned as I'll return with more on May 20 as the Broncos kick off veteran mincamp at Dove Valley.