Denver Broncos: 1st Impressions from Training Camp
The Denver Broncos kicked off training camp last Thursday, and they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl in 2014. They play their first preseason game on August 7 in what is a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII.
This time, the Seattle Seahawks will have to travel to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to play the Broncos. The teams also face each other again, this time in Seattle on Week 3.
The preseason does matter, and training camp is the time to build the best 53-man roster possible. The Broncos have new faces on both sides of the ball, and these new players are already making an impression on the practice field.
Let’s take a look at five of the early stories from Broncos training camp.
Pat Bowlen Steps Down as Owner
Training camp kicked off with sad news. The team released a statement about Pat Bowlen relinquishing control of the franchise for health reasons.
In recent years, Denver Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen has taken a reduced role with his team while courageously and privately battling Alzheimer’s disease.
The Broncos are very saddened that Mr. Bowlen is no longer able to be part of the team’s daily operations due to his condition. We continue to offer our full support, compassion and respect to ‘Mr. B,’ who has faced Alzheimer’s disease with such dignity and strength.
As Mr. Bowlen focuses on his health, the Broncos have announced changes to their leadership structure that will ensure the long-term stability of the franchise.
Mr. Bowlen’s ownership of the Broncos is held in a trust—the Pat Bowlen Trust—overseen by non-family trustees with President Joe Ellis continuing to operate the team with full authority on all matters. Plans for this trust were arranged by Mr. Bowlen beginning more than a decade ago as part of his succession plan to keep the Broncos in the Bowlen family.
Mr. Bowlen’s long-term hope is for one of his children to run the Broncos at the appropriate time, and his succession plan will continue to be implemented by our organization in compliance with NFL ownership policies.
Bowlen is NFL nobility.
He’s so well-respected by anyone he’s ever worked with. Both Ellis and Elway struggled with heavy emotions when talking about the news on Wednesday.
“So it is a sad, sad day. Pat has been a mentor. He’s been someone that I’ve looked up to, and I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today if it wasn’t for Pat Bowlen,” Elway said.
Under Bowlen, the Broncos have over 300 wins and only five losing seasons over the last 30 years. The Broncos are one of the league’s best teams, and they have a winning tradition put in place by Bowlen.
Demaryius Thomas Excused from Practice
Training camp started with a heavy heart for the Broncos organization. Not only did longtime owner Pat Bowlen have to step down from his role with the franchise, Demaryius Thomas had to deal with the loss of the grandmother who raised him.
The team excused Thomas from practice so he could return to Georgia to attend funeral services for his grandmother.
Broncos head coach John Fox talked about the sad news.
“He had a tragic loss. His grandmother in the Atlanta area passed away from Alzheimer’s. That combined with the news of [Broncos Owner] Mr. [Pat] Bowlen is pretty devastating stuff. That woman basically raised ‘D.T.’ He’s back there (in Georgia) and left last night. He’s where he needs to be right now.” Fox concluded, “We expect him back when the services are over.”
Thomas is expected to return to practice on Monday.
Contract Negotiations Ongoing for the Thomases
General manager John Elway revealed before the start of camp that the Broncos were going to address the contract situations for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.
According to Lindsay Jones from USA Today, the Broncos have made contract offers to both players and will continue to negotiate at the start of camp. Both players are entering the final years of their rookie contracts, and the Broncos would like to lock them up.
Demaryius Thomas is one of the best receivers in the game today. He’s posted back-to-back 90-plus catch seasons over the last two years, and he’s proved to be the favorite target of Peyton Manning. He may not get Calvin Johnson money, but the Broncos could try to sign him to a deal similar to what Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Julius Thomas had a breakout season in 2013. Finally healthy after missing most of his first two seasons in the league due to an ankle injury, he proved to be a nearly unstoppable weapon for the Broncos offense.
He’s unlikely to earn a contract close to what Jimmy Graham received from the New Orleans Saints, but the Broncos might sign him to a deal similar to what Kyle Rudolph just signed with the Minnesota Vikings, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
Both players are worth big-money deals. We’ll see if the Broncos can come to new agreements with one or both in the near future.
Emmanuel Sanders Is Turning Heads
One of the team’s biggest free-agent additions was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The speedy wide receiver left the Pittsburgh Steelers to join the franchise he called “wide receiver heaven.”
Sanders failed to put up monster stats with the Steelers, but that was a product of the Todd Haley system he’s worked in over the last two years. In the Adam Gase offense (and catching passes from Peyton Manning), we could see Sanders put up career-best numbers in 2014.
He has the speed and quickness to get off the line cleanly. Sanders is difficult to jam at the line of scrimmage, and defenders find it difficult to break up the timing on his routes.
Once in his route, Sanders has the speed to get down the field in the blink of an eye. This makes him a great option for deep routes that stretch the field vertically.
Sanders is also fearless when running routes over the middle. He can gather in short passes across the field, and he has the run-after-the-catch ability to make defenders miss in the open field.
He’s excited about his opportunity, and he’s getting more comfortable with his new surroundings.
“As the days go by, I’m getting more familiar with this offense and with this team. Everything is going really smooth. Of course, [QB] Peyton [Manning] has been really good about staying after practice and working with all of us guys.” Sanders concluded, “I don’t really have a choice but to be the best that I can be.”
Gase is being very creative with the way he is using Sanders in the offense. The veteran receiver should quickly become a favorite target of Manning (and a fan favorite) in 2014.
T.J. Ward Is the Boss
With a nickname like “Boss,” new strong safety T.J. Ward has a lot to live up to. If early signs at Dove Valley are any indications, Ward is going to be a boss on the football field all season long.
The Broncos practiced with shoulder pads for the first time on Saturday. Ward immediately started making big hits. He’s an intimidator who can play close to the line of scrimmage, and he’s always looking for collisions.
Ward roughed up wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders a bit on the first day, but he says it’s nothing personal.
“We’re complete teammates right now; there’s no rivalry there. It’s all competition. We’re still in practice. I know how competitive he is, how competitive I am. It was just a play where I tried to get the ball out and he fell.” Ward concluded, “It was just a bang-bang play. Nothing too serious.”
Sanders wasn’t the only player who felt Ward’s wrath.
Guys like Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball absorbed big hits by Ward when running the football. These hits just accentuate how strong Ward is as a run defender or in coverage.
Ward was the first acquisition the Broncos made in free agency. If the language of the NFL is money, then Ward’s signing says that Denver wants to be more aggressive on defense.
The Broncos already have the league’s most dangerous offense. An addition like Ward could give them a devastating defense as well.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey