Denver Broncos Training Camp: Week 1 Stock Report
The Denver Broncos get their first training camp break on Tuesday. The team started camp last Thursday, and it's been working hard ever since. The Broncos have spent the last three days in shoulder pads, and the tension has built at Dove Valley Headquarters in Englewood, Colorado.
At Monday’s practice, there were three separate fights during various drills. These fights varied in size, but they all broke up fairly quickly. Jobs are on the line at Dove Valley as the Broncos have a stacked roster with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.
I'm at practice every day, broadcasting live on ESPN Denver, and I've had a keen eye on everything that's going on at Dove Valley.
With the first five days of training camp in the books, let’s take a look at the Broncos' stock report.
Stock Up: Julius Thomas
Yes, Julius Thomas was a breakout player for the Broncos last year (65 receptions, 788 yards, 12 touchdowns). That doesn’t mean that he can’t get better in 2014.
Thomas has been a standout player every day in camp so far. He’s always been able to “box out” defenders like he used to do on the basketball court, but now Thomas looks tougher when running routes over the middle. He’s got a more physical presence this year, and he’s been hanging on to the football while defenders have been testing him with big hits.
The Broncos lost a red-zone threat this offseason when they lost wide receiver Eric Decker to the New York Jets in free agency. Decker’s 11 touchdown grabs could be spread among other players in the offense, and Thomas could be the primary beneficiary.
He’s looked great on the practice field, and Thomas should be able to carry that momentum over to the playing field on Sundays.
Stock Down: Gerell Robinson
Earlier this year, the Broncos signed Gerell Robinson to a contract and converted him from a wide receiver to a tight end. He was a big-bodied wide receiver (6'4", 220 lbs), and the Broncos hoped he could make a smooth transition to his new spot on the roster.
Robinson was the only tight end at rookie minicamp, and he received one-on-one coaching with tight end coach Clancy Barone. Already a good receiving threat, Robinson was coached mostly on how to block from his new position.
When the Broncos released Joel Dreessen last week, it created a real opportunity for Robinson to make the final roster.
He’s been too hot-and-cold to make much of a positive impression so far in camp. Robinson can bail out backup quarterback Brock Osweiler as they have strong chemistry dating back to their days playing together in college at Arizona State. Robinson is athletic enough to make difficult catches seem routine, but it seems like he’s dropping too many easy passes.
Perhaps Robinson knows he can make the final roster as the team’s fourth tight end, and he’s pressing out on the practice field. Robinson needs to be more consistent and reliable if the team is going to take a shot on him in 2014.
The Broncos don’t need to carry four tight ends if Robinson doesn’t pan out. They have a cramped wide receiver position and may only carry three tight ends in order to carry a sixth wide receiver, like Isaiah Burse.
Robinson has the athleticism and the talent. He needs to make the most out of every rep from here on out in order to make the team.
Stock Up: C.J. Anderson
There is a heated battle at the running back position behind starter Montee Ball. It’s only been five days, but C.J. Anderson is making a run at that second spot.
Anderson showed up at OTAs earlier this year weighing in at 235 pounds. The coaches were upset with his weight, so he spent the month off before training camp getting into better shape. Anderson now checks in at a slim 213 pounds.
The Broncos need a backup running back who could take over as the starter if Ball gets hurt—or if he needs a breather in a game. Anderson is arguably the only back the team could trust as a starter in case of an emergency.
Anderson is competing with Ronnie Hillman to be the top backup. Hillman could be a decent change-of-pace back (if he stops fumbling), but he’s not built to carry the ball 20-plus times in a game. Anderson has the size and running style to start if needed.
He’s the team’s only power back, and even at a reduced size, Anderson still has a powerful lower body. This strength helps him push through the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations or at the goal line. In practice on Monday, Anderson was able to stay low and push through three defenders to get into the end zone.
Anderson is lighter and quicker now. He has a good 10-yard burst, and he can get to top speed in a hurry. This helps him burst through holes after he patiently waits for his blocks to develop.
He’s got starter’s ability, and Anderson is working hard to prove himself at training camp.
Stock Down: Duke Ihenacho
Sometimes a player’s stock can be impacted more by the players around him rather than his own play on the practice field. That describes what is happening with safety Duke Ihenacho right now.
Ihenacho is a fan favorite, and he’s known as a hard-hitter. He is outstanding as a run defender who can play close to the line of scrimmage. Ihenacho can patrol the field and be an enforcer for the defense in the box.
Where he struggles is in coverage.
Ihenacho has yet to prove that he can handle covering receivers or tight ends who enter the third level of the defense. He’s aggressive and looking for the big play, but Ihenacho will take many false steps and bite on most every fake a receiver or quarterback gives him.
He has been a regular target on pump fakes and double moves. On the first day of camp, rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer was able to burn both Ihenacho and cornerback Kayvon Webster for a 50-plus-yard touchdown. That type of play only accentuates the flaws in Ihenacho’s game.
The Broncos are mixing fourth-year safety Quinton Carter into practice more than Ihenacho. While Ihenacho has been OK, Carter has been outstanding. Carter missed most of the last two years due to a microfracture knee injury. He’s ready to go now and standing out each day.
A healthy Carter changes the landscape at the safety position. He’s a strong or a free safety with the versatility that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio loves. When T.J. Ward is moved to middle linebacker in the nickel package, it is Carter—and not Ihenacho—who fills in at strong safety.
Ihenacho’s spot on the roster is not safe. He’s not going to go away quietly, but his skill set is not as well-rounded as Carter’s.
Stock Up: Emmanuel Sanders
A star at training camp every day, Emmanuel Sanders has looked excellent with his new team. After the first day of camp, Sanders gave himself a grade of “less than an F” because he dropped one (ONE) pass in practice.
The more realistic grade for Sanders should be an A+ because he’s making big plays seem routine.
Sanders is being used in many different ways. He can line up in the slot, his most natural position, but he can also line up on the outside to stretch the field. This versatility is something offensive coordinator Adam Gase will explore fully.
Gase is one of the most creative young offensive coordinators in the game today. Sanders gives him an upgrade over last year’s No. 2 wide receiver, Decker. While Decker was a sharp route-runner, he’s not as quick or fast as Sanders is.
Sanders' quickness helps him get off the line of scrimmage cleanly. Defenders are struggling to jam in off the line, and Sanders is making them pay down the field or after the catch.
At this time, Sanders is getting the best of cornerback Aqib Talib. The battle between the two has been fun to watch. Sanders has been setting up his routes well, and his speed makes him a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
Sanders is not the red-zone threat that Decker is, but he should post career-best touchdown numbers this season. He’s never had a 100-yard receving game, but he could have multiple such games as the year goes on.
He’s tough to cover, and the team is being very creative in the way he’s being used. Sanders is a player who could star for the Broncos each Sunday.
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