Earlier this month, the Denver Broncos unveiled their schedule for training camp. Things kick off at Dove Valley on July 31, and the fans will get to watch the Broncos at their new facility. Last year, training camp was closed to the public as team headquarters underwent a massive construction project.
The Broncos have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. It will be a difficult process to put together the best 53-man roster possible—and it will take most of the month of August to do so.
There will be positional battles at multiple spots as the Broncos establish their depth chart for the 2015 season. This pecking order will largely be determined by a player’s performance in training camp.
In this edition of “Broncos To Watch in Training Camp,” we take a look at a new player on the Broncos roster, free safety Darian Stewart.
Stewart had a lot to prove when he came into the league. Undrafted out of South Carolina in 2010, Stewart first proved himself with a breakout 2011 season when he racked up 66 tackles and three sacks as a member of the St. Louis Rams.
The next two seasons saw Stewart work through various nagging injuries, but he failed to produce at the same level he did in 2011.
The Rams decided to let him leave in free agency, and the Baltimore Ravens added him to a one-year contract in March of 2014. He started 14 of 16 games for the Ravens, and Stewart played the most snaps (782) he had since the 2011 season. Most of his time came at strong safety, and Stewart did a good job with his opportunity by racking up 37 tackles and one forced fumble.
Then offensive coordinator of the Ravens, new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, must have liked what he saw from Stewart on the practice field and during game day. The Broncos wasted little time and added Stewart with a two-year contract near the start of free agency earlier this year.
With the ability to work in space, Stewart does a good job of closing on passes quickly. He’s a smart player who has the speed to recover when routes are intended to go deep.
He also isn’t afraid to swoop in to the ball-carrier in run support.
Stewart is more than just a center fielder in the secondary; he has a physical element to his game. Even through offseason workouts, teammates noticed how aggressive Stewart was.
Starting cornerback Chris Harris Jr. liked what he saw from Stewart during minicamp and OTAs earlier this year. “I'm loving Stewart right now. He's very vocal and a smart guy. I can tell that he's going to have a physical presence.”
Stewart has what scouts call “click and close” ability. When he’s backpedaling as the play is unfolding in front of him, Stewart can quickly plant his foot in the ground and launch himself violently toward the ball-carrier. He’s got solid quick-twitch ability, and changing direction without losing much speed is not a problem.
Lack of durability has been a problem for Stewart during his pro career. He missed six games combined during the 2012 and 2013 seasons when he was with the Rams. Thigh, calf and mainly hamstring injuries slowed Stewart down during that time. Not only did he miss games, but Stewart also failed to do much with his opportunity when he was on the field during those two seasons.
Stewart is an aggressive player—and that’s a good thing—but it can be used against him. He's susceptible to double-moves by receivers, and this can get him burned in coverage. Stewart will also take some bad angles to the football at times and then miss tackles when closing on the ball-carrier.
If he can play aggressively with more discipline, Stewart should be a fine asset for the Broncos defense.
What to Watch for
During training camp, we’ll see how Stewart looks starting next to strong safety T.J. Ward. During offseason workouts, Stewart took most of the reps with the first-team defense.
He’ll have to prove in training camp he’s a better starting option than guys like converted cornerback Omar Bolden or special teams ace David Bruton. Stewart may also face competition from the Broncos' first-round pick from last year.
Cornerback Bradley Roby looked good as a rookie in 2014. Playing as a nickel corner, opposing quarterbacks tested Roby early and often as they tried to avoid Harris and Aqib Talib. We could see Roby develop into an All-Pro corner someday.
However, earlier this year, Kubiak suggested the team could look to Roby for some free safety snaps in 2015. The idea is the team wants its best defenders on the field at the same time. Roby is certainly talented, but perhaps leaving him at nickel corner for one more year is the team’s best bet.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been impressed with his group of safeties so far through offseason workouts.
“We brought Darian in, and he’s been playing the free safety with our first group, and I think he’s done a good job. We have other guys certainly. I think Omar has done well at safety. We’ve got some other guys that look pretty good.”
Phillips continued: “Obviously, Ward and Bru, those guys have been here and are good players, too. We’ll look at all of them and see how it shakes out. I think Darian probably said it, but it’s probably his job to lose. He’s there right now as the first-team guy, so he’s got to prove he can play.”
When the pads come on in training camp, it will be time for Stewart to take his game to the next level.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.