With their trip to visit President Barack Obama behind them, the Denver Broncos returned to UCHealth Training Center for the first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. They’ve already gone through a few weeks of OTAs, but the installation continues and things start to ramp up on the practice field as training camp gets closer.
The team has had an interesting offseason to say the least. As Super Bowl champions, they have more extracurricular activities than they would in a normal nonplaying season.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak knows the team has faced challenges this offseason.
“It’s been good. There’s always things happening, but the most important thing is what we do on that field and how we get ready to play," Kubiak said. "I think we’ve done a good job of sorting through distractions and various things that are going on with our team and staying focused on football.“
Here are some Day 1 observations, interesting notes and revealing quotes from the start of mandatory minicamp at Dove Valley.
Sanchez the First-Team QB
Last week during OTAs, the Broncos were splitting the reps evenly between the three quarterbacks on the roster. Mark Sanchez was brought in to give the team veteran depth, but he was splitting time with Trevor Siemian and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch.
This week, it was Sanchez who lined up under center as the first-team quarterback to open mandatory minicamp.
His experience has to give him a leg up in this competition. Yes, he’s learning the Kubiak offense, but Sanchez played in a similar system during his college days at USC. After throwing an interception on the second play of OTAs, Sanchez has only thrown one more pick during offseason workouts. It seems like he’s getting more comfortable with his teammates as time passes.
Kubiak is patient when considering Sanchez as the team’s starter.
“I just think things take time," he said. "I think you’re going to see it get better and better, and today was a step in the right direction.”
Siemian worked with the second-team offense. Instead of tossing passes to Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders, Siemian looked to connect with players like Jordan Taylor. His strong arm is on display every time he steps onto the practice field, but Siemian must show better control if he wants to win the starting job.
The second-year quarterback is not focused on the competition, but instead on what he can do.
“I don’t look too much into [the quarterback reps]," Siemian said. "Wouldn’t matter if I was with the threes or the ones, just making the most of the reps I’m getting, staying consistent with my feet and my eyes and not looking too much into it.”
Lynch is obviously the future of the franchise, and in only a handful of practices there have been improvements to his game. His footwork is better when throwing deep, and that has improved his pass placement when going long.
When Lynch is not on the field, he can be seen off to the side going through the motions.
“The biggest thing is, when they’re calling the play and I hear it in the headset, I’m just saying it to myself out loud so I can get used to it," Lynch explained. "It’s just like calling a play in the huddle. I go through my footwork, my reads and my progressions just like I’m out there going through the play myself.”
Kubiak revealed that an official depth chart for the quarterback position would be revealed sometime early in training camp. In the meantime, these three passers will work to impress the coaching staff.
Booker’s Head Spinning
He may not be here to carry pads, but running back Devontae Booker needs to get more entrenched within the playbook if he wants to take anyone’s job. C.J. Anderson is the clear-cut starter for the Broncos, but the rookie fourth-round pick wants to be more than just a backup.
On the practice field, Booker has been doing more and more in each session that is open to the media. He’s still recovering from the meniscus injury he suffered at Utah last year that required two surgeries to repair.
Booker isn’t quite at full strength, but he's believed to be around 90 percent. As his reps increase, you can see that he’s not quite running or reacting naturally on the practice field. Coaches seem to spend extra time with him that the other backs on the roster don’t need.
Kubiak admits the rookie must pick up the mental part of the game to play up to his potential.
“I think we could probably turn him loose [physically] here next week maybe," Kubiak said. "I don’t know that we’ll do that, but I think with Book, it’s going to be more mental, because remember, he’s not getting the reps these other guys are getting. But a good-looking player, and just want him to be in position to cut it loose in July.”
Anderson revealed the backs on the roster are making sure Booker is checked in mentally on every play.
“We quiz him every time we’re out there, no matter if it’s [running backs coach Eric] Studesville or if it’s myself or if it’s Ronnie [Hillman]," Anderson said. "We just try to say, ‘What’s the protection? Who do you have here?’ We don’t want to hear ‘Mike’ or ‘Will’; we want to hear numbers.”
The star running back explained, “We just want to make sure he’s on the right page and when he comes back that he’s competing at his highest level. We just want his best.”
Booker is a backup running back at this time. He has the physical skill set to eventually be more if the opportunity arises. However, he must improve mentally if he wants to mix into the rotation behind Anderson in 2016.
No Talib, No Problem
There was plenty of attention on cornerback Aqib Talib, even though he was not on the practice field. Talib was involved in a shooting last weekend, suffered a gunshot wound and was sent to the hospital. He was released from a Dallas hospital on Monday and missed the team’s visit to the White House.
Kubiak had plenty to say about Talib.
“The only thing I’m concerned about right now is his health, and that’s what I’m trying to get him here for so we can see him, put his hands on him, know exactly what’s going on and go from there," he explained.
Entering the league, Talib was a player with a reputation for off-field trouble. He’s been in trouble more than a few times through his various stops around the league. Talib’s past was something Kubiak commented on after practice.
“Aqib has been—in my time here—he’s been a great teammate," Kubiak noted. "He’s worked his butt off. He’s very accountable around here, and I don’t expect any of that to change. And like I said, let me see where he’s at physically, and we’ll go to work on everything else. “
Without Talib on the field, the team turned to 2014 first-round pick Bradley Roby. While playing as a third corner for the team, Roby has shown tremendous playmaking ability and the upside to be a starter on the outside.
Kubiak likes the young corner, and the team is prepared if Roby needs to play more.
“Obviously, because we don’t know what Aqib’s situation is going to be, [his] health and all that. We’ve got to get that figured out," Kubiak said. "But I think of Roby as a starter. I always have, and obviously his reps are going to pick up.”
The head coach recounted, “He’s out there going head-to-head with Emmanuel and D.T. all day today. We’re counting on him like we’re counting on a lot of players. “
There’s no telling what the future holds for Talib. The legal process should be exhausted before the NFL hands out any fines or suspensions for the veteran corner. We may see Talib able to play this year while justice runs its course.
No matter what happens, it seems like the Broncos are going to be prepared at the position.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.