For the past two weeks, every time I opened my Twitter timeline, there were two words continually showing up: Jeremiah Johnson. While I have been in Colorado for the past five weeks, Monday and Tuesday's practices offered me the first chance to see him and the other Broncos with my own eyes.
While practice was not scheduled to start until 2.20 P.M., the first Bronco out of the building was, surprise surprise, Tim Tebow, who started throwing passes to a ballboy before the clock had struck 2 P.M. The second Bronco out was rookie undrafted free agent quarterback Adam Weber, who soon found a 'warm up buddy' in Eric Decker, his teammate at Minnesota. Meanwhile, Tebow expanded his drill by taking snaps from Manny Ramirez.
The early special teams drill included a JUGS machine angled straight forward instead of up to simulate squib kicks. This drill was followed by an ' installation/tune-up' session during which the first team offense and first team defense walked through plays in slow motion. Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn lead the first team offense, while Wesley Woodyard and Cassius Vaughn rotated in with the first team defense. On the other field, Tim Tebow went through a similar session with the second team offense and defense.
During warm ups, I sat close to the offense linemen, and while everyone knows how big these guys are from the stat sheet, seeing them from up close makes you realize this even better. Especially the big guys on the outside, Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin can only be described as BIG.
One of the players that impressed me during pass blocking drills was Knowshon Moreno. Early on, Julius Thomas struggled as he got beaten easily by Von Miller, but later during the same drill he recovered nicely with a good block on linebacker Mario Haggan.
During 7-on-7, Brandon Lloyd was Kyle Orton's favorite target, while Eric Decker also hauled in a long pass. Tim Tebow completed his first two passes, but saw his third pass dropped by Knowshon Moreno, who was not pleased with himself. Adam Weber completed his two passes to Dan Gronkowski and Eron Riley.
Orton was sacked twice in 11-on-11 drills as Von Miller brought the pressure on both plays. Tebow's first pass resulted in an impressive interception by linebacker Nate Irving. Later on, Darcel McBath missed an easy interception. With Denver drafting two safeties and Kyle McCarthy's impressive play this season, McBath could have a hard time making the opening day roster.
Also noteworthy was that Matt Prater seemed to be running with the second team special teams, presumably as a result of his arrest a few days earlier.
While Monday's afternoon practice allowed the crowd to sit in a comfortable shade from the trees surrounding the field, Tuesday's morning practice left us out in the warm Colorado sun for the entire session, while the players were on the field in full pads.
Special teams drills focused on punt returns, with Eric Decker, Eddie Royal, David Anderson and Perrish Cox catching balls from the JUGS machine.
During another 20 minute ' installation/tune-up' session, Denver ran several trick plays. What I liked most was seeing Dennis Allen teach. He was very vocal, and I am excited to see more of the attacking style of defense that he will bring this season.
Passing drills were mostly focused on the play action pass, with all quarterback throwing medium and long passes followed by quick slants.
During 11-on-11, the crowd was noticeably louder as Knowshon had a nice run in which he patiently waited for a hole to open up, and he gained some extra yards after a nice cut move. On the next play, Andre Goodman was close to an interception. A toss play ended up in the backfield as Tebow took over from Orton, and on the next play the offense ran the flea-flicker that we had seen earlier that morning, with Tebow completing the pass to a receiver in the flat. Two plays later, Eron Riley had an impressive catch after creating separation from the defender with a nice move.
As Brady Quinn took over from Tebow, Jeremiah Johnson joined him in the backfield, and while he looked good on Monday, he really impressed me on Tuesday. With the release of LenDale White, it looks like a safe bet that Johnson has secured his spot on the opening day roster.
During the second part of practice, most attention was paid to the run game. Julius Thomas ran with the first team, while Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee shared the caries. Later on, Brady Quinn ran the ball for a first down.
In 7-on-7 drills, Kyle McCarthy, another camp standout who seems poised to lock up a roster spot, ran with the first team defense in place of Rahim Moore. Kyle Orton threw two deep passes two Eddie Royal, both ending up as touchdowns.
The final drills during Tuesday's morning session focused on goal line runs, an area in which the team struggled against the Cowboys last Thursday.
On Saturday, the team will play its first game of the season at newly renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High. I'll be in attendance for the game before heading back to Europe next week.
While it is still very early to draw conclusions about the chances of success for this team going into the season, especially with the injuries on the defensive line, I am excited after what I saw during Monday and Tuesday's practice. Depth is still an issue at some positions, but this team has a core of young and talented players combined with experienced veterans, and under the guidance of John Fox and Dennis Allen, there is reason for hope in the Mile High City.
Images in this post were capture by Bert Jan Brands (@bertjanb).