Englewood, Colo. — On Saturday morning, the Denver Broncos welcomed over 5,000 eager fans to UCHealth Training Center for the first padded practice of the ‘Broncos Back Together’ event. The free-ticketed event sold out almost immediately online earlier this month.
For the first time since training camp began, Broncos players were introduced to wearing pads that consisted of light shells underneath their jersey’s and helmets. This is the first phase of the annual ramp-up to fully padded practices which will begin next week.
As most people expected, there was an extremely elevated sense of excitement from the crowd that was contagious for Broncos players, coaches, and media members alike. I spotted GM George Paton early in the morning, taking in the start of warm-up periods. Even Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning viewed practice with his son.
Saturday’s practice was the most intense day of the week as players were under pressure to work hard and fast, replicating the gameday environment. Friday may have been a slower installation day, but players made sure to get their work in on Saturday morning as they’re scheduled to have Sunday off.
Without further ado, let’s get into the three major storylines to conclude the first week of training camp.
PS2 Verging on Elite
Rookie defensive backs aren’t supposed to come into the league and find immediate success in the starting lineup. But the Broncos’ No. 9 overall draft pick, Patrick Surtain II, flipped that notion on its head last season, playing in all 17 games with 15 starts. The former Alabama star recorded 58 tackles (45 solo), 14 pass deflections, four interceptions, and returned one pick to the house.
As a rookie, Surtain demonstrated an exceptional level of competitiveness combined with dynamic playmaking ability. After watching Surtain defend receivers like Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick all week, there’s no question that he’s already improved his game.
In all four practices, the 22-year-old has contested high-point 50/50 balls and forced multiple incompletions from Sutton and on Day 4, Patrick. ‘PS2’ is literally improving daily and consistently fights to the end of each play.
Surtain is always ripping and prying at the ball in search of a turnover or incompletion when going against big-bodied receivers. His 6-foot-2 height and elite level of athleticism allow him to springboard himself backward into the air, quite literally breathing on the very receiver he’s covering.
Surtain has also shown an amazing recovery when he’s rarely beaten on a route and can easily match up with any one of the Broncos’ current receivers.
So, if Denver’s receiving corps is considered top-notch and the second-year Surtain can disrupt any one of them, is it really a stretch to suggest that he could be the NFL’s best cornerback in 2022? Time, and the race to win the AFC West, will tell.
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Wilson’s Favorite Target
All week long, Broncos’ quarterback Russell Wilson has dispelled the notion that he doesn’t prefer to utilize tight ends. The entire tight end room, featuring Eric Saubert, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Tomlinson, and Andrew Beck, have been catching a barrage of passes in the red zone and middle of the field.
Even the running backs have had to increase their performance and preparation for involvement as pass-catchers in Wilson’s offense. But when the chips are down, and the game is on the line, Wilson will likely favor either Sutton or Patrick. Go figure, as the dynamic big-bodied receivers have both been with the Broncos since 2018 and are only two years apart in age (Sutton 26, Patrick 28).
Both wideouts also inked a lucrative contract extension at the same time last fall, in addition to being amenable to a team-friendly restructure this spring. There aren’t many receivers that play football like Sutton and Patrick.
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Aside from the fact that both wideouts are masters of their route-running craft and pride themselves on preparation and attention to detail, they’re both humble team players. There’s nothing more fun than watching No. 14 and No. 81 pancake defensive backs and spring their teammates for a massive run.
Throughout the four days of camp this week, Jerry Jeudy has turned in a mixed performance with a critical drop and some mental errors, but ultimately, he had his best day on Saturday. Meanwhile, Sutton and Patrick have both been targeted by Wilson relentlessly on short-to-intermediate, and even deep routes.
Sure, Surtain has spoiled some would-be terrific plays for Wilson and his receivers but the second-year corner has also been humbled on some veteran moves and maneuverability by the quarterback known as ‘Mr. Unlimited.’
Fantasy football owners beware: Wilson has an embarrassment of riches in his pass-catching arsenal.
Brett Rypien Pushing for QB2
The notion that the Broncos’ fourth-year signal-caller is on the roster simply because of his outlook as a future coach might be fading. Yes, Rypien works like a dog and has an advanced understanding of the Xs and Os, but he’s taken a significant step as an NFL quarterback based on what I’ve witnessed on all four days of training camp.
The rip (no pun intended) on Brett has always been related to arm strength for me. He can process information quickly, understands defensive fronts, and knows how to go through progressions, but sometimes there just needs to be a little more mustard on that spiral to get the ball where it needs to be. What he’s lacked in raw arm talent, he’s made up for with his football intelligence, intuition, and reliability.
On Saturday, it seemed that Rypien has completely revamped his throwing mechanics, generating an impressive amount of zip and force with his tight spirals. To start practice, he threw multiple completions in a row as he operated various second and third-string offenses.
But it wasn’t just Rypien’s underneath throws that showed massive improvement, it was his deep ball. On one of the last plays of team period, he launched a beautiful deep pass to WR Kaden Davis that had the crowd buzzing.
I asked Broncos’ OC Justin Outten about the performances of Rypien and Josh Johnson thus far.
“They’ve been Russ’ shadow,” Outten told me. “[They’re] asking all the right questions and playing the what-if game.”
Rypien clearly borrowed some improved footwork from Wilson. The former undrafted Boise State star’s more powerful and tighter throws are a testament to his improved lower body mechanics as he’s generated significantly more power and accuracy this camp. There’s no doubt that Rypien is making a strong case to be the Broncos’ backup QB behind Wilson.
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