Joined by their nine-man draft class and a group of undrafted free agents and knowing the season will begin Sept. 12 at Seattle, the Broncos will begin the most notable phase of their offseason program Monday.
The Broncos will have 13 on-field practices before their summer break — 10 voluntary organized team activity (OTA) workouts (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday this week, followed by May 31, June 1-3, 6-7 and 9-10) and a mandatory minicamp (June 13-15).
Under league guidelines, the Broncos are permitted to run 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills during the minicamp practices.
Here are five storylines entering the final stage of the offseason program:
Connecting with Wilson
Quarterback Russell Wilson got right to work with his skill-position players, welcoming them to his home in San Diego a week after his trade from Seattle became official in March. All players have been regulars during the offseason program at the Broncos’ facility.
The OTAs and minicamp will provide an opportunity for Wilson and Co., to go against the full defense.
Around the Broncos’ facility, Wilson’s presence was felt immediately.
“Nothing surprised me (once workouts moved to the field) because he laid it all there when we first met, like what he expects,” receiver Tim Patrick said. “Now it’s just my job to get at the same level as him.”
The offensive line
We know Garett Bolles will play left tackle and one of the trio from Billy Turner (the likely favorite), Calvin Anderson and Tom Compton will continue the Broncos’ musical chair approach to right tackle. After that, uncertainty.
What the OTAs and minicamp will reveal is how many different positions players will be working at.
Complicating the tea-leave read are injuries. Turner (knee) and guard Graham Glasgow (leg) weren’t on the field for last month’s voluntary minicamp.
Two-year starting center Lloyd Cushenberry deserves a chance to keep his spot because his athleticism is a fit for coach Nathaniel Hackett’s blocking scheme that asks linemen to get up the field and onto the perimeter.
The Broncos should keep Quinn Meinerz at right guard, where he can be a foundation player for years.
“It just a matter of getting on the field and practicing; that’s the bottom line,” offensive coordinator Justin Outten said. “We’re all new and just feeling each other out. The guys understand this is a competitive environment.”
Tight end rotation
The Broncos’ top four tight ends on paper are Albert Okwuegbunam, Greg Dulcich, Eric Tomlinson and Eric Saubert.
Noah Fant, who led the Broncos with 68 catches last year, was a key piece of the Wilson trade so it will be up to Okwuegbunam (33 catches last year) and Dulcich (last month’s third-round pick) to fill the pass-catching void. Tomlinson was signed from Baltimore in March and Saubert was re-signed earlier this month to provide the blocking element.
Wilson had great success throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham in Seattle — 170 catches for 2,048 yards and 18 touchdowns in three years (2015-17) — so there should be play-making opportunities for Okwuegbunam and Dulcich.
Some answers of how the quartet is deployed on the field (in-line/three-point stance, slot, out wide, etc.) and in what personnel (one-, two- and three-tight end sets) could be revealed over the next month.
Adapting to new defense
Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s background is in the system introduced by Dom Capers (currently on the Broncos’ staff) and fine-tuned by former Broncos coach Vic Fangio. The foundation of Evero’s playbook will have many of the same tenets as Fangio did the last three years.
“There are small things (that are) already changing, some of our techniques and some of our disguises showing different defenses,” inside linebacker Josey Jewell said. “There’s a bunch of small stuff that we’re still adjusting to and getting used to.”
Evero hopes 95% of the defense is fully installed by the end of the offseason program.
“We’ll get it all repped,” he said. “One thing I believe in is that we don’t want to waste time on stuff that we’re not going to use. Everything that we’re going to do in the game, we have to get repped.”
Core special teamers
The Broncos have prioritized re-signing, signing or drafting players who can be of use on special teams, an official acknowledgement that the unit hasn’t been good enough.
Eight Broncos who played at least 148 special teams snaps last year are back, including safety P.J. Locke (320), Saubert (302), outside linebackers Jonathon Cooper (236) and Aaron Patrick (208) and tight end/fullback Andrew Beck (189).
The 10 remaining practices will allow special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes and assistant special teams coach Mike Mallory to figure out which of the rookies are on the right track to being contributors.
“We’re looking (for) between 8-10 guys,” Stukes said. “A lot of people (will) initially (say), ‘Whoa,’ but if you think about it, if we have two safeties, two linebackers, four offensive players and a defensive lineman that could contribute on special teams, you kind of have your core guys.”
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