ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —A line of cars 20 or 30 deep wrapped around the block at the UC Health Training Center as Denver Broncos fans lined up early to get their last chance to see the team this season.
Wednesday was the last day Broncos training camp was open to the public. Thankfully, it was one heck of a grand finale.
49ers Come To Town
A pack of black buses pulled into the Broncos’ facility about a half-hour before the start of practice, signaling the arrival of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Niners and Broncos are taking part in a pair of joint practices before playing at Sports Authority Field this Saturday. Today, they practiced together for about two hours.
“You go against each other all the time, but you’ve got to see yourself against different looks,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s what you’re looking for. How do guys adjust? How do they adjust to chaos? Because that’s real football—what you saw today, a lot of things going on, a lot of competition.”
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t throw during the practice session. He’s been dealing with what is being described as a “dead arm” and hasn’t been seen throwing a football in over a week. He did, however, suit up for the practice and take part in running plays and some team activities.
The Broncos, of course, courted Kaepernick during the off-season and were at one point extremely close to completing a trade for the once-dynamic Nevada alum. Today, Kubiak said he was comfortable with the way things turned out.
“We’ve moved on,” Kubiak said. “We wish Colin all the best. We’ve moved on. We feel really good about our guys.”
Beyond just Kaepernick, one thing was abundantly clear from the start of practice today. If the Broncos and 49ers had been playing a game, the score would be 55-0. San Francisco simply isn’t a good football team—not nearly as good as the Broncos, at least.
At the beginning of practice, during a one-on-one route running period, the Broncos’ receivers absolutely manhandled San Francisco’s defensive backs. They won on go-routes, they won on crossing routes, they won on every route in the route tree plus at least three routes that no one knew existed. The Broncos simply looked like the better team.
In fact, not only did the Broncos look like the better team, they looked like the more professional team. Chip Kelly treats these San Francisco 49ers like they were a bunch of college kids back at Oregon.
Fifteen minutes into practice, while the Broncos were already hard at work on actual football drills, Kelly’s Niners were still running wind-sprints and stretching.
Things Get Scrappy
Some tension is bound to arise when two different teams start hitting each other. That was certainly the case Wednesday. Broncos and 49ers players threw down the gloves and started three separate fracases during practice.
“There’s always a fight here and there, and it’s for no reason,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “That’s how injuries happen… I ain’t really a big fan of it.”
Interestingly, backup offensive lineman James Ferentz was a key instigator in each one of them. Ferentz has gotten physical several other times during training camp and he seems to be developing a bit of a reputation.
“I guess he’s got to be in the middle,” Thomas joked. “He’s one of them.”
Kubiak didn’t seem too concerned about the chippy nature of Wednesday’s practice.
“There were a couple of situations, but you’re always adjusting to how each team practices, but I thought it was pretty good,” he said. “Usually when they start talking too much, that’s when things get—that’s what causes things. But, I thought we held up pretty good—both sides.”
Two Broncos Injured
Defensive end Derek Wolfe and tight end Jeff Heuerman both had to leave practice with injuries.
Heuerman left about 20 minutes into the session with a tight hamstring. Wolfe rolled his ankle later in the day and had to be carried off by trainers.
Losing Wolfe for any period of time would be a big blow to a defensive line already struggling for depth. He’s looked sharp all training camp and is expected to be a key piece of the Broncos’ pass rush this season in the absence of Vance Walker, who went down with a torn ACL earlier this week and is out for the season.
Backup Tight Ends Getting Reps
John Phillips and Henry Krieger-Coble have been struggling to get time with the first and second team offense all training camp.
Krieger-Coble has been buried down the depth chart underneath Virgil Green and Heuerman. With the latter sitting out most of the day, the 24-year-old Iowa alum finally got his chance to play. His coaches seemed impressed.
“I just told the team, I said, ‘You know, you find out a lot about your guys, especially like today,’” Kubiak said. “Jeff’s hamstring was bothering him. About 20 minutes into practice, we pulled him and Virgil and Henry took the whole practice. It’s fun to watch kids become players. He’s young. He’s got a long way to go. But, watching him compete today tells you he’s going to have a chance in this league.”
The Broncos’ coaches are high on Krieger-Coble, but they’ve been concerned about his size and physical strength, which has kept him from being a more consistent part of the rotation during training camp.
“He’s got a long way to go from that standpoint,” Kubiak said. “That’s his issue right now. He’s a 245[-pound] guy trying to play tight end in this league. It’s hard to do. So, he’s got to become more physical. He runs good routes. He’s smart. He does all those things good. He’s playing good for (special teams coordinator) Joe (DeCamillis). But, can he get a little bigger and become a better athlete at a later stage in his life? So, that’s what he’s working on.”
Phillips, meanwhile, has been sidelined with an injury basically since the Broncos first brought him in near the beginning of camp. He’s been in the NFL for six years, longer than any other tight end on the Broncos’ roster, but Wednesday was the first time he got a considerable number of reps.
“He’s a big guy, he’s a strong guy, and he as great experience in the league,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. “He left us so quick when he got here. So, now we’re trying to get him caught up, but his experience—it bodes well for him. He knows what to do.”
Yesterday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame snubbed Broncos owner Pat Bowlen for a nomination in the contributor category, choosing instead to nominate former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones for the two available spots.
Fans and media across Denver expressed their anger and disappointment after the news was released.
It's Outrageous contributor committee put in Jerry Jones, an active owner, ahead of Pat Bowlen. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) August 16, 2016
Since purchasing the team in 1984, Bowlen’s Broncos have won 313 regular season games, three world championships, and appeared in more Super Bowls than they have had losing seasons.
However, Bowlen’s contribution stretches far beyond wins and losses. He was a key player on the NFL’s television committee, and helped shape the television contracts that have made football the multi-billion dollar industry it is today.
“I know one thing, our owner, in my opinion, is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer,” Kubiak said. “I know that he’s going to get there some day, but we’re so proud of him. I was hoping that it would be now, but it’s going to come someday and it’s well deserved. I’m so proud of him and his family. We’ll just keep battling for him. He’s the best.”
Tomorrow, the Broncos will get back to practice with the San Francisco 49ers. However, that practice will only be open to media. Fans will have to wait until next year to see the Broncos take the field for training camp again.