The Denver Broncos are back, baby.
The UCHealth training facility has been buzzing with football activity as the Broncos kicked off training camp last Wednesday. This year’s team is very different from its counterpart in recent seasons.
The energetic boost these crucial newcomers gave the Broncos was palpable. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett provided a spark as he embarked on the process of exorcising the demons of Vic Fangio’s failing regime, while Broncos players fell behind quarterback Russell Wilson, tightening the ranks around the nine-time Pro Bowler.
With four training camp workouts on the books, we’ve already seen a few players breaking away from the pack. Who are the biggest risers and fallers in Week 1 of Broncos camp?
Let’s dive into it.
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Countermarch: Brett Rypien | QC
Written off as not even a threat to make the 53-player roster, Rypien became the best quarterback on the roster without Wilson’s name. Rypien, a college free agent who signed in 2019, seems to have more speed on his throws and is proving to coaches that he belongs.
Don’t be surprised if Rypien ends up earning the privilege of holding the clipboard behind Wilson in 2022.
Faller: Josh Johnson | QC
If you look up “mate QB” in the dictionary, you’ll see Johnson’s face. He has experience, no doubt, but early on Denver’s veteran free agent addition this year was overshadowed by the former undrafted outgoing player (Rypien).
It’s far too early to call this competition, however, for obvious reasons. Not the least of which is that the pre-season games themselves will reveal the biggest separation between Johnson and Rypien.
Rypien is more than a dark horse now. Based on the first four practices, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Johnson’s name on the cutting room floor when the Broncos whittle the roster down to the final 53 players.
Editor: Eric Saubert | AND
Saubert languished in the free agent market for most of the offseason before Denver seemingly re-signed him as an afterthought. The move was prescient as Saubert has been the best tight end in practice so far.
With third-round rookie Greg Dulcich opening the camp with a hamstring injury, it spawned Saubert, who quickly passed the starter due to his blocking acumen. But make no mistake, Saubert received chops, as evidenced by his multiple touchdown catches on the first-team offense in the first two days of practice.
Fallen: Albert Okwuegbunam | NOPE
When one player rises, it often comes at the expense of another and this is the case for Albert O. Albert O. Saubert’s phenomenal start to the camp made it look like Okwuegbunam didn’t managed to get started.
This is not entirely true. Albert O. seemed to belong on Hackett’s offense, but perhaps due to Saubert’s blocking acumen, Okwuegbunam’s early impact paled in comparison.
It is still early. Don’t sleep on Albert O. being a key part of this offense. But if he doesn’t quickly improve as a run blocker in this zone blocking pattern, coaches will be reluctant to use him outside of obvious passing situations.
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Countermarch: Jonas Griffith | KG
Griffith quickly claimed his position as Josey Jewell’s starting co-partner at inside linebacker. Signed to start last season, Griffth averaged north of 10 tackles per game and he turned that momentum into an explosive start to training camp.
Faller: Alex Singleton | KG
The former Philadelphia Eagles main tackle signed a one-year deal earlier this spring and many interpreted the move to mean the Broncos liked Singleton as a starter alongside Jewell. This trope hasn’t come out in the wash as Griffith has the inside tilt on the second linebacker position.
Singleton wasn’t bad at camp, per se. But he failed to shine in the same way as Griffith, at least in defense. The biggest evidence of Singleton’s low stock right now was the news of Denver bringing in independent linebacker Joe Schobert for a visit Saturday.
The Broncos will rely on Singleton on special teams, but he has yet to prove he deserves a role on defense.
Montreal Washington | WR/PR/KR
The fifth-round rookie was drafted to take on Denver’s kick return and punt return role, but he’s already begun to carve out a role for himself on offense. Perhaps due to the opening of KJ Hamler’s camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, Washington’s stock is on the rise.
First on the field each morning, and always one of the last to leave, Washington received praise from Wilson and Broncos coaches. This kid is part of the team.
Faller: Baron Browning | OLB
The Broncos made the questionable decision to move Browning from inside to outside linebacker in the second year. Early feedback so far hasn’t been stellar.
But it’s hard to read too far into Browning not exactly dominating in camp early on. He’s arguably more advanced than second-round rookie Nik Bonitto, mostly due to Browning’s experience in the NFL. IE: The mental demands of the linebacker game are slightly more manageable due to experience.
But it’s neither Browning nor Bonitto who line up opposite Bradley Chubb in the 11-on-11 first-team rehearsal, but rather Malik Reed. It’s not an indictment against either young player so soon. But it is something to watch out for.
Why would Denver want to take a Browning guy who was in the top two at one position (ILB) and move him to a place where he’s maybe the fourth or fifth best guy (OLB)? Let’s hope this unfolds.
Countermarch: Netane Muti | AND
Muti is putting serious pressure on the coaches for the starting position at right guard. A 2020 sixth-round pick, Muti’s integration into the new zone blocking system was called into question when Hackett first arrived in January.
However, the former Fresno State star quickly showed that his ball busting and bully mentality belonged on the Broncos’ O line. Muti does more than solidify a spot on the roster. He is pushing for a starting job.
Falls: Quinn Meinerz | AND
I’m hesitant to list Meinerz as a “faller” here, but he opened camp as a right-handed pencil starter, but Muti regularly erased him. Meinerz, a 2021 third-round pick, still has plenty of time to lock in a starting job, but he’s feeling the pressure.
As things stand, I’d be surprised if the Broncos didn’t choose Meinerz as their starting right guard, but Muti’s rise has been undeniable. Meinerz hasn’t been bad, but Muti has more momentum at the moment.
I’m reluctant to cite Quinn Meinerz as a “faller” here, but he opened camp as a right-handed pencil starter, but Netane Muti regularly erased him. Meinerz, a 2021 third-round pick, still has plenty of time to lock in a starting job, but he’s feeling the pressure.
As things stand, I’d be surprised if the Broncos didn’t pick Meinerz as their starting right guard, but Muti’s rise has been undeniable. Meinerz hasn’t been bad, but Muti has more momentum at the moment.
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