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Broncos Camp Day 13 report: Mastering pass protection

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At one end of a practice field Monday, wide receivers faced off with safeties and cornerbacks, catching passes in the red zone. Fifty yards back toward midfield, the Broncos' tight ends, running backs and fullbacks prepared to face their inside and outside linebackers in a pass-protection drill.

With these two options upon which to focus, Head Coach Vic Fangio chose to go where the blocking was happening.

Snap after snap, the backs and tight ends had to contend with linebackers -- usually with the benefit of a running start. It is a drill that tests the persistence of the offensive players, and makes them understand that simply making plays with the football won't be enough to secure playing time.

For the tight ends, working on the edge, the challenge is ramped up by the Broncos' quality at the position. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb pose questions that offensive tackles -- who weigh 40 to 70 pounds more -- struggle to answer.

"Honestly, it helps you know if you set quick off the line especially against guys like Von [Miller] and [Bradley] Chubb that have good get-offs and will kind of game with you a little bit and delay their rush," said tight end Noah Fant, who got the better of some repetitions later in practice by improving his hand placement.

The drill is set up to "be really hard" for tight ends, rookie Austin Fort noted.

"[In games] we're not always going to get a one-on-one against a stand-up guy like Von Miller. So it's making us better, and in that type of drill, you've got to move your feet, you've got to have good hands," Fort said. "It's just very, very technical. So you're just developing that type of skill set."

And sometimes it must be developed through struggle and growth. At one point, Fort hit the ground after losing a duel with Jeff Holland. But when he had another chance to face the second-year outside linebacker, he stayed on his feet, moved well and guided Holland in front of the tackling dummy that represented the quarterback's spot. That allowed Fort to win the repetition.

"You're not going to always win, but if you lose, just learn from it. Come back and get better," Fort said. "I got beat that time, and then I set my feet a little better, and I beat [Holland]. Just gotta keep doing that."

And with Fangio watching closely, improvement is crucial.


Justin Simmons still leads the first-team defense in training-camp interceptions, but fellow safety Kareem Jackson took steps toward catching up with him, picking off Joe Flacco twice during practice.

On the first interception, Jackson saw running back Theo Riddick moving into the flat to Joe Flacco's left. Flacco slightly pumped, then turned and looked for Reddick. Jackson surged and stepped in front of the pass, setting him up for a likely touchdown in a game situation.

"I kind of got a read," Jackson said. "Joe kind of came back late to the [running] back and I read it and I was able to get a jump on it. It was great coverage. Coach Fangio has great coverage for [that] particular play. It's a good thing to be in that position to be able to make a play for the defense."

The second interception ended the first-team offense's hopes of scoring during the two-minute move-the-ball period at the end of practice. Flacco's pass skipped off the hands of Phillip Lindsay in the left flat and into Jackson's grasp.

"Tipped balls and overthrows -- those are the ones you've gotta have," Jackson said. "In order to be a great defense in this league, you've got to capitalize on those situations."


... Fangio called the team together for two huddles during the two-hour, 37-minute practice. The first came after what Fangio said was a "poor first team period."

"We had one period way early in camp that was sloppy like that," he said a moment later. "We haven't had once since, but that one got sloppy."

The second huddle saw Fangio tell his team that they would practice with crowd noise over the speakers to simulate a noisy stadium environment. It marked the first time during training camp that Fangio has used the speakers to blast music or noise after the end of the pre-practice stretching period.

... Justin Hollins and Keishawn Bierria saw first-team work at inside linebacker after Josey Jewell "tweaked his side" during practice. With Todd Davis and Joe Jones out with injuries, the Broncos finished practice without three of the four linebackers on the first and second units of their depth chart.

... Jackson's second interception ended the duel between the No. 1 offense and the first-team defense. Given 1:50 on the clock, one timeout and a 7-0 deficit, the offense had to drive 72 yards to a touchdown to win the period. But the defense forced Flacco to settle for short passes, none of which saw the offense get out of bounds to stop the clock. Five consecutive completions pushed the offense 26 yards to the defense's 46-yard line, but only 14 seconds remained when Jackson intercepted the pass.

... The No. 2 defense stopped the Drew Lock-led second-team offense during its move-the-ball series, but Lock was able to drive the offense 51 yards to the defense's 21-yard line before a fourth-and-2 pass sailed just out of the reach of running back Devontae Jackson.

Most of the yardage came on a pair of completions to rookie receivers Juwann Winfree (17 yards) and Kelvin McKnight (13 yards), the latter of which saw McKnight get out of bounds to stop the clock with 34 seconds remaining at the defense's 29-yard line. But the drive stalled, as pressure from Jeff Holland on the first down and the interior defensive line on third down caused incompletions that set up the failed fourth-down attempt.

... Lock's day had its ups and downs. He was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Trey Johnson, who grabbed the pass intended for Fort. But Lock also delivered a perfect pass to Winfree for a 20-yard gain on third down. Lock threw as Winfree began his cut to the sideline, setting up for a well-timed completion.

... Outside linebacker Dekoda Watson had a pair of pressures that could have been sacks under game conditions.

Take a look inside the Broncos' 13th day of training camp practice, from warmups to exclusive shots of the action in team periods.

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