ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' latest training camp practice took place in the most important area of the field.
As Head Coach Sean Payton explained Wednesday, a team's success in the red zone is a key determination in if it makes the playoffs — and the Broncos began their work inside the 20-yard line during the seventh training camp practice.
"Well, the challenge is obviously your space is limited," Payton said. "Defenses do a good job of utilizing that to their advantage. You get a little more coverage and everything happens a tick quicker. The ball has to be precise. You don't want anything floating on you. You have to be pretty efficient running the ball to be good in that area."
Over the course of several 11-on-11 periods, the Broncos ran through a series of red-zone reps, both from the edge of the red zone and closer to the goal line.
"We will look at the tape, but overall, I thought it was pretty good," Payton said. "We got some pressure looks and it was kind of back and forth. The first red-zone period on this end was a little bit higher and further out, and then we were more in-tight on the second one."
There were plenty of highlights during the work, perhaps punctuated by cornerback K'Waun Williams intercepting a pass in the end zone during the final first-team reps of practice. Earlier in practice, quarterback Russell Wilson spun away from trouble to find Courtland Sutton for a solid pickup, and Wilson then raced inside the 10-yard line on an ensuing scramble. The reserve defense posted a goal-line stand on one running play, and quarterback Ben DiNucci lofted a perfect pass to Taylor Grimes on an ensuing snap.
While the defense seemed to hold the overall edge, both sides of the ball found ways to make plays. And as Payton detailed, this first session was mostly about installing concepts on offense.
"We are in an installation pattern, so as we install … sometimes, we are putting a play in, and it doesn't really match," Payton said. "We may not run it if we were playing Denver's defense, but it is in the installation schedule. Throughout this training camp and preseason, you begin to see some things that we are doing well. There are a few things that maybe you don't feel as comfortable about. You are constantly building up that memory bank of what you are seeing and how we are executing it. It was our first day in the red zone."
As the Broncos' offense looks to improve, Payton knows the unit must emphasize running the football when close to the goal line.
"Obviously, the trick there is you have to be good running the football," Payton said. "We went through the top 10 teams last year, both offensively and defensively, in the red zone, and we talked to them about all the specifics. It's a pretty important and special situation in our game. Good red-zone teams typically are in the playoffs. I would say the emphasis was a little more pass-driven and not run-driven today in those two team periods."
WILLIAMS STANDS OUT
Nickel cornerback K'Waun Williams preceded his end-zone interception with a batted pass, and he continues to make his presence felt at practice.
"He's had a good camp," Payton said. "He's got good ball skills. You see his speed, and he's got really good range. I think he plays well deep, and some guys have trouble with the ball deep, but he's someone that I think is very comfortable going from low to high, and vice versa. I think he's stood out."
BONITTO'S BIG DAY
Second-year outside linebacker Nik Bonitto may have had his best practice of training camp, as he would have posted multiple tackles for loss and several pressures over the course of practice.
"Obviously sometimes there's a bigger learning curve for guys," Payton said. "It's a production position, right? It's one in which you're getting to the quarterback, you're affecting him — doesn't mean you have to be sacking him — and then you're holding up in the running game. This will be a big training camp for him."
Bonitto recorded 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hits as a rookie. As he enters Year 2 — with his former collegiate coach Jamar Cain as the team's Pass Rush Specialist — Bonitto will aim to take the next step forward.
… Justin Simmons posted his third interception in as many days, as he hauled in a pick on the first pass of 11-on-11 action.
"He's the player we knew he was back when we had to play against him," Payton said. "He's certainly smart, he's got really good length and good ball skills."
Payton also joked that Simmons "can block PATs," in a nod to the Broncos' 2016 win over the Saints.
… Montrell Washington and Brandon Johnson recorded some of the top moments of one-on-one drills. Washington made a one-handed catch for a long touchdown, while Johnson secured a nice back-shoulder catch.
… Tight end Adam Trautman got in on the action early as he recorded a pair of catches during 11-on-11 action. The second catch showed good concentration in traffic from the veteran player.