ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In a league defined by one-possession games, a team's ability to overcome a late-game deficit can change the course of a season.
And during Thursday's training camp practice, the Broncos got one of their first looks at how Russell Wilson and the team's new-look offense will respond in the biggest moments.
Late in practice, Wilson and Co. took over at their own 20-yard line trailing 14-10 with 1:48 to play and two timeouts.
Then they went to work.
On the first play of the series, Wilson found tight end Albert Okwuegbunam down the seam for a 17-yard gain that pushed the Broncos closer to midfield. From there, a false start, a near interception by linebacker Jonas Griffith and an intermediate completion left the Broncos' offense facing a fourth-and-4 scenario.
On the critical play, Wilson dropped back and launched a pass down the left sideline. With Ronald Darby in tight coverage, Courtland Sutton leapt up and hauled in the pass for a 34-yard completion. It was undoubtedly Sutton's best play of camp and one of the better moments for the offensive unit, as a whole.
"We had something that we wanted to get to there," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said of the play. "A little miscommunication, which actually turned into a different play that we didn't know was going to happen, but that's how sometimes great plays happen. A brand new play. Courtland ran a beautiful route and I loved how he flattened it, and Russ did a great job. We had great protection up front and he stepped to the left and got an explosive [play]."
A moment later, the Broncos were in the end zone, as Wilson fired to an open Trey Quinn for an 18-yard score on the next play.
"I was just telling [General Manager] George [Paton], two-minute is typically one of the hardest things to get going for a brand-new offense," Hackett said. "Just getting everybody on the same page, because everything's happening so fast, trying to process situations, all those things. To see that happen only the second time we've done it [in training camp] — first time in end-of-game — was really great. It was great working with Russ through that one and watching him. He called that last play, which was absolutely fantastic, and hit it for the touchdown. It's one of those things, you just always want to see progression. You always want to see guys getting better, slowly but surely, and that was a good one. Got a long way to go, but that was really nice to see."
Hackett said in those moments, he'll "plant some seeds in [Wilson's] mind" and give him several plays that could be options. Then, Wilson has the authority to make the call.
"I give him those, we talk about it and then he runs with it," Hackett said. "I'm always kind of in his ear. But it's his choice, whatever he's feeling."
On Thursday, Wilson had the right idea — and the Broncos' offense took one of its first steps toward developing a dangerous two-minute offense.
NO TIME AT ALL
The Broncos signed wide receiver Darrius Shepherd on Thursday, and he didn't take long to make an impact.
On his first day of team period, he ran an option route and took off toward the end zone. Josh Johnson lofted a beautiful spiral into the air, and Shepherd hauled it in for a score of at least 50 yards.
"That one there, it's actually an option for the wide receiver to either stop or go, and my man 'Shep' decided he was going," Hackett said. "He wasn't thinking about nothing else. What was awesome was the timing of the quarterback. I believe you've seen that [play] at least one other time. I believe we had Courtland on one that PS2 [Pat Surtain II] broke up.
"To be able to get that one, it was perfect rhythm by the quarterback, great protection and there was no indecision. Took it to the house. That was pretty funny. That was his first play. Everybody was mad, [saying] 'He's got to do more dirty work before he gets those.'"
IN THE END ZONE
Rookie tight end Greg Dulcich got his first full-speed team reps of training camp, and he made a nice play in the red zone to be on the receiving end of a touchdown pass from Wilson.
"The play Russell made was awesome, and I'm going to hear it from the defense because they're going to think they sacked him, but they definitely didn't," Hackett said. "It was just a great feel for him. I think that's the thing with Dulcich right now is understanding the playbook, cause you've been using so much mental time to understand it. But then to watch him go out there and make a natural play. He was covered, kind of ran to get open and found the sweet spot. I didn't know that was going to happen. That was just them playing ball."
… Both Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III had strong runs early in practice, particularly when running behind left tackle Garett Bolles.
… Sutton stepped up during the Broncos' first padded practice without Tim Patrick. In addition to his fourth-down catch, the SMU product caught an intermediate pass from Wilson in traffic early in the day and a deep flag route against the safety in coverage.
… Rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis continued a strong camp as he undercut a throw from Brett Rypien and made a diving interception.
… With Kareem Jackson and Caden Sterns both out for the day, P.J. Locke got plenty of run alongside Justin Simmons at safety.
… Rookie wide receiver Montrell Washington added another touchdown catch from Wilson.
… Safety J.R. Reed batted a pass into the air in the red zone, and second-year player Jamar Johnson hauled it in for an interception.
… The second-team defense came up with a stop on fourth down during its own two-minute opportunity.