As training camp approaches, it's time to turn our attention toward the season. Ahead of the first open training camp practice, we're examining each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to watch when practices begin and the preseason gets underway. We continue the series with a look at the Broncos' tight end position.
For more information on attending training camp this year, click here.
What we know:
The Broncos welcome back an alluring talent in 2022 third-round pick Greg Dulcich and a veteran contributor in Albert Okwuegbunam. Both players, known for their work in the passing game, were joined by veteran Chris Manhertz in the early stages of free agency.
A physical player, Manhertz should be another piece that helps the Broncos and their revamped offensive line in the run game.
"I take a lot of pride in [run blocking]," Manhertz said in June. "I always look it and say, 'Somebody has to do it. So why not me?' If that's going to increase my ability to be on the field and increase my opportunities and open up opportunities not only for me but the offense as a whole, it's something that I take a great deal of pride in and put it out [as] just the brand of physical football that I've been able to play throughout the course of my career."
Denver wasn't done adding, though. During Day 3 of the NFL Draft, the Broncos swapped late-round picks with the Saints to acquire Adam Trautman. The Dayton product played for Head Coach Sean Payton in New Orleans, and Denver's coach said the Broncos had a comparable grade on Trautman to several tight ends who were drafted in the third round in 2023.
"In describing the player, he's that versatile tight end that can play the 'F' [receiving] tight end," Payton said during the draft. "He played a lot, most recently, on the ball. Generally when you draft a tight end out of college, they do one thing better than the other. Blocker first, then [catching]. When we drafted Adam, we felt like he was kind of one of those guys that was solid in both areas. We utilized him [in New Orleans] depending on who was up and who was down, who was healthy — both in-line and at the 'F' position. … He's clean, great makeup, great character."
Following the trade, Payton said the team would work to highlight each player's strengths to take advantage of a valuable spot on the field.
"It's a position that has become more valued in our league relative to some of the matchups you can create and what you want to do running the football," Payton said. "So all of those guys ..., every one of them, man, we're rooting for them and putting them in positions. If one of them is a better receiver, then we're going to spend hours trying to come up with things they do well, develop the things that they don't. I go back to … Jason Witten or Jeremy Shockey or Jimmy Graham. … They've all done … maybe one thing better than the other. I think our jobs as coaches is to kind of give them those songs that fit their skill set."
Denver also added Tommy Hudson and college free agent Nate Adkins to the position group during the offseason.
What we need to learn:
Who steps up as another receiving threat?
The Broncos made a series of noted moves at the position, but it's not yet clear who can join Dulcich — more on him in a moment — as a consistent receiving threat for Denver.
Manhertz has gladly accepted his role as a run-blocking tight end, which means it may fall on Trautman and Okwuegbunam to contribute from a receiving standpoint.
Okwuegbunam has shown that ability at times, as he caught 33 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns in his second season. Trautman's best season also came in 2021, when he caught 27 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos may not need either player to post 500 yards in 2023, but they would surely welcome another option to help Dulcich and keep defenses honest.
Payton did emphasize during the draft that no roles would be formalized until closer to the season, and the Broncos' coaching staff would work to put the players in the best position to succeed.
"We would never sit in here in April and lay out who we think [will start]," Payton said after the team traded for Trautman. "I have no idea how that's going to unfold, but I know we have more options to see how it unfolds, as opposed to penciling in starting lineups."
Player to watch:
The Broncos' 2022 third-round pick missed extended time during his rookie season, but he flashed when he was on the field. The UCLA product finished his season with the second-most receiving yards and third-most receptions among rookie tight ends, despite playing six fewer games than the players above him in those categories.
The speedy tight end showed promise during the Broncos' offseason program, and training camp could be the next indication of how Dulcich will fit in Denver's offense.
Payton spoke during the offseason about Dulcich's potential in the "Joker" role, which dates back to Payton's time in New Orleans.
"We use the term 'Joker' where we can get matchups," Payton said in early June. "The trick sometimes is trying to predict what you're going to get defensively, if you're either going to get a nickel package or a base package. But man, he can run, [and] he's got good ball skills. ... Then you begin to build on that. Right now, there's an install that's taking place and the players, they go play those spots. When you get into the season, you really get more specific to who's running what route. I think his menu is going to be lengthy in the passing game, and there's enough stuff that we can do in the run game."
Payton has worked with a slew of impressive tight ends during his career, including Shockey, Witten and Graham.
"I'm not saying this young player [will be just like them], but he's got traits that are exciting and today was one of those days where you begin to have a vision," Payton said.
During training camp, that vision may be on display.
Previous articles in the series: