ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' preseason opener on Friday against the Arizona Cardinals will give the team a chance to demonstrate its progress over the offseason and training camp, but the game has unique implications for each player.
Returning starters like quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Courtland Sutton talked this week about the preseason as a valuable opportunity to play the game they love, but for those competing for a roster spot, every preseason rep is a critical step in making a lasting impression. Head Coach Sean Payton said after Wednesday's training camp practice that Denver's upcoming game will be crucial for some of the younger players' football careers.
"It may not be the most important game for a handful of players, but in some cases, it's the most important game in some players' life," Payton said. "It's just that respect for the game and that we're into the game, we're paying attention to who is in. I think that's really important."
Payton also said the opportunity for veterans and coaches to instruct and help younger players over the course of the game is one of the most constructive aspects of preseason action.
"Whoever is in the game, you're helping them when they come off on the sideline," Payton said. "[There are] a lot of young players, some of them [are in] their first game. That's the good part about it."
DENVER'S TIGHT ENDS GROUP BLENDING PLAYERS' UNIQUE SKILL SETS AND STRENGTHS
In Adam Trautman, Greg Dulcich and Chris Manhertz, the Broncos have a diverse and dangerous tight end group that boasts variation in career trajectory, playing style and strengths. Trautman and Manhertz are newcomers to the Broncos and bring a combined 10 years of NFL experience to the team, while Dulcich, the Broncos' third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, showed promise with 411 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season in Denver.
Payton said that versatility has helped each player carve a unique role in training camp and provided the offense with reliable blocking and receiving options.
"The one thing that's interesting about this tight ends group is that, man, there is some clear roles that you can see, strengths and weaknesses these players have," Payton said. "Adam's the one guy out here that he does a solid job of blocking [and]he gives you flexibility in the route tree. Chris Manhertz is someone that obviously we feel comfortable throwing to, and yet he's really good blocking the D-gap. And Dulcich is someone who really can threaten you."
While Trautman was listed as the starter on the Broncos' initial depth chart, all three tight ends should be major contributors on offense this season. Payton said the evolution of the game has made the possibility of giving significant snap counts to three tight ends more commonplace.
"It's not like it used to be where you just lined up in 21 [personnel] and your two-minute [drill] was in 21, and if there was a substitution, it was a big deal," Payton said. "It is much different. The same goes defensively."
FOUR-TIME ALL-PRO JARED ALLEN EDUCATING BRONCOS' PASS RUSHERS
Longtime Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen dominated opposing offensive linemen throughout his playing career, recording at least seven sacks in each of his first 10 seasons in the NFL. Allen's 22 sacks in 2011 is tied for third-most in a season and resulted in a runner-up finish in the AP Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Allen didn't play for the Broncos, he has maintained a strong relationship with Payton and Broncos General Manager George Paton — who was in the Minnesota front office during Allen's tenure — since his retirement after the 2015 season. Payton remembers how difficult it was to neutralize Allen and reached out about a semi-regular coaching role earlier this year.
"We had some tough games [against him]," Payton said. "… We played against those guys a lot and over the years, got to know him really well. His name came up in the offseason and he was interested — we spoke a number of times. He came in during the spring. We'll have him on a schedule here."
Payton said Allen's role will be as a guest coach and will include coming to Centura Health Training Center to mentor and sharpen the skills of Denver's pass rushers. The opportunity gives Allen the chance to try out coaching at the NFL level without the time commitment of a more permanent position.
"He's in for a few days throughout the season, helping us with the pass rush," Payton said. "I told him he's putting his toe in the water with coaching right now. He hasn't jumped in fully yet."