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Broncos training camp Day 9 observations

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As is often the case after the off-day that follows a team scrimmage or a preseason game, it took a while for the Broncos to get cranked up when they returned to the practice field Tuesday morning.

"I definitely felt it. I know a lot of people felt it," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "That's on us, man. Even if it's an off-day, we can't come out here and be slow and sluggish. 

"We've got to hit the ground running, so [Wednesday] we'll fix that and get and get it going." 

What eventually got practice going was an emphasis on pass-rush pressure during the team periods, which put the defense in attack mode and forced the offense into quick decisions under duress.

"They struggled a lot, and that's why we do it," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. 

The goal of the period was simple: Find out how much pressure the offense could handle while still having four players running routes, with only a single tight end or running back remaining in pass protection.

"We want to have our offense have the ability to block pressure without maxing up all the time," Joseph said. "We want to get four guys out [running routes]. We can always block the back and tight end to get three guys out with three [wide receivers], or get two guys out with two backs and two [tight ends], but to be effective in the pass game, you want three and four guys out [running routes]."

The defense succeeded; it generated pressure throughout the team periods. But the offense, especially with quarterback Case Keenum, was able to respond.

OBSERVATIONS

... According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum had the NFL's sixth-best completion percentage under pressure last year, connecting on 67.3 percent of his 207 attempts with pressure. So it came as no surprise that he was able to still make plays despite the pass rush.

One of his best plays came when on a third-and-5 at the defense's 40-yard line, when he adapted to the blitz and hit Royce Freeman in the left flat for a 13-yard gain that moved the offense to the defense's 27-yard line. Three plays later, Keenum converted another third down by finding Courtland Sutton on third-and-3, moving the offense into the red zone before the drive was called off to give the second team work.

Keenum found himself under heavy pressure the next time he took the field for four snaps that saw him pressured each time. Darian Stewart burst through on one snap that could have been a sack under game conditions, and Von Miller generated pressure from the left side that resulted in a throwaway. But Keenum also completed two passes during those four plays, finding Austin Traylor and Courtland Sutton despite the heavy rush.

"[Keenum] knows what he's doing and he has receivers that can make plays," Marshall said.

... Some of the pressures featured some different looks that could allow the defense to expand its repertoire.

"We put some new packages in, so we wanted to work it a little bit,” Marshall said. "I think we're going have a lot of defenses and be able to pick and choose what we want based on what the offense does, so it's a lot to take in. You've just go to stay on top of it.

"Obviously, we're still going to be us -- what we've done since 2015, but we sprinkled in some different packages," Marshall added a moment later. "I think the biggest difference is we're more well-rounded. We're versatile because we could do different things. We could run different coverages and we could be sound in all of them. I think [with] what we do now, we're more well-rounded than we were in the past."

... After Keenum and the first-team offense generated two first downs via third-down conversions in a six-play span, the No. 2 defense forced the second-team offense into a pair of three-and-outs.  

... That said, the defense didn't show all of its pass-rush hand, according to outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.

"That’s not even a glimpse of it. We didn’t even have all of us [himself, Shane Ray, Von Miller and Shaquil Barrett] on the field at the same time, so I feel like when we’re all on the field at the same time it’s going to be special."

... In addition to a pass rush that could have been a sack under game conditions, Stewart broke up a pass intended for tight end Matt LaCosse during seven-on-seven work. 

... Cornerback Marcus Rios also matched Stewart with a pass defensed and a play in the pass-rush period, breaking up a Chad Kelly attempt in the seven-on-seven period and forcing an errant Paxton Lynch throw with a blitz that forced a three-and-out.

... Kelly and rookie wide receiver John Diarse found a groove, connecting three times for 21 yards in a four-play span during a team period, including an 11-yard pass that moved the chains.

... During the nine-on-seven period, center Matt Paradis delivered solid blocks on consecutive plays to spring Freeman and Phillip Lindsay for solid gains.

... Sutton and fellow rookie Isaac Yiadom continued their series of duels, with Sutton ending the one-on-one period with a catch in the back right corner of the end zone despite tight coverage from the third-round pick.

PERSONNEL NOTES

... Isaiah McKenzie, DaeSean Hamilton and River Cracraft handled punt-return work during the special-teams periods.

 ... Traylor and Jake Butt continued to get plenty of first-team snaps while Jeff Heuerman deals with knee soreness.  

"He's progressing," Joseph said of Heuerman. "Hopefully he's back this week." 

... Rookie tight end Troy Fumagalli was not in pads because of what Joseph termed a "slight groin strain," although he did line up in space to simulate a role during the nine-on-seven period. 

... Connor McGovern got a brief look at center when Matt Paradis took a breather, with Max Garcia moving into McGovern's vacated spot at right guard. McGovern's offseason and training-camp work at center last year gives him the flexibility to rotate inside if Paradis is injured.

DATA POINTS

... A crowd of 3,852 watched the practice, which took place under sunny skies in temperatures that rose from 72°F to 79°F.

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