ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first three days of training camp, the Broncos' talented defense was held without a takeaway during team drills.
That changed on Saturday.
Denver's defense put together a swarming performance late in practice, as the unit forced a slew of incompletions and recorded as many as three interceptions.
The first pick came on the offense's side of the field, as second-year defensive lineman McTelvin Agim batted a Teddy Bridgewater pass into the air and caught it on the way down. Flanked by his teammates, Agim would've had a real chance at a pick-six.
"The guard was there," Agim said after practice. "I tried to beat him with the swipe. Didn't get a good swipe in. Kinda tried the long arm. Just got my hand up. When I hit the ball, it was right at my face, so I just caught it and took it for the touchdown."
On the very next play, the Broncos' first-team defense struck again. Safety Kareem Jackson undercut wide receiver Jerry Jeudy about 10 yards down the field, and he too would have set his team up in strong position on the positive side of the field.
"It was a third-and-long situation," Jackson said afterward. "It was actually a great call. I was in a position where I was just kind of sitting, kind of reading the quarterback. I kind of felt Jerry get ready to sit down, so I was just able to make a good break on it."
In a red-zone period, the Broncos' defense continued its dominant performance. On six red-zone pass attempts in the Broncos' team periods, the first-team defense did not allow a completion. Linebacker Alexander Johnson had a near interception in the end zone, and after another deflected pass, Jackson made a diving attempt for his second interception.
The defense's productive morning is potentially a good sign for the upcoming season. A year ago, the Broncos recorded just 10 interceptions and six fumble recoveries, which left them 29th in the NFL in takeaways. When combined with their own giveaways, the Broncos had the 32nd-ranked turnover margin in the league by a decent margin at -16. The 49ers and Raiders, the next closest teams, each posted a -11 mark.
If Denver is to improve its record from a year ago, it likely starts with the team's turnover margin.
"We've got to get to the point where it's consistent," Jackson said of getting takeaways. "Every day that we come out here, that should be the main thing for us is to force turnovers and get the ball. If we can come out here and consistently do it, I have no doubt that it will translate to game days."
AGIM'S POTENTIAL JUMP
Agim's batted pass and interception was just one of his impact plays during training camp. He batted down a pass during another early practice and has gotten more run than he did a year ago when he played just 13 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
"Honestly [I'm] just more comfortable," Agim said Saturday. "I knew the plays last year, but now I'm just more comfortable. I'm more confident in myself. Basically, just doing all the little things now, like making sure I can make the right adjustments. I knew the plays, but did I know the adjustments? There was things I second-guessed myself on. Now, there's no second-guessing. I think mentally is where I made the biggest jump."
Head Coach Vic Fangio noted that the offseason program paid dividends for the former third-round pick, who could see more snaps in practice as Mike Purcell recovers from an ankle injury.
"He's a lot better player right now than he was on this date a year ago, which he should be," Fangio said Friday. "But he's worked extremely hard in the offseason. He had the benefit of the OTAs and the minicamp, and all the meetings. He had the benefit of learning what he doesn't know last year when he did get to play. So, he's going through the natural progression, but he did a great job this offseason to speed that up."
Agim will aim over the coming weeks to prove he deserves a roster spot along a competitive defensive line — and Fangio said the team hopes he is ready to contribute.
"The next four weeks will tell, and the season, if he's one of the 53," Fangio said. "He's a lot better than he was last year. I feel a lot better about him."
MOVING THE BALL
The Broncos held a move-the-ball period for the first time during training camp, and both Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock had chances to lead a drive down the field. Both quarterbacks were able to pick up several first downs as they got an opportunity to simulate a game experience.
"We did a period there at the end of the [practice],"Fangio said. "It was good. It's always good to get everybody off to the side. Next week when we come back, there will be more periods where guys are off to the side [and are] more game-like. The first four practices, we let the guys hang close to the huddle and stuff. But it's always good. Play callers have to get used to calling the plays based on the situations. The players have to get used to it. In the situation we were doing there, we needed to get rolling on offense, too."
The highlight of the period may have been a fourth-and-2 play for the offense when Lock found Noah Fant for a critical conversion.
Fangio continues to stress situational football each day in practice, which could pay dividends later in the year.
"We build it in at every practice," Fangio said. "We have all those situations. Some days have more than others. The emphasis is different every day, but yeah, we build them all in and we're going to get more work."
….Lock had several strong throws on Saturday, as he found Courtland Sutton down the left sideline for a 40-plus yard pass in a seven-on-seven period. Later, Lock fired a 15-to-20-yard strike to Kendall Hinton during a team period. Lock also used his legs during a team period to skirt past a defender and move the chains. Through four days, the third-year player has yet to throw an interception.
…. Bridgewater started practice strong with a series of completions, including a well-placed throw to Jeudy. The ball fit in a tight window and flew past the outstretched fingertips of Johnson. Jeudy showed good concentration to make the catch as Johnson stepped through his line of sight.
…. Jeudy's best route of the day didn't even result in a completion. During a seven-on-seven period, Jeudy used a double move to blow past his defender and leave himself wide open down the sideline. The ensuing pass, though, was not catchable.
…. With Josey Jewell (groin) held out for precautionary reasons, second-year linebacker Justin Strnad saw plenty of action. The former fifth-round pick suffered a season-ending wrist injury early in training camp last year but could be an option for the Broncos to help combat tight ends and running backs on passing downs.
…. Johnson complemented his success in the passing game with a strong effort against the run. He had several plays that could have resulted in a tackle for loss, and he showed good pursuit as he came over to stop the ball carrier on an outside run.
…. Outside linebackers Von Miller and Malik Reed both would have had sacks in team drills under game scenarios. Miller blew past the right tackle while hardly being touched, while Reed was in position for a potential strip-sack on a different play.
…. Wide receiver KJ Hamler continued to make an impact, as he caught at least three passes.
…. Tight end Austin Fort had a nice catch near the sideline. The Wyoming product is fighting for a roster spot after two injury-impacted seasons to begin his career.
…. Fullback Adam Prentice had a productive day, as he caught a pair of passes and also provided a strong lead block during a team period.
…. Pita Taumoepenu powered his way past the right tackle to help provide pressure on the quarterback. Earlier in camp, he added a tackle for loss.