ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Through the first six practices of training camp, wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy have been the talk of the offense.
The two players have made a series of highlight plays, and they both appear to be likely focal points in the Broncos' passing game.
Sutton and Jeudy, though, are hardly the only players fighting for targets in Denver's offense. The wide receiver position has featured stiff competition within a group of players that includes KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton, Tyrie Cleveland, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer, Trinity Benson, Fred Brown and Kendall Hinton.
With Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler likely guaranteed of roster spots, the remaining eight players could be competing for three total spots on the 53-man roster.
And while Winfree continues to work his way back from a groin injury, Patrick, Hamilton, Cleveland and Spencer each made a case Thursday for why they deserve a spot with the Broncos.
Patrick caught a deep pass from Lock late in practice, while Hamilton made a leaping grab during a 7-on-7 period, and he added two more catches later in the day. Cleveland made several snags, including one where he worked his way back to the ball while fellow rookie Michael Ojemudia was in tight coverage. Spencer made an athletic play to reach back and grab a pass that was thrown behind him.
Each of those four players brings something different to the roster. Patrick, a tall, physical receiver, has appeared in 24 games for the Broncos over the last two seasons as he's caught 39 passes for 533 yards. Hamilton, a former fourth-round pick, came on late in 2019 as he caught 11 passes for 130 yards in his final two games with Drew Lock. Spencer served largely as a return specialist, but he has the speed and agility to make defenders miss after the catch.
And Cleveland also has intriguing size and speed that led the Broncos to select him in the seventh round of this year's draft.
"I've liked him so far," Fangio said of Cleveland on Thursday. "And what I've liked is I think he's gotten a little bit better each day since he's been here, all the way back to the early group in training camp. I just think he's gotten a little bit better and better each day. I like his demeanor. I like his work ethic. I think he's a guy that would bring special teams value if he's a guy that suits up on game day, if he makes the team. I like where he's at right now. Hopefully he won't level off, and hopefully he'll continue to improve."
KNOWING THE SITUATION
During Thursday's practice, the Broncos spent lots of time working on situational football. In different periods, they worked on red-zone scenarios, plays in which the offense was backed up against its own goal line and an end-of-game scenario in which the offense was trailing.
The Broncos weren't always perfect — the offense had several false starts while backed up against their own goal line — but Fangio liked the work they were able to get in.
"I thought it was a good practice," Fangio said. "We got a lot done. [We] covered a lot of situations within the scope of practice, and it's going to be good tape to watch and learn from. We've got to squeeze all these situations in here in this short period of time. We do have to go faster in that area of it, so it was a good practice in that regard. Overall, I thought it was pretty good."
FINDING EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
While the Broncos' offense struggled to score points at times in 2019, these early training camp practices suggest the unit should be more explosive. Instead of needing 10-15 play drives to march down the field, it seems the Broncos may be able to hit on big plays more often. That's a staple of Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's offense, and we've seen examples of it throughout the six practices. On Thursday, during the team's end-of-game scenario, Lock found Sutton for a solid gain and then connected with Jerry Jeudy down the sideline for a "game-winning" touchdown.
"I think we can," Fangio said when asked about the offense's ability to create big plays. "I think we're capable. I've seen flashes of that in this first week. For me to declare that we're there yet would be premature, but I do see flashes of it."
OKWUEGBUNAM STANDS OUT
While the wide receivers battled to make plays, the tight ends also continued their competition. Andrew Beck, Troy Fumagalli and Jake Butt all made several catches during team drills. Rookie Albert Okwuegbunam, though, made some of the best plays of the morning's practice. He caught a touchdown on the first play of a red-zone period and then caught a "game-winning" touchdown at the back-right pylon during an end-of-game scenario.
"Albert's done well," Fangio said Wednesday. "Obviously, he's got some good receiving abilities. We have to find out what kind of blocker he is. A big part of being a competent blocker is a mentality to want to block. As a tight end, a lot of times when you do block, you're having to block good players. A good bit of that is want to and toughness. We're trying to figure that out with him to see if he has that part of his game."
· Lock had another strong practice. He found Sutton for a score early in practice, hit Jeudy on a deep over-the-shoulder and ended the day with the touchdown pass to Jeudy. He was picked off once on the day, when A.J. Bouye grabbed a pick during a 7-on-7 period.
· Bryce Callahan had another solid day in coverage, as he broke up at least a pair of passes.
· Rookie linebacker Justin Strnad had one strong sequence in which he hit LeVante Bellamy to blow up a run play and then showed good mobility in pass coverage while shadowing Jake Butt.
· Bellamy saw lots of work Thursday and made plays in both the run game and the passing game.
· During 1-on-1's between the offensive line and defensive line, Jurrell Casey plowed through an offensive lineman with a dominant power rush. Casey also put pressure on Lock during the first red-zone period. Shelby Harris also provided a would-be sack during that session.
· With Melvin Gordon III held out of the later stages of practice, Phillip Lindsay saw extensive work. He found several good running lanes and also was impressive catching the ball out of the backfield.
· A day after missing practice, Noah Fant (illness), Davontae Harris (knee contusion) and Bradley Chubb (rest) all returned to team drills.