ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Through the first three games of Noah Fant’s NFL career, the first-round pick has performed exactly how Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello said he would’ve expected.
In Scangarello’s mind, Fant has put together a season with some good, some bad and some “flashes of greatness.”
And the Broncos’ first-year offensive coordinator has reason to believe those flashes of greatness could become more and more frequent.
“I don’t want to make it sound like they’re same player, [but] it reminds me of [San Francisco 49ers tight end George] Kittle,” Scangarello said Thursday. “George’s first year in the league I think he led the NFL in drops. He was a liability in the run game at times. He would break the huddle and be unsure.”
As a rookie, Kittle caught 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns. Last season — Kittle’s second in the league — he secured his first Pro Bowl appearance as he caught 88 passes for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. He also set the single-season record for receiving yards for a tight end.
Why did it take time for Kittle to make the jump from Iowa to the pros?
“We ask more of our tight ends than any other position outside of the quarterback,” said Scangarello, who coached with the 49ers before taking the job in Denver. “They need to know the run game, pass protection and they have to be pass-route runners. And when they practice, that means [they’re] fatigued, because they run routes and they block like a lineman. All that adds up and accumulates on a guy when he plays a lot of reps, especially when they’re rookies and they’re learning the league. That’s the trickle-down effect, that’s what happens when a guy gets loose with the ball or tries to do too much. The finer things aren’t there.
“A year from now, he’ll be a completely different player and you hope that he is like Kittle, and he’s confident and he breaks down. Could that happen next week and get better and better? Absolutely, and that's the goal.”
The first-round pick has taken steps forward each week. After catching two passes for 29 yards in Week 1 and four catches for 33 yards in Week 2, he tallied three catches for 37 yards against the Packers. He is currently on pace to record 48 catches for 528 yards this season, which would rank higher than Kittle’s rookie total.
“There’s going to be good plays and bad plays, and it’s my job to try and eliminate those bad plays,” Fant said. “It’s just a matter of keep pressing forward and keep getting better.”
Fant did lose a fumble early in the third quarter, but Scangarello said the Broncos must live through some of the growing pains to reap the benefits of Fant’s ability.
“He just brings so much good to the table, too,” Scangarello said. “You want that out there. He’s dynamic, he’s got speed, you saw it on the couple of catches. He caught one little seam [route]; it was a great play. He’s a physical run blocker, so yeah, that’s why he’s here. He’s got those traits and the more he plays, the better he will get, but it is a balancing act.”
MAKING A STATEMENT
During Von Miller’s weekly media availability, the All-Pro outside linebacker was short and to the point.
“I feel good,” he said in his opening statement. “Got a great week of preparation. We’ve got great teammates, great coaches. I’m excited about the opportunity this week vs. the Jaguars. We’ve got a great game plan in. I’m excited to play.”
Miller, who did not take questions, appeared to have the same determination and focus that he had before last year’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“They’re going to get our whole team’s best, and that starts with me,” Miller said last October. “They’re going to get my best this week and we’re going to go out there, and we’re going to kick their ass.”
Miller finished with two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the Broncos’ 45-10 win.
PRESSING FOR GAME-CHANGING PLAYS
As the Broncos look to record their first sack and turnover of the season, the coaching staff has examined what it can do better.
“Any time you’re below the standard, the acceptable standard that you create, you have to get to work and the first place is fundamentals,” Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said. “I take a hard look at me as a coach. Am I sending the right message? Am I drilling this properly? Am I coaching these people to be in position and when to and when not to go after the football? It also is the coverage. We have to put rush and coverage together. It’s on our minds. It’s important to us and we’re working at it.”
The answer, though, may not be as simple as trying to overwhelm rookie Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew.
“There’s a common thought out there that you [should] get after rookie quarterbacks,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday. "Sometimes that’s the wrong thing to do because you make it easier for them. They see pressure and it makes it easier for them to decide where to throw the ball. This guy’s really good at his decision making. I think it’s just a good mix of everything.”
Sixth-year kicker Brandon McManus has made six of his seven field-goal attempts this season, with the only miss coming from 64 yards at the end of the first half in Oakland.
McManus, though, has missed an extra-point attempt in each of the last two games. Against the Bears, McManus pushed the game-tying kick wide right. The Bears were called offside, however, and the Broncos elected to go for a two-point conversion.
In Week 3 in Green Bay, McManus missed another 33-yard PAT as he hit the left upright.
“It shouldn’t be a concern, but obviously when it happens two times in a row it is a concern,” Fangio said. “I’m confident that Brandon will get it rectified.”