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Mile High Morning: Recapping some of the best Broncos player storylines from before the bye week


The Lead

With the Broncos in the midst of their bye-week break, it's a perfect time to look back on the first 10 weeks of the season, and here, I'd like to take the time to put the spotlight on several Broncos whose stories have been particularly memorable so far.

WR Kendall Hinton

A little less than a year ago, Kendall Hinton became best-known for playing the position he had left behind years ago. Having transitioned to wide receiver midway through his college career at Wake Forest, Hinton made a surprising return to quarterback for a Week 12 game against the Saints after all of Denver's quarterbacks were sidelined by COVID-19 protocols less than two days before the game. Hinton struggled against a great New Orleans defense, but his effort was an endearing one in an emergency scenario. The Pro Football Hall of Fame even displayed his wristband in its museum.

After the game, Hinton returned to the practice squad at wideout and continued to work on his craft throughout the offseason, hoping to make a name for himself in the NFL beyond just that Saints game. As injuries piled up at wide receiver for the Broncos, Hinton would get his chance to prove himself — and that's exactly what he's done. In nine games, Hinton has recorded 12 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown.

"Now he can actually call himself an NFL wide receiver," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of Hinton in October. "Not somebody that was an ex-quarterback, ex-something, trying to play receiver. He is a receiver."

S Justin Simmons

When safety Justin Simmons met with the media after signing a new long-term contract in the spring, the conversation at one point turned to how Simmons could be even better. Coming off a 2019 second-team All-Pro selection and a 2020 Pro Bowl season, that seemed like a lofty ambition, but Simmons is nearing career bests in key stats in 2021.

While the season has not been without its frustrations, Simmons has four interceptions in 10 games — including three in the past three games — and nine passes defensed. With two more interceptions, he'll surpass his career best in picks, and it looks like he'll challenge his single-season mark in pass breakups.

"I think he's focused and playing with high energy," Fangio said on Nov. 8, after the Broncos' win over the Cowboys. "It's really shown the last two weeks. I thought last week was his best game of the season, and maybe his best game since I've been here. … He had a good game yesterday. I think he's had a meeting with himself, and he's really jacked up his play."

WR Tim Patrick

After a breakout 2020 season in which he more than tripled his previous season's production, Tim Patrick appeared to be due for a smaller role in 2021 with Courtland Sutton returning from injury. But as we've seen through 10 games this season, Patrick has proven that his talent will find a way on the field.

With 37 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns, Patrick is on track to surpass his 2020 season totals (51 receptions for 742 yards and six touchdowns). With sure hands and a large frame, Patrick has been extremely reliable and consistent. He's tied with Sutton for the most receiving first downs on the team, and according to Pro Football Reference, he has not dropped a pass since 2019 — knock on wood.

"Tim is a dog, and he brings so much excitement to the game," Teddy Bridgewater said on Nov. 10. "It goes back to having fun. You watch him — he's smiling and he's celebrating. He's playing with that energy that you love to see. He's playing with confidence, and he's definitely a guy that you shouldn't really sleep on."

CB Pat Surtain II

Being a first-round pick comes with obviously enormous expectations, but cornerback Pat Surtain II has met them already in his rookie season. Fangio and the Broncos have entrusted him with a starting role, and he's played well so far.

According to Pro Football Reference, Surtain has allowed a completion percentage of 49.2 and a passer rating of 76.5 when he's targeted; both are the best marks on the team among the four cornerbacks who have started at least one game this season for the Broncos. And while Surtain has just one interception so far, he's been one of the most ball-productive rookie defensive backs in recent history for the franchise. With nine passes defensed through 10 games, Surtain is on track to challenge for the most pass breakups by a Broncos rookie since 1999, when the league began officially tracking the stat.

"The more times you're in position, the more opportunities you're going to get," Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said of Surtain's chances at making more interceptions. "He's on the proper path for that happening."

RB Javonte Williams

Like Surtain, the Broncos' second-round pick also entered his first season with great potential. Denver traded up in the second round to ensure running back Javonte Williams would be a Bronco, and early in his tenure, he's looked like just the bruising running back they envisioned he'd be.

Through 10 weeks, Williams has racked up 514 rushing yards on an average of nearly five yards per carry, and he’s produced the third-most 20-plus-yard runs in the league so far. Among rookie running backs with at least 50 carries, Williams also has the best per-carry rushing average in the league. But more impressive than all the numbers are the memorable runs he's made by bulldozing through opposing defenders. His 31-yard run against the Ravens won him the Angry Runs scepter from "Good Morning Football," and he's had several others like it.

"I think a lot of times runners will kind of bounce and avoid those dirty runs, those dirty four- or five-yard runs which are very critical when you want to run the ball multiple times," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said on Nov. 11. "He's already got a highlight film of explosive runs that are amazing that some guys can go a whole career and not get one or two of them. He's had a really good start to his season and his career. Just like some of the other rookies that we brought in this year, he has a very bright future. We're pleased with what he's doing. I just feel like as we get through the back half of the season he'll even get better."

OLB Jonathon Cooper

Because of a rare heart condition, Jonathon Cooper's NFL career was in danger of ending before it even began. After being drafted late in the seventh round, Cooper underwent three cardiac ablations over an eight-hour period in May. At one point, he and his doctors had to consider a pacemaker as an option, which would have forced him to leave football. But, thankfully, all went well, and Cooper has been able to be one of the team's most promising young players.

Since stepping into a larger role following an ankle injury to Von Miller and then a starting role after the subsequent trade of Miller to the Rams, Cooper has been an effective defender. Over the past four games, he has 16 tackles, three tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and two sacks, each of which came against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.

"I think time will tell," Donatell said of Cooper's ceiling. "The one thing we like about him [is] he's so tough and he works so hard. You put that combination together, and he could be pretty darn good."

Below the Fold

In a new interview with The Denver Post, former Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler delves into life after playing in the NFL and why it took him some time to get back into watching the sport.

"I didn't watch any pro football except for maybe the Super Bowl," Osweiler told Ryan O'Halloran. "It was just too hard to watch. I still wanted to be playing, but the phone stopped ringing."

But now, after retiring, Osweiler is starting to consider returning to a career in football as a coach or in a front office, perhaps, in due time as his children get older.

"I've entertained a few things, coaching quarterbacks on a 1-on-1 basis, but nothing has come to fruition yet," Osweiler said. "When (our daughters) get a little older and their friends become cooler than their dad and have their own stuff going, I would love to try and find the right avenue to be associated with the game."

The Unclassifieds

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