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The Sideline: Top three Broncos rookie draft picks shine against Bears


As soon as Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton and Royce Freeman returned to the locker room following Saturday night's game against the Chicago Bears, each scurried to find a hat in his locker. As has become tradition over the years, the first-year players sport ridiculous haircuts during training camp, courtesy of the team's veterans serving as barbers. Luckily, with an off day on Sunday, the hairdos will soon be no more.

"Y'all don't want to see my head," Chubb said. "I'm going to be bald for a couple weeks, but that's better than what I got now."

But their performance on the field was as good as their scalps were bad Saturday. Chubb — the team's first-round pick in April — finished the night with four total tackles and opened the scoring by bringing down Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone for a safety. Sutton reeled in a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Freeman registered 26 total yards and scored a touchdown as well. Aside from Brandon McManus' two field goals and one extra point and Case Keenum's two-point conversion to Jeff Heuerman, the three rookies accounted for all of the team's points.

"I feel like we're doing well, but we're nowhere near where we want to be," Chubb said of his rookie class. "Just got to keep progressing and doing the little things each and every week and try to be better not only for ourselves but for our team."

It was Chubb who was responsible for two of those points. The NC State product saw Trubisky mishandle an errant snap and was on the Bears signal caller in an instant, burying him in the back of the end zone. But after celebrating with his teammates, he went right back to business: He was due on special teams the next play.

"I didn't even think about [the play] until I sat down," Chubb said. "It was hard to breathe. I had to use oxygen when I got back."

After the Bears took a 7-5 lead early in the second quarter, the Broncos came right back with a nine-play, 82-yard drive capped by Freeman's 4-yard scamper. He evaded one lineman and then powered through a few arm tackles near the goal line. It was his second score in two weeks, but he certainly won't be resting on his laurels.

"Just going out there, I try not to get too complacent," Freeman said. "Every week I want to go out there and get better and improve on my last performance."

Though it was Freeman's second touchdown of the preseason, it was the starting offense's first. Freeman said embracing an aggressive, fast-starting mindset helped the starters.

"We've got to be conscious of it," Freeman said. "We've got to practice at it. We came out here, and a lot of our players had that in mind, so we tried to go out there and do so."

Freeman's score came just one play after Sutton drew a pass-interference penalty on a deep ball. At 6-foot-3, Sutton is among the tallest wide receivers on the Broncos' roster, and quarterbacks were able to take advantage of both his frame and his speed Saturday.

"He's special," Keenum said. "Having a guy like that, a young guy who's pretty headsy when it comes as far as those balls that you give him a chance. And really, there's three or four things that can happen, and a lot of them are good. He can catch it, he can go for it and get a defensive pass interference or it's incomplete, and I know that it's going to be incomplete at worst. I like throwing the ball down the field to him. He makes a lot more of those plays than he doesn't."

After Sutton helped set up the first touchdown, it was his turn to get into the end zone on the very next possession, hauling in a laser from backup quarterback Chad Kelly. It was Sutton's first score of the preseason, one he surely won't forget and — like Freeman — will also use for motivation.

"I try not to overhype it, but it was great ... and I'm not going to downplay it," Sutton said. "It was a great experience, my first NFL touchdown, the first of many. I celebrated tonight, but then move on to the next week."

The performances of the three rookies have caught the eye of plenty of teammates, including that of starting left tackle Garett Bolles. He's been especially impressed playing alongside Sutton and Freeman.

"I don't even call [Courtland] a rookie or Royce a rookie at all," Bolles said. "Those guys came in and act like vets and stepped up to the plate and swung and continue to swing. That's what we need here. We need the young guys to continue to work hard and continue to craft their game so that when time gets hard, we're going to rely on them to make big catches and hit big runs. So that's what they continue to do, and I'm proud of both of them."

Bolles also goes up against Chubb in practice, and he's been impressed by the fifth-overall pick.

"He continues to get better every day," Bolles said. "I love working with him because he's always eager to learn and eager to find new techniques to get around big guys."

Part of Chubb's development can also be attributed to fellow edge rushers Von Miller and Shane Ray giving him advice. Ray says Chubb's versatility at his size is what impresses him most.

"He's able to use his size, use his speed, cover guys when he needs to, and he's obviously a problem when he's rushing one-on-one," Ray said. "It's hard to block a guy who moves how he moves at his weight. I'm just trying to do everything as far as just teaching him the little things. ... He's going to be a great player."

It was certainly a strong second week for Denver's top rookies, and one that could signal things to come. But in Sutton's mind, it was just another step for a rookie class eager to make its impact.

"[We have] a lot of guys who are really pushing themselves to fight for starting jobs and fight for reps," Sutton said. "Nobody's looking at it like, 'Oh I've got this guy ahead of me; I can't really compete against that person.' They're looking at it as, 'I'm going to fight my butt off because me pushing the guy in front of me is making the team better and making me better as a player as well.' Our whole class is really striving to be great and pushing and really working hard."

That's a quality that will help the members of the rookie class — and especially the team's top three picks — contribute sooner rather than later, no matter what their haircuts look like.

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