ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Through two days at training camp, the Broncos have put in solid work.
Drew Lock and the offense have made a handful of big plays. The defense has forced a series of turnovers, particularly in the passing game.
But on Monday, practice will change completely as the Broncos put on full pads for the first time for a scheduled 90-minute practice.
"When you put on pads, that changes the game," linebacker Todd Davis said Sunday. "Sometimes people can run scot-free, feel like they're open — when I put a hit on you at five yards, it kind of changes the game. I'm excited to have pads on. That's really when we get to play some football. I'm excited for it."
In Melvin Gordon III's eyes, none of the run plays the Broncos ran Friday or Sunday tell him much. Only when tomorrow's practice begins will the two-time Pro Bowl running back begin to get a feel for how the team's run game is progressing.
"Right now, we're doing a pretty good job, but you know, without pads, it's all a fallacy to me," Gordon said. "When we put the pads on, that's when you really know and have a good feel for where you are. I think they've been doing a great job thus far. We've been having holes every day. They've been creating holes and openings for us, so I think we're going to be good. It's going to take time for those guys to really jell together and for us to get on the same page. When we do — like I said, we're on a short schedule — when we do jell together and everybody gets on the same page, I think we'll be fine. We've just got to play together as a unit. The scheme works well with the guys that we have, so it's all about executing. I think we'll be fine. It's all about jelling and putting in this time during camp."
Even with pads on, the Broncos will likely still have a limited number of live periods where they tackle to the ground. As such, cornerback De'Vante Bausby knows he and the other cornerbacks will have to simulate game speed in their reps.
"I think as a defense we just have to make sure when ball carriers have the ball, you've got to take proper angles and act like you're going to tackle," Bausby said. "[It's important] to do that that, because there might be a lot of missed tackles around the league Week 1 just because we don't have too many live periods and no preseason games."
THE VALUE OF TRAINING CAMP
A season ago, Davis suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of training camp and didn't return to the Broncos' lineup until a Week 3 game against the Packers. That missed time has confirmed in Davis' mind the value of training camp.
"I think camp is very important to me," Davis said. "I think last year because I didn't have camp, it took me two or three games into the regular season to get back to where I was moving 100 percent, feeling 100 percent, on my keys and really executing. Now I have training camp to put me in that mode so by the first game I'm ready to go. This training camp I am wholly locked in and focused and I'm going to be healthy the whole way through."
As the 2020 regular season approaches, Davis' main focus will be to improve his skills in pass coverage.
"Particularly for me, I want to be better in coverage," Davis said. "They're going to ask me to do a little bit more coverage this year. I want to handle the task and do great. I focused on it a lot in the offseason. I'm focusing on it right now in camp. That's one of my things I definitely want to get better at. I definitely think I can get better in every area of my game. I'm never perfect, so that's what I'm striving for."
Gordon and Phillip Lindsay both continue to see time with the Broncos' first-team offense, and Gordon said he's not worried about the competition. Gordon said the two are "playing unselfishly," and that he's focused on making the most of his opportunities.
"I'm not sure," Gordon said when asked if he and Lindsay will have specific roles. "I really didn't want to ask and have anyone feel anything or [feel] any type of way. I've just been coming to work and doing what I do and just show my skill. Phil's been trying to show his. The way they use us is how they use us. I just know that I'll be ready when my jersey number is called."
TWO CONTRIBUTORS AT ILB
Davis may be the longest-tenured player in the linebacking corps, but a pair of younger players could make impacts in 2020.
Alexander Johnson, who started 12 games for the Broncos in 2019, could be poised for a breakout year, according to Davis.
"I think he can take it to another level," Davis said. "I think he came out and had a fantastic first year. He came out and really made a splash. I think it's just his job. He came out and had a pick first day of practice. I think he's mentally focused, physically ready. I'm excited for him. He's going to have a great year this year."
Justin Strnad, the Broncos' 2020 fifth-round pick, could also carve out a role as he aims to help the Broncos in coverage.
"In the NFL everything is faster," Davis said. "The tight ends are faster. They receivers are faster. Everything is really crisp. I think he's doing a great job with it though. I told him yesterday, for a rookie to come in here and really face a challenging offense and really have things thrown out at him really fast, he's doing a great job with it. I'm going to continue to support him. I feel like he has a lot of talent and can make us better."
A DOMINANT FORCE ON THE LINE
Jurrell Casey's impact on Von Miller and Bradley Chubb has been well-documented, but he could similarly help Johnson and Davis in the run game.
"I feel like they just went and got a phenomenal player," Davis said. "Already in these first two days of practice I've seen how much he can impact our team as a whole — [the] defense in particular, but definitely me. I feel like when I'm lined up behind him, if they stay on the double team, then that allows me to make a play. If they don't stay in the double team, he'll definitely make the play. I love playing behind a dominant, physical player like that. I think it's going to allow for me and A.J. to make a lot more plays."