5 Denver Broncos Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
The Denver Broncos will open their training camp on July 24 at their Dove Valley team headquarters. The facility is closed to the public this year as a massive renovation has been underway this offseason. When completed, the Broncos will have arguably the most state-of-the-art training facility in the entire league.
Broncos fans will be able to enjoy three practices that are going to be open to the public at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. These practices are free to attend and will certainly draw large crowds.
The waiting is almost over for NFL fans. The beginning of training camp signifies a new start for each team across the league. Hope springs eternal across the NFL, but Super Bowl dreams are more like expectations in Denver.
Each year in training camp there are players who shine with their opportunity. These players might be unknown rookies or inexperienced players just trying to make their mark. The players also might be returning from an injury that has prevented them from playing up to their potential in the pros.
Either way, we will get to see the drama unfold during the month of August through training camp and the preseason. The Broncos have to find the best 53-man roster they can, and training camp is where players can cement themselves on that list.
Here’s a look at five players who could surprise during camp.
Malik Jackson, DE
Jackson has been improving every year he’s been in the league. A fifth-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Jackson has been patient as his pro career has developed.
He finally got onto the field in 2013, and the Broncos' faith in him was quickly rewarded. Jackson created pressure on opposing quarterbacks as a rotational player and finished the season with six sacks.
At offseason workouts, Jackson looked bigger—specifically his arms and upper body. “I’m at about 290 [pounds] right now. I’ll just try to stay around there. I know when camp comes it’s going to fall off fast, so just have to bulk up now.” Jackson said.
He’s been doing a good job learning from the players around him. Jackson feels fortunate to have such guidance as a young pro.
“I think it’s going [well]. We had [DE] Elvis Dumervil my first year, [DE] Shaun Phillips last year and now we have a great in [DeMarcus] Ware. So I’m pretty blessed to have these Pro Bowl guys in here who can actually teach me, and I can just sit back and watch.”
The Broncos have built the defensive side of the football into what could be a dominant unit in 2014. Jackson could be a big part of that as a part-time pass-rusher. He’s improved every year he’s been in the league, and it looks like Jackson could take another step forward this season.
Quanterus Smith, DE
The Broncos selected a project with huge upside when they drafted Quanterus Smith in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft. Smith was coming back from the knee injury that cut his 2012 season short at Western Kentucky, but the Broncos saw his potential when healthy.
He splashed onto the national scene with a three-sack performance against Alabama in the second week of the season. At the time of his injury, Smith was leading the NCAA in sacks with 12.5 and missed the final two games of the year.
During camp last year, Smith didn’t quite look like his old self. He wasn’t as explosive as he used to be, and it seemed like he was still thinking about his knee while practicing. Earlier this offseason, Smith talked about his rookie season.
“I wasn’t disappointed. I kind of knew toward the end of the last preseason that I really wasn’t ready. So I took it as, ‘It’s going to be a learning [experience]. I can get bigger. I can let my knee heal all the way.’ Just doing the training camp, getting the experience of the NFL, was a big help. So I kind of knew what I was coming into this year.”
Smith concluded, “So, yeah, I didn’t look at it as a disappointment or anything like that. I looked at it as something that can help me.”
Smith declares that his knee is back to pre-injury form, and he certainly has looked good on the practice field during minicamp.
“Yeah, yeah. It feels back how it was before the second-to-last game of college. It feels good.”
A healthy Smith is nothing but a good thing for the Broncos. They have a strong group of pass-rushers already but could certainly use Smith effectively in a part-time role.
Von Miller is coming back from a knee injury he suffered in Week 16 against the Houston Texans last year. If Miller is not quite himself at the beginning of the year, the Broncos could lean on Smith more than some think.
The natural talent is there with Smith. So long as his closing burst, acceleration and speed come back, he could shine for Denver in 2014.
Lerentee McCray, LB
An unfortunate thumb injury in the Broncos' final preseason game forced Lerentee McCray to season-ending injured reserve last year. That seems to be the story with McCray. He’s an incredibly talented player but has missed time due to various injuries during his college career at Florida and his pro career with the Broncos.
If he can stay healthy, McCray is the team’s replacement for Nate Irving as a reserve strong-side linebacker. Irving has been moved to middle linebacker this offseason, and the Broncos are looking for someone to back up Miller.
McCray is incredibly gifted athletically and plays with high football intelligence. He knows how to diagnose plays quickly, and he has the speed to arrive at the ball-carrier with natural violence.
In addition to standing out as a run defender, McCray has the fluid athleticism to stand out in coverage. This is a must-have skill set for linebackers in today’s pass-happy NFL. McCray rarely takes false steps when analyzing a play as it unfolds, and this also helps him when asked to cover.
McCray’s instincts can make him a standout pass-rusher for the Broncos as well. He has good snap anticipation and a closing burst to get the quarterback in a hurry. He’s learning more moves from Miller during minicamp and OTAs.
Miller had been seen staying after practice with McCray earlier this offseason. The veteran is teaching the young player and giving him tips on how to be a better pro.
“At this point in my career, I’ve seen everything in the league. If I can help Lerentee be just 1 percent better than I did my job. There is just stuff that I’ve seen that he hasn’t seen yet. It’s just all new to him and for me I’ve seen before.” Miller continued, “So if I could just rub off on him a little bit and make stuff a lot easier for him, then I’m doing my job because I’m contributing.”
Talent has never been a question with McCray. He just needs to stay healthy to flash his ability for the Broncos in training camp.
C.J. Anderson, RB
The Broncos have an inexperienced backfield, but it’s one that is full of talent. Montee Ball is the starter this year, and behind him is another second-year back with a ton of upside. C.J. Anderson was added to the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2013, and he immediately stood out as a player who could make an impact at the pro level.
Anderson could start for some teams around the league.
He has a powerful lower body, which helps him in a couple of different ways. First, he can run through arm tackles with ease. Second, he has arguably the fastest 10-yard burst of any back on the roster. Finally, Anderson’s lower body makes him tough to bring down after contact.
In addition to power, Anderson is also incredibly intelligent. He knows where to go with the rock in his hands, and he sees the field cleanly. At minicamp, I was able to ask Anderson about his vision and football intelligence.
“I want to be the smartest guy in the [running backs] room," Anderson said. "That will impress Peyton [Manning]. I know where to be in pass protection and want him to have confidence in me when I handle the rock.”
Anderson is also working hard to improve his hands and concentration as a receiver out of the backfield. During minicamp, Anderson stood out when catching the ball.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase praised Anderson’s receiving ability earlier this offseason: “C.J. [Anderson] does a good job [catching the ball]. So, I think that whole group, we feel very confident as far as receiving in the passing game.”
Anderson is out to prove that he’s more than just a power back in 2014. He has a good all-purpose skill set and should be a standout player when the pads come on in training camp.
John Boyett, S
Athletic and tough, John Boyett is looking to make the final roster this year. A three-year starter at the University of Oregon, Boyett was known for making big hits from the free safety position. Lacking ideal measurables (5’10”, 204 lbs), Boyett made up for that by playing with a ton of ferocity and heart.
Originally a sixth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2012 NFL draft, Boyett was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list after training camp that year, as he continued to recover from injuries suffered in his senior year at Oregon. About a week later, Boyett was released by the team after getting arrested for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting law enforcement, according to Mike Wells from ESPN.com.
The Broncos picked up Boyett in November 2013, and they signed him to the practice squad. They signed Boyett to a future contract in February of this year.
Boyett hasn’t played in a game since the season opener for the Ducks in 2012, and it will be interesting to see what he can do when the pads come on in camp. If he can regain the athleticism and burst to the ball he showed in college, Boyett could make a run at the 53-man roster.
A healthy Quinton Carter puts a cramp at the position, so Boyett may have to beat out a guy like Omar Bolden for a roster spot. The Broncos have emphasized toughness and intimidation this offseason with additions to the secondary like T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. Boyett is certainly an enforcer who could fit right in as a reserve safety for the Broncos in 2014.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.