Broncos Rookies Making Mile High Impact
If the Denver Broncos are going emerge from the 4-12 sub-basement they found themselves at the conclusion of the 23-month McDistaster era, they will need early, frequent and positive contributions from their crop of rookies.
The Broncos drafted nine players in the 2011 NFL draft and three of them – linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore and offensive tackle Orlando Franklin – stepped in as starters on the opening day of training camp.
The crown jewel of Denver’s 2011 draft class is Miller, who the Broncos chose with the second overall pick. Miller’s transition to the strong-side “Sam” outside linebacker spot has been smooth if not seamless.
Miller tallied 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss his senior season at Texas A&M. Almost immediately upon entering camp he demonstrated the athleticism and pass rushing prowess that earned him unanimous All-American honors and which caught EXF’s eyes leading up the draft.
As a pure pass rusher at Texas A&M, it was rare for Miller to drop into zone coverage or man up one-on-one with an opposing offensive player during his time in College Station. It will be imperative that Miller develop skills in both roles to be fully successful in the NFL.
So far, so good.
Working with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and his staff, Miller has looked smooth and fluid in coverage situations at practice and in Denver’s first two preseason games. On just his second day of training camp, Miller dropped into zone coverage and intercepted a Kyle Orton pass, drawing loud cheers from the crowd of fans in attendance.
Miller acknowledges he is still learning but qualifies it, saying, “We have a new coach and a new playbook, so everyone is probably on even ground,” meaning rookies and veterans alike are learning a new defense.
It is often thought that the biggest hurdle rookies face when moving from the college to the NFL is the adapting to the speed at which the pro game is played. Miller said that speed has not been a big challenge for him.
"The speed of the game isn't really that tough," Miller said. "it's just everybody has better technique and everybody is doing their job well.”
Look for Miller to contend for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
The second player the Broncos selected in April’s draft was UCLA free safety Rahim Moore.
Moore is a classic “ballhawk” safety who will be asked to play the deep zone, read the opposing quarterback’s eyes as the play develops and then make a play on the ball and/or intended receiver.
The former-Bruin says he was honored to be named a starter entering training camp but was quick to point out that he “can't take it for granted, can't get complacent” and each of the rookies “have to keep pressing through, keep learning and getting better."
Moore, who has drawn high marks for his maturity, understands the importance of practice.
“If you BS in practice it will show, but if you're working hard and you're flying and you treat it like a game it will definitely show."
In tight end Julius Thomas, the Broncos have been blessed with another rookie who has made his presence felt early and often.
There was some concern about Thomas, a former hoops star, coming out of Portland State as he had only one year of experience on the gridiron. Yet Denver GM Brian Xanders was undeterred saying after the draft, “he's very athletic, with very good ball skills, he had very good football knowledge for being a one year player."
While he has shined in the capacity as the “Y” (receiving) TE, Thomas has struggled mightily as a blocker. This has relegated him to playing only on passing downs. Fox expected this, noting Thomas’ limited football experience and saying, "every TE in this league the number-one adjustment coming out of college into pro football is blocking."
Thomas recognizes he has a lot to learn but says that, "playing basketball teaches you to react quickly and that helps on the football field" and that he tries to ask the veterans for advice as much as he can.
The early returns have been positive. Yet the Broncos’ rookies all recognize there are facets of their game on which they must improve.
Nate Irving, a third round pick who is competing with Joe Mays and Mario Haggan for playing time at middle linebacker, summed it up perfectly saying, “As a rookie you don't know everything but you gotta show the coaches that you're willing to play 100 miles per hour and do what you gotta do.”
So long as each of these young players continues doing what they gotta do, the climb out of the NFL’s cellar could be shorter than was previously thought.
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