Training camp for the Denver Broncos in 2020 is more critical than ever before, given the current global situation. There are fewer practices than ever, which means fewer opportunities for players in camp battles to differentiate themselves from their competition.
Every snap could mean the difference between being a starter and a backup, or being a backup and not making the roster at all. With that in mind, let’s tour through the top battles on the offensive side of the ball and see who is in control of the pole position for each.
How does Melvin Gordon’s injury impact his competition with Phillip Lindsay?
The battle at running back between Lindsay and Gordon, which we’ve already previewed, is the most high-profile competition at Broncos training camp in 2020.
Lindsay has already proven himself to the city of Denver by gaining over 1,000 yards on the ground in each of the past two seasons, one of just seven players to do so. However, entering a pivotal contract year, he hasn’t proven his value in the passing game. Meanwhile, Gordon has seen higher peaks in his four-year career, but he’s seen lower valleys as well, and now carries the stigma of being a running back on his second contract.
So far at training camp, Lindsay has looked like the better of the two backs. Watching from the designated media area, you can see him slice through narrow windows and reach the second level in a flash, something Broncos Country is used to seeing. The differences in his game come in the form of an extra 10 pounds of muscle, which doesn’t appear to have slowed him down, and as a receiver, where he is much improved. His route running looks crisp, and he’s made a few impressive catches on targets from Drew Lock.
Gordon, on the other hand, has had a fine yet somewhat disappointing camp given his new contract. He hasn’t been bad by any means, but he hasn’t looked like a running back being paid nearly 11 times what Lindsay is. He looks like he will certainly be an upgrade on what Royce Freeman provided the Broncos in 2019, a power back that can also be an asset as a receiver. However, by no means has Gordon performed like a player who would be an upgrade on Lindsay.
He was already in a tough position in regards to stealing Lindsay’s starting job, with the shortened training camp period, but now that Gordon has suffered a rib injury that will momentarily slow him down, it feels almost impossible that he could claim the number one running back job from Lindsay before Week 1.
Who will line up alongside Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy?
Sutton and Jeudy have already cemented themselves as the Broncos number one and number two, respectively, but how the rest of the depth chart shakes out remains up in the air. Pat Shurmur’s offense primarily operates out of 11 personnel, meaning there are three wide receivers on the field. That being said, the battle between DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, and K.J. Hamler for that number three wide receiver job is an important one for 2020 at Broncos training camp.
Hamler’s odds of winning the job before Week 1 were already long, given that this off-season has been more difficult for rookies than almost any other in NFL history, and his hamstring injury suffered this week took him out of the running entirely. He could steal that role by season’s end, but he won’t have it when the Broncos meet the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.
Hamilton has, for the most part, had a positive training camp, carrying over his momentum from the end of last season. His greatest hurdle will be that his best fit is as a slot receiver, and as of now, the Broncos coaching staff has said that they plan to primarily use Jeudy in the slot as well. That means Hamilton will have to demonstrate his worth as an outside target to become the team’s number three receiver.
Because of Jeudy’s primary designation as a slot receiver, Patrick is the frontrunner for Denver’s third receiver job. He’s performed well so far at camp, and the thought of him and Sutton as Denver’s outside targets is fun to imagine. With Sutton’s ability on 50/50 balls and Patrick’s 6-foot-4 frame, there are very few teams that would have the requisite size to cover those two on the perimeter, and it would also have the added benefit of providing Drew Lock with a large strike zone to target.
Can Jake Butt beat out Andrew Beck for the tight end role?
The Broncos are likely to carry four tight ends on their Week 1 roster, with Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, and Nick Vannett having all but locked up a spot each, which creates an interesting competition at the bottom of the tight end depth chart.
After Jeff Heuerman was released following the roster cut-down to 80 players, it made sense to think the tight end job was Beck’s to lose considering how well he played last year and the versatility he offers as a fullback. Unfortunately, Beck has looked entirely average at tight end and will now have to lean on that versatility as one of the only arguments he has for making the roster over Butt.
Butt has been the surprise of Broncos training camp and has made enough eye-catching plays to create a compelling argument that he should make the final roster. He’s more than capable as a blocker and a receiver and is plenty talented enough to be in Denver’s offensive rotation. The only concern with Butt is the injury bug that has plagued his career, so as long as he stays healthy, he should be the slight favorite for the final tight end spot.