Denver Broncos Ring of Famer Dennis Smith joined Ryan Edwards, Andrew Mason, and Steve Atwater on Orange and Blue 760 today. The guys on 1st and 10 at 10 spoke with Smith about the Broncos new coaching staff, reading defenses, and Atwater’s Hall of Fame snub.
While Smith had some interesting observations about the Super Bowl, and reading defenses, it was his conversation with the guys about the Hall of Fame that was the most intriguing.
When Champ Bailey was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame he became the first defensive player for the Denver Broncos to make it to the Hall of Fame. That was shocking to Smith, too.
Think of all the great defenders in Broncos history. Names like Gradishar, Wright, Jackson, Mecklenburg, and Tombstone (to name a few) have been overlooked for too long. It is unbelievable that Bailey is the first defensive player to go into the Hall of Fame for the Broncos.
Without taking anything away from the greatness of Bailey, Smith had an interesting take on the merits of Atwater over Champ. As a corner, Bailey was great, but Smith noted that teams can gameplan away from great corners, limiting their impact on the game. Great safeties are more difficult to eliminate from a game.
For Smith, this was reason enough to put Atwater ahead of Bailey in regards to the Hall of Fame. Perhaps Smith is biased, having played with Atwater. And Bailey’s greatness is undeniable. He is obviously a first ballot Hall of Famer. This was just an interesting take on the importance of the safety position, and why Atwater should have already been enshrined in Canton.
During an appearance on NFL Network last week, former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis stated that quarterback Joe Flacco will keep rookie quarterback Drew Lock on the bench in 2019.
“With their new offensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello, so think about this: Joe Flacco’s best season he had in a long time came in 2016 with the Baltimore Ravens” Davis explained. “Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator there [and] Scangarello — who actually followed Kyle Shanahan and was under Gary Kubiak in Houston and Atlanta — is now running the offense.”
Davis pointed out that Scangarello comes from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree and runs an offense that Flacco is comfortable in.
“The offense is going to be familiar with Joe Flacco, [an] offense that he’s already seen before when he had success. It’s going to be a lot of boot [legs], it’s going to be a run-heavy, tight end-centric offense. They got [Noah] Fant in the draft, they still got Jake Butt, they still got [Jeff] Heuerman. It is going to be [an] offense to cater to Joe Flacco.”
Davis went on to note that he believes Flacco will have a lot of success, giving Denver no reason to play Lock as a rookie. Considering that Lock will need time to develop, Davis’ predicted scenario could be the best case scenario for all parties involved.
One of the greatest defensive stars in Denver Broncos history, and hopefully a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, joined the team when it was pretty clear we would take a safety in the draft.
The year was 1989 and Ring of Famer Dan Reeves was the head coach.
We were coming off an 8-8 season and Dan wanted to give his defense a boost.
Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator and Charlie Waters was the defensive backs coach.
There was much debate about two players, Atwater from Arkansas and another safety, Louis Oliver from Florida, and it finally came down to a draft-day discussion.
I remember the conversations in the draft room, as both guys had terrific college resumes.
Dan Reeves said he was happy with either player and turned to floor over to Phillips and Waters.
Eventually Wade turned to his defensive backs coach and asked Waters, “Which would you rather have?”
Charlie Waters said, “They are both great players. I want Atwater.”
And so Dan placed a call to Steve Atwater and set in motion a path for one of our all-time great first-round draft picks to have a Ring of Fame career.
Waters later said, “There was just something about the presence of Steve Atwater that made him special, the greatest among greats. He had great physical skills combined with a perfect work ethic, along with great maturity and leadership abilities.”
Atwater plied his many skills as a Pro Bowl and All-Pro safety for three head coaches — Reeves, Phillips and eventually Mike Shanahan — for whom he was a vital cog in our teams that won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.
But his maturity, leadership and on-the-field greatness were apparent from the moment he arrived in the Mile High City.
Atwater had a great training camp in 1989 (he always had a great training camp) and on the day of the final cuts, the Broncos made the shocking move of waiving starting safety and team captain Mike Harden so that Atwater could start.
Reeves said, “This was a tough move to make, but Atwater simply has to start and be on the field for every play.”
Atwater was a consensus All-Rookie selection and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year by Football Digest.
That decision to start him immediately reaped dividends as the Broncos won the AFC Championship and went to Super Bowl XXIV in Atwater’s rookie season, a precursor to the kind of career he was to have.
Atwater had a brilliant 10-year career with the Broncos and eventually was inducted as the 20th member of the Ring of Fame.
He is regarded as one of the toughest safeties in the NFL while being voted to a franchise record-tying seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1990-96, and his eight total Pro Bowl selections are tied for the second-most by a player in Broncos history.
He started all 155 regular season games he played with the Broncos and had 24 interceptions.
Only John Elway had more postseason starts.
Atwater started 14 playoff games for Denver, including three Super Bowls and four AFC title games.
Those draft day decisions are very difficult to make in the first round.
Teams discuss a bevy of college greats. Sometimes the decisions work out better than others.
There is no question Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips and Charlie Waters made a great one for Denver when they selected Steve Atwater with the Broncos’ first-round pick back in 1989.
Colorado wide receiver Juwann Winfree wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine this year so it was a little surprising when the Denver Broncos decided to trade up for him in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
Winfree didn’t attend the league’s combine but he did attend the Broncos’ local combine and he impressed their coaching staff.
“I definitely didn’t think they were really high on me, to be honest with you, but after the local pro day that I attended, and sitting down with the receiver coach [Zach Azzanni], he really expressed high interest in me,” Winfree said during a conference call with reporters on April 27. “From there I could see I really changed their point of view on me. Them seeing me close-up, seeing what type of player I am and what type of man I am off the field was big for me. That definitely helped a lot.”
It probably also helped that running back Phillip Lindsay, one of Winfree’s college teammates, put in a good word for him.
“Phillip Lindsay, I know he put in a huge word for me,” Winfree said. “That’s my big brother right there. He paved the way for me, doing what he did, coming from [University of] Colorado. I’m just glad he was able to help me out there doing that. We have the same agent too, so I’m just completely blessed.”
Lindsay was a little-known running back last year and signed with Denver as an undrafted free agent. He went on to make the 53-man roster and earn a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie. Lindsay is now hoping that Winfree can follow his path to success with the Broncos.
“Phil actually just called me, but I’ve been getting so many calls and declining calls because I’m on the phone with you guys,” Winfree said. “I’m pretty sure Phil is so happy for me just because he was in my position. He’s done so much, and the Broncos were the one team that believed in him — right down the street. He’s from Denver, so he’s just super happy for me.”
Winfree was healthy for eight games as a senior, hauling in 28 receptions for 324 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. The Broncos don’t have a lot of depth at receiver so he’ll have a good chance to make the 53-man roster and reunite with Lindsay in the NFL.
It’s becoming a time-honored question in NFL circles this time of year: How do teams project and evaluate players that were defensive ends or outside linebackers in college but may be asked to change positions to be effective edge rushers as pros?
Oregon’s Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins are two prime examples of players NFL teams are having to project to likely different positions in this year’s draft. Mock drafts illustrate how wide the variation can be as both Jelks and Hollins are projected to go anywhere from as high as late in the third round to as low as the seventh or even possibly a priority free agent in the case of Hollins, who led Oregon in sacks last season.
“It’s projecting, right? So it’s figuring out whether or not he has those compensating factors,” Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. “With Poona (Ford) it’s his length. So he’s got a natural leverage about him. He’s got a heaviness about him with his hands. He can get up and down the line of scrimmage. He went to the Senior Bowl and had a great week down there. It’s really about projecting.”
Jelks made 57 tackles with 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks as a senior while playing mostly 4i defensive end but is a better fit as a 5-technique end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker. His size makes is even harder for teams to projects as only been 18 edge rushers, defensive linemen or linebackers have appeared at the NFL Combine since 2010 that were at least 6-foot-5 and under 260 pounds.
Hollins had 64 tackles with 14.5 for loss including 6.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception and seven pass breakups while playing outside linebacker in Oregon’s 3-4 defense last season.
With the majority of snaps being played in Nickel packages how Jelks and Hollins translate, particularly to a 4-3 base defense, is part of the analysis GMs and coaches have to do.
“If you can find guys, no matter size they are, that can rush the passer you can find roles for them,” Cincinnati Bengals general manager Duke Tobin said. “We have a guy named (Carl) Lawson who we found a role for before he got hurt. He was in that hybrid category. But if they can rush the passer, that’s the No. 1 trait that we’re looking for.”
NFL teams that made coaching changes during the offseason had to reevaluate the talent they had on their rosters first.
Take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for example, who hired Bruce Arians as head coach and brought Todd Bowles, who was fired after coaching the New York Jets, to be defensive coordinator. Bowles played for Arians at Temple and worked for him most recently with the Arizona Cardinals so they know exactly what they want to do, but the Buccaneers have to adjust their roster to fit that, first through free agency and now the draft, where Tampa Bay drafted LSU middle linebacker Devin White No. 5 on Thursday.
“A lot of guys of guys that we would, not throw out but would be way down low on our draft board, the 4-3 D-ends that were undersized, these guys come back to life,” Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said. “This scheme allows those guys to make plays and to fit into a role, whether it’s first and second down or rushing the passer. Guys like Noah Spence might have new life in this scheme.”
Third-round pick Dre’Mont Jones has battled with Big Ten offensive linemen for years.
Over the last three seasons, the defensive lineman has sparred with both tackles and guards — and he won enough matchups to record 22 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks during his Ohio State career.
“The Big Ten is definitely no joke,” Jones said Saturday at his introductory press conference. “I know how it feels to be double-teamed, I know how it feels to go against those 6-7, 330-[pound] offensive tackles, and those 6-4, 330-[pound] guards and I got a feel for both. I think I can handle myself in the league.”
After all, those linemen have nothing on Jones’ father, Sanderline Williams, who had an 11-year career as a professional middleweight boxer.
Williams, who fought top boxers that included James Toney and Iran Barkley, saw boxing potential in his son Dre’Mont.
“He was born with naturally fast hands and great footwork,” Williams said. “… His hands are just as fast as mine, [but] he’s a heavyweight. His footwork is magnificent, so I think he could have [had a professional career]. I look at him sometimes and shake my head and ask myself, ‘Why didn’t I encourage him to be a boxer?’ Because he’s got the skill set to be a boxer.”
Jones, though, learned as an 11-year-old that he preferred football to his father’s sport of choice.
“I was sparring with my dad — of course, he was taking it easy on me — but I was sparring with him and he hit me with something crazy,” Jones said. “And at that moment, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is not for me.’ But I did learn how to use my hands well.
“… It was embarrassing. My dad knocked me out. I thought I could get him.”
Jones’ brief boxing training and his fast hands did prepare him well for his eventual Big Ten competition.
“Pass rushing and fitting the run is basically like boxing,” Jones said. “You’re punching, you’re striking, you’re being physical with your hands all the time. That definitely translated over for being a D-lineman.”
And while Williams thinks his son could’ve found a career in professional boxing, he said he knows his son has ended up in a better situation than he could’ve imagined.
“It’s like a dream come true, because I think as a former athlete, I thought I was pretty good,” Williams said. “I could’ve taken it to the next level, but things got in my way. But to see him do it and take it even further than I did, it’s something I can’t explain.”
After entering the offseason scrambling again at quarterback, John Elway emerged from draft weekend set for the present and maybe the future at a position that’s been his Frankenstein ever since Peyton Manning retired three years ago. Drew Lock will be Joe Flacco’s understudy — providing he can beat out Boise State QB Brett Rypien, who was among the undrafted players Denver signed after the draft concluded, for the backup job.
Lock, the second-round pick from Missouri will take a wait-and-watch approach like reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes did for a year behind Alex Smith in Kansas City, or even like Aaron Rodgers did for three seasons behind Brett Favre in Green Bay. By taking Lock with the 42nd pick and immediately declaring him Flacco’s apprentice, the Broncos are dodging the kind of QB competition that blew up on them two straight summers with 2016 first-round bust Paxton Lynch. Lock and head coach Vic Fangio also are avoiding the pressure cooker that awaits first-rounders Kyler Murray in Arizona and Dwayne Haskins in Washington, QBs expected to make immediate impacts.
“I think it will certainly take pressure off him and it will allow him to sit and learn,” Lock’s father, Andy, a restaurateur from Kansas City, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “And also I think from an organizational standpoint, maybe the Broncos don’t feel as much pressure to get him on the field early.
“It’s a great recipe, and I’m excited for that.”
So is his son, who realizes he has a lot to learn as a pro.
“I think I’m just going to take it day by day here,” Lock said, declining to declare any timetable for taking over as the starter. “I’m going to try to be the best teammate possible because I know if there’s one thing to help win over a team and win over a locker room, it’s come in and just be a good teammate.
“Then I think I’ll gain the respect and the trust of everybody in that locker room” like Mahomes did in K.C. and Rodgers did in Green Bay.
Lock was hoping to be a first-round selection but said he knows deep down his landing spot was much more important than his draft slot.
“Obviously, you’d like to get picked a little earlier, but I’m here,” Lock said. “We got Dalton (Risner) because of it, we got Noah (Fant) because of it, and if that’s the way it was supposed to be, then so be it. I’m a Bronco now and I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”
Elway said he saw the draft as another step in his makeover of the Broncos, which has included the hiring of Fangio, acquisition of Flacco and free agent signings such as Ja’wuan James and Kareem Jackson.
Elway said Fant and Risner should start right away and with “Drew coming in and competing for the backup spot, he gives us some depth there.”
“So, we feel much better where we’re sitting here now today than we did coming out of last season.”
WHO THEY GOT
In a draft loaded with defense, Elway focused first on improving a fetid offense. He used his first three picks on Iowa TE Fant , Kansas State RG Risner and Lock. His top defensive addition is Ohio State DT Dre’Mont Jones. Saturday’s picks were versatile Oregon LB Justin Hollins and Colorado WR Juwann Winfree in the sixth. He also acquired former Broncos special teams stud Dekoda Watson in a trade.
Elway didn’t consider drafting a QB in the first round, but he traded with Cincinnati to move up to 42nd and select Lock 32 spots — a full round — after many projections had him going. Elway also pulled a stunner by taking Winfree, who started just seven games in college, missed the 2016 season with a torn ACL and sat out four games last year with a sprained ankle.
HOW THEY DID
Elway filled a major need by drafting Fant in the first round. Fant clocked a 4.5-second 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine, faster than 17 wide receivers. In Hollins, they’re hoping they landed the ILB who could help the Broncos smother opposing tight ends like George Kittle who burned them for 210 yards and a TD in the first half of a game last season that essentially ended their slim playoff hopes.
Addressing CB Chris Harris Jr.’s request for a hefty pay raise. The 30-year-old star is due $7.8 million in 2019, about half of what cornerbacks of his caliber are making. Harris is skipping the offseason program while Fangio installs his new defense and recently issued a pay-me-or-trade-me request after what he felt were disrespectful comments by Elway, who has a history of playing hardball with his stars.
From the ankles up, Dalton Risner looked like any other draft pick arriving for his first day.
Sharp suit, pressed shirt, Broncos hat.
But the footwear he chose was one of a kind.
The boots of this young man who grew up on a Colorado farm are size 18, heavily creased, scuffed up and dusty. It’s possible that the Wiggins native would have worn them no matter where he was drafted, but nowhere else would they have felt so right.
“These are the boots that I’m wearing at the corral, the boots I’m wearing out to feed and that’s just kind of who I am,” Risner said. “… These are my work boots right here. I’m coming in to work today. These are the boots that I’m going to be wearing to this complex when I’m showing up to work.
“This is no vacation. This is work.”
They may not be dressy, and they may not be polished, but Risner thought they were the most appropriate fit for what was essentially his first day of work at his new job.
“I would like to come in and have an immediate impact,” he said, speaking of his mindset as he prepares to begin his NFL career at possibly a new position along the offensive line. “Wherever that position is, I’m going to come in and work my ass off.”
That approach comes not just from the territory of his role as a brawling lineman, but perhaps with the territory of his small hometown, located about an hour away from Denver. And with that, there was always a hope that he could stay in his home state and bring his skills and tenacity to his favorite NFL team.
“In the back of my mind, I said, ‘No matter what, I feel safe that the Broncos are at 41. No matter how the draft goes. If I go first round, that’s great, but the fact that the Broncos are at 41, I felt like they wouldn’t pass on me,’” Risner recalled. “And I’m just so thankful that they didn’t. That shows their appreciation for me and how much I appreciate them. If I could go back right now and choose to be a 20th draft pick or 21st draft pick to the Seahawks, whatever it was, I’d choose 41 to the Broncos every day. … I’m happy to be a part of this.”
So was his family, which rolled seven peopledeep to accompany him to UCHealth Training Center and wrote “#LeagueBound” on one of the windows of his truck, which is already parked in the players’ parking lot.
“I think it means a lot to them,” Risner said. “They were obviously bawling. There’s a lot of happy tears, tears of joy. Just to be an hour down the road, I think, is a God thing. That’s something bigger at play. I don’t think that’s just luck. I don’t just think that’s how things pan out. That was God’s plan, and I’m so excited to see how God’s going to work through me in Denver: the impact I can have on the football team, and the impact that I can have on the community.”
To be able to play for the Broncos means that Risner is already quite familiar with the team. He grew up watching the team, which included Assistant Offensive Line Coach Chris Kuper during his playing days.
The coming transition from aspiration to reality will bring a very real change of perspective for Risner. Kuper won’t just be a player he admired; he’ll be one of the men tasked with shaping his NFL future, and that may mean one of the players he idolized will be barking at him if he isn’t meeting expectations during practice. And it may not be just him. Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Munchak may do the same as the offensive line coach.
For this young lineman wearing the cowboy boots, though, that won’t be too much to handle. In fact, that’s exactly what looking forward to.
“Those are two coaches that going into this process, I wanted to get coached by,” Risner said. “I’m sure there are going to be the days where they’re on me, but that’s what you want.”
As a Colorado kid, Risner will know a privilege that only a couple of Broncos on the roster — Phillip Lindsay and Sam Jones — have experienced as a local playing for the team they grew up watching.
“I’m just honored to be here and have the opportunity to play next to guys like Phillip and Sam,” Risner said. “I was talking to Phillip on the phone last night. It was so cool just to be welcomed by all these players. It was really, really special. I’m just humbled. I’m just so excited to work alongside all these guys — not only them two, but all the football players on this team.
“I’m just ready to become a part of the team and start working for all these guys.”
Tight end Noah Fant didn’t need to be in Denver long to understand the expectations awaiting him as the Broncos’ first-round pick.
“I’m starting to get a real good idea, coming in here, football is very important here,” Fant said. “I hadn’t been to Denver very many times before this, but I can tell just from the city, you know, how touted the team is … right when I got off the plane here, people were waiting around the baggage claim for pictures and things like that. Obviously that’s pretty special.”
Fant, selected by the Broncos with the 20th pick of the draft Thursday night, has already carved out a little slice of franchise history. He is the first tight end selected by the team in the first round since Riley Odoms at No. 5 in 1972, which was 25 years before Fant was born.
Fant arrives to a team starved for impact at the position. The Broncos haven’t had a tight end finish a season with more than 31 catches since 2015 when Owen Daniels had 46 receptions and three touchdowns. A Broncos tight end hasn’t been selected to the Pro Bowl since Julius Thomas in 2014.
It certainly hasn’t been for a lack of trying. The Broncos had used three draft picks in the past four drafts combined on tight ends only to see all three — Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli — each miss at least one season with injuries. Butt has missed all but three games in his first two seasons combined.
Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway made it clear Fant, who finished his career at Iowa with 19 touchdown catches, 18 of those over the last two seasons, brings immediate impact.
“We feel good about the other tight ends we have with Heuerman, Butt and Fumagalli coming back and doing well,” Elway said. “We just felt that adding Noah to that group — obviously we’ve have some health issues in that position — we just thought that what he brings to us in that situation, he can play three downs for us. Ultimately, you know he really can run. To have a guy that big and that size and really stretch the field.”
At 6-foot-4⅛ and 249 pounds with 4.50 speed in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine — faster than 17 wide receivers who ran in Indianapolis — Fant fits the Broncos’ offense. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who was the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers before joining Vic Fangio’s staff, has said he wants impact from the position.
Niners tight end George Kittle, also out of Iowa, was selected to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 88 receptions, 1,377 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns last season. Those totals included seven receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown last Dec. 9.
Fant said he doesn’t want to be considered a receiving-only tight end and has spoken to Kittle in the pre-draft process.
“I would consider myself a tight end through and through,” Fant said. “I love blocking, I love catching touchdowns and I love doing whatever is asked of me.”
The worlds of Wawa and Brian Dawkins are colliding and we’ve got a serious case of FOMO.
On April 16, Wawa will open the doors on a brand new store located in Jacksonville, Florida with the help of Weapon X himself, who will have his very own Wawa hoagie named after him in his hometown.
Known as the “Dawk”, the hoagie is built on a wheat roll with grilled chicken, Parmesan cheese, spinach, tomato, pickles, sweet peppers and yellow mustard. It sounds like the kind of food that would make you want to get a sack, interception, forced fumble and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.
Unfortunately for Philadelphians, the hoagie is only available from April 16 through June 2 at Wawa locations in Jacksonville, however, we can’t be too mad since it’s for a great cause and you can literally build your own at a Wawa near you since you know what’s in it.
Wawa will donate a portion of the proceeds from hoagie sales, up to $20,000, to benefit JaxPAL’s MobilePAL program, which benefits children in the community.
In addition to making the very first of his hoagie creation, Dawkins will be at the store, located at 2500 Monument Road in Jacksonville, to greet fans, give away free coffee and hand out prizes, including signed photos for the first 100 customers and a signed football to one lucky winner.
Color us jealous, but with Dawkins and Nick Foles headed to Jacksonville, it seems like a nice second home for Eagles fans.
If you’re in the area, doors open at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and we’ll give bonus points to anyone who crawls in like you’re coming out of the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field.