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Reflections on Broncos' preseason opener

Wilson finishes well; OLine needs work, McLaughlin impresses
Broncos Cardinals Football
Posted at 2:17 PM, Aug 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-13 18:23:07-04

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The juxtaposition remains striking.

Everything is different for the Broncos this season under new coach Sean Payton. The players warmed up, stretched, and entered the field in new ways for the preseason opener at State Farm Stadium. Nothing was like before for Russell Wilson. No personal photographer chronicling his every move, and even his pregame exit to the locker room featured a lone high five and wave, but no autographs.

The Broncos are attempting to hit the reset the button by becoming more buttoned-up. After light practices, re-gen days and no preseason snaps for starters last summer, the Broncos rolled back the clock. They have maximized padded practices and the first stringers logged significant snaps against the Cardinals.

Denver fell 18-17, allowing a late touchdown and two-point conversion. Payton was not happy with the result, but there were encouraging signs. My Denver7 reflections as the Broncos prepare to resume workouts on Monday in advance for Saturday’s road game at San Francisco:

Last impression, best impression
Ricky Bobby insisted that if “You are not first, you are last.” As for the Broncos’ offense, their last impression ranked first. After three pedestrian if not forgettable series, Denver produced a touchdown drive. Wilson went 3-for-4 for 44 yards, the lone incompletion a drop by Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy redeemed himself with a touchdown score where he put the defensive back on skates. I appreciated Payton showing confidence by going for it on fourth-and-5, wanting the group to leave with momentum. Wilson made two questionable throws when pressured, but climbed the pocket once, scrambled and became more decisive.

Walk the Line
Right guard Quinn Meinerz summed it eloquently for the starting offensive line, admitting, “Everything we can improve at.” The pass blocking has not been sharp in training camp and that carried over into the game. Wilson was under way too much duress, absorbing five hits. Or roughly four more than a coach would like to see in a preseason game. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey remains sidelined for two more weeks with a sprained knee, replaced by Isaiah Prince. There were multiple breakdowns across the front, including with left tackle Garett Bolles and guard Ben Powers, that should serve as terrific teaching points this week.

Take it on the Run
It’s no coincidence that the offense gained traction when Samaje Perine found running room. With Javonte Williams set to play Saturday, Perine worked with the first team. He showed Williams’ traits with his legs churning for extra yardage. For the Broncos to execute deep drops and bootlegs with Wilson, they must run the ball effectively.

Is he the new OG?
Jaleel McLaughlin is a name that is becoming known in Broncos Country. But not correctly spelled. The rookie made his pro debut with McGlaughlin on the back of his jersey.

“I said, ‘Wow! That’s pretty smart because that’s how it’s pronounced,” said the hard worker from Youngstown State, who arrives for 10 a.m. practice at 5 a.m. “Maybe it will be changed next game. But that’s how it is pronounced, so it helps people out.”

Because of his speed, McLaughlin, who scored the Broncos’ second touchdown and had 20 yards rushing, has a realistic shot to make the team as the third back behind Williams and Perine.

The Defense (Never) Rests
The first-string defense pitched a shutout in its 14 snaps. Overall, the defense finished with five sacks. Elijah Garcia led the group with two. There’s been more blitzing in preseason games across the league, and the Broncos were not afraid to send Ja’Quan MacMillian from the corner. His speed and grit are giving him a chance to make this team.

No Special K
The Broncos kicking game failed to soothe concerns over cutting Brandon McManus. McManus struggled last year, and that must be remembered. But watching Brett Maher and Elliott Fry miss three of four field goals did not ease anxiety. Fry nailed a 55-yarder. However, it’s fair to wonder if the Broncos’ kicker for the regular season opener on Sept. 10 is on the roster.

Injuries to Monitor
The Broncos failed to escape the game without injury. Nose tackle D.J. Jones suffered a concussion, always a concern since he was concussed last season as well. Linebacker Josey Jewell had his right eye poked and scratched but said he should be OK. Some players who have been dealing with injuries in camp did not play. So, could this be the week we see receiver Marvin Mims Jr., tight end Chris Manhertz, cormerback K’Waun Williams, receiver Brandon Johnson and linebacker Aaron Patrick make their preseason debut?