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(Graphic by K.J. Rigli/Bonneville Denver)
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Mile High Monday: Goodbye to Mr. B, Fumagalli shines and more

(Graphic by K.J. Rigli/Bonneville Denver)

It’s a “Mile High Monday” that feels different. Late Thursday night, we learned of the passing of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. I was able to host “Schlereth and Evans” on Friday morning and it was great to hear stories about Mr. B told by the likes of Mark Schlereth, Adam Schefter and Mike Shanahan.

It was tough news to deal with, especially with Mr. Bowlen’s upcoming Hall of Fame induction in a little over a month. I love what Mr. Bowlen represented and the joy he’s brought to Broncos Country since he bought the team in the mid-80s.

I like June because I go back and re-watch the previous football season as I work on projecting what I think teams and players are going to do in the upcoming season. Going back gives one perspective on looking forward, and I’ll always run across a game, a drive or a play that highlights something I may have missed or forgotten about. This exercise every June helps me greatly when it comes to what we could see in September and beyond.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ. The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

***

R.I.P. Mr. Bowlen

This was a tough weekend for Broncos Country. When I first heard the news early Friday morning, my immediate thoughts were with the Bowlen family. To lose a parent is tough, something I had to deal with when my mother passed in December 2017, and losing a father before Father’s Day weekend had to be especially difficult. My deepest condolences go out to the Bowlen family during this time.

My next thoughts were of anger at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What in the world took so long for Mr. Bowlen to be inducted into the Hall of Fame? When I interviewed Schefter on Friday morning, I was relieved to hear that’s something he struggled with, as well.

Pat Bowlen has always been a Hall of Famer – and they are finally getting it right this summer. No offense to any of the other owners or contributors who are in Canton, but Mr. B should have been one of the first to get in because of his many contributions to this great game we love – let alone his championship guidance of the Broncos.

The NFL is America’s game, and a large part of the reason why has to do with the efforts of Mr. Bowlen. Being instrumental in the creation of “Sunday Night Football,” getting the TV deals done with networks like Fox and pushing the NFL internationally are just some of the things Mr. Bowlen put his stamp on.

Unlike others, he did so without letting everyone know. Mr. B worked behind the scenes, using his charisma and influence to grow this game – not to get all the credit for himself – but because he was a visionary who saw what this game could be.

All NFL fans owe him a debt of gratitude.

***

I Like Ike

The Broncos have a second-year pro that needs to get more playing time in 2019. That player is cornerback Isaac Yiadom. What he showed as a rookie is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of pro potential, and I’d like to see him get a larger snap count in his sophomore season.

The problem is the Broncos have Bryce Callahan on the outside opposite of Chris Harris Jr. Callahan is a fine slot cornerback, using his quickness and guile to shadow lightning bug receivers on underneath routes. However, he is a smaller corner who may struggle on the outside against larger receivers. The team believes in him, and obviously I’m going to trust the coaching staff under Vic Fangio but I do have my doubts about Callahan’s fit as an outside corner.

I have no such doubts about Yiadom.

As a rookie in 2018, Yiadom was thrust into the fire with so many injuries hitting the Broncos defensive backfield. Yiadom responded with some quality snaps while also having his fair share of rookie struggles. Going back over last year’s coaches film, it was fun to see plays that Yiadom made against superstar receiver Antonio Brown when the Broncos played the Steelers last year.

Yiadom showed that he was not afraid to go against the best in the league, and his instincts, athleticism and intelligence put him in the right spots to make plays. I love his “never back down” attitude and think it’s something more young players need to possess.

I also love Yiadom’s toughness. A shoulder injury knocked him out of action for a bit last year, but Yiadom tried to play through the injury towards the end of the regular season. He did not look the same as his play suffered, but I give him a ton of credit for his toughness.

If the Broncos find that Callahan should fit in the slot more so on the outside, I think Yiadom is ready to be a consistent starter for this defense.

***

Don’t Be Surprised

ESPN had an interesting article this week where their NFL Nation writers picked one player from each of the 32 teams in the league that was a surprise standout in minicamp. Long-time Broncos beat reporter Jeff Legwold picked Troy Fumagalli as the player to spotlight from the hometown team.

I agree with Legwold’s assessment and have written about Fumagalli on more than one occasion.

Fumagalli was a consistent target for quarterback Joe Flacco during the course of OTAs and minicamp. He has vacuum hands and can make the most difficult catch seem routine. My excitement about Fumagalli’s potential goes beyond his physical skill set as a receiver.

It looked like Fumagalli was incredibly comfortable in this offense – especially in two-tight end formations. Flacco is known to lean on his tight ends often, and Fumagalli seemed to always be in the right spot.

He does need work as a blocker, but you don’t put Fumagalli out there because he’s a blocker. Instead, you have Fumagalli work a defense on underneath routes. The middle of the field is where the game is going, and the Broncos need to find weapons that work that area with precision.

I know most of the focus in training camp is going to be on 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant, and for good reason, but do not forget about Fumagalli. And don’t be surprised if he’s a standout player in practices later this summer.

***

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

One of my favorite players from the 2019 NFL draft was Dre’Mont Jones. Even before he was selected by the Broncos in the third round, Jones was a standout player on film that I tagged as a potential value pick. Last week, Jones signed his four-year rookie contract worth roughly $4 million.

I know potential is a dirty, filthy word, but I do love to think about what Jones can be when he’s playing at his best. In high school, Jones was primarily a basketball player, but he did start playing football during his final two years as a prep. In college with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Jones was mostly a part-time player until the 2018 season. When fellow Buckeye defensive end (and No. 2 overall pick) Nick Bosa was out with injury, Jones stepped up and showcased his talent.

Jones should start his pro career with the Broncos in a similar fashion. He should be an important rotational pass rusher as a rookie while he works on his game to one day be a starter. As crazy as it may seem, Jones is just getting started with his football career. He’s still raw as a prospect and with proper coaching from one of the best defensive line coaches in the league, Bill Kollar, Jones could be a star in this league.

***

Happy Father’s Day

Sunday was Father’s Day, always an important day on my calendar as the father of three. I hope everyone out there had a great weekend and celebrated the importance of dads.

I know I received some great qualities from my dad, mainly optimism, and I thank him for the work ethic that he instilled in me.

Raising kids is a challenge, but it’s the greatest accomplishment we’ll have in my opinion. No matter what I do covering football or how popular I become in my work, that pales in comparison to the impact I can have on my children’s lives.

The best part of my day is the time I spend with my family, and I’m excited to see what their future holds.

Happy Father’s day to all, including but not limited to step fathers, father-in-laws and single mothers who have to play both roles. You’re so important to those who love you!