Disappointing. Disastrous. Embarrassing. Ugly.
These were just some of the words used to describe the performance by the Broncos offense during Friday’s joint practice with the 49ers. And all of them were accurate, if not a little too kind.
From the jump on day one, San Francisco’s defense was the aggressor. They were loud and boisterous during individual drills, which translated into physical and dominant during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 sessions.
Denver’s offense wilted under the pressure. They couldn’t move the football, either in the air or on the ground. They turned the ball over, throwing interceptions and fumbling. And they were unable to adapt, making zero adjustments as the practice went along.
It made for a rough day at the office, one that everyone involved would like to forget.
“I thought it was very choppy,” Rich Scangarello said after practice. “It felt like they got after us a little bit.”
The Broncos offensive coordinator was being kind. His quarterback was equally diplomatic.
“They brought a lot of energy,” Joe Flacco said about the Niners defense. “We can definitely do a better job than we did today.”
Neither response was encouraging. If anything, they seemed to highlight the potential problem.
With a lot of newcomers and young players in the lineup, the Broncos offense is devoid of leaders. The entire offensive line is unproven. The starting running backs are young. Their wide receiver corps, other than Emmanuel Sanders, is extremely inexperienced. And their tight ends can’t stay on the field long enough to take charge of anything.
There’s also issues with the default leaders. The head coach is more worried about the defense, evidenced by the fact that he didn’t even see the drubbing his offense endured on Friday. Scangarello is a first-time coordinator, so he’s still trying to get used to the job. And Flacco is new to Denver, so the quarterback is still building relationships with his teammates.
It all begged one giant question: Who is going to step up and demand more from the offense when things go awry this season?
On Friday, it appeared as though the answer was no one.
This was perhaps more depressing that the group’s performance against San Francisco. One bad day won’t sink a season. A lack of leadership surely will.
But just as things were looking bleak, when panic was starting to set in, the Broncos answered the bell. They picked themselves off the mat and came back swinging. Both literally and figurately.
At Saturday’s joint practice, Denver’s offense had a different energy. They were ready to go from the first drill, which translated into a much better performance.
Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick made big-time catches. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman were able to find some running room. And the entire group made plays.
But that wasn’t the most-important development. Those plays will quickly be forgotten. However, the moxie Denver’s offense showed could translate into big things this season.
Publicly, Vic Fangio acted like he wasn’t happy with Brendan Langley and Bug Howard getting booted from practice for fighting. But deep down, the head coach had to like the fact that a wideout and tight end decided they were done being pushed around by the Niners.
That’s a fight the Broncos offense hasn’t had in recent years. While struggling on the field, the Trevor Siemian- and Case Keenum-led groups were unable to battle their way to any kind of success.
Instead, they simply laid down. Heck, they even got bullied by their teammates.
Aqib Talib taking on Russell Okung in the locker room and shoving Jordan Norwood on the field highlighted the divide between Denver’s offense and defense in recent seasons. And it showed that they had no will to push back.
This year, things look to be different. Sometime after the first practice, someone rallied the troops. And it resulted in a totally different performance on Saturday.
Was it Fangio? Maybe. The head coach didn’t pull any punches when asked what we thought after watching film of Denver’s offense on Friday.
“It wasn’t very good,” Fangio offered. “It wasn’t very good in any way, shape or form.”
Was it Scangarello? Perhaps. The offensive coordinator hinted what his message would be to his team after day one.
“You have to adapt and adjust; that’s the league and that’s how it is week-to-week,” Scangarello said. “For us to adapt and feel comfortable and match that speed and intensity, we’ll be just fine.”
Or was it Flacco? History would suggest it wasn’t, as the quarterback has a notoriously low-key demeanor. But his actions on the field would suggest otherwise.
During Saturday’s spirited practice, Flacco was much more vocal than he’s been at any other time during training camp. At one point, he could even be heard dropping a few profanities, jumping into the trash-talk fray.
Those words were powerful. When someone not known for using bad language uses a well-timed F-bomb, it sends a message. And that was clearly delivered to the Broncos offense.
Does it matter that Denver “lost” on Friday and “won” on Saturday? In the grand scheme of things, it means absolutely nothing. But that doesn’t mean the reversal of fortune was meaningless.
The Broncos found their swagger on offense. And it came because they finally have a leader at quarterback.
After three years of aimlessly plodding along, Denver finally has someone to steer them in the right direction. Joe Flacco showed that on Saturday morning.
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