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Three biggest observations about the Broncos offense in OTAs

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Broncos have wrapped up three weeks of voluntary offseason training activities at UC Health Training Center. Next up is mandatory minicamp starting on Tuesday, then a big break before training camp begins for the team in mid-July.

Broncos head coach Vic Fangio gave some positive feedback on his team’s progress about halfway through these voluntary OTAs.

“I think the guys are picking things up quickly. That’s a compliment to the assistant coaches and the jobs they’re doing with these guys and which they did in Phase One and Phase Two in the classroom, and that’s a compliment to the players that they have been able to transition to on-field, 11-on-11 football and do what they’ve been taught. That’s a big transition from classroom to the field,” Fangio said.

Here are the three biggest observations from the Broncos offense during three weeks of OTAs.

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3. Sutton Looks Ready

The Broncos have a new No. 1 wide receiver for the 2019 season in second-year pro Courtland Sutton. At least that’s what the team is hoping will happen. Sutton, a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has the natural physical ability to develop into one of the best receivers in the game.

It’s up to him to make a big stride towards that potential in 2019.

Sutton seems ready for the challenge and from day one of OTAs has looked the part. His physical gifts in terms of size, speed and strength have always been obvious and Sutton still outmuscles defenders for the ball in contested situations. He also uses his speed to get by defenders down the sideline and does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder.

This offseason, I’ve seen a different and improved Sutton because of his route running. Sutton no longer is just a “go-route guy” and has shown better nuance when running the full route tree. His footwork seems to be cleaned up and he is no longer taking “ghost steps” when getting off the line of scrimmage or making his break. Instead of extra steps, Sutton is breaking off his routes quickly and cleanly – a skill that even the best corners are not ready for. This allows Sutton to get open and present that big target as soon as possible.

Sutton loves the new offense too.

“It’s amazing. Every play has a reason. Every play has something that goes with it. That’s the thing I’m really excited about. Being able to be in (Rich Scangarello’s) offense, I’m really excited because not only our receivers, but our tight ends and our running backs are going to see some success,” Sutton said.

Even when Emmanuel Sanders is healthy enough to practice, I feel the Broncos have their new No. 1 receiver in Sutton – and he believes that too. We should see a more confident and productive Sutton in his second year in the NFL.

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2. Freeman is More Comfortable

Royce Freeman had a somewhat disappointing rookie season. The 2018 third-round pick from Oregon began last year as the starter, but he was injured and then saw fellow 2018 rookie Phillip Lindsay take over at the position. Not only did Lindsay take over, he became the first undrafted offensive player in NFL history to make a Pro Bowl in his debut season, all the while Freeman sat injured or got backup work.

This offseason, Freeman has looked more comfortable.

The Broncos are implementing a familiar offense under new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. The offense draws inspiration from the Mike Shanahan/Gary Kubiak offenses that have dominated for years in the Broncos past. Not only are they taking it back to the old school, but they are running a system that Freeman knows well.

Last season, Freeman had some trouble with timing and footwork when running the ball. He seemed to be uncomfortable running with a fullback in front of him and Freeman was sometimes too late or too early to the holes opened for him. These were problems that plagued him as a rookie, and they were problems that Lindsay did not deal with whatsoever.

So far in practice during OTAs, Freeman’s footwork, patience and timing seem improved when he’s got the rock. A much-needed byproduct is that Freeman seems to be running with more confidence. Yes, there is no live tackling in practice, so we can’t get a full read on what Freeman can do. However, the signs are there that he will hit the hole with more fervor in 2019 – and that is bad news for any player tasked with tackling the 230-pound back.

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1. Wacko For Flacco

Things seem different this offseason with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco running the show. The best way to describe what I’ve seen from Flacco at OTAs is “natural.” I use that description because Flacco is not getting used to being a starter like Case Keenum was a year ago for the Broncos. Instead, this is old hat for Flacco and he looks calm in almost everything that he does.

The ball comes out of Flacco’s hands easy and quickly. He’s got a rocket arm and I’ve seen him regularly spray 70-yard passes down the field in practice. Not only does Flacco have a big arm, but unlike Keenum (or Trevor Siemian), he’s not afraid to challenge a defense vertically.

It’s impressive seeing Flacco go after this suffocating Broncos defense. There isn’t a pass that Flacco can’t make and that ability has to keep Broncos defenders on their toes.

Teammates seem to be responding positively to Flacco too. Running back Devontae Booker sparked a bit of controversy last week by merely complimenting Flacco.

“He’s such a cool guy. He talks to everybody in the locker room. Previous quarterback didn’t really do that so much. They’d just be in there on the field, get the job done and we see each other walking through the halls or something—wouldn’t even acknowledge us. Flacco, I’d say, is a pretty cool guy. He’s just brings that leadership ability to all of us out there on the field. He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s just a good guy,” Booker said.

Who knows which quarterback Booker was talking about and it doesn’t really matter. Flacco is here to run the show and he’s been impressive with his work. Now, he just needs to carry it over to the field in the regular season.