With John Browning making his practice debut Wednesday afternoon, the defensive line remained the focal point as the Broncos moved a day closer to what could well be a revealing preseason game against Cleveland on Saturday night.
But how much that game shows about Browning remains to be seen. It has been nearly 20 months since he played in a regular-season game, and after leaving the Chiefs with an injury settlement on Sept. 30 of last year after suffering a back injury, it has been nearly 11 months since he had a team to call his own. Wednesday afternoon represented his first session, and his coaches were pleased with his work, although there’s little that could be gauged from a practice that took place just hours after his signing.
“For what we did today, he looked like he did just fine,” defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. “But it takes time. We’ll get him some game time and see how it goes. It’s hard to tell after one practice when you’re in a game-week situation, but, he did show some striking ability and some firmness in there, and that’s a good start.”
Added assistant head coach Jim Bates: “He looked good. He plays with a lot of power. He’s a strong guy. I’m interested in looking at the tape and seeing where he fits in and giving him an opportunity.”
But for Browning, the day represented the first act of what Johnson termed an “evaluation process.” It’s not only about determining whether Browning is ready and fit to play after being sidelined for a year, but how well he fits and whether he can provide something that was missing from Denver’s defensive front.
And, at the risk of going off on a tangent here, Bates commented upon why the team worked with relatively simple game plans and an emphasis on the base defense in the games. From his perspective, such work is the best way to discern which players are worth keeping.
“We’re not doing a whole lot,” he said. “We’re just seeing who can play base defense, where we have problems and finding out who can play football and who can make this football team. That’s the most important thing to us — who’s going to make that 53; who’s going to be the defensive players who make that squad. Sometimes when you gimmick, you just gamble all the time, hey, you may look good, but the end result is that we may not be able to pick out the right guys. So when we play base-fundamentals football, it’s easier for us to evaluate.”
Now, it’s time to evaluate Browning. While he has played some defensive end in the past, Bates said he sees the 12-year veteran as “more of a tackle” at this point. That leaves the work at defensive end potentially in the hands of a young corps, one which expects to receive a boost next week if Tim Crowder returns from an ankle injury.
“(Crowder) got off to a great start in camp. Hopefully he can pick up where he left off,” Bates said. “For him to be able to do so many things as a rookie was quite surprising to all of us.”
But long-term game experience like Browning’s remains crucial — especially since Gerard Warren and Ebenezer Ekuban were removed from the defenive-line mix. But it’s through playing in actual games that the rookies can find their footing.
“Experience is always valuable, and we have to bring these guys along fast. Losing Ebenezer and losing a guy that’s going to be a three-down player (Warren), a lot of guys have to step up. It’s always a concern, but I like the maturity of the rookies and the way they’ve been working.”
With Crowder and Jarvis Moss, I can’t help but think of a Bible verse:
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
— Luke 12:48
They were the top two picks this year, so much was given. Now, it’s time for the second half of that verse to come to fruition.
What Crowder and Moss can bring — and what a late arrival like Browning can provide in terms of stability and a veteran presence — may likely determine the eventual success or failure of the defensive line over the next four months.
Until next time, vaya con Dios.