Last week Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale needed to devise a gameplan without a pair of starters in the secondary with a combined 25 years of experience.
The defensive coordinator acknowledged it’s not easy to replace Brian Dawkins or Andre’ Goodman, but being able to plug in improving rookies Perrish Cox and Syd’Quan Thompson — who came up with his first career interception in the 24-20 loss — made the process a lot easier.
“There’s a lot of young players that we feel are very good football players and they need to step up and play, and they have done that,” Martindale said.
Martindale’s message about the team’s promising youngsters mirrored the one that Head Coach Josh McDaniels delivered about an hour earlier.
Ten rookies saw action, including three who started, against the Jets and contributed in all three phases of the game. Different situations have forced rookies into increased playing time in several positions across the lineup, but the staff has confidence that the experience can only help going forward.
“The more they practice with our first-team offense, defense or special teams, the more the play in the games against really good competition, the better they’re going to be,” McDaniels said. “They’re going to make some mistakes — all of them have. But, I think what we see is the more they play, the fewer mistakes they make.”
Thompson particularly shined. In just the third game he’s been active this season, the seventh-rounder saw his most extensive action on defense, playing often as an extra defensive back.
Thompson, who returned an interception for a touchdown in preseason, made his biggest play of the regular season when he jumped in front of a Mark Sanchez pass for the interception just before halftime and set up a Matt Prater field goal.
After Eddie Royal left the game with injury, McDaniels trusted Thompson to step back deep for a pair of punts, both of which he fair caught.
“You have to earn the trust of the coaching staff to be put back there in a plus-50 (yards) situation when the other team is punting in a close game,” McDaniels said. “So, I think that tells you how we feel about Syd’Quan.”
That performance earned his head coach’s praise, but Thompson said he remains focused on getting better heading into his first AFC West clash on Sunday against the Raiders.
“You learn from mistakes and the good from the last game,” Thompson said Wednesday. “We just want to come out this week and be able to get better at what we’re already good at and get better at what we didn’t do so good at.”
That’s an attitude that McDaniels can appreciate from all his rookies — including J.D. Walton, Zane Beadles and Cox, who have each started at least three games this season.
Whether it was Tim Tebow taking several snaps at quarterback for the first time in weeks, Demaryius Thomas’ third-quarter touchdown catch or Kevin Alexander and Kyle McCarthy contributing on special teams in their NFL debuts, the head coach expressed excitement about his youngsters’ play.
While injuries have given many of those players more opportunities than expected to contribute so far, their progress through six weeks of regular season play has proved a pleasant biproduct.
“Hopefully that means that in November and December, we’re going to have players that are still rookies,” McDaniels said, “but they’re not playing quite like rookies.”
Champ Bailey, Brandon Lloyd and Kevin Vickerson returned to practice on Thursday after missing Wednesday’s session.
Bailey (ribs) and Vickerson (groin) participated on a limited basis, while Lloyd (non-injury) is no longer listed on the report.
Robert Ayers (foot), Brian Dawkins (knee), Andre’ Goodman (quadricep), Darcel McBath (ankle), Eddie Royal (groin) and Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) missed practice for the second straight day. Jamal Williams (non-injury) was also held out of the workout.
For the Raiders, four players did not practice — DT John Henderson, LB Thomas Howard, TE Brandon Myers and WR Chaz Schilens. RB Michael Bennett, S Tyvon Branch, QB Jason Campbell, LB Travis Goethel, QB Bruce Gradkowski and RB Darren McFadden were limited in the session.
- Eric Detweiler, DenverBroncos.com
Below are some photos from Thursday’s workout: