The Broncos got back to the grindstone Wednesday, preparing for their next opponent, and it’s one that will provide some unique challenges.
The Miami Dolphins come to INVESCO Field at Mile High this week, and coming off of two losses before the bye week, the Broncos are getting ready for a battle to get back on the winning track.
There are several interesting storylines leading up to the game, not the least of which involves two prominent figures from the 2009 NFL Draft.
ROOKIES LIVING UP TO BILLING
Sunday’s game features a first-round 2009 NFL Draft pick at left tackle for both teams’ offensive line, and both rookies have started every game for their team this season.
Miami’s Jake Long was the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, and Ryan Clady went off the board at No. 12 to Denver. Both have lived up to expectations — Clady is the only rookie tackle not to have allowed a sack, according to STATS, Inc., and Long’s coach said he has continued to improve every week.
“I think the guy’s been getting better and better,” Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano said. “When we got Jake here, one of the things we found is that he’s so much more mature than this young 21-, 22-year old guy. He plays like he’s a much older player out there, and plays like he’s seen a bunch of different looks.”
Long said he and Clady have some similarities, and he’s very impressed with Clady’s athleticism and skills as a pass blocker.
“I definitely like to watch Ryan play, because I got to meet him throughout the last couple years in college, at banquets and all that stuff,” Long said. “I really grew a friendship with him. He’s a great player, having a great year and he’s going to do really good things for Denver.”
Jay Cutler said he hasn’t thought twice about the left side of the line since Clady stepped in.
“He is there every day,” Cutler said. “You couldn’t ask much more out of a rookie, especially playing left tackle right now. We don’t have to worry about him because he locks down the left side and does a great job.”
Sparano said he was enamored with Clady, even as he was eyeing Long with the No. 1 pick.
“I thought he was an outstanding player, and I’m not just saying that because we’re playing him this week,” Sparano said. “He’s so athletic, and really was an outstanding pass blocker, which is something that in our league is a premium. You need to find those kind of guys. Smart kid, good background, so he had all the things that you look for in a top pick.”
Sunday will be a test of both rookies’ mettle.
Elvis Dumervil — tied for the team lead in sacks — lines up at right defensive end for the Broncos.
Vonnie Holliday typically lines up on the right side of the Dolphins’ 3-4 defense, with linebacker Joey Porter playing the far right linebacker position just behind him. Porter leads the league in sacks.
In other words, the battle in the trenches — and specifically Clady and Long’s side of the line — could help decide the game when all is said and done.
PAYMAH STEPPING IN
With Champ Bailey out for, according to Head Coach Mike Shanahan, at least a month, the Broncos secondary as a whole will have to step up its game.
Some of that responsibility starts with Karl Paymah, who will step in to the starting lineup in Bailey’s absence. But the responsibility certainly doesn’t end there. And Paymah said he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by pressure, since the secondary acts as a team.
“You have a guy that is a Hall of Famer, the best cornerback in the game right now — you can’t expect to just come in and fill that void,” Paymah said. “Rome wasn’t built in a night. I am looking at it as a unit. There are 11 guys out there and 11 guys have to do their jobs, and when you come in you need to come in, fill in for that guy and keep it going.”
So far this season Paymah has six tackles, including five solo, and a pass defensed.
Daniel Graham said he has faith that Paymah and other newcomers to the starting lineup — Champ’s brother Boss Bailey is out for the season on the defensive side of the ball as well — can get it done and help the team get back on the winning track.
“It is a concern with those guys gone, but young guys need to step up,” Graham said. “They have the opportunity to come in and make a name for themselves and help this team out. We are looking forward to guys stepping up and making plays, and we will be good.”
Paymah said he’s ready to accept the challenge.
“You just have to worry about what you can control — in this game you can be a starter and the next day you don’t know when you are going to see the field,” he said. “You can’t worry about what is going on upstairs -– when you get the opportunity you have to rise to the occasion.”
A SENSE OF URGENCY
Even though the team sits at 4-3 atop the AFC West, some players said there is a palpable sense of urgency in the locker room.
“I think there is,” Graham said. “The last few weeks we haven’t played well, and I think it is those little things when you go back that cost us the games. There is a sense of urgency around here to get better in all aspects of the game.”
The Broncos are on a two-game losing streak, but all it takes is one convincing victory to turn it all around and get back on track. Michael Pittman said the offense in particular is ready to fix some recent mistakes.
“The last couple weeks we really didn’t perform the way we know how to as an offense,” Pittman said. “First couple games of the season we were putting up a lot of points and scoring at will, but right now we’re struggling a little bit. A big cause of that has been turnovers. You can see we’re driving the ball on people, just once we get down in the red zone toward their endzone, we find a way to turn over the ball. If we eliminate that and go out and perform, we’ll start putting up points again.”
Graham said eliminating those turnovers — one of the “little things” to which he was referring — will be a tough task against a relatively stingy Dolphins defense that is tied for third in the league with 14 forced fumbles. He expects them to try to strip the ball on every play.
“They are going to be doing that from the first snap of the game — we know that,” Graham said. “We have to go out here in practice and work on holding onto the ball –- no turnovers. What we do on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will show on Sunday.”
Nate Jackson said nothing has changed in the urgency department — the team feels the need to win every game, and the group will feel the same way going into Sunday’s matchup with Miami.
“Every week there is a sense of urgency,” he said. “That doesn’t really change in this line of work. We know we don’t need to be reminded. We know how important it is go out there and perform well.”
-Gray Caldwell, DenverBroncos.com