ENGLEWOOD — The second day of Broncos training camp saw a lot of big plays on both sides of the ball, with a veteran tight end standing out and a second-year cornerback looking poised for a big season.
Here are the top observations from Thursday's practice:
Star of the day: TE Eric Saubert
Tight end Eric Saubert has never been considered much of a threat in the passing game in his five seasons in the NFL. But through two days of training camp, Saubert has shown he can be more than a blocker in coach Nathaniel Hackett's offense.
"He’s strong, he’s good at the point of attack in the run game, and then he’s done some good stuff in the pass game," Hackett said. "It’s about teaching those details and he’s buying into all that stuff. Whenever you get a guy that’s a smart guy, a tough guy, and that’s going to buy into what we’re trying to do, you’re going to see great things happen.
"He’s another guy that we want to keep continually developing."
Saubert caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Russell Wilson on Day 1 and caught a pass on Day 2 that likely would have been for 20 or more yards. It's clear Saubert will be more involved in the Broncos' passing game, and with Noah Fant no longer in Denver, he's sure to have plenty of opportunities.
Last season, Saubert had a career-high eight receptions for 47 yards and his first-career touchdown.
"I don't worry too much about (having a bigger role)," Saubert said. "I have my own personal goal of what I want to do and where I want to be. That's not really up to me. I can do what they tell me to do. Whether it's going to be on special teams, whether it's going to be an every-down guy, I don't care what it is."
Rookie spotlight: CB Ja'Quan McMillian
The Broncos have a long history of keeping at least one undrafted rookie on its original 53-man roster and one of the top candidates this training camp is cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian.
McMillian, who played three seasons at East Carolina, signed a $75,000 deal with a $15,000 signing bonus, which is the second-highest payout among Broncos undrafted rookies, behind only Alabama OLB Christopher Allen. On Thursday, McMillian showed why he's a serious candidate to make the team, having a couple of big pass breakups during team drills.
"I've always had that chip," McMillian said. "It's been since high school. I've always been overlooked. So every time I step on the field, I've got that chip on my shoulder and I'm trying to play at the highest level I can."
McMillian is sure to be in the mix for a spot in the cornerback room, which doesn't have much depth beyond starters Pat Surtain II, Ronald Darby and K'Waun Williams. And McMillian has several teammates pulling for him, as Williams, who was also an undrafted rookie, has taken him under his wing.
For McMillian, he knows what he needs to do to earn a roster spot.
"Special teams is going to be big for me," McMillian said. "I want to show I can compete at a high level and just doing what I'm asked to do. Playing fast, fearless and I think I'll be alright."
Top highlight: Surtain II's PBU
The best play of the day came on the final play of Thursday's practice.
Surtain, a Second-year cornerback, was in one-on-one coverage with receiver Courtland Sutton when he was able to break-up a pass that looked like it was Sutton's to drop. Surtain was able to get both his left and right hands on the well-thrown ball by Wilson to Sutton.
"It was a third-down period, and it was offense versus defense," Surtain said. "It’s really a competition period. If the offense gets the first down, then they win the competition. If we stop them, then we win. I had to make a play. That goes to show how we have been competing each and every day and getting each other better."
Wilson's day: Connecting with Jeudy
Wilson was sharp from the start on Thursday. On just the second play of team period, Wilson dropped in a perfect pass to receiver Jerry Jeudy for a big gain over the middle. And Wilson didn't stop there, completing passes to Sutton and Tim Patrick throughout the practice that likely would have been first-down gains.
The Broncos have high expectations for what Jeudy can do with Wilson as his quarterback. Wilson said on Wednesday that Jeudy has put in a lot of work this offseason, including sitting in on the quarterback meetings.
"I love the way he has attacked this training camp up to this point," Hackett said of Jeudy. "I know it is early and it’s a long ways away, but he’s been really great. Just seeing him around more, working harder throughout everything he has been doing. He is just a very focused person."
Injuries: Hamler progressing well
There were no new injuries on Thursday, and it appears the Broncos could be getting back one of its top offensive weapons soon. Wide receiver K.J. Hamler, who tore his ACL in Week 3 last season and is currently on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, is progressing well, according to Hackett. The expectation is for the speedy receiver to return at some point during camp or the preseason.
“It has been awesome watching him on the sidelines and during walk-thru," Hackett said. "He’s got this little board thing and he’s drawing all the plays on there. For him, it’s all about those mental reps and continually pushing yourself. Watching him continually do that has been really great. For him, once he gets back out there, he knows exactly where to line up and what to do.”