ENGLEWOOD — It was an offsides penalty at 11:43 a.m. on a Tuesday in June. Despite our darnedest attempts to make a Broncos minicamp sound important, that’s all it was, nothing more.
Or was it?
Backup quarterback Paxton Lynch barked the call. Pass-rusher DeMarcus Walker jumped. Yellow penalty flags bounced across the turf.
“No! Get out of there!” the head coach disciplined the perpetrator.
Whoa! Who’s the guy wearing Vance Joseph’s whistle and sending guys to their room without dessert?
Dove Valley Country Club opened its doors last year. Is it closing up shop? In Joseph’s dumpster fire of a rookie season, anything short of burning down the building would earn a pat on the butt and “get ’em next time.” Accountability was something the Broncos flaunted on T-shirts and forget on Sundays.
“Players mature,” Joseph said after the Broncos opened mandatory workouts under bluebird skies at the UCHealth Training Center.
True, true. But when it comes to the 2018 Denver Broncos it’s not the players on the field I’m worried about. It’s the head coach on the sideline who has everything to prove. The Broncos haven't suffered back-to-back losing seasons in over 40 years. Finally, it looked like someone told them.
To make 5-11 a distant memory, discipline must be Rule No. 1.
Sure, Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller has earned the right to play hooky from an OTA workout that an All-Pro pass-rusher simply doesn't need. Same for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. But the veterans on the roster have yet to buy in to the Vance Joseph era. Listen closely, and when Sanders made it crystal clear he has no interest in catching passes from the slot (“If the ball is not coming there, I don’t want to be there. Point blank, period,” he said) and Miller said he’s able to tell the rookies “what’s not important” during OTAs, my red-flag antenna beeped again.
Who makes the rules around here?
So the best thing I saw on Tuesday was the head coach putting his foot down. More of that, please! It was in stark contrast to Joseph saying that Paxton Lynch can “relax” in his role as a backup — a bonehead comment from the coach that ruffled feathers in the front office.
When 5-11 happens, no one should relax. See, Gary Kubiak might've come across as the king of the “aw, shucks” routine. But any man who’s been lucky enough to play for Ol’ Kubes would say that you don’t want to poke the bear. His claws leave a mark. The 2017 season felt like Joseph simply wanted guys to accept his friend request on Facebook.
And they didn’t respect him for it.
Here’s hoping that’s starting to change. Respect is the buzzword among the rookies, which in time will be just as dynamic as it has been advertised in this space. Bradley Chubb? Injury-prone Shane Ray is watching his Broncos career flash before his eyes. Courtland Sutton? Woo, boy. It looks like John Elway drafted the next Brandon Marshall, the wide receiver.
“He’s a friendly target,” starting quarterback Case Keenum said of the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Sutton.
Just as important as athletic ability is how Chubb, Sutton and the rest of the young’uns seem to know their rung on the Totem pole. As he left the practice field on Tuesday, Sutton hustled straight over to a familiar face with an outstretched hand: “Mr. Atwater! Good to see you, sir.”
It’s no surprise there were seven team captains in the Broncos’ draft class. They get it.
So does the new quarterback.
“I want to master this offense,” Keenum said.
Are these Broncos a good team or a bad team? Dunno. Like we were saying, it's only June. But they have no chance to reverse course without reversing how they've been coached. They need a boss, not a buddy.