Paul Klee’s thoughts as the Broncos open the season.
At Oakland, the final go-round
Best-case scenario, the NFL schedule makers gift you a day game in Oakland. You want the locals working off a hangover, not prepping for the next one. Things get weird in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum at night. Raiders return man Dwayne Harris takes one 99 yards for a touchdown (2018). Aqib Talib yanks a chain off Michael Crabtree, followed by three ejections (2017). The Raiders celebrate their first Sunday night game in a decade by blasting the Broncos (2016). Come to think of it, the Broncos haven’t won in Oakland since 2015 — the Super Bowl 50 season — and even that was a slog (16-10). Why have the Broncos struggled so mightily against one of the NFL’s worst teams? They lose their marbles in Oakland. In three straight losses here, Denver’s averaged 10.6 penalties. Please, Vic Fangio, make it stop. Playing smart will go a long way toward winning over Broncos Country.
Phillip Lindsay, Round 2
Time flies. So does Phillip Lindsay. Just a year ago, Lindsay wasn’t allowed on the couch in the Broncos locker room. “Rookies aren’t supposed to be on it,” he told The Gazette. These days his locker is strategically placed directly next to Von Miller’s. You could say Lindsay — the bright spot in an otherwise gloomy 2018 Broncos season — is movin’ on up in the world. So what’s the sophomore step for Lindsay, since Fangio removed the couch from the locker room? Two words: stay healthy. It was right here in Oakland that Lindsay suffered a right wrist injury that required months of strenuous offseason rehab and brought into focus the one question the undrafted star hasn’t been able to answer: is Lindsay built to handle the workload required of a lead running back in the NFL? The Broncos know he can play. Lindsay’s 1,037 rushing yards as a rookie were no joke. But after he makes $570,000 this season and $660,000 in 2020, his next contract depends on whether Lindsay can prove his 5-foot-8, 180 pounds can stay intact.
Vonnie Football, Round 9
With one selfless move, Von Miller made a Broncos fan for life. On the field before a preseason game at Los Angeles, Miller stopped to say hello to my closest friend’s 3-year-old son, who hasn’t stopped talking about his encounter with the Super Bowl 50 MVP in the past two weeks. Wylie Jay rocked a No. 58 jersey and the biggest smile you can imagine. Thanks, Von, for being the coolest athlete with kids I’ve ever had the fortune to cover. Now go win NFL defensive player of the year. It’s the rare award that hasn’t been won by Miller, who publicly has embraced the challenge put forth by linebacker guru Vic Fangio. “I think he has more in him,” Fangio said. Fangio’s coached three linebackers who landed in the Hall of Fame — Kevin Greene, Ricky Jackson and Ray Lewis. Miller is a shoo-in to add his name to the list, and it will be a pleasure to hear a Hall of Fame speech begin with, “Howdy.” Why not expedite the vote by racking up his first 20-sack season? From Elvis Dumervil in 2011-12 (when Miller averaged 15 sacks per season) to DeMarcus Ware in 2014-16 (12.8 sacks per season), Miller’s best seasons come when there’s a pass-rushing menace on the other end. Now it’s Bradley Chubb, “a brand-new player” this season, Miller said. Thoughts and prayers to the men assigned to block both.