The Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has dealt with lots of questions about defensive line depth, since losing Vance Walker to an ACL tear Monday. As they prepare the team for life without Walker, Kubiak and his staff welcome in the San Francisco 49ers for joint practices over the next couple days.
The Broncos had a lighter day of practice Tuesday, without pads, in preparation for more physical bouts when playing against the 49ers.
“I’m interested to see how everybody does,” said the coach. “When you go against each other all the time, you know each other, and you know each other’s tendencies. You kind of get, I don’t want to say bored of each other, but it’s nice to see something different. We’ll see a different defense, different coverages. Offensively we’ll see speed-type tempo and those types of things. It’s just really good for our players. You want to see your guys against other people. You see them against yourself all the time.”
The Broncos head coach also talked about the coordination that goes into these type of joint practices.
“We have talked leading up to it, but I haven’t talked to him in the past few days," explained Kubiak. "We will talk tonight and tomorrow morning. The practices are set in the offseason, so we know exactly what we’re doing and how we are doing it. It’s just a matter of getting on the same page field-wise. I’ll either do that late tonight or early tomorrow morning. I don’t think they get in until some time later this evening.”
While extensive preparation goes into the offseason and something like a joint practice, in football, injuries can’t be planned for, but they’re part of life. Something the Broncos have had to deal with Vance Walker's ACL tear.
“It’s tough because Vance was becoming a really good player,” said the coach. “He had a great offseason, a great camp. It was an opportunity for him in his career to be a starter. Unfortunately, that happens. It’s part of the game. Last year we went through [a similar situation on the] offensive line. I think we lost three guys before the season started. [Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] and [Assistant Offensive Line Coach] James [Cregg] did a great job. They’ll do a great job with the group. Expect a lot of [DE Adam] Gotsis and [NT Darius] Kilgo; [DT Kyle] Peko has come a long way. It’s an opportunity for guys to step up—[DE Jared] Crick. It’s part of football, and we have to make it work.”
While the loss of Walker is a rough one, the coach is not panicking quite yet, though he admits that the position will have to continue to be evaluated.
“I’m not concerned about the depth on the line now,” explained Kubiak. “I think the thing always is—as a coach you sit here and say ‘OK, we still have three weeks of training camp left.’ That’s the hard part. You are always massaging positions and situations to get yourself to opening day. It’s no different.”
Two players who have been full participants in practice and will be in joint practices against San Francisco are Von Miller and Russell Okung.
“My first reaction to that would be yes,” said Kubiak about Miller and Okung playing in this week's preseason game. “They need to step on the field. Obviously, they would not play as much as anybody else because it will be their first time. We’ll probably work through that tomorrow night.”
While the Broncos did lose an important contributor, the team is finding some of its stars. The next week will be a big test for assessing the form of the Broncos thus far.