ENGLEWOOD, Co - The Denver Broncos breathed a quick sigh of relief on Wednesday when they lined up across from gold helmets instead of blue, the 49ers in town for a couple of fo joint practices before the teams square off at Mile High on Saturday.
“It was different looks, different color jerseys," quarterback Mark Sanchez said after practice. "I thought it was a good test for us. I thought we responded well, but it’s only the first day. We have them tomorrow and Saturday."
Unlike when the helmets are blue, though, it took much less time for things to boil over. In one of the very first drills of the day, Russell Okung got into it with Corey Lemonier of the 49ers, but it didn't escalate beyond a few shoves. It took the man who always starts things to really get the benches cleared. Yes, James Ferentz threw the first punch of the day, but things stayed chippy throughout the rest of the practice, the brawls breaking out two more times.
"I'm not going to get into who's in there," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said with a laugh when asked about Ferentz' inclining for fisticuffs.
Aside from all of the fights stemming from a propensity for players to lose their cool when a personal foul penalty doesn't really hurt you, there was actual football played, and the Broncos looked good.
It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for the offense (we'll get to that later), but when the quarterbacks had time, they looked good. When I say the quarterbacks, though, I'm only referencing Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. Why? Because Paxton Lynch had very, very limited reps on the day. It seemed there just wasn't much room out there for the third-teamers today.
So for Siemian and Lynch, both seemed to up their game in the face of the gold-domed opponent. It started in one-on-one work when Sanchez and Siemian got the raucous fired up with great balls to Cody Latimer and Demaryius Thomas respectively.
“I thought they did a really good job. It's good for them to see different stuff," head coach Gary Kubiak said about his QBs. "They were looking at different coverages and those types of things. . . Mark makes a great play at the end of the end of the two-minute drill. Trevor makes a great throw in the two-minute drill. We got to make the plays, so it's a good competition. They're both becoming really good players, and it's a tough decision for us, but that's a good thing because they're doing their job.”
The quarterbacks each had their biggest moment, though, towards the end of practice, both with a receiver who has seemingly had more targets than any other player out here by a wide margin.
On what may have been the longest TD of camp, Siemian dropped back and released an absolute bomb right into the hands of a streaking Emmanuel Sanders on the sideline who took it the rest of the way. We estimated it at about 70 or so yards, 50 in the air.
Not to be outdone, though, Sanchez had his own dime to the man with a dime on his jersey and this one came under manufactured pressure. To finish practice, both team's offenses took a chance to work on their two-minute drill. Sanchez, working with the ones, hit four consecutive passes to get the Broncos into 49er territory.
After the Broncos had taken a timeout to stop the clock with 32 seconds left, the offense faced a third-and-one from the 38-yard line, and Sanchez took a shot, hitting Sanders on another fly route for six, essentially locking up the "win" for the Broncos.
Stenches in the trenches
As mentioned above, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for the offense. The darkness of the day came on the offensive line.
Early in the 11-on-11 work, the offensive line was getting manhandled by 9ers regardless of what unit was on the field. Ahmad Brooks was the star of the show for San Francisco, coming up the middle of the line countless times and serving as a wrecking crew against everything the Broncos wanted to do
“I think the stunts got us a bit," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison admitted after practice. "We’ll go back and look at that. We’ll make sure we’re on the same page. They battled them in the run game and it’s just great work to have. They’re a big group. They have tremendous size and talent up front. Any time we go and change, go against anybody else, it’s good for them. We have a great defense, so to go against somebody else is almost a relief sometimes, but they have a good group.”
“There are so many things that they have to worry about, with stunts being one. They have to stop the ball. There are quite a few things they have to do, and that’s just one facet. As we look at it, there are some things they can do better technique-wise.”
The line did improve, as the practice went on and performed well in hurry-up and two-minute drill type situations. In the end, this is why joint practices are valuable. The Broncos can now hit the film room and evaluate what went wrong with the 49ers scheme.
The 49ers quarterbacks have had a rough go in camp and things got worse for them on Wednesday. The questionable group of Blain Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jeff Driskel and Collin Kaepernick ran into the gold mine of talent on the Broncos defense and they were stripped to the core.
Kayvon Webster, Justin Simmons and Lorenzo Doss all had interceptions on the back end of the defense, and even linebacker Todd Davis was an honorary member of the No Fly Zone. Four picks for the defense, two of which—Davis' and Doss'—taken to the house.
“I was playing a half field, and I saw one vertical," Simmons said of his pick. "Knowing your leverage and working with the dime safety, playing off of him, made it easy to make a quick read off of the quarterback and the route to make a play off of that.”
Translation: Simmons has been paying attention in the meeting room.
“It's hard for me to watch both fields, but obviously we made some plays on the ball," Kubiak added. "I have to go back and look at it, but Justin's had a really good camp. He's becoming a pro very quickly. He’s very bright, so he'll be a big part of what we're doing.”
When all was said and done, the Broncos—as they should—looked like the better team from top to bottom.
Sanchez and Siemian split first-team reps evenly.
Henry Krieger-Coble had a great day filling in for Jeff Heuerman, who left practice early with a tight hamstring,
Derek Wolfe was carried off the field by trainers, but the injury has been deemed just a sprain of the ankle.