ENGLEWOOD – Rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy went right to work dropping jaws Friday when the Denver Broncos gathered for their first full practice of 2020 under smoky skies from wildfires burning on the Western Slope.
General manager John Elway, who spent his offseason buttressing Denver’s offense, sat on the sideline smiling every time his top draft pick plucked another pass out of the haze, especially the one he cradled in the back of the end zone.
“I think he did some great things today, he ran some hella routes,” safety and fellow Alabama alum Kareem Jackson said. “He’s that type of player. I’ve had a chance to watch him since he was a freshman, obviously with him going to my alma mater, that’s one of the teams I watch every Saturday. So ... now having him as a teammate, it’s exciting.”
Jackson said Denver’s defensive backs were talking all about Jeudy, considered the best pure route runner in this year’s deep class of talented rookie receivers.
“He can get in and out of his breaks better than anyone I’ve ever seen before,” Jackson said. “For him to be a rookie, his tempo and his routes, the way he can change his pace, the way he sells things, it’s very rare.”
Rarer still is the rookie who can garner praise from veterans who say his presence will hone their own skills.
“To be able to see him on a day-to-day basis is definitely going to help us,” Jackson said. “But he’s going to pose a challenge for other defenses.”
Jeudy has also made a good early impression on head coach Vic Fangio.
“He’s got good polish as a receiver ... He runs good routes, he’s got a good change of direction, good hands,” Fangio said. “And it was nice to see him make a couple of plays today.”
Jeudy gives second-year quarterback Drew Lock another top-flight target to team with No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton and last year’s first-round draft pick, tight end Noah Fant, in an offense being designed by former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur.
With coronavirus protocols, the league isn’t allowing fans to attend training camp, so there wasn’t the usual 2,000 fans on the berm overlooking the practice fields for the first time since the Broncos held their entire 2014 training camp minus fans because of construction projects at team headquarters.
“The fans are a very, very important part of pro sports and we all knew that. I knew that. But to me, it’s very obvious when you watch sporting events without the fans, you miss them,” Fangio said. “Not just because of the support, but they’re part of the action. And we miss them and can’t wait to get them back, whenever that will be.”
The Broncos are still in talks with the governor’s office about hosting upwards of 20,000 fans at their games this season.
For the second consecutive summer, tight end Austin Fort went down with a knee injury. After missing all last season, Fort “tweaked his knee in one of the earlier workouts,” Fangio said, adding he’ll be out at least a couple more weeks.
Fort was the only player absent from Friday’s practice.
Participating in his first practice since September was linebacker Bradley Chubb (knee).
“I like where he’s at physically and mentally,” Fangio said.
Also back was cornerback Bryce Callahan, who missed last year with a foot injury.
“Callahan had a good day today. It’s good to see him out there moving around. His foot feels fine. He’s confident and ready to go.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broncos mainstay Fred Flemming, the team’s 77-year-old director of special services, wasn’t on hand at training camp. But his likeness was.
The Broncos put a life-size cardboard cutout of Flemming on the grassy knoll overlooking the football fields. You could almost hear him yelling at you to take a couple of steps back.
C Austin Schlottmann and RT Jake Rodgers “are in the hunt, both for starting jobs and making the team,” head coach Vic Fangio said. ... Teams weren’t allowed to bring in free agents until a few days ago, so 12th-year tackle Demar Dotson is way behind in the playbook. “Certainly he has the license and the permit to win a starting job if he can. But that remains to be seen. It’s going to take us a little while here to find out where he’s at.”