We talk a lot all offseason and into the preseason about how young players have been stepping up to give the Broncos some critical depth, but how often do you see those players coming in in game situations where perhaps the game is on the line, or you need a big play?
Not all that often.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, we saw Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff put young players on the field in absolutely critical situations, which had me both confused and excited at the same time. It was late in the game and a long 3rd down play when I noticed that neither Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware was on the field. I shouted at my TV, “WHY IS VON MILLER NOT ON THE FIELD RIGHT NOW!?” but it didn’t really matter.
Whoever the Broncos put on the field yesterday — especially defensively — was doing their job.
Shaquil Barrett came in with Shane Ray not only to give the Broncos’ top pass rushers a breather, but they came in to help seal the game for Denver. Barrett was particularly effective with a solid pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus, but in just 14 snaps he was extremely disruptive and finished with two ‘stops’, ESPN also crediting him with a pair of tackles.
“You look at some of the biggest plays in the game—I think I made the comment yesterday—I think the big third-and-10, [OLB] Demarcus [Ware] and [OLB] Von [Miller] were standing by us on the sidelines,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s confidence in your people. They’ve worked hard. They’re on the roster for a reason. You’ve got to trust them and know that we’ll put them out there in any type of situation. I was proud to see them go in there and do a good job.”
It wasn’t just Barrett who came through for the Broncos’ youngsters, however. We saw cornerback and 2nd year stud Bradley Roby come through late in the game and ever so slightly re-direct the path of a pass and get in the way of Steve Smith Sr., who was pretty wide open in the front corner of the end zone, waiting for the football to come into his waiting arms.
Roby made a big play, and the Broncos held on to their 6-point lead.
Wide receiver Jordan Norwood isn’t necessarily ‘young’ compared to some other youngsters on the team, but the Broncos let Norwood play a critical 3rd WR role and he made some great grabs for Peyton Manning coming out of the slot position.
The Broncos also obviously started a couple of guys on the offensive line who have never played a down of regular season NFL football before, though the reviews aren’t as positive for those guys at the moment.
Gary Kubiak even brought in Max Garcia for a handful of plays to spell Evan Mathis in this game.
The change of culture in Denver is evident, and giving young players prominent roles is part of that. It’s exciting to see and encouraging that the Broncos’ depth will not only grow as the season progresses, it will have been tested in some of the biggest in-game situations.
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