By Rich Kurtzman
Preparation is paramount for the Denver Broncos this week, as they gear up to face the division rival Chargers in San Diego.
The Chargers are currently leading the AFC West at 3-2, the Broncos sit in second at 2-3 and the winner of this massive Monday Night matchup will find themselves in the driver’s seat for the division.
Denver, led by veteran head coach John Fox, knows the importance of this contest. They’ll be ready to play.
And something special that stood out Thursday was a full-pads practice, only the fifth of the season according to Andrew Mason. The Broncos started the season strong in the tackling department and they’ve fallen off since, allowing Houston and New England to run all over their defense. Denver’s D has given up 120 rushing yards per game this season, while also missing key tackles that have turned short passes into long gains. Practicing in full pads gives the players a chance to hit a bit and keep a game-like feeling during the week.
Interestingly, one of the participants Tuesday was 15-year veteran Keith Brooking. Brooking, who has made a career on playing physical from the linebacker position, suffered a concussion against the Patriots Sunday. He was already back to practice four days later. With D.J. Williams suspended, Brooking has stepped it up and stepped into a supporting linebacker role, providing critical depth to Denver’s front seven.
Also making an appearance at Dove Valley was a new green football carried around by Broncos third-year receiver Demaryius Thomas. Thomas, who’s had two crucial fumbles this year during huge plays, has been instructed to carry the football around everywhere this week; between drills, to film study etc. Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert put the names of his daughters on the ball and reportedly told him, “drop the ball and you drop my kids.”
Thomas has been sensational for Denver this year, the standout among a talented corps of pass-catching threats. He leads all Broncos with 30 receptions for 505 yards and two touchdowns. His 11 plays over 20 yards mean DT is a legitimate threat to go the distance on nearly any play. And he could have more scores if not for the fumbles and inconsistencies in his game. The amazing thing is, Thomas and Peyton Manning have yet to truly connect and build chemistry needed to succeed at the highest level. It’s continuing to develop, just as Thomas’ game is personally progressing, and once the two are in sync, look out.
Thomas showed up on the injury report with a hip, something that could slow the speedy receiver down and hinder his explosiveness. Also showing up on the report were Ryan Clady (hamstring), Chris Gronkowski (thigh), Chris Harris (ankle) and Chris Kuper (forearm). Only Thomas and Brooking were limited participants.
After practice, Denver Broncos legend Terrell Davis talked for a while with rookie running back Ronnie Hillman, likely passing on a few words of advice. Davis grew up in San Diego and Hillman played his college ball at San Diego State, and this week, the Broncos play in Qualcomm Stadium where TD won the Super Bowl MVP in January of 1998.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.