Archive for the ‘Kyle Johnson’ Category

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Things I’m looking forward to tonight

August 13, 2007

“We don’t pay much attention to the first preseason game… I hate to say that, but it’s the truth.” 

— Mike Shanahan 8/10/07

Mike Shanahan doesn’t care about the rematch against the team who knocked the Broncos out of the playoff less than a year ago.  He hasn’t broken down the 49ers offense or defense.  He hasn’t spent hours preparing a special game plan or scripting the plays for Cutler’s first drive.  He just doesn’t care.

OK… more correctly, he cares — just not about the term ‘game.’

Mike Shanahan and his coaches view the coming Monday night skirmish as an extended practice, not a full football game.

Yes, it will be under the glaring lights of ESPN’s Monday Night Football cameras.  Yes, a football hungry nation will be watching, as tonight symbolizes the beginning of the season to many fans.  But just because millions of viewers will be tuning in won’t mean that the Bronco’s Head Coach will take his eyes off the prize.

And the ‘prize’ is a championship season in 2007.

From that perspective, the only thing that matters tonight is evaluating his personnel under game-play situations.

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That’s why I love the preseason, really.  I look forward to seeing all the fresh faces and lesser known players give 110% effort as they fight for a roster spot.  These preseason games can bring more energy and emotion than playoff games sometimes (just ask TD about Tokyo).

So, here is a list of things I’m looking forward to seeing tonight (mostly in order of importance to my personal entertainment):

1.  Jim Bates sideline manner – Oh, PLEASE get him a mic ESPN!!!!!

Bates and his coaches have been very vocal during camp and I can’t wait to see his sideline coaching style in his first game as a Bronco!

2.  Pass Rush – Blow ‘em up boys!
With all the attention the Broncos have placed on the D-line, I want to see even our 3rd and 4th teams terrorizing the 49ers tonight.  We will also get to see our rookies playing for the first time in orange and blue, which should be fun… And, heck, a little bit of payback is a good thing!

3.  Patrick Ramsey and Darrell Hackney – Let’s see your fastball guys!

Patrick Ramsey has shown great strides in learning Shanahan’s offensive system, so I’m looking forward to seeing him tonight.  I know there will be some struggling (especially early on) as this is his first game with the new unit, but the coaches have been impressed with his intelligence and the speed at which he’s picked up the scheme.  Darrell Hackney has also had a very good camp.  Tonight will give him a chance to show off his talents (not the least of which is his arm strength).

4.  Our young WR’s – who’s left?
We have some talented guys with not a lot of starting experience (and some with none).  However, players like Kircus, Hixon, Morgan and Clark have all done very well at camp.  It will be interesting to see how they do during tonight’s skirmish.

5.  Ground Assualt – Let’s see ‘em roll!
While I look forward to seeing our RB’s take the field, I have my doubts about their production this evening due to the missing starters along the O-line.  Lepsis and Hamilton will sit this one out.   That will cause the rest of the line to shuffle (all but Tom Nalen that is).  However, I think we should still be able to see flashes from our backs well into the 3rd and 4th teams tonight.  Of course, my favorite lesser known Bronco RB is Andre Hall and I can’t wait to see what he makes of his chances when the lights are on.

6.  What about SAM – who’s going to make the big play on the Strong Side?
Well, the reps have been split between Nate Webster and D.D. Lewis throughout camp.  Holdman and Moore are out and Green (listed as the starter) is battling a knee injury.  So, will it be Webster or Lewis that stands out this evening?


OTHER AREAS TO WATCH:

Broncos Logo   Strong Secondary – With the starters not getting many reps we’ll have to wait to see much of the Champ & Bly show for at least another week.  Still… We have some good backups, and it will be fun to see how well they do.

Broncos Logo   Full Backs – Watch the FB’s tonights carefully.  Kyle has been leading the work, but Paul Smith, Tony Fleming and even Cecil Sapp may get some reps.

Broncos Logo   Depth at O-line – Backup and rookie O-linemen should be fun to watch tonight.  This will be a great chance to see how they’re coming along.

Broncos Logo   D.J. in the Middle – Again, the starters won’t be in very long, but while they are D.J. Williams will likely make some big plays.

Broncos Logo   TE’s catching & blocking – We should see some of both from our TE’s this evening – it should be fun to watch!

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DOGFISH: Camp Preview – QB’s & RB’s

July 9, 2007

With mini-camp starting today, I thought it would be nice to begin considering what’s in store for us during Training Camp later this month.  Conveniently for me, one of my favorite forum members has recently written a great camp preview for each position.  Dogfish has impressed me with his insightful articles on everything from the draft to special teams.  And with permission to re-post these great articles here, we will begin with Dogfish’s look at Quarterbacks and Running Backs.

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GUEST AUTHOR: DOGFISH 

Here is an advance preview to take a look at some of the most interesting position battles, and hopefully spark some discussion. . .

QUARTERBACKS

OVERVIEW:

What really needs said here? The purpose of Training Camp (TC) is clear at this position–get Jay Cutler ready! This TC will be big for Cutler, as it’s his first as the unquestioned starter.  And he will need all of those first-team reps to help develop chemistry with all the new targets he’s going to have this year.   He showed a great rappoire with Marshall and Scheffler when inserted into the starting lineup last season, so it will be of particular importance for him to get his timing down with his most dangerous weapon, Javon Walker.   He also needs to get in more reps with Tom Nalen–and clear up the issues they had with the exchange.  And I suspect we’ll be installing more shotgun formations, as well.   In addition to working on his mechanics, reads and pocket presence, Cutler will continue to delve into the playbook–and facing Champ Bailey and Dre Bly every day in practice should also be a good learning experience for him. 

TC will also be an opportunity for newly-acquired backup QB Patrick Ramsey to start learning the denver system, and will give the coaches their first real chance to see what he can do first-hand.   And for Preston Parsons and Darrell Hackney, it will be a chance to prove that they belong on the team.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Obviously, this is Jay Cutler– no individual player’s performance is likely to be more pivotal to the success of the team.   So, hopefully, he can get off to a good start in TC and begin to establish himself as a leader on offense.

BEST POSITION BATTLE:

Preston Parsons vs. Darrell Hackney for the #3 QB spot– IF we even keep a third QB on the 53-man roster, which I suspect we won’t.  I’m not sure if Parsons has practice squad eligibility left or not.  If he doesn’t, Hackney may win this battle by default unless parsons impresses so much in camp that they just can’t cut him.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

1. Jay Cutler
2. Patrick Ramsey

RUNNING BACKS & FULL BACKS

OVERVIEW:

This feels like the first time in a while that we’re going into TC without the top tailback spot being up for grabs.   Although he’s the newcomer, I feel that camp will be more important for some of the younger backs than for Henry.  Of course he needs to learn our playbook and get comfortable in the Zone Blocking Scheme (ZBS), but RB is the easiest plug-and-play position in the game.   Henry is an instinctive runner who fits perfectly into our system, and he has little to prove in camp–the coaching staff will want to get a more precise read on his abilities than what they can get watching film, but hopefully keeping him healthy and fresh will be the top priority. 

Mike Bell, however, will have to show that he’s improved on a few weak spots if he wants to hold off Cecil Sapp, Andre Hall and Selvin Young for the #2 spot on the depth chart. 

The picture at fullback is a little muddier, and there should be plenty of tough competition.  It’ll be interesting to see if Sapp plays exclusivley at tailback, or if he’s in the mix at FB as well– if he’s not, veteran Kyle Johnson would seem to have the first chance at the starting role.   TC should help determine whether Paul Smith will be used on offense, or merely on special teams.  Troy Fleming, who has blocked for Henry before, should get a chance to unseat KJ, and Thump Belton will be facing an uphill battle to free himself.  🙂   

I see us most likely keeping two FBs (an offensive starter, and Smith as a special teamer), plus Sapp in a swing role, so all of these guys will have to be at their best.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Cecil Sapp– This will be a big camp for ‘Cecil the Deisel,’ as he finally gets a legit chance to make his presence felt at tailback (the spot where he starred at CSU).   His versatility and unselfishness will likely earn him a roster spot either way, but you can bet he’ll be highly motivated.  He’s reportedly lost weight to maximize his quickness, and I look for the more powerful Sapp to give Mike Bell all he can handle in the battle for the top backup spot.

BEST POSITION BATTLE:

Selvin Young vs. Andre Hall for what’s likely to be the last RB spot on the roster.   I’ll have my eye on this battle as closely as any in camp.   These are both guys I wanted to see here coming out of college, and I think they have pretty comparable skill sets–both are undersized but quick and shifty, scatback types who are solid receivers out of the backfield.   I think Young may have a bit more footspeed, but he has some fairly serious durability concerns. . . Hall has the advantage of a year in our system.   Whoever wins, I think the loser is very likely to land on the practice squad–if he clears waivers.  It may be a bit of a longshot, but i also wouldn’t put it past one of these two to really shine in camp and get a chance to fight for the #2 spot.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

1. Travis Henry
2. Mike Bell
3. Cecil Sapp
4. SelvinYoung

1. Kyle Johnson
2. Paul Smith

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Tomorrow Dogfish takes on WR’s & TE’s. 

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The ‘Free Thump Belton’ Movement

June 23, 2007

“… And can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in, sing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. Now then, friends, they may think it’s a movement…. And that’s what it is….”

— from Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

For those of you not aware of the Free Thump Belton Movement, let me bring you up to speed…

Back in March, a Denver Broncos fan with the screen name Fan In Exile read a post on the message board about players on the roster that would certainly be cut before the regular season. He was struck most by the negative nature of the post and the way purported fans ridiculed these unknown Broncos.

“It really irritated me first because we on the board aren’t pro-talent evaluators, and it was only march. So I decided I wanted to cheer for someone who really looked like he wouldn’t make the team, instead of just writing him off as camp fodder. I mean these are real people chasing their dreams – that’s worth cheering on.”

— Fan in Exile 6/21/07

That decision lead him to review the list composed by the author of the post. Among the list, was a name he had never seen before (anywhere) — Fullback Thump Belton.

Thump Belton was picked up by the Broncos in late 2006. He had not played a game in the NFL although he spent 2004 and 2005 on the practice squads of Detroit and Chicago. Without pro experience and sitting behind guys like Kyle Johnson, Troy Fleming, Cecil Sapp and Paul Smith, Belton looked like the perfect long-shot to root for. However, Fan In Exile did not just pick Belton because of his long odds –he liked the idea of a fullback named THUMP.

Now that he had his player picked out, it was time to activate the masses. And with an elegant post including a quote from Animal House, the Free Thump Belton Movement was launched!

“So here’s the plan, we start a movement. We come up with sigs and a slogan. We do everything we can to make sure he stays with the team and becomes the starting fullback. Then we can make signs and posters and tee-shirts and go to games it will be awesome.”

— Fan In Exile 3/8/07

FULL THREAD

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Now, more than three months after his first post, the Free Thump Belton Movement has picked up some momentum. In recent articles on Thump, Andrew Mason from denverbroncos.com referred to the Movement and it is even found it’s way into Belton’s Wikipidia page.

“I have been surprised. I didn’t know Andrew even read the boards much less that he noticed the Free Thump Belton Movement. It also surprised me that someone would put it on Thump’s Wikipedia page. I think it’s pretty cool.”

— Fan In Exile 6/21/07

And as articles on Belton began coming out, we learned more about this relatively unknown player.

Belton, it turns out, was one of the hottest recruits in North Carolina after rushing for 1,327 yards and 18 touchdowns during his senior year at West Charlotte High School. Syracuse recruited him heavily, but Belton was declared academically ineligible because of his SAT scores.

Belton had to spend two years in a Junior college before he could jump to a Division-I school. To add further hardship, Thump tore his ACL this first year at community college, thus ending his first college football season. In the end, it may have been the best thing that could have happened to him. With no football distractions, Belton concentrated on his academics and it paid off. He took 23 credits during three semesters and graduated half a year early.

In January 2001, he transferred to Syracuse where he saw action in every game his first season and rushed for 57 yards on nine attempts. In all Belton totaled 327 yards on 61 carries (5.3 avg) during his years at Syracuse.

After college Belton was picked up as an undrafted free agent by Detroit where he spent 2004 on the practice squad. When Chicago offered him a roster spot, he dashed North in a heartbeat. However, in Sept. of last year, after another year on another practice squad, Chicago cut him loose. With no teams interested, Belton went home to North Carolina and spent the end of last year teaching and coaching at a local High School.

In December last year, the Broncos called and offered him a chance to come into camp to compete for a roster spot. And so, with little fanfare, Thump Belton entered the mile high city and began working with Rich Tuten in Denver’s off-season conditioning program. Preparing himself, as best he can, for the coming fight for a place on the Broncos roster.

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Fan In Exile, has learned much about the player he picked for his nickname in March. So, what’s impressed him most about his Movement’s star?

“First that he said his experience brought him back to his faith. I’m a pastor as well as a Broncos fan so I look at this and think it’s great that he’s looking after his spiritual well being first. Next, it’s impressive that he took full responsibility for why he wasn’t with Detroit and Chicago anymore, I think that’s the sign of a quality person. Next it’s impressive that his job was substitute teaching at a High School and coaching high school football. I think this shows he isn’t just looking for a high paying job, but thinks about others, and loves football, which I find pretty cool.”

— Fan In Exile 6/21/07

And what if the ‘Fullback with a Fullback’s name’ makes the team?

“I think that depends on where he is on the depth chart. If he’s a back-up I could celebrate with a Start Thump Belton movement. If he’s the starter maybe a Give Thump the Ball movement. “

— Fan In Exile 6/21/07

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Whatever happens, I agree with my exiled friend. Thump Belton is more than just ‘camp fodder’ or ‘filler’. Like every other unknown player, he has a story. He has beliefs and passion. He has the desire to play football and is willing to work toward that dream. Few people will lay aside their stable jobs and move away from their families to follow their dreams, but many NFL players do that every year.

It seems to me that many members of the media (and some fans) seem to occasionally cross the line between speculating and mockery. Between analyzing and cruelty.

I would challenge fans of the Broncos to be more like Fan In Exile. Whether you join the Free Thump Belton Movement, or choose another of our newest and most unknown players, I would encourage you to pick a favorite. Learn about them. Cheer for them. Talk to other fans about them. Make it personal. To me, that’s what it’s all about.

I, myself, am pulling for Andre Hall and a handful of others… however, I would like to think I have an honorary membership in the Free Thump Belton Movement. 🙂

Free Thump Belton Movement

Getting to Know Thump Belton at Denverboncos.com: FULL STORY

Andrew Mason’s Bonus Blog on Thump: FULL POST

Syracuse’s Daily Orange newspaper article from 9/20/02: FULL ARTICLE

P.S. If you haven’t seen Animal House, please do yourself a favor and rent it.

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Not RB, but FB looks to be a fight

May 18, 2007

Yes, Yes, I know. Travis Henry is getting lots of coverage as he goes through his first OTA’s in a Denver uniform. Of course, he will get media attention — he has the glamorous job of running back. However, I think the real fight this year will be at the overlooked position of fullback. Fullbacks never get the attention they deserve even when the RB they block for sets records and wins super bowls. Many Denver fans will remember the great Howard Griffith, but ask anyone on the street and Terrell Davis will be the only back they can name from those years. So, it’s not surprising that very few articles mention the pending battle for the starting FB position. But be ready… because it’s coming.

At fullback this year, we have Cecil Sapp returning from Injured Reserve after he fractured his left fibular bone on Dec. 4th. Before his injury Sapp was splitting time with starter Kyle Johnson. Kyle Johnson took over the FB duties from Rueben Droughns in 2004 and lead the way for several of our last 1,000 yard rusher. Johnson also has great hands and has been called on to catch TD’s in each of the last three seasons with the team (with a total of 8). However, injuries and competition from Sapp lead to only 7 starts last year.

Now, enter the new guys…

Leading the pack of new fullbacks is Troy Fleming. While not expected to blow past Johnson and Sapp, it’s important to note that Fleming played fullback with Travis Henry in Tennessee in both Nashville and Knoxville. That’s right, Fleming blocked for Henry in college at UT as well as in the NFL with the Titans. Now, both Fleming and Travis are in Denver. And with Henry having the starting RB job nearly squared away, the coaches will be keeping a very close eye on Fleming.

And then there’s journeyman Paul Smith. Having played with the 49ers, Lions and most recently the Rams, Smith has shown is versatility by playing RB, FB and special teams. Last year, he helped lead Steven Jackson to the 5th best yardage in the league with 1,528 rushing yards.

Lastly, we have Thump Belton. Belton has spent time on the practice squads of both Chicago and Detroit and now enters his fourth year in the NFL.

Maybe no one’s talking about. And maybe it’s not as flashy as the starting running back job, but one of these guys will get the position and I’ll lay money that it will be a battle worth watching.

Fullbacks at Camp:

#37 Sapp, Cecil 5′ 11″ 229 5th Colorado State CFA-’03
#39 Johnson, Kyle 6′ 0″ 242 5th Syracuse FA-’03
#34 Fleming, Troy 6′ 0″ 245 3rd Tennessee FA-’07
#26 Smith, Paul 5’11” 237 7th Texas-El Paso UFA-’07
#33 Belton, Thump 6′ 0″ 232 3rd Syracuse FA-’06

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Oh, yeah. The articles on Travis Henry….

Story & Audio on Denverbroncos.com

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