ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Planning is an unnatural process. It requires work. Surprises delight us. There’s nothing like sudden bursts of improvisation to heighten optimism.
The Broncos have enjoyed a few through the first four days of training camp at UC Health Center. Quarterback Case Keenum is better than expected. Brutish receiver Courtland Sutton can make fans jump out of their seats with his leaps. And rookie tight end Troy Fumagalli, healed from offseason sports hernia surgery, looks like a keeper.
First, Case. He benefits from the low bar set last season. But every time he rifles a completion into the middle of the field -- as he did to Tim Patrick on Tuesday -- or connects with rookie Courtland Sutton on an alleyoop it drives home a singular point: Keenum represents a significant upgrade.
"I will tell you what, in my opinion, he's better than what I saw on tape," coach Vance Joseph said after the sun-splashed first workout in pads in front of 3,607 fans. "I was talking to (former head coach Gary) Kubes (Kubiak), about how much Case has grown as a quarterback. His accuracy, his command, his smarts, his feel. He's better now than he was last year in my opinion."
Heady praise considering Keenum posted a 13-3 record a year ago with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Keenum's presence is palpable. He commands respect, and the huddle. It has created accountability from his receivers.
Sutton continues to work hard to earn Keenum's trust. Skying over defensive back Isaac Yiadom in the two-minute drill for an acrobatic catch, as he did Tuesday -- doesn't hurt. There was some question on whether Sutton stayed in bounds. What wasn't up for debate was the breathtaking athleticism on display.
"Anyone who has watched my game knows I am a bigger, physical guy. I am not really a shorts-shirt guy. I can do that, obviously, ballers ball," Sutton said. "I am a bigger guy. I like to be physical with guys. Being able to move people around more with my size is awesome."
Sutton continues to allow the imagination of fans to run wild. It's hard not to envision him lining up outside with Demaryius Thomas with Emmanuel Sanders a threat in the slot. Regardless, someone, anyone, needs to emerge as a target in the middle of the field. Keenum posted a 130.2 passer rating there last season. Could it be a tight end? Jake Butt remains impressive in the passing game. However, Fumagalli has impressed with sticky hands and advanced blocking skills from his days in Wisconsin's pro-style attack.
"I think it has helped quite a bit. A lot of the technique stuff I already did at a high level, I think. I just take that with me, and my understanding of a pro style system," Fumagalli told Denver7. "I have to put my head down and work. Just be consistent. That's the biggest thing. There are so many guys who are good. Show up everyday and do your best."
While Keenum has created a layer of confidence around the team, his backups have not inspired the same feeling. Chad Kelly is learning in his first full camp while taking primarily third-team reps. Paxton Lynch, in his third training camp, remains puzzling. He has been uneven in the early days, looking more like a rookie than a vet. Joseph insists his staff is not grading these practices, but coaching them. He said Lynch needs to play more before drawing any conclusions.
If Lynch falters in the preseason opener against Minnesota in the first preseason game, especially with Trevor Siemian and Kyle Sloter playing for the Vikings, it's fair to wonder if the Broncos will look to add a veteran backup. General manager John Elway said he wants Keenum's understudy to be able to compete and win games, if needed. Lynch and Kelly are not there yet. So could there be another quarterback in the mix in a few weeks?
That would not surprise me.
Defensive Derek Wolfe left practice briefly after suffering a stinger. He returned and participated in team drills. Wolfe finished last season on injured reserve with spinal stenosis that required surgery. ... Brandon Marshall only participated in 7-on-7 drills with his left wrist heavily taped. He injured the wrist on Monday. ... Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), Josey Jewell (hamstring), Kenny Bell (hamstring), Marcus Rios (hip) and Jeff Heuerman (knee) did not participate. ... Receiver Emmanuel Sanders summed up the mood of camp thusly. "Last year, the past two years and I’m standing in front of guys like, ‘Who’s going to be the new quarterback? Oh my God guys this is crazy.’ Now it’s, ‘Hey how’s Case doing? Yeah what offense are we…?’ It’s more positive coming from you guys and coming from the locker room. Just knowing the direction we’re going to go. Staying after practice, getting the extra reps with the guy because I know he’s ‘the guy’ and I think that right there just translates positive energy and we feed off of that. We understand that. I’m out here having fun and he’s dropping some dimes. (Offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave is calling all the plays and he’s trying to spread the ball around. It smells like football. It doesn’t seem like it’s so hard. It’s easy and it’s fun.”