Broncos receivers get physical
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Those willing to dig into the bargain-movie bin will often stumble upon 5 Fingers of Death.
The Broncos’ receivers? Well, they certainly have had to dig in training camp, and they have stumbled some, wearing the bruises to prove it, with their own video classic, 16 Fingers of . . .
“Tattoo-removing, lower-abdomen banging – I mean, really lower abdomen, if people get my meaning – stomach-hurtin’ thing,” Keary Colbert said. “It gets to swinging, and it will hit you right down there if you don’t get through it right.”
“It’s not fun. It tears your arms up, it bruises your arms. Sometimes, you get hit where you don’t want to get hit – you know, low blows,” said Brandon Stokley, who was sporting an angry contusion on his upper right arm. “I’ve even been hit in the nose before, right through the face mask. I mean, it is one of those things that just isn’t fun.”
“It” is a little something football coaches have long called the “blaster.” An old-school, attention-getting device with 16 spring-loaded arms – eight on each side in two rows of four – that Broncos first-year receivers coach Jedd Fisch pulled out of the team’s equipment pile and wiped the cobwebs from as he prepared to make a point.
When training camp opened, Fisch lined up the receivers to start each day and sent them through the blaster, saying he would continue doing so until a receiver knocked down a defensive player in a drill with a legal block.
On Sunday, Brandon Marshall made the block that has given the receivers at least a temporary reprieve, but Fisch stands ready to deliver the message again if he believes they need a reminder.
“It can always be re-evaluated – I’ve kept an asterisk out,” Fisch said. “But we’re going to emphasize being more physical. To start practice off every day hitting the blaster is a little bit of emphasis on being a little tougher going through the middle.”
“In our division, we’re going to have to be physical,” receiver Darrell Jackson said of the AFC West. “And the way we run the ball here, you have to block everybody. You can’t be shy or you won’t play.”
The Broncos also are adjusting to a league that increasingly is emphasizing the catch-and-run as defenses drop more and more players into coverage.
It has put a premium on receivers who can break tackles and tack on yards, the ones most likely to turn small plays into big ones.
Quarterback Jay Cutler already has talked about the importance of getting the ball away quickly and letting the receivers run.
Also, end-zone battles between receiver and defender often are won by those who can snatch the ball and keep it. And the Broncos, who were fourth in the league in plays of 10 yards or more last season, finished the season 21st in points scored per game.
“And we need touchdowns when we have the opportunity,” coach Mike Shanahan said.
There also is the matter of Marshall’s near future and its effect on the offense. Marshall, who led the NFL last season in yards gained after contact, is facing the prospect of a league-imposed suspension that could remove him from the team’s offense for two to six weeks – possibly even eight – if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were to hand down one of the sterner penalties for violating the league’s conduct policy.
So the Broncos also face the possibility other receivers will be getting the ball and need to run with it.
“I believe, more and more, that the game has gotten to the point where wide receivers are big, strong, physical players, and I want to make sure we take that approach,” Fisch said. “That we buy into it, that we believe it. Whenever you see the plus-20-yard gain, it’s because they’ve caught the ball and gone vertical.
“Yards after catch, we’re going to emphasize it constantly – we want to break tackles. . . . We want to lead the league in that.”
Fisch also is reminding this group of the legacy that precedes them. He opens each meeting by reminding his players the Broncos lead the NFL in rushing since 1995.
And that the recently retired Rod Smith routinely has said if a receiver will not block in the Broncos’ run game, “then you will never see the ball, ever.”
“They’re preaching to us to be physical,” Colbert said. “We, as a group, have to be physical, just get (defensive backs) playing on their heels.”
And if they don’t, the 16 fingers are waiting.
“Honestly, guys have said it’s removing their tattoos,” Colbert said. “Stokley had a big red mark on his arm, and (Marquay McDaniel) has a tattoo of a bull, and he got hit and it was below the nose of the bull, so it looked like the bull had a nosebleed or was spitting fire. So we know what it does and we know we’ll be back there if they don’t get what they want.”