Broncos practice report: Fumbles troubling

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos fumbled four times in the first half of Saturday’s preseason loss to the Seahawks. They lost three of those, including Ronnie Hillman's into the end zone on what should have been a 1-yard scoring run to cap a quality drive. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner returned that fumble 106 yards for a Seattle touchdown.

And it’s fairly clear where first-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase comes down on the issue.

“What happened the other day? Unacceptable,’’ Gase said. “ ... We’re not going to put the ball on the ground or else they’re not going to carry it.’’

It has also been on the Broncos front burner all through the preseason, especially in drills with the running backs given it was such a glaring a problem when they opened 3-3 in 2012. Over those first six games the Broncos lost nine of the 14 fumbles they lost all season, including three lost fumbles in a loss to New England and two lost fumbles in a win over San Diego, a game the Broncos trailed 24-0 at halftime.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Ronnie Hillman
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonRonnie Hillman's fumble into the end zone was returned 106 yards for a touchdown by Seattle's Brandon Browner.
Over the year running backs lost seven fumbles overall, including four by Willis McGahee, which tied the Broncos with the Buffalo Bills for most in the league from that position group.

“(Fumbles) have been a huge point of emphasis for us this offseason,’’ Gase said. “Because the fumbles we had early in the season last year -- that was one of the main factors why we started off as slowly as we did.’’

The turnovers clouded the fact the Broncos put up 209 yards worth of offense on the Seahawks defensive starters in the first half Saturday and they ran 40 plays from scrimmage in the half to do it, yet by halftime the game had fully blossomed into a blowout with Seattle holding a 33-7 lead at the end of the second quarter.

“But the statistics always show, with every turnover your chances of winning go down big," Broncos coach John Fox said. “And three turnovers? That’s about a 10 percent chance of winning."

  • Left tackle Ryan Clady continues to increase his practice workload and is still on track to start the regular-season opener. Clady, who had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, worked some with the starting offense in Wednesday’s practice. Clady went in for a selection of plays in team drills before giving way to Chris Clark for the remainder of those practice periods. Clark has filled in at left tackle all through the offseason workouts, training camp and in the first two preseason games. “(Clady) was doing as couple reps a period here and there,’’ Gase said. “But just to know that he’s out there ... it’s really good to see him out there.’’

  • With Elvis Dumervil having left in free agency and Von Miller suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Shaun Phillips will be the team’s most accomplished pass-rusher in uniform against the Ravens. Phillips, who had 9.5 sacks for the 7-9 Chargers last season and has 69.5 career sacks, will have to find the groove quickly if the Broncos are going to generate a consistent pass rush. Phillips will line up at defensive end plenty in rush situation much like Miller does for the team. “We’ve got guys who can get after it a little bit,’’ Phillips said. “Unfortunately we lose our best pass-rusher for a couple of games, but it is what it is. You have hiccups in life ... we’ll be OK.’’ Malik Jackson, a Broncos fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft, will also have plenty of opportunities in pass rush situations in the season’s early going. Jackson, who plays inside at defensive tackle in some of the specialty packages, took some snaps Wednesday at right defensive end because Robert Ayers was held out with a foot injury.

  • Guard/center John Moffitt, who was acquired by the Broncos Tuesday in a trade with Seattle, was on the practice field Wednesday. But after the Broncos went through some early individual work, Moffitt went inside the team’s complex to go through the playbook with center J.D. Walton. Walton is currently on the team’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery.

  • With Ryan Lilja still out with a knee issue (he offseason knee and toe surgeries) Steve Vallos has steadily moved up the depth chart center. Vallos was signed by the Broncos just after Dan Koppen suffered a season-ending knee injury and before Lilja was then signed as well. Wednesday Vallos, a sixth-year veteran, was snapping with the second-team offense.

  • There was a moment in Wednesday’s practice that showed why Wesley Woodyard has risen so far with the Broncos since making the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2008. Woodyard, a special teams captain for most of his career and now a starting linebacker, was playing on field-goal defense, when just before the snap he noticed the kicking team had switched holders from the No. 1 holder -- punter Britton Colquitt -- to the backup holder tight end Jacob Tamme. Before the ball was snapped, Woodyard shouted “new holder,’’ which brought some kudos from Fox following the kick.

  • Cornerback Champ Bailey is still wearing a walking boot on his injured left foot and using crutches to get around. The Broncos remain hopeful he can play at least some to open regular season, but it is still a question mark at this point.

  • Linebacker Stewart Bradley has had the surgery on his left wrist and the Broncos will now monitor his recovery as they make their roster decisions over the next two weeks. Bradley’s injury and Miller’s suspension will certainly affect how the initial roster looks at the position and could give undrafted rookie Lerentee McCray. Miller will start the regular season on reserve/suspended and the Broncos would have to make a roster move when he returns in Week 7.

  • Gase on the Broncos’ running backs responsibilities in pass protection: “Their job is to make sure 18 doesn’t get touched."

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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