In (3): Daniel Fells, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green.
Out (2): Dante Rosario, Dan Gronkowski.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The surprise wasn’t necessarily in the number of tight ends the Broncos kept, but in the decision to create the youngest and least experienced position group on the roster in doing so.
Only Fells has played in the regular season. Thomas has only been through one season of football since his freshman year of high school. Both, however, distinguished themselves during training camp and the preseason, proving particularly effective complementing each other in two-tight end sets.
Beyond those two, it appeared as if the Broncos would keep another veteran, and maybe go with four tight ends to keep Green from being exposed to the waiver wire. While Green occasionally struggled with drops during practices and the preseason — particularly against Arizona, where he bobbled and lost a pass in the open field — his potential and stock around the league remained high. If the Broncos had waived him Saturday, he seemed likely to be claimed by another club Sunday.
But as general manager Brian Xanders noted, Green flourished in an area not immediately obvious from field-level glance of training-camp practices and first glance of preseason games.
“Virgil became one of our best blocking tight ends,” Xanders explained. “Looking at all the nine-on-seven tape, all the team tape, he became one of our most physical players on offense.”
Further, his work on special teams would seem to indicate he should get a jersey on game days, and not just because the Broncos may want to use three tight ends at the goal line.
“He did a very good job on special teams; he created a role there, and had two tackles, I think, in one of those games,” Xanders said. “He played in all four phases of special teams, and he has good upside. Pretty athletic.”
With two rookies playing key roles, the Broncos’ tight ends won’t be defined by what they do this year, but what they become for the next few years. No group of Broncos tight ends has had this much potential since Shannon Sharpe was known as Sterling’s little brother, rather than the future Hall of Famer he became.
- None of the three tight ends were with the Broncos last year, but is that really a problem? Fells alone had more receptions, yardage and touchdowns than the Broncos’ entire tight end group last season.
- Look for the tight ends to assume fullback-type roles from time to time and serve as de facto backups at the position. “You can go 12-personnel with two tight ends [and] one back. A lot of the time that ‘F’ tight end or that ‘U’ tight end will move the motions back, and you will have a two-back set,” Xanders said. “we can also do that with an extra offensive lineman and then pull the tight end in the backfield on the goal line. There are a lot of combinations you can use. I’ve seen teams use linebackers back there sometimes, so we’ll see.”