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Broncos, like the Nuggets, have a 'Joker'

Tight end Greg Dulcich may not score or rebound like Nikola Jokic, but he's a pass-catching mismatch on third down.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sean Payton is going to watch the Joker in person Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA finals at Ball Arena.

Earlier on Thursday morning, the Broncos’ head coach watched his own Joker, Greg Dulcich, tear up his secondary during the team’s OTA practice at the Centura Health Training Center.

“He had a good day,’’ Payton said of Dulcich, the Broncos’ second-year tight end. “He’s got a unique skill set. He’s got traits. In the passing game we use the term, ‘Joker’ where you can get matchups.’’

The Denver Nuggets’ best player is center Nikola Jokic – the “Joker” as he’s often nicknamed. They are playing the Miami Heat in a best of seven series with the winner crowned as NBA champions. The Nuggets are playing in the first NBA Finals in their 47-year franchise history. Payton was asked if anything about the Nuggets can help translate to the Broncos’ team he inherited.

“Look, I just figured out how to get home,’’ Payton said, referring to the first few months he’s been on the job as Broncos head coach. “It seems like (Interstate) 25 is an important road around here. But when I’ve watched them, your star players are unselfish. And I feel it’s a team that enjoys each other. I’m going to guess they do things together off the court. And I don’t know that’s the case with every team.’’

When Payton was the head football coach of the New Orleans Saints for 15 seasons, he used such players as Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles and Alvin Kamara to play the “Joker” in third down packages. The Joker can line up anywhere, and run any type of pattern. Dulcich had multiple impressive catch-and-run plays Thursday in what Payton called a “third-down day,” including a touchdown reception on a ball thrown by backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

“The trick sometimes is trying to predict what you’re going to get defensively – if you’re going to get a nickel package or a base package,’’ Payton said. “But man he can run. He’s got good ball skills. And he had one of his better practices today. So you begin to build on that.’’

Dulcich, the Broncos’ third-round pick last year, was hampered by a hamstring injury last season as a rookie, but he did flash with 33 catches for 411 yards and two touchdowns in only 10 games. In his NFL debut against the Chargers, Dulcich caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson off a deep flag pattern.

“I think his menu (of routes and formation spots) is going to be lengthy in the passing game and there’s enough stuff we can do in the run game,’’ Payton said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have (Jeremy) Shockey, (Jason) Witten, Jimmy Graham and I’m probably leaving out a few guys. And I’m not saying this young player (compares to those players yet) … but I’m saying he’s got traits that are exciting and today was one of those days where you begin to have a vision.”

A vision of a third-down ‘Joker.’

“The ‘Joker’ player for us is not a receiver,’’ Payton said. “It’s either a running back or tight end with exceptional ball skills and then you can work matchups.”

Practice finished, Payton said he had tickets for Game 1 of the NBA Final that night. He was going to take a couple of his quarterback friends from Eastern Illinois and try and convert them to Nuggets’ fans.

Payton dropped Mike Krzyzewski’s name while discussing the Nuggets.

“And he mentioned culture with both teams,’’ Payton said of the former Duke basketball coaching icon. “And I think you see that from our team and I think you see that from the Heat as well. It’s why they’re the last two teams remaining but from a beginner’s perspective, when I watch them you feel that and that’s impressive.”



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