ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — They get paid, and handsomely at that, so expectations, and criticism when expectations are not met, are fair.
But sometimes we forget that just because a guy is an NFL professional doesn’t mean he’s not a kid.
Jerry Jeudy didn’t officially become a man of 21 until the day after he was drafted by the Broncos last year.
No wonder he seems so much more mature this year. Any man would agree the maturity gap between 20 and 22 is enormous compared to, say, 30 and 32.
Defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones talked this week about becoming a man now that he’s 24.
KJ Hamler was 20 on draft day last year and wasn’t allowed to legally have his first drink until last July.
Hamler was up and down last year, as kids will be. His speed helped win the Carolina game with two catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. And he was there tiptoeing and snagging in the end zone for a final-play, game-winning touchdown catch against the Chargers.
That’s having a big impact in two of the Broncos’ five wins.
But Hamler was also bothered from start to finish by hamstring issues and wound up with 30 catches for 381 yards in 13 games.
If the Broncos are to improve from their 5-11 record a year ago, growth from their kids will be key. As Hamler sat before the Denver media during a Zoom press conference Thursday, he looked different compared to his TV screen showing from 2020. And by different we mean grown up.
“I know last year I played at 170,’’ Hamler said. “I'm 181 right now. I feel better, I feel stronger and I feel faster. Just trying to improve every day.”
And yet, Hamler missed this week’s OTAs practices with more hamstring issues. Ugh. Whether a kid or young man, Hamler has to stay on the field.
“I was just telling my coach (Zach Azzanni) I've never had hamstring problems until I came here,’’ said Hamler, who starred for two seasons at Penn State before he became the Broncos’ second-round draft pick last year. “I have to focus on those things. There might be things around it that really causes it. It might be my hips, glutes or groin. I'm still trying to figure out and learn the different ways of trying to keep the [body parts] healthy because when I'm healthy, I think I can bring a big impact to this team.”
Malik to play plenty
As an undrafted rookie, Malik Reed wasn’t supposed to play much in 2019, but then Bradley Chubb went down with an ACL tear after game 4, and Reed played his share, starting eight games.
Reed was only supposed to play backup snaps in 2020 but then Von Miller went down with a season-ending ankle injury before the first game and Reed started 13 of 16 games, recording a career-most 8.5 sacks.
Again, on paper, Reed is supposed to be the top backup edge rusher to Miller and Chubb in 2021. But with Chubb recently undergoing a cleanup ankle procedure, and Miller coming off a missed season, it would make sense for head coach Vic Fangio to put both on a snap count, at least through the early part of the season.
“The more pass rushers you have, the better you are,’’ Reed said. “That’s a good problem to have.”
Small by edge rusher standards at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Reed said he studies Tampa Bay’s 6-2 Shaq Barrett and former All Pro pass rushers Dwight Freeney (6-1) and Robert Mathis (6-2).
“Guys that were a little shorter in stature but really affected the game in a major way,’’ Reed said.
Per source, 7th-round rookie outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper passed his physical and has been cleared for football-related activities, although he is expected to be primarily restricted to conditioning work for another week or two. …
The Broncos are expected to begin 11 on 11 team drills for their final three OTA sessions next week. The following week will be a three-day minicamp.