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Tight ends have been key to Broncos turnaround

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Tight ends have been key to Broncos turnaround

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Tight ends are no longer an afterthought in Denver's passing game.

In 2009, they had all of 27 catches.

Last year, that number was just 30 - not a single one of them in the end zone - as they were basically used as big bruising blockers in Tim Tebow's read-option offense.

Enter Peyton Manning and exit the notion of such paltry production from the Broncos tight ends, who are oftentimes more of a slot receiver than a run-blocker in the four-time MVP's world.

``Last year we had to de-emphasize the tight end's role in the offense because of the style that we had to evolve to. And we were running the ball a heck of a lot more, so we spent the bulk of our time doing that,'' tight ends coach Tony Barone said. ``The focus this year shifted back to getting the tight ends more involved and being more of a focal point in the passing game.''

Fellow free agents Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen lead a new group of Broncos tight ends that has collected 70 catches for 657 yards and six touchdowns so far.

That's the kind of production Barone was accustomed to seeing in a full season from two Pro Bowlers - Atlanta's Alge Crumpler and San Diego's Antonio Gates - that he tutored before coming to Denver.

``This collection's already surpassed that after 11 weeks,'' Barone said. ``And so I think that speaks volumes to their talents and Peyton's being able to spread the ball around.''

Tamme and Dreessen signed with the Broncos after Manning picked Denver for his comeback, and they're a big part of Manning's re-emergence. With Tamme and Dreessen, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has two transposable tight ends to move around inside and out to create mismatches.

``It's a credit to them because they can run some of those same types of option routes or whatever with good speed and good hands,'' Manning said. ``Those guys have made a lot of plays for us this year.''

After signing Manning, front office boss John Elway went looking for the tight ends to provide the Broncos with the kind of flexibility and production Manning enjoyed in Indianapolis, where he worked with the likes of Dallas Clark, Ken Dilger, Marcus Pollard, Bryan Fletcher and, oh yes, Tamme.

They targeted Dreessen, a seventh-year pro who had all the ingredients and who really hit his stride over the last two seasons in Houston, ranking second in the NFL in percentage (15.6) of catches resulting in touchdowns - 10 of 64.

``Joel was a guy that went to Colorado State, was from the area, was a free agent, was available, we liked him, he had the opportunity to be the No. 1 tight end here, been with a winning organization,'' coach John Fox said, rattling off the attributes.

To really capitalize on Dreessen's skills, the Broncos needed another equally adept and experienced tight end to produce now and also bring along raw second-year hoopsters-turned-tight ends Virgil Green and Julius Thomas. And they needed one with the smarts and flexibility to line up on either side of the line, out wide or in tight, because in the no-huddle or hurry-up offense teams don't have the luxury of swapping tight ends during the drive.

Tamme was their guy. He could be Dreessen's twin. Same size, same build, same skills, same speed, same hands.

A fifth-year pro, Tamme had one thing Dreessen didn't: experience catching passes from Manning. He played his first four seasons in Indianapolis, where he converted to tight end after playing wide receiver at Kentucky, and he collected 67 catches for 631 yards and four TDs in 2010, the last season Manning played for the Colts.

The Broncos considered themselves lucky to land him.

``Jacob was a guy that happened to be available, a guy Peyton had a great comfort zone with,'' Fox said.

Both signed on March 29, eight days after Manning's arrival.

``Not that Joel and Jacob have 8,000 years in the league, but they have had experience in a similar offense that we were building,'' Fox said.

They've provided both the progress and production the Broncos needed from their tight ends this year.

``When I came in for a visit and sat down and talked with everybody, it felt like the right place,'' Tamme said. ``It felt like a place where we had a chance to do something big, and we do.''

Dreessen said he wanted to be more of a factor, regardless of stats. He didn't mind sharing the spotlight with Tamme, either.

``I've seen it best when it's kind of tight end by committee,'' Dreessen said. ``You stay fresher, you're more effective for the plays you are in there for. Coming here, I knew it was going to take both of us to get the job done and be special.''

Tamme loved the idea of teaming up with Dreessen to create one of the NFL's best tight end duos.

``I'm not really a guy that's been concerned about getting X amount of catches,'' Tamme said. ``Maybe we give up a little bit as individuals, but if you put the numbers together, it's great. I think it's good for our team and it's definitely been good for both of us, maybe not in the way of getting the best statistics that you could ever have, but in the end that's not what it's about.''

Notes: DE Robert Ayers missed practice all week following the unexpected death of his father last weekend and he's questionable Sunday when the Broncos (8-3) host Tampa Bay (6-5). ... Manning's former tight end target, Clark, has 31 catches for 320 yards and three TDs for the Buccaneers this season. ... After Friday's practice, Manning met his namesake, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Littleton who's the captain of his hockey team. The QB signed a football for him that read: ``To Peyton, great name. All my best, your friend, Peyton Manning, 18.'' ... The Broncos hosted the St Kilda Saints of the Australian Football League at practice. The St Kilda Football Club is doing high altitude training at the University of Colorado in preparation for the 2013 season.

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Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 25, 31 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Fan questions—The secondary

To be sure, there are reasons to be concerned about the secondary and we’ll get into those in a bit. But the popular notion that the secondary struggled last year is not accurate.

Do you want to go standard stats? They were ninth in the league in passing yards allowed and 10th in opponent passer rating last year.

Do you prefer more advanced analytics? They were sixth in defensive passing DVOA and 11th in adjusted net yards per attempt.

That’s not a great pass defense but it was a pretty good one. It should be noted that they also benefited from a solid pass rush; they were seventh in the league in sack percentage. Still, you don’t finish in the top third of the league in pass defense without at least a competent secondary.

The question is, will it remain competent? Kendall Fuller was indeed a key player, one of the best slot corners in the league. Bashaud Breeland was inconsistent, but he did shine on occasion. But the fact that he is still available as a free agent indicates what the league thinks of him, problems passing the physical notwithstanding. Those two will have to be replaced.

It is likely that Quinton Dunbar will take Breeland’s spot on the outside. That is at worst a lateral exchange if not an improvement. Dunbar has been working for three years to get this opportunity and there is confidence among the coaches and, perhaps more importantly, the players that he is ready.

Orlando Scandrick is the probable starter at slot. He is a downgrade from Fuller, no question about it. If he is healthy—a big if—Scandrick is good enough to get the job done. Don’t let the star he wore on the side of his helmet for so many years blind you to the fact that he’s a solid player.

The depth at slot consists of second-year player Josh Holsey, who played all of nine snaps on defense last year, and rookie Greg Stroman. That’s not ideal but most of the other teams in the NFL have a similar depth chart.

The wild card who could be the difference between this secondary being better than last year or worse is Fabian Moreau. He played only 59 defensive snaps as a rookie but he did show off his speed and hard-hitting style on some of his 349 special teams snaps. During the offseason practices that were open to the media, Moreau was mostly Josh Norman’s backup at left cornerback. The feeling is that he won’t remain a reserve. We will have to see how things sort out during training camp.

There should be some improvement at safety if Montae Nicholson figures out how to stay on the field in his second year. If he struggles with injuries again and Deshazor Everett has to line up alongside D.J. Swearinger for a good chunk of the season, the safeties are no worse off because that's what happened last year. 

The bottom line is that a secondary that was good last year may take a step down in 2018 but the decline should not be steep. And if Moreau can be the player the organization thought he could be when they used a third-round pick for him, it could be just as good if not better.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler.

Tandler on Twitter

I tweeted this in response to a discussion about the relative popularity of the NFL and NBA. Albert Breer’s tweet on the TV ratings for the leagues’ respective drafts was the nexus of the discussion.

Timeline  

Redskins cornerback Josh Holsey was born on this date in 1994.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 31
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 45
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 59

The Redskins last played a game 176 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 76 days.

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.