Broncos Journal: Jonathon Cooper and the interesting OLB rotation decisions ahead for Denver DC Vance Joseph

Football season is back. Week 1 is here and the Broncos open the regular season with a home game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

In this revamped rendition of the Broncos Journal, we’ll endeavor to take you inside the Denver locker room, provide unique insight from the beat and open up the notebook each week.

So, let’s get to it.

Opening Drive 

Few Broncos put forth a more productive training camp than outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper.

“He’s been consistent, he’s explosive and I think he’s been very physical,” head coach Sean Payton said Wednesday of the third-year player. … “You know exactly what you’re getting and that’s a good trait.”

Payton typically balks at the notion of “starters” at some positions — “the first play of the game could be one of 25 personnel groupings, so tell me who the starter is,” he said Wednesday, without actually being asked if Cooper’s a starter —  but it’s clear Cooper’s going to play a big role on the edge for Denver.

Of all the interesting trends to watch early in the season, playing time at OLB will rank near the top of the list. If you’re going purely by preseason production, Cooper will be on the field a lot and veteran Frank Clark might be No. 4 after Cooper, Randy Gregory and Nik Bonitto.

Clark, remember, signed a one-year deal with $5.5 million guaranteed back in June. Had Denver known then the kind of camps Cooper and Bonitto would put forward — or if Baron Browning had not needed offseason knee surgery — perhaps Payton and general manager George Paton would have thought twice about that outlay.

Clark, for his part, raved about the group this week. 

And maybe he will find his form once the games actually count and the three-time Pro Bowler gets into a rhythm. He’s a veteran and has missed practice time here and there over camp, though he’s not on the injury report this week.

Browning’s eligible to return after four weeks. He spent the entire summer rehabilitating from MCL surgery but is hoping to be ready around Week 5.

What will we make of this group at that point?

Upon Further Review 

Let’s go all the way back to draft weekend. The Broncos didn’t take a running back, but Payton gave a bit of foreshadowing between Days 2 and 3.

“We haven’t even talked about the minute the draft ends and that 2.5-hour period where you don’t know you’re going to be doing it, but you find the last starting running back for this team that played in the Super Bowl in (undrafted)  free agency,” Payton said, referring to C.J. Anderson. “There are a bunch of those players sitting out there.”

Jaleel McLaughlin didn’t get drafted, but by late April the Broncos had been recruiting him to sign with them in the event he didn’t hear his name called. It worked. He inked with Denver that weekend, then proceeded to spend the offseason wowing just about everybody he came across.

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“We were hoping he’d be undrafted,” Paton said after McLaughlin made the 53-man roster recently. … “You never know with (undrafted) free agents and what you’re quite getting. He went to two schools, obviously. The tape was good, but we’ve had a lot of those guys over the years when they come in here. He passed every test.”

The next test is going to be fun to watch for the diminutive running back who just keeps impressing.

From the locker room 

• Much has been made about the Broncos’ overhauled offensive line this offseason, but can players tell how quickly a unit jells before real game action arrives? Left tackle Garett Bolles thinks probably not.

“We’re all close, but you’re going to have to ask me that question in a couple weeks,” he told The Post. “I like where we’re at right now.”

• Veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau is entering his seventh season and playing for his fourth franchise. He spent 2022 with the Giants, 2021 in Atlanta and four years before that in Washington. He says he hasn’t played in a secondary like Denver’s.

“Best I’ve been a part of,” he said. “I’m just blessed to be here and to work with them each and every day. They’re definitely a close group. It’s been cool to see.”

• Sunday is a good day for the Broncos’ vested veterans. Any player who’s vested — meaning they have four or more credited seasons in the NFL — sees his base salary guaranteed if he’s on the 53-man roster for the first game of the season. Per OvertheCap data, safety Justin Simmons had $2.9 million in guaranteed money due this year. Come Sunday, his $14.4 million base salary locks in. Similar for Bolles — $2 million in guaranteed salary currently, but his $13.75 million base becomes guaranteed Sunday — inside linebacker Josey Jewell (nothing guaranteed to $4.49 million) and several others.

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