February 25, 2024

Tim Patrick’s season-ending knee injury leaves the Denver Broncos scrambling to find ways to replace the big receiver’s production.

Denver has an excellent trio of wide receivers remaining in Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and KJ Hamler to lean on, but will miss Patrick’s production in the red zone.

Over the past three seasons, Patrick has produced eight red-zone touchdowns — tied with former tight end Noah Fant for the most on the team in that span.

Sutton’s size could help fill that void, but Patrick’s injury will also force more work on tight ends Albert Okwuegbunam and Greg Dulcich, a third-round draft pick.

Coach Nathaniel Hackett said the Broncos will need the TEs to fill the gap.

“[They’re] it should be,” he said, through the team’s official website. “I turn it over, obviously very upset [Patrick’s] not here, but now is an opportunity for someone to step up. Especially in the red zone, to have a chance to score touchdowns, to use different people, that’s what we’re going to have to do. And in that area, you always want everybody to have to cover the whole field … and all the guys with ability. It will be exciting to see who steps up. Someone should.”

Dulcich was pushing Al O for TE1 duties early this offseason before suffering an injury. The rookie could play a more important role as a pass rusher after Patrick’s injury.

“There’s a lot of guys, and not only are they big bodies, but those guys can run,” Hackett said. “You already saw it a few times watching all these guys… Dulcich coming back, [him] working slowly, watching albert run, [Eric] Saubert run, [Andrew] Beck is running well. Anytime you have that kind of fluid player that can be on the line and block to take advantage of the plays there and at the same time stretch the field vertically, you’re really excited.”

Patrick was also seen as an option to play a “big post” role in Hackett’s offense, a job that will now have to be filled. The Broncos could use their top two tight ends to fill those tight ends, splitting in the slot, particularly in the red zone.

“I think … one of the beauties of this offense, especially at the tight end position, is just the ability to put us anywhere,” Okwuegbunam said. “When you put me against a linebacker, I’m going to be faster than him. When you put me against a DB, I’m going to be bigger than him. I think that’s where that mismatch is created.”

Patrick’s injury was a brutal blow to the Broncos early in camp. But they have time to adapt. Moving tight ends around the formation is one way Hackett can milk big bodies with one of the best red zone threats on the shelf in 2022.

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