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How Devontae Booker, Broncos are learning from their mistakes

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Devontae Booker knew it. He knew it the second he felt the ball slipping from his right hand as he tried to stretch for a touchdown on Sunday.

The Denver Broncos, with a 17-7 lead, were trying to turn an interception safety T.J. Ward returned to the San Diego Chargers' 11-yard line into a touchdown. It would have probably put the game away. Booker caught a short toss from Trevor Siemian and turned toward the goal line, but as he tried to extend the ball over the line, it came free.

"I knew right then it was going to be an issue; we can't have it," Booker said. "You can't do that right then, right there. I knew it, and I knew Coach E [running backs coach Eric Studesville] kind of wanted to make sure I knew."

In the next emotion-filled moments, Studesville was into Booker's personal space with a verbal barrage in the wake of a turnover. It was all there for everyone to see: coach and player in a lava-tempered moment, similar to what would take place of any sideline in the league.

But what comes before and after such a scenario determines if it is a teaching moment.

"There is intensity, you let that happen; then what I try to do is remove myself from the situation immediately," Studesville said. "I get some separation, I walk away, I've got to go to the other end [of the bench], because I know me: If I don't, I'll keep picking at it, I'll keep poking at it. And that gives him a little time to process it too. Then it's a maturity process from both of us to just address what needs to happen, how we fix it and make the adjustments. And then leave them with something positive -- 'I know what you're about'-- and then we fix it."

Because in Booker's case, the play happened with just under 12 minutes left in the third quarter. The Broncos still needed Booker, a rookie, to play, to learn and to stay engaged.

"Right then, E is chewing me out -- it's something I knew I shouldn't have done at that point," Booker said. "I don't take it personally at all; I know what Coach E is about, I'm with him every day. It's heat of the moment, coaches have the words, but you know you have to continue to play ball. And they come back to you."

If a coach is to be more than a screamer to a player, there has to have been a foundation built before the blowups so that the repair can be made.

"For a dropped pass, for instance, 80,000 people in the stands saw you drop the ball, millions of people on the TV saw you drop the ball -- for me I leave it alone right then," said Denver wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. " ... Yelling, MF-ing, GD-ing you, all that, everybody's different in how they handle that. My thought is ... everybody in America saw you drop the ball, that's not the moment. Anything you say in that moment is going to be lost. I let them cool down for a little bit, then I look at pictures, then I go over and we address it."

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said "it's about how you go through an offseason and meetings" with the coach. With that in mind, the players understand the emotion of the game -- and that the bench area is almost ground zero.

But if the players believe coaches are helping them to get better, challenging them and treating them with respect, they can sift through the harshest of words.

For Denver secondary coach Joe Woods, he has a group of veteran starters in his meeting room that includes three players -- Harris, Ward and Aqib Talib and -- who have each played in a Pro Bowl.

And, as Ward has said, the group "prepares hard, we know the game, we know what we're supposed to do."

"Don't create panic," Woods said. "Let's fix problems. Whether you're screaming at them or not, we still have to fix problems. What happened? So they can explain to me what happened to them on the field, that's the first piece of information. Then I talk to the coaches upstairs, look at the pictures, let [the player] calm down, and then go over it: 'This is what you saw, this is what actually happened, here's how we're going to fix it,' that's how I have to handle it."

In Booker's case, he said he simply wanted the ball back in his hands after his miscue to get another chance for a meaningful play. On the Broncos' next drive, it was Booker's 18-yard run on a third-and-1 that put the ball at the Chargers' 8-yard line. The Broncos scored a touchdown three plays later.

"The thing to probably put that behind is to go back out there and make a play that's big and matters," Booker said. "We had a crucial third-and-1 after, and you make a play."

Studesville offer an additional explanation.

"How you set the expectations way back in the spring kind of determines how constructive everybody can be in those heated moments," Studesville said. "If I didn't cover it, if I didn't talk about it, if I wasn't clear, then that's my fault. We always want to be in a position where we are preparing them to do things at critical times."