Pads one day, red zone the next. Eventually the Broncos will throw goal-line work into the mix, and they will have completed the transition from contact-free offseason to full-throttle football.
For now, each day is a step forward for two units that appear to have enough talent to flourish this year, but are still finding their way with tweaked systems.
The offense, the subject of adulation in recent days, isn’t without hiccups. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas dropped an easy catch on a short crossing route, and during multiple red-zone plays, the quarterbacks had to settle for throwing away the football — although one Caleb Hanie pass skipped off the crossbar and into the hands of cornerback Joshua Moore. The play was dead when the football hit the bar, anyhow.
“We had a couple good plays offensively. I think maybe overall, defense probably got more in there,” wide receiver Eric Decker said.
Nevertheless, the offense is faring well on the whole, largely because receivers don’t need to be wide open to make big plays with Peyton Manning now pulling the trigger.
“He (Manning) can put it exactly where it needs to be,” said wide receiver Andre Caldwell. “If a defender is draped on you, he can put it right out of reach of his hands and put it right in our hands.”
Added Demaryius Thomas: “Coming out of the break, now that you’re expecting to get the ball, as long as you run your route, you know it’s going to be on you. (The football) comes in crazy hot, because his (Manning’s) form is just perfect.”
- Running back Ronnie Hillman’s nicest run of the day saw him break an Elliot Coffey tackle and burst into the open field for a touchdown in a red-zone period. Hillman’s a lock for the team, but it might help him to get a few repetitions against No. 1 defense to see where he stands against the kind of competition he’ll face on Sundays. Hillman shows something different every day — an unexpected acceleration to fifth gear one day; excellent balance while cutting in the open field the next.
- One of the touchdowns for the first-team offense in the red zone — a connection from Manning to Jacob Tamme — appeared to be the result of miscommunication between the safeties. Tamme was wide open in the right flat for the easiest play of the day. Tamme did draw notice earlier in the day with a one-handed catch from Manning in a seven-on-seven period.
- Running back Jeremiah Johnson explodes when he gets to the open field, and continues to show good straight-ahead speed once he hits the second level. He capped his day with a deep diving grab near the sideline.
- Brock Osweiler has shown promise, but like any rookie, has endured his ups and downs. He showed nicer-than-expected touch on fade routes and continued to stand tall under pressure, but came up short — or, more accurately, long — when he had a chance to find Virgil Green in spite of pressure from defensive end Cyril Obiozor. Obiozor sprinted and leapt up the middle, and Osweiler found a wide-open Green — but overshot the second-year tight end. An accurate pass would have meant a certain touchdown.
- Running back Lance Ball saw some occasional first-team work, spelling Willis McGahee.
- Safety Rafael Bush is a thumper — as he showed on his first play as a Bronco, blowing up a kickoff return in San Diego last November. Quite often, if there’s a crunch that echoes all the way to the media’s viewing area beyond the southwest corner of the end zone, it’s from a Bush hit.There appears to be a wide gap between the top four wide receivers and the rest of the group. Decker, Thomas, Caldwell and Brandon Stokley have broken away from the pack. If the Broncos keep five or six receivers, those spots may be determined by special-teams play — although Greg Orton and Gerell Robinson each keep finding their way into my notebook for an array of acrobatic receptions.
- Fullback Austin Sylvester keeps springing runners into the open field and creating holes. Chris Gronkowski appears to be the better all-around fullback because of his skills as a pass-catcher, but Sylvester can thump.
- Orlando Franklin suffered what Fox termed a “slight concussion” Saturday and did not practice on Sunday. Fox said he was undergoing further evaluation.
- Rookie defensive end Jamie Blatnick was in a jersey, but did not practice because of a sprained ankle.
- Safety Quinton Carter missed a second consecutive day of practice because of a hamstring injury.
- Defensive tackle Justin Bannan went back to the locker room early in practice. He’s been struggling with a calf injury since the start of training camp.
- Chris Harris saw the first-team nickelback work Sunday, with Drayton Florence moving down to the role of No. 4 cornerback.
- Chris Clark saw most of the first-team work at right tackle because of Franklin’s concussion. Ryan Harris worked most of the day on the second unit.
- Knowshon Moreno continues to be held back from team work as he completes recovery from a torn ACL. Lance Ball is the No. 2 running back, although Hillman continues to make a positive impression when inserted into the lineup.
- Adam Weber was the second quarterback up, followed by Brock Osweiler and Caleb Hanie. Fox said after practice that the team doesn’t have a second-, third- and fourth-team quarterbacks, but “2a, 2b and 2c.”
- Mike Mohamed got some work at second-team middle linebacker. Nate Irving continued working as the strong-side linebacker with the second unit.
- The hottest practice of training camp so far saw temperatures hover in the low 90s to start the session. As clouds gathered, the mercury dipped to 86 degrees by the end of the session. Less than two hours later, the skies opened up and doused Dove Valley, but by then the only non-employees remaining were a few media stragglers forced to dodge raindrops while walking to the parking lot .
- Monday morning, 8:50 a.m. MDT. The gates open at 7:50 a.m.