With more than 41,000 fans on hand and buzzing to watch the Broncos practice, Peyton Manning opened a seven-on-seven period early in practice by completing five straight short passes to tight ends and running backs.
It did the job. If Manning had those completions during a game, the offense would scoot right downfield. But this wasn’t what people came to see, and the crowd reaction — no cheers, no boos, just a shrug and thousands having a sip of whatever beverage was in their upholder — reflected this indifference.
Down on the field, Manning took note.
“I could tell during the seven-on-seven early on that throwing the short passes wasn’t real exciting for the crowd,” Manning said. “So the last play of my seven-on-seven, I actually changed that play to a deep pass just to try to keep the fans from leaving, I guess.”
Manning went deep up the right sideline for Andre Caldwell, who chased down a pass just past Tony Carter. Problem solved; buzz regained.
From there, the Broncos went about their paces, moving into a spirited team period that was easily the hardest-hitting of training camp — and even included a quarterback hitting the deck for the first time when Caleb Hanie was sacked by Elvis Dumervil.
“You feel the excitement, your blood starts pumping and it just changes up the practice,” said defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. “It feels great to come in here, get used to playing at Mile High. But you’ve got to calm yourself down, just like a game, and you’ve got to focus on your technique. You can’t try to make every play. You’ve just got to make the plays that come to you.”
“It gets us going,” added safety Mike Adams. “It gets the juices going just because there’s so many people. It felt like a game atmosphere and that’s what we’re trying to get ready for come Thursday.”
If anything, the electricity in the air Saturday might have surpass what will exist at Soldier Field on Aug. 9. The Bears drew nearly 14,000 fewer fans for their Saturday scrimmage, and while they have palpable and easily justifiable hopes for a playoff appearance, quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t have the newness factor to the fanbase that Manning has to Denver.
But that’s for another day.
- The team portion of the practice pitted the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense, the second-team defense against the first-team offense, and the third units against each other. The No. 1 offense was the only one to get a touchdown — on a 9-yard Manning-to-Eric Decker strike — but endured two failed possessions before the successful drive. The first ended in a three-and-out; the second was stopped by a David Bruton interception on third down.
- On his three series, Manning went 4-of-8 for 41 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His scoring strike came after the coach-to-quarterback communication system went on the fritz; Manning said when that happens, he has the authority to make the call. Manning opted for a fade to Decker. “It was excellent coverage by (Drayton) Florence, but Decker did a good job holding his eyes until the last minute,” Manning said.
- Caleb Hanie and Adam Weber divided the second-team work, while Weber shared third-team duties with rookie Brock Osweiler. Hanie was under constant pressure and completed 1-of-2 passes for 12 yards; he was sacked once (Elvis Dumervil) and easily could have been sacked again had Derek Wolfe not pulled up when he had a clean shot at Hanie. Adam Weber was sacked by Malik Jackson during his stint and finished 1-of-3 for zero yards. Osweiler went 5-of-6 with the third team for 35 yards and was sacked once, with Jamie Blatnick and Jackson providing the pressure.
- Willis McGahee had an impressive day, delivering a stiff-arm of Florence on a 12-yard gain to get the lone scoring drive started. McGahee had two carries for 23 yards on the eight-play 60-yard march; overall, McGahee finished his work with 27 yards on three carries, good for a 9.0-yard average.
- Denver signed safety Jim Leonhard on Saturday, but the former Buffalo, Baltimore and New York Jets contributor did not take part in the practice. Even if Leonhard doesn’t crack the starting lineup, his experience will prove valuable; the current backup safeties have a combined six NFL starts between them, all by David Bruton.
- The practice could have scarcely gone worse for running back Mario Fannin, who hobbled to the sideline late in the session unable to put weight on his left leg. Fannin was later carted away from the sideline. The second-year running back was working back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which torpedoed his 2011 season in training camp.
- Linebacker Joe Mays left for a play after a collision, but quickly returned. Steven Johnson took his place on the first team for a snap.<
- Right tackle Orlando Franklin was in pads, but remained sidelined during the team portion of the practice.
- .Defensive tackle Justin Bannan was held out because of his calf injury; he had a wrap around his calf during the practice.
- Wide receivers Greg Orton and Tyler Grisham remained sidelined with ankle and knee injuries, respectively.
- Safety Quinton Carter will be out at least two weeks after undergoing knee surgery this week.
- Linebacker D.J. Williams did not take part in the team or seven-on-seven periods in practice, as has been the case since the start of training camp. Williams had been a part of the individual work until Saturday; for this practice, he didn’t wear pads or a helmet, walking around in a baseball cap.
- A franchise-record 41,304 gathered for the practice, shattering the previous record of 20,872 set for the stadium scrimmage two years ago. The Broncos have attracted 69,821 to their eight open dates, an average of 8,728 per session.
- Chris Kuper and Manuel Ramirez split the first-team work at right guard. The busy Ramirez also saw time at second-team center.
- Chris Clark worked with the first team at right tackle in place of the injured Franklin.
- Denver got some extensive work on punt protection in during the practice. Plenty of names familiar to Broncos fans dotted the first punt protection unit: Lance Ball, David Bruton, Rahim Moore, Matt Willis and Wesley Woodyard were among the players taking part.
- Jason Hunter remained on the first team at strongside defensive end.
- Mitch Unrein continued getting the bulk of the snaps at defensive tackle in base packages while Bannan recovers from his calf injury.
- Among backup quarterbacks, Caleb Hanie was the second man up, followed by Adam Weber and rookie Brock Osweiler.
- Running back Knowshon Moreno didn’t take part in the team portion of the practice. Lance Ball was the second back up behind Willis McGahee.
- The best day of training camp greeted the Broncos; the practice was conducted in 80-degree temperatures with a relative humidity of just 27 percent.
- Monday at Broncos headquarters, beginning at 2:20 p.m. MDT. The gates open at 1:20 p.m. MDT.