Sundays will carry a bit more meaning as summer turns into fall, but for now, it was just another day of camp for the Denver Broncos.
On second thought, the fourth training camp practice actually did carry a little more meaning for one reason; it was the first day of full pads. It couldn't have come a moment sooner. Players were ready to hit and, as a result, physicality reigned and tension boiled over on a not-so-easy Sunday morning.
“It comes with a price when you put on the full pads and you hear the coaches say, ‘Let’s be physical today,'" linebacker Corey Nelson said. "You have to have that right mindset to get after each other.”
Let's explore what took place in the Broncos' hard-hitting practice session.
Vets' Day Off
In the Broncos first championship season, aging quarterback John Elway was excused from the second practice session of each day of training camp. Now that he's assumed his spot at the front office, that same philosophy has returned.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p...The Broncos rested many of their core veterans; Chris Harris, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Darian Stewart, Virgil Green, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Paradis along with the already-injured DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Sylvester Williams and Phil Taylor (who has since been placed on IR).
However, just because those guys weren't physically participating doesn't mean they didn't get in a few mental reps.
“They are still involved mentally with the players. That’s what I really like. You see our guys rooting for each other and coaching each other," Coach Gary Kubiak said. "I’m resting those guys. They’ve got a lot of plays under their belt in their career. I know where I have to get them. The biggest point of emphasis is to get the team better from a young standpoint and that’s what we did today.”
Ward was even jawing with the officials for being a little too liberal with their flags. That's not too surprising for a player whose on-field actions resulted in a fair amount of yellow last year.
While it may be initially surprising to not see Von Miller among the resting players, it makes sense considering that Miller missed OTAs and still needs to get up to speed after his mini-holdout. It might not take long to get back in the swing of things though; Miller put a big hit on rookie runner Devontae Booker that set the tone for practice. Welcome to the NFL.
Although Miller was laying wood, the absence of those other veterans meant a drastic shift in the depth chart for many players.
For example, on the offensive line, James Ferentz took snaps with both the first and third-team offenses. Meanwhile, much-maligned tackle Michael Schofield assumed the first-team left tackle position. I know many of you have lost it after reading that, but let's be fair to Schofield. He was about as useful as a bent traffic cone in blocking Khalil Mack, but he really held it together in the playoffs and deserves another chance.
Other players like running back Kapri Bibbs got the chance to run with the starters as well. The decision by Kubiak could ultimately be a wise one as players were forced to adapt to playing with and against a different range of talent.
Unfortunately, a couple of other players may need some rest in the near future. Ronnie Hillman left practice with a hurt back after receiving a pop from linebacker Zaire Anderson, while center Sam Brenner was concussed after hitting the deck face-first in the middle of a pile.
“It is scary. It looked like he got caught in a pile and went down face first," Kubiak said. "That’s what I saw. He was talking to me and [Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos] Greek the whole time. We’re going to evaluate him and see where he’s at.”
Paxton Unleashes the Deep Ball
The play of rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch has been, in the words of Gary Kubiak, "up and down" heading into Sunday. And while he did throw a couple of interceptions (one to breakout star Kayvon Webster and another to B.J. Lowery), Lynch showed off his ability to let loose and throw it long.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1690632-broncos-receiver-battle-r... Lynch connected on long balls to a trio of undrafted rookie wide receivers; Kalif Raymond, Mose Frazier, and Durron Neal. His bombs were undoubtedly awe-inspiring, and the coaches noted his gradual improvement.
“He’s working hard. It’s taking all the reps he can and all the mental reps he can," OC Rick Dennison said. "He’s learning from film and learning what he does right and what he does wrong and what other people do right and wrong."
All that work appears to be paying off, according to his head coach.
“He’s just better every day," Kubiak said. "Every day we are out here, he tends to make some big plays and do some good things. He struggles at times, but you are just seeing a guy get more and more confident."
“His operations are good. He gets those guys and leads very well," Dennison said. "He’s getting a better feel for what we are doing. All three of them are.”
Performance like he showed today will allow him to gain ground and separate himself from Trevor Siemian in the quarterback battle. Obviously, there's still plenty of reps to be taken from now until the season opener, but there's no question that Sanchez remains the favorite.
Raymond Headlines the Wide Receivers
For both his relentless effort and play-making ability, undrafted rookie wide receiver Kalif Raymond has made an immediate impact on the practice field.
For the second straight day, Raymond was the beneficiary of a magnificent pass from Lynch (among a few others), and earned praise from the coaching staff.
"Here is a young kid not getting many reps, and I sit some guys today and he gets a lot of reps," Kubiak said. "He must have caught three big balls in practice. Kalif is very explosive. He’s not very big, but he is very explosive. I think he understands his role and how he can make this team as a returner or a slot-type player for us. He’s taken advantage of it.”
The former Holy Cross speed demon has made himself comfortable in the Broncos offense, especially when Lynch is under center.
"Paxton is working night and day to get it done," Raymond said. "I’m coming out of my break and it’s all him putting the ball out there. It’s just credit to how hard he’s working. As long as I do my job, he’s taking care of his.”
The emergence of Raymond has put a premium on competition within the wide receiver group. There's a wealth of talent up and down the depth chart, and it's been on display from Thomas and Sanders all the way to the rookie free agents. Gary Kubiak likes what he sees.
“I’ve said from day one, that really has the chance to be the strength of our team," Kubiak said about their many promising pass catchers. "It’s going to be really hard to make our team at that position. It’s very competitive and they all work with each other. It’s exciting to watch. It’s a good group."
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1689940-broncos-rookie-preview-mo...Unfortunately, not all of the wide receivers can make the squad. However, the level of talent and competition raises the play of guys like Cody Latimer, who can't afford to get complacent with all of the young guys behind him.
At the end of the day, the wide receivers that are reluctantly shown the door as the roster is trimmed will, without a doubt, get a hard look from the other 31 teams. Overall, the situation is a testament to the elite scouting department that the Broncos have put together.
The introduction of full pads mean that offensive lineman and box defenders are going to thumping on each other, Such was the case with center James Ferentz and linebacker Corey Nelson.
Eventually, the situation came to a head and fists were flying.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1691055-marshall-predicts-denver-... "That may not have been the smartest thing that we’ve done out there, but it shows that we’re passionate," Nelson said. "We’re passionate about our jobs, we’re passionate about what we’re doing out here, and that’s only making us better. But the fine line is, we do need to be smarter, we do need to be better, and not have fights like that.”
When a second fight broke out and players on both sides of the ball erupted into a brawl, Kubiak head to step in and get a hold on his team.
“We were on the back end of practice, about the last 20 minutes, and we were gassed. We were getting a little sloppy and a couple of things were bad judgement. I just tried to calm them down and told them that we still have a long way to go so refocus, and they did.”
It's not a surprise that intensity was high and something like this happened considering the fact that Sunday was the first day of full-on contact. Still, it's best to keep the vitriol for more-deserving opponents, like the Oakland Raiders, A.K.A. the guaranteed AFC West Champions.
Nelson is battling along with Todd Davis and Zaire Anderson for the inside linebacker spot opposite Marshall. While Davis has appeared to have all but locked up the spot, Nelson still has to fend off Anderson, Dekoda Watson, and rookies Frank Shannon and Darnell Sankey.
On the other side, Ferentz will have to beat out Dillon Day for the backup center position. I use "backup" in the strongest sense of the word, as Matt Paradis played every snap at center last year.
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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.