"We got a lot of work done here over the last month," Shanahan said at the end of the June team camp, which were the final offseason practices for the Broncos. "We were further ahead of schedule than I thought."
Especially impressive was how the rookies mentally adjusted during the four weeks of OTA practices. The Broncos don't take it easy on the rookies. They dump all of the playbook on them before the first practice, as a test. After a few weeks, they appeared to be ready for the mental side of training camp.
Denver's quick progress was also encouraging because they have a new defensive boss, Bob Slowik, and Jeremy Bates is running the passing game for the first time. There didn't seem to be any tough adjustment to those coaches, who were promoted in the offseason when assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates and assistant head coach/offense Mike Heimerdinger left the staff.
Rookie to watch: Wide receiver Eddie Royal -- The Broncos aren't counting heavily on their rookie class this season, aside from first-round pick Ryan Clady, who is expected to start at left tackle. Royal is the other player who is penciled into an important position, as the team's punt and kickoff returner. Early signs are that Royal can handle those roles.
What wasn't expected is for Royal to contribute a lot right away as a receiver, but he looked good during the camps. He was a bit inconsistent, but made some great catches and is a quick learner. If Royal can make similar progress in training camp, Shanahan will find a way to use him in the offense. Shanahan raved about Royal's ability to beat bump coverage and get in and out of his breaks after Denver drafted him in the second round.
Sudden impact: Linebacker Boss Bailey -- Unlike Niko Koutouvides, an offseason signee who has been battling Nate Webster for the starting middle linebacker job, Bailey is safely the starter at strong-side linebacker. The Broncos' linebackers are coming off a poor year - Webster and D.J. Williams played out of position, and Ian Gold simply didn't play well. Having Bailey, an athletic veteran who has been on the strong side most of his NFL career, as a mainstay on the defense should help this season. Bailey does have some ability rushing the quarterback, and could be used on blitzes.
Bailey has shown in the offseason that he will be an almost certain upgrade, which is huge for a defense that couldn't stop the run most of last season. Playing with his brother, Champ, after some losing years in Detroit could also re-energize Bailey.
--Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall, who was arrested last October on suspicion of driving under the influence and pleaded not guilty, had his trial delayed from June 18 to Sept. 16. Marshall could face a suspension by the league if he is found guilty.
--Kicker Matt Prater missed the final few days of the Broncos' final offseason camp with a sore groin. Other than that, Prater's offseason has been pretty good. He made every kick in live drills during practices, and if he can continue that in training camp he will have no problem locking up the job as Jason Elam's replacement.
"I've been really consistent so far, which I have to prove to everyone," Prater said.
--Rookie safety Josh Barrett, a seventh-round pick, was the first Denver draft pick to sign a contract, but it was rejected by the league. The two sides have plenty of time to fix the deal before training camp.
--Linebacker Spencer Larsen, a sixth-round pick, was limited during most of the OTA practices with a hamstring injury.
"It's been about as frustrating of an experience as I've ever had," Larsen said. "You're living a dream, and right when you get here you get taken out of being able to do it."
Larsen was tried out at fullback for a couple of weeks to start the offseason, but said he thinks he will stay at linebacker in the future.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Coach set up a lot of competition." - RB Selvin Young on the battle at tailback.
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