The Denver Broncos finished up their second set of OTAs last week. Tomorrow, they'll have their final three-day OTA session before mandatory minicamp, which runs from June 11-13.
It hasn't been all work and no play, though, especially for quarterback Peyton Manning.
In addition to working out with his top three receivers—Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker—at Duke University, Manning has also spent time on a USO tour, hit a hole in one at Castle Pines Golf Club and took a group of teammates to watch a Rockies-Yankees baseball game.
"He [has done] a couple things; he did a couple things last year, camaraderie-type building things. Without going into great details, he’s definitely stepping up that way,” Head Coach John Fox said after practice on Thursday, according to denverbroncos.com.
Getting back to business, the team has been making progress at OTAs.
There are no shoulder pads during OTAs, so there is little contact.
But there have already been several skirmishes at practice, a sign that the players are ready to be aggressive. Players talk smack and get into small fights now, but when the pads go on, it will walk the talk or go home.
"I'm just looking forward to putting on the pads and seeing what guys are like when the pads come on,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton told DenverBroncos.com. “Because it's a whole different story."
With Willis McGahee skipping OTAs and Knowshon Moreno sideline with a knee injury, rookie running back Montee Ball has seen a lot of reps behind second-year back Ronnie Hillman.
Manning has been staying after practice to work with Ball, Hillman and wide receiver Wes Welker, giving special attention to Ball, the rookie.
"[We are] going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage," Manning told DenverBroncos.com of the post-practice sessions.
Ball will be leaned on by Manning and the Broncos this season, which is why Peyton is telling him everything he needs to know right off the bat.
"We are going to count on him in a big way this year. He’s a rookie, but (Head) Coach (John) Fox is not going to bring him along slowly. We are going to put him in there and make him a contributor this year. So, the more repetitions we can get out here talking football, talking scenarios, I think the more comfortable he’ll be once the regular season gets here.”
Ball is unlikely to be the Week One starter, but he will contribute on offense right away. By mid-season, expect him to have the starting job locked up.
"(Tight end) Joel Dreessen had a little knee procedure, scope done just to clean it up and get him ready for camp," Coach Fox said on Thursday, opening the door for third-year tight end Julius Thomas.
"It’s been a good deal for Julius in the sense that he gets more opportunities and more reps. He’s a guy that we have a good feeling about his abilities. Now it’s just a matter of getting him in there, and this gives him a good opportunity," Fox said.
Thomas joined the Broncos as a fourth round pick in 2011 but has seen little playing time since then, struggling to see the field due to multiple injuries. With Dreessen sideline until training camp, Thomas has been making the most of his opportunity.
This is the best I've seen Julius Thomas look. Terrific day for him. #Broncos— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) May 30, 2013
“It feels great. I mean, just being able to go out there, and run around, and feel healthy. For so long, I feel like I was dragging a leg around. Just to go out there and feel like I’m playing at a high level, it’s really encouraging and I feel blessed," Thomas said after practice last week.
"It’s been a good offseason for me. I’m definitely feeling how I need to be feeling to go out there and play at a high level. I’m very excited to have these OTAs and make up for some time I missed.”
As Dreessen recovers and Tamme spends time in the slot, Thomas has the chance to earn more playing time over the summer. If he keeps performing well, Thomas may see time in two-TE looks with Tamme in the slot this season.
USA Today's Lindsay Jones tweeted during practice on Thursday that Quentin Jammer was practicing with the safeties. (Jones later deleted the tweet because it violated the team's practice reporting guidelines. Hat tip to PFT.)
“(Jammer is) another guy to come in and compete that’s got some skins on the wall," Head Coach John Fox said after practice on Thursday (quote provided courtesy of the team's PR department).
As a side note, "has some skins on the wall" is presumably Fox's new favorite team for an experienced player. We're guessing he is referring to a hunter that has many skin pelts displayed showing his experience and expertise in his field.
"He’s played corner. He’ll have some versatility with us—we’re going to try him a little bit at safety as well. In this league with the multiple-wide receiver sets, he’ll give us some flexibility. He’s a bigger, more physical DB that we think will help us," concluded Fox.
Jammer will likely see time in Denver's nickel defense, perhaps as the fourth cornerback. With a versatile skill set, Jammer can also play safety when asked to.
Kayvon Webster was drafted in the third round by the Broncos in April after growing up a fan of Champ Bailey throughout his high school and college career.
After the draft, Webster noted that he wanted a locker right next to Bailey's so he could "pick his brain." As it turns out, Webster's locker is across from Bailey's in the locker room, but Webster still has had plenty of opportunities to learn from Champ.
"It's just a blessing to be on the team with him," Webster told the Tampa Bay Times. "I'm looking forward to getting coached by him, as well as by my position coach."
“I know how it is (to look up to a player),” Bailey told DenverBroncos.com. “Because when I got to Washington, I had Darrell Green. I imitated him and then in my second year, I had Deion Sanders and I imitated him.
"We all imitate guys we look up to," continued Bailey. "He’s just in a fortunate situation where he has a chance to work with me like I did with those guys. You don’t get those opportunities a lot as a young player.”
As Champ's understudy, Webster will be learning from one of the best in the game. But it will be his own skills and determination that will ultimately decide how much playing time he sees in year one.
"He knows he is going to have to fight his way to get on the field, but when it comes down to it, he is going to do whatever it takes. I love that about him,” concluded Bailey.
Bailey is right—Webster will have a lot of competition at the cornerback position. But Webster is already on the right track having been taken under Bailey's wing.