The Denver Broncos kicked off training camp on Thursday, and there was a different feel around the facility. The day after the team announced Pat Bowlen was relinquishing his duties as owner so he could put all his energies into battling Alzheimer’s, there was a heavy feeling in the air.
Bowlen is essentially NFL nobility, and now he won’t be at Dove Valley every day. The Broncos will work hard to carry on the Bowlen tradition of winning in 2014.
That work ramped up on day one of training camp.
Another thing that was different for the opening of camp was the lack of fans in attendance. Dove Valley is undergoing a massive construction project right now, and camp has been closed to the public. The Broncos are going to hold three practices at Sports Authority Field at Mile High that are open to fans later in training camp.
Yet another difference was on the field. The Broncos have a new group of weapons on both sides of the ball. Players like T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, Bradley Roby and others will work to prove their value this season.
Here’s some notes and quotes about what happened on day one of Broncos training camp.
The Broncos head coach had an early morning, making the rounds on radio row.
After practice, Fox was pleased with the way things opened up Thursday.
“We’ll go back and look at the tape. I liked their effort. I like the way we did everything. We’ve been gone for a month under the new rules, so you have to get your legs back. You have to practice hard and efficient and with tempo, but also smart.” Fox concluded, “I like the way they went about their business today.”
Several young players are trying to make an impression on the coaching staff in training camp. Fox was asked about guys like Brock Osweiler or Kapri Bibbs getting extra reps in practice.
“At this stage, we try to create competition. We don’t limit people based on how they entered or how they got here. They’ll all get looks, and we’ll see what they do with them.”
Fox wrapped up his press conference talking about the leadership ability of quarterback Peyton Manning.
“The guy never ceases to amaze you, with the way he prepares himself. I went out and looked at him today. He looks as good physically as I’ve ever seen him, and that dates back a while with me. He is tremendous and continues to get better and better.”
Manning was in good spirits today after practice. He was joking around with the media, and Manning is excited to get back to practice.
“I’ve had a good offseason. I feel like I had good work with [Strength & Conditioning Coach] Luke [Richesson] in the training room. I had a good month of work during this time we were off. I’m glad to be back into it.” Manning concluded, “I’m glad training camp is here because that means football season is getting closer.”
Manning knows what the team has to do in order to improve on offense this season.
“Certainly, you are looking for continuity, chemistry with the new players like [WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] and obviously [RB] Montee [Ball] taking a large role this year. [G] Orlando [Franklin] is in a different spot with some good competition there on the offensive line at right tackle. Every year, you have to establish that particular team’s identity and we are in the process of doing that right now.” Manning continued, “Guys have worked hard and that certainly has been evident. I just want to keep trying to improve and get everybody on the same page.”
Julius Thomas was a topic of conversation with Manning, and the veteran quarterback is excited to see what his Pro Bowl tight end will do for an encore in 2014.
“Julius is an important part of this team. I know it. The Broncos know it. I look for him to have another big season this year. He has worked hard and he’s in great shape. There are some things he has wanted to work on. He spent some time with TE Tony Gonzalez, I believe this spring, and got a little knowledge from him.” Manning emphasized, “I like guys who are constantly trying to learn and get better. Julius has a long career ahead of him, and I’m looking forward to playing with him again this year.”
The veteran wide receiver was a fantastic addition by the Broncos. They are going to be very creative with the way they use him, and Sanders is excited about his opportunity in Denver.
However, Sanders felt he had some things to work on to start camp.
“It was a rough first day. Not in terms of just plays and mentality—it was just altitude. This stuff is real. I was tired and today I felt like my heart was going to explode. I worked my butt off. I trained down in Texas, and you can’t prepare for this. You’ve just got to go out there every day and work it, and eventually you’re going to get in shape. I’m just taking it one practice at a time.”
Sanders showed great quickness on shorter routes and elite speed on deep routes in practice today. I thought Sanders had a strong outing on day one, but the grade he gave himself for his performance was not kind.
“I had one dropped pass that I could catch—my grandma could have caught that pass. Conditioning kind of got me, but no excuses, I should have caught it. So if I drop a pass, I don’t care what it is, I’m below an F. I don’t take dropped passes lightly.” Sanders exhaled, “So I’ve just got to go in the lab and keep working.”
The Broncos did not have to place Von Miller on the PUP list to start training camp. He’s currently recovering from the knee injury he suffered in Week 16 against the Houston Texans last year.
Miller feels good about his health. “I feel pretty good. It’s great to be back out there with my teammates and doing 7-on-7 stuff. I feel good with where I’m at today.”
Last year was a disappointment for Miller. He began the season suspended for the first six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Upon his return, Miller didn’t quite look like himself or play up to expectations.
Miller feels like he’s grown as a person in recent years.
“I’m a way different person from what I was five years ago, so a year ago, I’m definitely different, more mature. I’m one of the oldest guys in the linebacker room now. I was talking to [former Bronco and current Tennessee LB] Wesley [Woodyard] the other day, and I was like ‘Bro, I’m one of the oldest guys in here right now,’ and we started laughing, so it’s just part of it. Just have to grow up.”
Chris Harris Jr.
Like Miller, Chris Harris Jr. is also coming back from a knee injury. Harris suffered a partially torn ACL injury in the playoff win over the San Diego Chargers.
Unlike Miller, Harris has to begin training camp on the PUP list as he’s not quite as far along in his recovery.
Harris feels like he’ll be ready to start in Week 1 of the regular season.
“I will say yeah. I mean, it is so early, we have a long ways to go—seven weeks left until we first play, but I should be ready. I am on pace, I am doing everything that they tell me to do and more. As long as [Orthopedist] Dr. [James R.] Andrews gives us the OK and they start working me and like [LB] Von [Miller] and them, kind of the same pace they are doing and get back on track.”
Harris is not frustrated that he had to begin camp on the PUP, and he’s got a positive attitude about where he’s at physically right now.
“I feel good. I feel like I can do everything, and it is just about getting back to football. Just really getting out here, coming out here and perfecting my technique, and repeating the same drills over and over and over again.” Harris concluded, “Once I get all that stuff down, I am not far, but my technique is there.”
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey