The Denver Broncos opened their training camp officially on Friday, and for as raw as the team is supposed to be with a new system, over 40 new players, and an almost entirely new coaching staff, the overall consensus at Dove Valley was that head coach Josh McDaniels has his team on the right track.
Even without Jay Cutler.
This new regime was doing things fans have never seen before, including "gassers" at the conclusion of the evening practice session, which brought back high school football memories.
Casual fans like myself were hard-pressed to get a strong view of the defensive position players other than one-on-one drills and roughly a half-an-hour of full squad action, but many of the defensive newcomers stood out.
Starting nose tackle Ronald Fields was consistently in the backfield, using a lower center of gravity and excellent strength to anchor the line of scrimmage. A good portion of running plays were virtually shut down solely because of the efforts of the former 49er.
Additionally, many die-hard Bronco fans were granted one of their training camp wishes. Second-year player Carlton Powell was lining up with the second team defense as the nose tackle.
He looked much bigger than expected, so much so that I had to check the roster before confirming it was actually him.
Powell found himself in the backfield more often than not today as well, and on one play in particular, tight end Tony Scheffler motioned to the left, attempting a pull block for a running play, and when the ball was snapped, Scheffler simultaneously met the grass courtesy of Powell.
The defense was without three veterans and projected starters in Champ Bailey, Renaldo Hill, and Marcus Thomas, but the unit appeared strong under the tutelage of Mike Nolan.
They were also missing rookie defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Ayers due to a holdout.
Both Ayers and fellow first round draft pick Knowshon Moreno are holding out of camp as they have yet to sign their contracts. Word is that Moreno is much further apart than Ayers in talks.
The star of the day offensively was Brandon Marshall, who consistently ran crisp routes, did not drop a single pass, and who appeared to be in tip shape after missing time with an injury.
Marshall made both dazzling one-handed catches and tip-toe catches alike, garnering much attention from the crowd.
For most of the day, he was receiving the passes from Denver's projected starting quarterback Kyle Orton.
While nobody and nothing was absolutely perfect, Orton and the other quarterbacks seemed to have a solid grasp of McDaniels' complex offense. He was making good reads and putting any throw 30 yards and in right on the button.
The knock on Orton has been his inability to throw the ball downfield, but he threw the ball 45 yards pretty easily, sometimes even over-shooting his target.
The offensive line was up to its usual tricks, opening up huge holes for the running games at times.
Two players who really took advantage of those gaping holes were Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis, both 2008 draftees who are coming off of fairly serious injuries.
It was hard to determine who was running with which units at times, which indicated to me that the coaching staff is willing and able to experiment with which players work best together. If I had to make a guess, this is how I would have pegged the rosters as of day one:
QB: Orton, Simms, Brandstater
RB: Jordan, Buckhalter, Torain, Walker
FB: Hillis, Larsen
WR: Marshall, Stokley, Jackson, Lloyd
WR: Royal, Gaffney, McKinley, Swift, Willis, Shelton
TE: Graham, Scheffler, Quinn, Putzier, Branson
LT: Clady, Polumbus, Oldenburg
LG: Hamilton, Erickson, McChesney
C: Wiegmann, Lichtensteiger, Schlueter
RG: Kuper, Olsen, Murray
RT: Harris, Gorin
DE: McBean, Askew, Pedescleaux
NT: Fields, Powell, Baker
DE: Peterson, Clemons, Davis
OLB: Reid, Crowder
MLB: Williams, Woodyard
MLB: Davis, Larsen, Robinson
OLB: Dumervil, Moss
CB: Williams, Bell
CB: Goodman, Smith, Johnson
S: Dawkins, Barrett, Bruton
S: McBath, Fox
I will be updating after tomorrow afternoon's session as well.