A day after lightning forced the Broncos indoors, the weather was once again perfect for a training camp practice Saturday morning.
Under sunny, 80-degree skies, the players donned pads for the first time, and it didn’t take long for the on-field fireworks to start.
This morning belonged to Peyton Manning and Eric Decker, but more on that later.
The only player absent from Saturday morning’s practice was safety Quinton Carter, who injured his hamstring late in Friday’s indoor practice. Defensive end Jamie Blatnick was on the field but was held out of practice, Head Coach John Fox said, because of an ankle. Fox also reported that right tackle Orlando Franklin did not finish practice because of a “crick in his neck.”
LINE ‘EM UP
Bannan, who was limited in Thursday’s practice and did not participate in Friday’s session, saw a few first-team reps Saturday morning. He wasn’t on the line full-time, however. When Bannan was out, Mitch Unrein continued to fill his spot at defensive tackle with the first unit alongside Ty Warren.
Chris Kuper seems to be getting closer and closer to a full return to the offensive line, as he saw a handful of reps at right guard during team drills. When he wasn’t in, the position belonged to Manny Ramirez with the first unit.
MANNING TO DECKER
As mentioned earlier, the Manning-Decker connection was on fire Saturday morning. It started during one-on-one drills between wide receivers and cornerbacks.
After a short completion to Demaryius Thomas in front of Tracy Porter, Manning dropped back for his second pass of the drill. The matchup was Decker against Champ Bailey — and Decker made a move that faked out the 11-time Pro Bowler. Bailey recovered, but Decker still made a bobbling, diving catch right in front of the crowd. Needless to say, the fans erupted.
Decker had another catch in front of Bailey later in one-on-ones, then when the offense switched to 7-on-7s, Manning hit Decker three straight times on the first three passes of the drill.
Decker had a few more catches during full-team drills, one of which was right at the sideline, and the receiver kept running into the crowd — much to the fans’ delight. After Manning and Decker exited the final team drill, they drew loud cheers from the crowd.
Decker wasn’t the only standout player of the day. Going back to one-on-ones between WRs and CBs, Matthew Willis had one of the more incredible catches of the day.
Manning was the quarterback, and he waited as Willis tried to break free from Porter’s tight coverage. The cornerback stayed right with the receiver through the whole route, so Manning was forced to throw the pass low and to Willis’ back shoulder. It looked like it would be an incompletion — as Porter was right there and Willis fell as he turned to come back to the ball. But lying on his back, the fifth-year receiver reached up and snared the pass for an acrobatic catch. The crowd was in a bit of a frenzy after that exchange.
One-on-ones was an interesting drill for rookie cornerback Omar Bolden. On his first rep, he was faked out running to the middle of the field. The receiver stopped and cut back outside for a wide-open completion. On his next rep, however, Bolden intercepted a Brock Osweiler pass. Bolden’s back-and-forth drill continued on his next repetition, as Thomas beat him deep for a touchdown courtesy of a Manning pass, but he followed that up by snaring another interception on his fourth and final attempt.
The offense won the majority of the one-on-ones between cornerbacks and receivers — including a touchdown from Manning to Brandon Stokley across the middle, when Stokley outraced his defender to the end zone — but the defense had its say as well. In addition to Bolden’s two interceptions, Bailey easily swatted away a pass intended for Mark Dell, staying with the receiver stride-for-stride through each one of his breaks.
- WRs vs. CBs wasn’t the only one-on-one drill during Saturday’s practice — running backs and tight ends worked to get open against linebackers as well. The most notable play from that session came from running back Jeremiah Johnson, who caught a one-handed, sliding touchdown past linebacker Mike Mohamed in the back corner of the end zone.
- Johnson shined using his legs, as well, finding the corner to gain a chunk of yards during a full-team drill. In the same drill, rookie back Ronnie Hillman found some space as he turned the corner on the other sideline.
- During 7-on-7s, Dell seemed to have a ball in his hands, but was met immediately by a defender. He bobbled the pass and linebacker Elliot Coffey came down with the ball for a pick-six.
- It looked like Manning was set to hit Thomas for another deep touchdown during team drills, but Porter leaped to break up the pass at the last moment, garnering a fist pump by the cornerback. Bailey also had a nice breakup over the middle, preventing Lance Ball from making the completion.
- Linebacker Joe Mays had a big hit on running back Lance Ball lined up, but instead essentially chest bumped him and wrapped him up. The crowd recognized what would’ve been quite a collision had it been a game, letting out some “Oohs” and “Aahs.”
- During an OL vs. DL drill, guard Zane Beadles stopped defensive end Elvis Dumervil short of the quarterback, which drew a little shoving from both players after the play. Later, rookie Derek Wolfe — who worked at both defensive tackle and defensive end at times during practice — beat tackle Tony Hills to get to the hypothetical QB. In the same drill, Robert Ayers bulled his way through the middle of the offensive line to make a play.
- During team drills, Osweiler scrambled out of the pocket and hit Willis on the run for a chunk of yards.
- Also during team drills, Wolfe not only had a quarterback pressure, but he came up with a loose ball on a fumbled snap.
- Linebacker Steven Johnson had the second big hit of the day, this time meeting running back Mario Fannin in the backfield to loud cheers from the crowd.
- Two Broncos Ring of Famers were in attendance to watch practice up close — running back Terrell Davis and linebacker Karl Mecklenburg.
- The offensive and defensive linemen seemed especially excited to have pads on, as any drill they were involved in was physical and featured some loud popping of pads. That being said, everyone stayed on their feet for the majority of practice, as Head Coach John Fox has preached taking care of teammates.
- During a drill early in practice designed around wide receivers blocking cornerbacks downfield, Bailey broke away from a Decker block to make the tackle, drawing cheers from the crowd.
- A day after donning bright — almost neon — orange socks, linebacker Von Miller was back at it with neon green socks today. He was hard to miss throughout practice for that reason, but also for his play — he found his way into the backfield on a handful of snaps.
- During one set of 7-on-7 drills, Miller instead worked with the defensive line, going one-on-one against offensive linemen to work on pass rush.
- Decker, Willis and Syd’Quan Thompson fielded punts during special teams drills.
- During special teams drills, Osweiler worked on holding for field goals off to the side with long snapper Aaron Brewer.
- Rookie guard/center Philip Blake worked on snaps with the quarterbacks during another set of special teams drills.
The team is back on the field for a walkthrough session closed to the public Saturday evening. Sunday brings another practice open to the public — the team is on the field at 2:20 p.m. and gates open an hour prior.
Click below for a photo gallery from Saturday morning’s session.