Check one more thing off the list on the road to the 2009 season — training camp is here. And the mass of fans lining the far hill of the Broncos practice fields almost an hour and a half before practice kicked off was a little taste of the excitement surrounding Day One.
As players came onto the field — dressed in full pads and uniform, including pants — some took a knee as soon as they hit the grass, pausing to take a moment before the unofficial start of another season.
It was perfect weather for the first day of practice — sunny with a little bit of shade. So without further adieu, here are some quick hits from the first practice session of the team’s 2009 training camp.
ROLL CALL: Champ Bailey, Renaldo Hill and Marcus Thomas did not practice on Friday.
“As soon as they’re ready to practice physically, they’ll be out here,” Head Coach Josh McDaniels said. “It’s the same with all three of them — just making sure we take the right precautions with those three players.”
POSITIONING: Among the hybrid players practicing with linebackers today — Tim Crowder, Elvis Dumervil, Spencer Larsen, Jarvis Moss and Darrell Reid.
When the team went 11-on-11, the first unit defense sported Kenny Peterson, Ronald Fields and Ryan McBean on the front line, Darrell Reid, D.J. Williams, Andra Davis and Elvis Dumervil at linebacker and Alphonso Smith, Andre’ Goodman, Brian Dawkins and Darcel McBath in the secondary. Occasionally that lineup changed slightly, with Tim Crowder seeing some time at outside linebacker, Jack Williams seeing some time at cornerback and Vernon Fox once lining up alongside Dawkins at safety.
The first unit offense consisted of Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall at receiver, Daniel Graham at tight end, Kyle Orton at quarterback, Correll Buckhalter at running back and last year’s starting offensive line — Ryan Clady, Ben Hamilton, Casey Wiegmann, Chris Kuper and Ryan Harris. Ryan Torain, LaMont Jordan and Peyton Hillis also got some reps at running back.
During one-on-ones between wide receivers and defensive backs, Josh Barrett practiced with the cornerbacks. He continued to line up at safety in other drills.
DRILLS: Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer continued to preach “catch it inside the 10″ to his players. The unit worked on downing punts inside the 20-yard line, and his rule is not to let the ball bounce if it’s inside the 10.
Defensive line coach Wayne Nunnely told his unit that there will be plenty of water breaks between drills, but no water in the middle of them. That way players pay more attention to their teammates in front of them, so they can watch, listen and learn from their mistakes. Nunnely also gave the linemen pointers on how to push away a blocker, shouting, “Open the door!” to remind them to extend their arms.
Tight ends and offensive linemen worked on a 2-on-2 drill that involved a tight end and a lineman blocking one defender, then one of the blockers would break off and take on another defender who blitzed late.
On one field, receivers, running backs and offensive linemen worked with Kyle Orton on screen passes. Some were quick bubble screens to receivers and the unit practiced blocking upfield. Others were typical screen passes to running backs and the back followed his blockers away from imaginary defenders.
PLAYMAKERS: Brandon Marshall put on a show for the fans in attendance Friday morning. He consistently drew applause from the crowd, once hauling in a catch by reaching an arm out in the opposite direction he was running to pull in the pass. On another occasion he caught a deep ball and proceeded to high-five a young fan walking on the sideline.
Orton showed some of his chemistry with former Chicago teammate Brandon Lloyd, connecting on a tight pass near the sideline. Lloyd tiptoed the line, drawing cheers from nearby fans.
Alphonso Smith busted through the field goal blocking unit and batted away a Matt Prater attempt, and it looked like the rookie could’ve returned it for a touchdown had the whistle not blown. Including that block, Prater was 7-of-8 during the kicking drill.
During 11-on-11s, Chris Baker got past his man and bumped into fellow rookie Tom Brandstater while he wasn’t looking for the sack. There’s no tackling the quarterbacks, but the sack still drew some “ooohs” from the crowd because of its potential impact had it been in a live game.
In contact drills between the offensive and defensive lines focused on running plays, Torain broke through on a few different runs, often sprinting toward the end zone and leaving defenders behind. That drew plenty of cheers from the fans.
In one-on-one drills between receivers and cornerbacks, Goodman lined up against Royal with Chris Simms at quarterback. Royal ran a quick inside slant and looked like he would come away with the ball, but Goodman closed quickly and caused an incompletion. In the same drill, Joshua Bell had a few breakups, including an impressive one against rookie Kenny McKinley.
QUICK HITS: Music made its glorious return to practices at Dove Valley, and the playlist remained eclectic. When U2′s “Where the Streets Have No Name” blasted through the speakers as the team began to warm up, the crowd gave a loud applause to start the first day of training camp. Young Jeezy’s “Put On” brought a little dancing from Marshall during warm-ups, and Rick James’ “Super Freak” gives you an idea of just how diverse the selection was.
Tony Scheffler jogged onto the field sporting a new look — a virtually shaved head. Now the player who leads all NFL tight ends in yards per catch since 2006 is even more aerodynamic.
General Manager Brian Xanders was on the sideline for Friday’s practice, spending a chunk of it toward the beginning talking with NFL Network and CBS Sports analyst Charley Casserly about the team.
Some military service members arrived toward the beginning of practice, walking the sideline to find a seat. A few people in the crowd began to applaud and soon the entire hill was clapping and thanking them for their service.
There is another practice session this evening at 5:30 p.m. MDT.
Below are some pictures of the morning session.
-Gray Caldwell, DenverBroncos.com
Tags: Alphonso Smith, Andre' Goodman, Brandon Marshall, Chris Baker, Ryan Torain, Training Camp