In the last two days, the Broncos worked on two rare, but realistic special-teams scenarios: missed field goal returns and free kicks after safeties. For Head Coach Gary Kubiak, this is all about laying a groundwork for a situation that might arise.
"The season's about recall. You can't stand out here every day and keep your guys out here doing those things every day, but you've got to throw it to them and talk about how you handle situations," he said. "There has to be great recall during the course of the season.
But perhaps the most interesting detail of simulating the regular season is one that could have massive implications going forward: the presence of the team's recently hired Director of Analytics, Mitch Tanney, near Kubiak during game-simulation portions of practice.
"If we're moving the ball or we're doing formatting, I've got Mitch with me because he's going to be on the headset, so we're trying to practice," Kubiak said.
With Tanney nearby, Kubiak can receive a quick report on the statistical probabilities of almost any situation. Say that you have fourth-and-3 from the opponent's 45-yard-line with four minutes to go. Do the large-sample-size percentages make the risk-reward ratio acceptable enough to go for it? Tanney's analytics can provide insight to aid Kubiak's decision-making.
That was not the only circumstance Sunday that was as much about the future as the present.
Their timing appears to have improved, although it wasn't perfect. One pass to Thomas across the middle ended in a near-interception by ILB
There will be more stops and starts, but days like Sunday help them find their rhythm.
"Through my first three years, you could probably count on two hands how many balls I got to throw to him," Osweiler said. "Just to have him in camp, and then for me to be able to get some reps with the ones, it's huge, and I think that play alone kind of showed that work paying off, and hopefully I get a lot more."
In recent days, he's answered the question of whether he could hold his own at the line of scrimmage despite being the Broncos' lightest defensive lineman. At 275 pounds, he can handle playing the 5-technique, and uses the quickness his size affords to his advantage.
"He's really doing well," Kubiak said. "The concern with Kenny is hanging on to weight, bulk and those types of things.
"If you're 15 pounds lighter than everybody but you play harder than everybody else, it doesn't matter. [Defensive Line Coach] Bill [Kollar] is getting everything out of him. He's an effort player, chase guy and makes a lot of plays because of his effort as a player. [I've] been impressed with Kenny. He's making a big push to help this football team."
Hillman has been explosive in recent days, with more decisive cuts and quickness to the edge. He's also done well in short-yardage; he had one touchdown run Sunday that saw him get to the edge despite
"I think it's been deep as far as watching all of them work, not just Ronnie and Montee. I think the other guys have worked extremely well, too," Kubiak said. "So we're going to play them all. They're all a little bit different in how they do things."
4. RESTING THE VETERANS.
With Peyton Manning,
With how the Broncos structured their practice schedule so far -- and the work yet to come -- those key veterans will never have to go through more than three consecutive days of full practice all year. Rest and recovery will be ample.
At some point Monday, the Broncos will issue their first public depth chart of the season. While Kubiak cautioned not to read too much into it, the placement of left guards
Gradkowski and Garland worked on the first team together for the first five practices before the Aug. 5 off-day; Garcia and Paradis handled the first-team work for the next four practices, including Sunday.
The depth chart is a starting point. But it's nothing more. Kubiak said it Sunday, and Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison has noted it before: preseason game play will factor heavily into how the offensive is constructed.
"Don't read too much into what's going on up-front or anywhere. It's going to be very competitive," Kubiak said. "They're going to win and lose jobs in these preseason games and going against good players. I shouldn't say lose jobs, but they're going to win jobs playing against good players.
"We'll put one out, but like I said, everybody needs to keep their antennas up and keep going."