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Camp So Far: An Overview

Posted Jul 30, 2013

Andrew Mason checks in with his observations from the first five days of training camp, including competitions of note, ascending players, and players to watch.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After an offseason in which a Super Bowl buzz steadily built around the Broncos, the start of training camp provided a useful, stark reminder that predictions, prognostications and even bold statements like Von Miller's March Super Bowl guarantee via Twitter assure little more than column inches, airtime and gigabytes of social-media interaction.

Dan Koppen's season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament provided the same kind of punch to the Broncos' plans that early-camp injuries to wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Dennis Pitta did to the Seahawks and Ravens, respectively. The San Francisco 49ers were thrust into the same position during OTAs when they lost wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles' tendon.

For all those teams, a disruption in plans did not result in a change in goals. It never does - even when the injury is at quarterback. But while the target remains the same, the process - and the people who will get you - there is fluid, which is why training camp is worth watching as some patterns have developed in recent days.

Competitions of note:

1. Safety: Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said July 27 that he wanted to shuffle his safeties around to see what combinations worked. Six different safeties have worked on the first team at various points in camp, and Quinton Carter's gradual return to full work after missing the entire offseason following knee surgery could truly change the dynamic of the position, given that he was an effective, instinctive starter as a rookie before his knee began bothering him. It's rare for a team to keep six safeties, so the individual stakes here are massive.

2. Running back: Ronnie Hillman has taken the lead role and hasn't lost any of his speed playing at 200 pounds. He looks more confident than he did last year - and is also healthier, since he hasn't grappled with the hamstring injuries that dogged him last summer. Montee Ball is enduring a rookie's typical ups and downs, but when it comes together for a young running back, it usually happens fast, and often during games. Knowshon Moreno has been solid, and Jeremiah Johnson has broken off some nice runs.

3. Middle linebacker: Nate Irving got the first crack beginning in organized team activities and has held on to the role, becoming more assertive in setting the base defense before the snap. The Broncos know that veteran Stewart Bradley can handle the role if the need arises, and he has starting experience there with Philadelphia earlier in his career; for now, they want to see all they can from Irving before making the final call.

Ascendant players:

1. TE Julius Thomas: Every day, he makes a play that leaves onlookers wowing at his athleticism and body control. This is why the Broncos picked him in the fourth round two years ago, and why they and numerous other teams had a high grade on him in spite of just one season of football experience after his freshman year of high school. But he needs to display that in games to truly underscore the Broncos' faith in him.

2. S Duke Ihenacho: He stuck on the practice squad for most of the 2012 season and is justifying the Broncos' patience with him, showing solid instincts in coverage and against the run, while doing an excellent job of reading the quarterback, which set himself up for a pair of interceptions in consecutive days. Ihenacho could also factor into special teams, enhancing his chances of sticking on the final 53.

3. DT Sylvester Williams: Until his minor knee injury Monday, the first-round pick was off to a strong start, showing his pass-rush moves in one-on-one drills. The next step is taking that work and applying it to team periods of practice.

Best moments:

1. Peyton Manning throwing two passes to a young fan who was called out of the gallery during the July 26 practice.

2. Ihenacho's celebrations of his touchdowns off interception returns, which roused the crowd. I'm partial to his mock free-throw, in which he shot the football basketball-style over the crossbar.

3. The daily post-practice routine. Manning often works with Hillman and Ball. Brock Osweiler loves signing autographs for fans until the horn blasts. Monday, Ryan Clady gave some one-on-one pointers to rookie offensive tackle Vinston Painter.

Players to watch in the next few days:

1. C Manny Ramirez: He's been working at the pivot of the offensive line since organized team activities, so his first-team role isn't new, but now he doesn't have a former Broncos starter of recent years looming around him on the depth chart. How will he handle knowing that role is no longer simply a cameo, but might be permanent for the 2013 season, barring injury?

2. WRs Greg Orton and Tavarres King: Both have been frequent targets of Osweiler, and with Andre Caldwell coming off a hamstring injury, the door could be open for them to enhance their standing on the roster in the next few days.

3. DL Malik Jackson: He will have the chance to consolidate his place on the roster thanks to solid work in one-on-one line drills and around the defensive line, plus minor injuries to Williams, Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe that could provide an uptick in team-period repetitions.

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