ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tuesday's practice marked the beginning of "Phase 4" of the offseason program. It also was the first of the only three sessions that are mandatory, although attendance has been at nearly 100 percent for the previous two voluntary practices that were open to media.
It looked different; as defensive end DeMarcus Ware said, this is where "you really get into the steak and potatoes of everything." And as was evident in the final period of the practice, it felt different.
1. You're going to have collisions, even without pads, and even with limited contact. But when Bradley Roby and Emmanuel Sanders had contact late in practice as Sanders ran a route, the sound and force was so great that an audible "ooooh" and gasps arose from the sideline and the media gathered at one end of the field.
"It’s part of football. There’s collisions. It’s a combative game," said Head Coach John Fox.
Sanders appeared to have received the worst of it, but stayed in and caught a pass three snaps later. Roby returned and ended the possession with a pass deflection.
"I think it was a busted coverage, sometimes a guy is not supposed to be there and he’s there and it ends up causing a collision," said quarterback Peyton Manning.
“Definitely, I wasn’t trying to hit him," added Roby. "We don’t have pads on, that’s silly to think that I was really trying to hit (Sanders). Things like that happen, it’s football. I’m glad he was okay.
"I apologized to him and let him know. He’s a veteran, I don’t want him to think that some young dude’s trying to hit him without pads on. I just let him know the situation and we’re good.”
2. After practice, Roby and Cody Latimer worked together on their one-on-one moves at the snap. Both will rely on their physicality and aggressiveness near the line of scrimmage, and seeing them together offers an indication of how the two Big Ten products will try and make each other better.
Latimer had his best day among the practices media has witnessed this offseason. He caught a pair of passes from Manning, and worked on a variety of routes, from short to deep. One play in particular that stood out was on a short cross; Brock Osweiler alertly delivered a quick, albeit sidearmed, flick that caught the edge defenders out of position and set Latimer up for a long run after the catch. Latimer's growth in running successful routes at all ranges will likely help determine how much he contributes in his rookie season.
Another good play for Latimer came when Manning found him after rolling out of the pocket. Manning lobbed a pass, and Latimer successfully adjusted to the trajectory and easily made the catch.
3. When Kevin Vickerson returns from his hip injury -- likely during training camp -- he'll find a defensive tackle corps that is the deepest in recent memory. Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton, versatile inside-outside presences like Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, and veteran Mitch Unrein comprise a group that, with Vickerson back, will be tough to break through.
But offseason pickup Marvin Austin could be the one who shuffles the deck. Talent has never been Austin's problem; injuries have. He looks fast coming off the snap and helped set up the defensive ends to collapse the pocket. We'll know more when full pads go on during training camp, but on Tuesday, Austin looked like he could flourish. As I watched Austin, I thought about where this position group was during the 2011 training camp, and how far it has come. One of the league's worst, most depth-shy units has gradually become one of its best. If Austin emerges, there could be an excruciating cut coming -- or he could be the insurance policy in case there's another injury this summer.
4. It's only "in underwear," as Fox likes to say, so everything from OTAs must be taken with an asterisk affixed. But Ronnie Hillman has been solid the last two practices, and had one of his best practice runs for a touchdown in the red zone, when he made one cut and burst through a hole up the middle after taking the handoff from Manning.
5. The defense was in playmaking mode. Omar Bolden intercepted a short pass from Osweiler and returned for a touchdown, Kayvon Webster got to a Manning pass, and the No. 2 offense's bid for a touchdown late in practice ended when Osweiler was ruled to have been sacked, although in full contact, he likely could have gotten away for an incompletion.