ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Training camp, by its commonly-accepted definition, is over. The gates of Dove Valley are no longer open to fans; veteran players are no longer required to stay at a nearby hotel.
But by practical definitions, the Broncos are still in camp mode for another two weeks.
"Training camp's not over; you still have to come out here and work to earn your spot," said running back
"Sleeping in my bed, that's probably the biggest difference," added cornerback
Nevertheless, the end of camp is a crucial demarcation point. Next week will be the one that most closely resembles a regular-season week in terms of preparation; not coincidentally, it ends in the game that sees the starters play more snaps than any of the four preseason dress rehearsals.
If you're on the first team for that game against the St. Louis Rams, it's a good bet you'll be there for Week 1, barring injury or utterly calamitous performance. Thus, this week, capped with Saturday's game at Seattle, represents a prime chance to move up or down the depth chart.
We don't know exactly how the Broncos will look in Week 1, but we have a better idea now than we did on July 24.
The domino effect of that will be profound. Safeties will have more difficulty making choices in coverage. Linebackers might be asked to drop back more, taking them out of the pass rush and creating mismatches with Denver's wide receivers and tight ends. (The emergence of
And for the Broncos' defense,
Whether it's as a starter or a reserve remains to be seen. But his ascension to the first unit -- and his ability to keep the role because he flourished in the preseason opener -- offer indications that he might have earned the job for good. What's more, his emergence is no surprise to Bailey, the only team captain in the secondary.
"Well, it's kind of a surprise to you guys but I've kind of been seeing this happen over the past year or so," Bailey said. "He had great practice squad sessions last year. And this year his OTAs were amazing, and then now in training camp he has even stepped it up more. I just love his aggression and his instincts—his whole game is pretty impressive."
It has been surprisingly low on mistakes, as well -- and when he makes mistakes, he often makes up for them with a stellar play moments later. Or he simply steals the show by making an athletic play on the football, as he did during a goal-line period this week to intercept Manning in the back of the end zone.
"That was a really good play. Sometimes there are bad decisions, and sometimes there are (plays where you'd say), 'Hey, I would have thrown that again,' and that was a good play by him," Manning said.
3. The smoke has cleared only a bit in some of the most heated competitions.
Going into training camp, running back and middle linebacker were generally acknowledged to be the most wide-open scrums of camp. This remains the case, although Ronnie Hillman and
The middle linebacker competition also might play out into the regular season. If
4. Pass-rushing from the edge beyond Von Miller:
Smith had some explosive moments early in training camp, but often looked exactly like what he is at this moment: a rookie burdened with the task of learning the speed and playbook demands of the pro game while still completing recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"It's coming along good, I had a couple days where it acted up on me a little bit but that was expected," Smith said. "It's coming along well."
But for the moment, Smith will have to wait his turn.
5. The Broncos didn't dodge all bullets.
The injury situation could have been worse, but the Broncos took their share of punches, losing center
But aside from center, the Broncos emerge from training camp with the core of the team intact. Beyond every other accomplishment of training camp, this was the first, most crucial goal.