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Five Thoughts from Camp Day Nine

Posted Aug 2, 2013

Andrew Mason's five biggest takeaways from Friday's training camp practice.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The NFL Network brought Terrell Davis to Dove Valley to meet with Broncos players like Montee Ball and Champ Bailey. Ball grew up idolizing Davis; Bailey will certainly follow Davis into the Ring of Fame someday.

But Davis regards all of the Broncos' running backs as his heirs. He hasn't forgotten about any of them -- least of all Ronnie Hillman, who continues receiving plenty of first-team repetitions. Davis said he keeps in touch with the second-year running back, who delivered a sprint to the left side that recalled Davis and the offensive line at their Super Bowl apex: working in perfect harmony, with the running back quickly reading the blocks and making a decisive cut.

That was something he wasn't always prepared to do as a rookie.

"You understand the fronts and the defenses and where the offensive line is going to turn to and push to," Hillman said. "It’s a lot better this year.”

Hillman has enjoyed a solid camp, but his work since the day off has been particularly notable.

"The last two days he has been very impressive and has had very minimal mistakes. You saw him bust a big (run) today," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "It is good to see him really develop. With the limited playing time he got last year, and now it is increased more, every day is a huge improvement for him.”

1. Hillman's gallop was a perfectly executed play all around. Zane Beadles, Julius Thomas, Chris Clark, Manny Ramirez and Demaryius Thomas all helped clear a path for Hillman -- which he said was "as big as the Grand Canyon."

"That was a good job by the offensive line on the draw scheme," Gase said. "It was good for (Hillman) to be able to just see it and hit it."

Although the defense has picked up its pressure from the flanks in pass rush, the offensive line has gotten the better of the last two days in its run-blocking, carrying over its momentum from much of Thursday's work into Friday's practice, which was not in full pads. The group looked less like five individuals and more like a unit than it had in the previous week, which is the cohesion coaches wanted -- and needed -- to see.

2. New pickup Ryan Lilja noted on Thursday that his "head's spinning a little bit" over everything that he has to learn in the Broncos' offense, and that his six-year background with Peyton Manning in the Colts' system can only help so much.

"It's kind of a mishmash of some of that stuff (from Indianapolis) and some new stuff and some stuff I've been using in other places, and some of the terms mean completely opposite things," he said. "It's going to take some time, but I'm sure I'll pick it up."

And that's the key: time. Lilja's place on the depth chart doesn't necessarily reflect where he'll be in the lineup. The Broncos had been easing Dan Koppen into extensive work in his three-plus practice before his ACL tear; he didn't see much work with the first team until his third day, and he spent most of 2012 as the starter before being unsigned through OTAs and minicamp.

Lilja provides "position flexibility," Gase said.

"Now we have multiple guys that can play both positions and right now it is basically, 'Who is going to be our starter?'" Gase added.

Be patient. Don't expect the answer to be written in permanent marker soon.

3. Will Lerentee McCray be the undrafted rookie who sustains the Broncos' decade-long streak of having at least one undrafted free agent on the 53-man roster after final cuts? It's way too early to tell, given that the preseason opener is still six days away, but he had his best sequence of training camp on back-to-back plays Friday.

On the first, McCray tore through the line and blew up a handoff from Brock Osweiler to Montee Ball. On the next play, McCray swatted away a pass at the line of scrimmage.

McCray's progress bears watching, especially since one of the linebackers with whom he's competing for a roster spot is Steven Johnson, who was one of two undrafted rookies to make last year's season-opening 53-man roster (long snapper Aaron Brewer was the other). Special teams will be where the potential candidates weed themselves out, but if McCray can continue showing flashes of the playmaker he was at Florida when he wasn't dogged by injuries, he'll have a shot.

4. Another day, another scuffle -- this one after Tony Carter tipped a Peyton Manning pass into the grasp of Danny Trevathan for an interception. Trevathan has been one of the more intense Broncos on the field, and for the second consecutive day he was near the center of a scrum that engulfed much of the No. 1 offense and defense during a team period.

Two days in a row with such extracurricular activity reveals the intensity level, but Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio would prefer that "tenacity" -- a word he repeated Friday -- be tempered by control.

"I wouldn’t say (practice scuffles) are good. Being competitive is good. You don’t ever want to hurt a teammate. You always want to play with control," he said. "So I wouldn’t say it's good, but at the same time this is a game of men. Sometimes men have differences that have to be settled."

5. Duke Ihenacho continues to work his way in with the first team, and he and Rahim Moore saw plenty of work together anchoring the back line of the No. 1 defense Friday. Del Rio said Ihenacho was "probably" the biggest surprise of training camp in terms of where he stood last year, but stopped well short of declaring that he had the inside track on a starting slot.

"He’s done some good things. That’s good. But that’s just a start. Nobody should get too far ahead of themselves," Del Rio said. "It’s a long process. We haven’t even begun to get into preseason games. There is a lot left to do. There’s a lot more install to do. We’ll just see how it goes. But he’s done well so far."

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