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Five Thoughts from Day Four

Posted Jul 28, 2013

Andrew Mason shares his takeaways from the fourth day of training camp practice.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For all the chatter about players whose stock rises and falls daily like ocean tides, the daily back and forth of practice beyond the key starters often has little real impact on the eventual outcome of the season.

But a season-ending injury to a projected starter? That's a rip current that you know is a possibility, but can never accurately predict. And with Dan Koppen's season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Broncos joined the Eagles and Ravens as teams already left moving to their contingency plans at a key position.

No matter how carefully you build a roster, injuries can tear it down. Those are the variables that make summertime assurances of a Super Bowl hasty and foolish.

1. On multiple levels, Duke Ihenacho is in the right place at the right time. He's intercepted passes each of the last two days, with Sunday's theft coming when a Peyton Manning pass skipped off the outstretched hands of Knowshon Moreno and into his grasp.

But being in the right place also means being at a position -- safety -- where Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio wants to nurture competition by shuffling his combinations to find the right mix for different situations. That's earned him the chance to face off with the Manning-led No. 1 offense, as he did on Sunday, and the interception was an eye-catching moment.

The second-year safety possesses good instincts for the position, plays aggressively and has the speed to not get caught out of position. He was an undrafted bargain last year thanks to injuries, but like other Broncos defenders before him, has played well above that status.

Ihenacho has also become a fan favorite for his celebrations. He punctuated his pick Sunday by running to the end zone, stopping, and then using a basketball shooting motion to send the football over the crossbar. If he continues playing as he has the last few days, he'll have more chances to commune and celebrate with the spectators.

2. Del Rio noted in May that the Broncos played "65, 66 percent" of their 2012 snaps in packages with at least three cornerbacks. The vast majority of these plays were in nickel packages, which means that if you're one of the players on any line of defense anywhere in the nickel package, you'll play a majority of the snaps -- even though you won't be officially noted as a starter on the depth chart.

Case in point: linebacker Danny Trevathan, who along with cornerback Chris Harris is arguably the most important depth-chart "backup" on the roster. It was Trevathan's play in the nickel package alongside Wesley Woodyard that helped make releasing D.J. Williams possible, and he's built on that during OTAs, minicamp and training camp. He's been more aggressive since pads went on Saturday, and has responded with some solid hits -- and an interception of Brock Osweiler on Sunday when he out-leapt Montee Ball for a pass in the back left corner of the end zone.

"He plays like a grown man out there," Woodyard said.

3. Every day, Thomas does something to show his athleticism. Sunday, it was a catch during seven-on-seven drills in which he snared a pass from Brock Osweiler with David Bruton in tight coverage while managing to spin around and keep his balance to get his feet down.

The third-year tight end is extremely fluid for his size, and does a great job keeping his balance and momentum even while changing direction or by ducking low to avoid an upper-body shot, as he did late in the practice following a reception from Osweiler.

Day in, day out dating back to OTAs, Julius Thomas' performance bellows, "Play me." Preseason games will reveal more, since his experience is so scant, but on the practice field this week, Thomas looks elite -- and, when paired with three 1,000-yard receivers, presents further matchup problems for defenses that will struggle to adequately cover so many targets that Manning trusts.

4. With Wes Welker drawing attention underneath, Demaryius Thomas will be an even more dangerous deep threat this year. In the past two days, Manning has found Thomas twice for long gains -- Saturday up the right sideline against Champ Bailey, and Sunday when he located Thomas open down the left sideline. Tony Carter was in coverage, but had released Thomas, who made the catch before Rahim Moore arrived.

I haven't mentioned Demaryius much, mainly because he's done exactly what you expect from a top-shelf receiver in training camp. He's picked up where he left off last season, and appears to have improved his timing and chemistry with Manning.

Had Moore been in a game situation, he would have tackled Demaryius. But he got his shot in Sunday when he decked wide receiver Gerell Robinson at the 1-yard line.

5. Jeremiah Johnson, Take Two. For a second consecutive day, Johnson blasted his way into my notebook by springing a pair of long runs to the right side during a nine-on-seven period on back-to-back plays, the second of which saw him break through two tacklers. He's out of practice-squad eligibility, but he is not out of the mix to stick on the 53-man roster if he continues making open-field runs too electric to ignore.

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