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Five Thoughts from Summer Scrimmage

Posted Aug 3, 2013

Andrew Mason recaps the summer scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

DENVER -- Nobody got hurt, and Broncos fans have become impervious to rain.

Those were the only truly significant notes from Saturday's soggy, lightning-delayed practice, which attracted a Broncos training-camp record 44,439 to Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Most stuck around through the downpour to watch the truncated practice, which skipped most scheduled team periods and went right to the 36-play scrimmage after the individual periods.

"Most of the fans would have said, 'Ah, no, I'm going home," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "You can tell there is a lot of excitement in the atmosphere."

The conditions weren't ideal, but at some point, the Broncos will likely play a game in weather like this. 

"The footing wasn't a real problem," Head Coach John Fox said. "Our field is one of the best in the league. It handles water and drains excellent. They turned on the air vents and got the water sucked off. The field was fine."

A bigger concern was the slick footballs in the rain, which led to a Brock Osweiler fumble on a third down early in the scrimmage portion of practice, which resulted in a loss of 10 yards and the end of the possession. Make that mistake now, and it's inconsequential. Make it later, and it will be disastrous. Now he can review and work on his football-protection skills in foul weather. 

"This was a great opportunity to get our first taste of sloppy conditions," Fox said.

1. With the onset of nasty weather, glove on Manning's throwing hand returned. He wore it late in the 2012 season and again in the playoff loss to Baltimore, and the damp conditions led him to don it again for Saturday's practice.

"It was coming down pretty good," Manning said. "Balls were slick, so I thought it was something that I needed to do. I thought I threw it pretty decent considering the weather."

Manning's sample size was small, but he was effective with the glove, completing four of six passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. One drive saw a three-and-out, and the other saw a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown march.

2. The fans got a look at why the first-team offense will be difficult to stop. It drove to its score without even targeting Eric Decker, the team leader in touchdowns last year. The emphasis was on Wes Welker, who caught a screen pass for a 15-yard gain, and Demaryius Thomas, who grabbed three passes, including the four-yard touchdown in which he worked his way open in the back of the end zone after Manning was flushed out of the pocket by Lerentee McCray.

"He was kind of the third read and he's kind of coming across the (back) of the end zone," Manning said. "

"The main thing was that I wanted to score and get off the field," Thomas said. "It ain't easy to try to beat guys in the rain. You're out there slipping and it's hard to catch already."

But the rain didn't hinder him on his 29-yard catch up the right side from Manning, which saw him work a step past Kayvon Webster before grabbing the arcing pass and coming down at the defense's 21-yard-line. It was the longest gain of the night for the offense.

That drive belonged to Thomas. But other possessions won't involve him as anything other than a blocker. That will make the offense difficult to defend -- and nearly impossible for fantasy-football prognosticators to predict.

3. If Brock Osweiler goes against a first-team defense in the regular season in something other than garbage time, he'll have a first-team offense at his disposal. So one shouldn't get too despondent over an up-and-down performance on Saturday night, in which he completed three of six passes for 42 yards and just barely managed to avoid a sack in which Von Miller burst around the right flank.

Osweiler does read the pass rush much better than he did last year, and under constant siege most of the night, he stepped away. If not for a drop by Virgil Green, Osweiler would have matched Manning's completion percentage. He should get a long look in San Francisco on Thursday; that will be his first true yardstick since his fourth-quarter cameo against Kansas City last Dec. 30. 

4. Friday, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio reminded media that the depth chart is fluid, and today's first-reamers can be back down the depth chart by the start of the regular season. But Duke Ihenacho continues to justify his place on the first team, singlehandedly blowing up a sweep by Knowshon Moreno during the No. 2 offense-vs.-No. 1 defense portion of practice Saturday night.

Del Rio and Fox want playmakers -- which isn't simply about forcing turnovers, but singlehandedly destroying plays through speed and quick diagnosis of the offense's intentions. Ihenacho has flourished in this area and continues passing one test after another.

McCray has also earned attention. In the past two practices, he has broken up a pass, stuffed a run in the backfield and applied pressure to force Manning out of the pocket. Cornerback Omar Bolden also had an outstanding moment, shaking off a shove from Welker to break up a fade route to the veteran receiver, preventing a touchdown.

5. Evidently, "Bull Durham" is in Manning's personal pantheon of films. On April 15, he cited the words of scatterbrained fireball pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh -- "I like winning, it's, you know, better than losing" -- as one of the "great quotes I've always used to motivate me."

Saturday night, the wet conditions offered Manning and his teammates a chance to slip and slide on the field -- just like the fictional 1987 Durham Bulls did after Crash Davis turned on the sprinklers at a rickety Carolina League stadium.

"He's come a long way since his slide in Carolina," Fox said with a laugh, referring to Manning's awkward fall after a scramble in last November's 36-14 win.

When Crash Davis and his teammates slid in the muddy infield, he caused a postponement -- much-needed for a slumping team. Manning figures the Broncos' slides had the opposite result.

"I think that made Coach Fox put the scrimmage on, so it worked a little differently," Manning said.

Even if the practice had been canceled, the sight of giddy players sliding all over the grass would have given the fans one image to remember from the night.

But I wish Manning's "Bull Durham" love would go one step further. As a member of the mic-and-laptop set, I'd love to someday see the quarterback enthusiastically grab a tape recorder like LaLoosh and describe a performance thusly: "It feels out there. I mean, it's a major rush. I mean, it feels radical in kind of a tubular sort of way, but most of all, it feels out there."

That's a bit like the feeling one gets from watching a maestro like Manning conduct an orange-tinged offensive symphony.

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