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Thursday's Practice Takeaways

Posted May 30, 2013

Andrew Mason shares what stood out to him from Thursday's OTA practice.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos' fifth organized team activity -- and second that was open for media viewing -- was a spirited affair. It wasn't completely smooth, but then practices at this point of the year rarely are.

A few observations from the day:

1. Of the full practices that I've watched through OTAs, minicamps and training camps, this was the best that I have seen from Julius Thomas. With Joel Dreessen temporarily shelved because of arthroscopic knee surgery, Thomas worked extensively and was part of one of the biggest plays of the day, a perfect, in-stride catch of a pass down the seam from Peyton Manning in which he split Champ Bailey and Rahim Moore.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing. He's been doing that for the last two years," Bailey said. "It is just getting that opportunity to do it with the first team and getting some reps there."

The Broncos are keen to find out what they have in Thomas, whose last two seasons have been hindered by ankle problems. He's 100 percent now, and so far, they're learning that they may have unearthed a gem in the 2011 fourth-round pick.

"He is a great athlete. A big target," Manning said of the 6-foot-5, 255-pound former college basketball standout. "If you can't complete a ball to Julius, as a quarterback, something is wrong with you."

2. Robert Ayers was active in the pass rush Thursday, and successfully flushed Manning outside at one point during a team period, forcing Manning to throw away the football. The first two defensive lines on the depth chart looked strong Thursday in general; they helped force multiple incompletions with pressure and accounted for two passes deflected at the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Malik Jackson also flushed Brock Osweiler from the pocket.

3. Osweiler was a bit let down by his receivers early in practice, as Tavarres King and Gerell Robinson each failed to corral catchable passes during a seven-on-seven period to open the day. The breezy conditions didn't help matters, as both of the passes weren't quite in the grasp of the receivers -- but were accurate enough to where they should have been caught.

With all quarterbacks, the passing game suffered from some balky timing, exacerbated by winds that gusted to 30 miles per hour during the practice. But the Broncos will have to play in such weather this year -- so why not get used to it now?

"I think that's a good thing," Manning said. "We had a little rain yesterday, wet field. A little wind today. Any time, whether it's OTAs or training camp, as many game-like conditions that might come up during the season, that's a positive."

Even with the wind, Osweiler showed improved decision-making and ability to react to a pass rush has improved. He commits more quickly to staying in the pocket and throwing or escaping and throwing it away or running.

4. The timing between Manning and Wes Welker continues to grow, but looked better Thursday than it did during the last open-to-media practice May 20. But evidence of how far they have to progress popped up during a team period, where a pass for Welker was just behind him. Welker nearly managed to grab the pass, but it caromed off his hands and into those of Moore, who alertly swooped in for the interception.

The play was more a credit to Moore's hustle than anything else. Don't expect Manning and Welker to miss many of those plays when the results matter.

5. You don't want a practice scrum to spill over into one that causes physical harm. But a little aggression now and then is a healthy thing, and it's not necessarily a bad sign that rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams was at the epicenter of a scuffle with left guard Zane Beadles late in Thursday's session.

"I like that kind of intensity," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "It lets me know that guys are really dialed in about what's going on."

Contact is minimal during football drills of these practices, but that doesn't mean players aren't competitive -- particularly a rookie like Williams, who wants to prove he belongs and can fit in the Broncos' defensive-tackle rotation. So far, he looks the part.

"He doesn't know how strong the linemen are, so he's not playing with his hands all the time," fellow defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said Wednesday. "But when he does, it's great, and you see what he's doing. He's dominating."

And as long as Williams' aggression can be properly channeled, his feistiness will be an asset when it counts.

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