ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos finished their morning walkthrough on Friday during their 2021 rookie minicamp, Head Coach Vic Fangio looked to the sky.
Overhead, a cadre of five jets flew over UCHealth Training Center in tight formation. In the spring sky, the jets split off from each other, reversed course and roared back over the Broncos' facility in a single-file line.
Fangio — on the field with nine of the team's draft picks and a collection of nearly two dozen college free agents, tryout players and first-year players — thought at once of the work that the routine must have required.
"My first thought when I saw all that was, 'Man, that must've taken a lot of practice,'" Fangio said Friday ahead of the first true practice of rookie minicamp. "That practice developed a lot of trust between those five pilots. They were flying close together for a while.
"That's what we need to do. We need to have a lot of practice so these guys can trust each other — the guy next to him, the guy next to him, all through the 11 positions on the team. We need practice just like those pilots needed it."
The Broncos' rookie minicamp practices, though, will be more about building the foundation for young players than it will be about full-speed action.
"We want to teach them a lot of stuff mentally is job one," Fangio said of the goals for minicamp. "We just had a walkthrough out there, and I was impressed with what the guys were able to learn during the meetings that we had with them last night and this morning. They did a good job. Obviously, at that tempo it's a little bit different than real life, but I think they've done a good job learning up until this point and that's what we need to continue."
Fangio said the team planned to do individual work, routes against air and a skeleton drill — usually 7-on-7 — during their Friday afternoon session. Fangio said the Broncos did not have enough defensive lineman on their rookie minicamp roster to take part in 11-on-11 team drills.
As the rookie minicamp began, Fangio got his first in-person look at the team's rookie class, including the following three players:
CB PAT SURTAIN II
As the ninth-overall pick adjusts to life in the NFL, Surtain will soon work to learn both the outside cornerback positions and the slot cornerback role.
"As you guys have heard me say many times, there are five and six DBs on the field a lot in the NFL," Fangio said. "We're no different than many of the other teams. If he's capable of having positional flexibility, that helps us get our so-called best players on the field at the same time. We need corners that can play inside. He has experience doing that in college. I think he's probably capable of it. We'll never know for sure until we put him in there. But he's definitely a guy we want to teach the inside positions at some point quickly."
Surtain said he will ease the challenge of playing in both roles by learning the foundation and concepts of the defense, rather than focus on two individual positions.
"What I try to do [is] I'm trying to learn the whole defense right now," Surtain said. "I'm trying to see what the safeties do, and what the nickels and corners do, so when I'm on the field, I'm confident and I'll know everybody's roles. If I were to be put in that position, I would be very comfortable. I'm doing that right now."
Surtain said he was "grateful" to be on the field for his first practices, and he noted he would attempt to take on a leadership role as the highest pick in this year's class.
As he does so, he'll try to tune out the chatter he's heard from outside the building about how the Broncos would have been better served to select a quarterback with the ninth-overall pick.
"I've heard it before," Surtain said. "I try to cancel out all that noise. I just have to go out there and compete and make them … wrong."
After the Broncos traded up to select the powerful running back from North Carolina in the second round, Williams said he feels motivated to make an immediate impact.
"With them trading up to pick me in the second round, I feel like I have to return the favor," Williams said. "Just come in every day, work hard and show them what I can do."
Fangio, who has stressed the importance of a strong running back rotation, said Williams could contribute in several different ways on offense.
"We like his skill set," Fangio said. "We think he's a good all-around back. He can run the ball inside. He has good contact balance. He is capable in pass protection, which is a really important think to have in your backfield. He's capable of running around and catching the ball out of the backfield. We are very happy to have him and we think he has a chance to be a very good player for us. You never have enough backs. Backs are the easiest position on offense to get the ball to. You just have to hand it to them or throw a short pass and they make it happen.
"We're happy to have him and we're anxious to see how he does."
When Denver traded back in the third round, the team picked up an additional third-round pick.
The Broncos used the 98th-overall pick on Quinn Meinerz before securing a versatile defensive piece with the 105th pick.
Fangio said Browning would work at inside linebacker "for a good bit," but that he had the positional versatility to play at outside linebacker, as well.
The proper process to cross-train a player, Fangio said, varies by player.
"Each individual is different as far as how quick they pick up two positions and which position is best for them, which position they're most comfortable with and which position you need them at the most," Fangio said. "It's always different gymnastics every time you undertake a linebacker that has some versatility."
Fangio said selecting Browning's teammate, outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper, was "unrelated" to the team's decision to play Browning at inside linebacker.
Cooper was the only one of the Broncos' draft picks to not participate on Friday, as he had a recent procedure. Fangio said the Broncos were aware of Cooper's medical condition.
"He's doing good," Fangio said. "They're confident they have rectified everything, and he should be good to go."