ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With just one joint practice scheduled between Denver and Dallas, the Broncos had just a single opportunity to make an impression ahead of Saturday's preseason opener.
They didn't waste it.
During the two-hour practice that included plenty of 11-on-11 work, the Broncos held the advantage at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and made the lion's share of the plays.
These were the biggest takeaways from plenty of work — on two separate fields — that Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett later deemed more important than Saturday's game:
BRONCOS OFFENSE VS. COWBOYS DEFENSE
On the south field, where the Broncos' offense faced off against the Cowboys' defense, Russell Wilson and Co. held an early advantage. Wilson completed his first three passes to Courtland Sutton, Montrell Washington and Eric Saubert, respectively, as the team worked the middle of the field.
One of Wilson's best plays came as the Cowboys sent extra rushers, as Wilson hung in the pocket and found tight end Albert Okwuegbunam for a big gain. The offensive line largely held up well, though All-Pro Micah Parsons slipped past Calvin Anderson on a couple of occasions during the day's practice.
Later, in red-zone work, Wilson connected with Okwuegbunam, who snagged a one-handed touchdown. Moments later, Wilson found wide receiver Kendall Hinton in the other corner of the end zone.
"[We] started off hot, it felt like," Hackett said. "Had a bunch of good plays early. Then kind of focused a little bit more on the run game. Got some runs going, cause we want to be able to look at this front on how we're going to run because we just don't get enough of that action during the week. It seemed like it was good. I wish the two-minute would've been better. The red zone seemed like it went really well. I thought the guys had a couple [touchdowns] that [were] really great. Overall, when you come out without any injuries and you get to go against somebody else and get good work, you always feel great about it."
Wilson was sharp, with his only real miscue coming on an interception that went through a wide receiver's hands.
"He was just playing ball," Hackett said. "It's great to see that system come alive over there when he's going through his progression, going through his reads, feeling confident. The guys are getting to the right spots, which is what we're searching for. We just have to continually do it over and over again."
In the run game, the Broncos also found plenty of success. The offensive line held an edge against the Cowboys' front seven, and running back Javonte Williams broke several runs.
"It's always critical to be able to run the ball," Hackett said. "I think that's the No. 1 thing, to be able to help yourself protect the quarterback, set up the shots down the field and all the things that we want to accomplish. For where we're at right now, you're really never going to know until you tackle somebody. I thought we did some really good combination blocks, and that's what we're trying to hunt. As we try to put that all together and then try to get the backs up to the line of scrimmage or past it before they have to bounce somebody off or make somebody move, it means you're going to be successful in the run game."
After practice, Wilson deemed the practice "a great day" for the offense and said the unit is further along than he would've expected as training camp comes to a close.
"We were just so locked in," Wilson said of Thursday's practice.
BRONCOS DEFENSE VS. COWBOYS OFFENSE
If the south field was about execution, the other field was about passion and aggression.
The Broncos' defense scuffled early and often with the Cowboys' offense, as there were several shoving matches and a few punches thrown.
When the teams weren't engaging in extracurriculars, though, the Broncos' defense held a decided edge. The Broncos were stout up front, and Bradley Chubb and Jonas Griffith were among the players to record tackles for loss. One of Chubb's biggest plays came when he walloped Ezekiel Elliot in run support, and Chubb said he expects the improvement against the run will translate to this season.
"It's going to be good," Chubb said. "Just the players we got — just the grit and determination we've all got for stopping the run. [Defensive Line] Coach [Marcus] Dixon preaches every day that stopping the run and being the No. 1 run defense is going to lead to all those sacks that we want. It's going to lead us to those third-and-long situations, so we've just got to make sure we're taking care of our part [on] first and second down."
The secondary also largely came to play. On one apparent coverage breakdown, Kareem Jackson managed to make up a ton of ground late in a play to come up with a pass deflection. In the red zone, Justin Simmons posted a takeaway when he picked off Dak Prescott in the end zone and Damarri Mathis made a leaping pass breakup on another end-zone attempt. Later, the Broncos forced three consecutive incompletions in a two-minute drill to hold the Cowboys without points. The defensive stop was in response to a previous two-minute drill in which the Cowboys scored a touchdown.
While CeeDee Lamb made his share of plays against the Broncos, the defense largely stood strong against one of the league's most potent attacks from last season.
The pass rush also contributed, as Nik Bonitto may have recorded as many as four sacks under game conditions. On one fourth-down play, he whipped into the backfield to record a would-be sack off Prescott.
"The bend, bro," Chubb said of Bonitto. "Nik Bonitto's one of the best rookies in this class. I'm excited to see what he does. I'm excited to continue to work with him, and all those different packages we're going to have with all of us on the field, it's going to be fun."
… Washington caught at least a pair of passes and wraps up a training camp in which he was one of the most promising surprises.
… Kana'i Mauga intercepted a pass late in practice to record the Broncos' second takeaway of the afternoon.
… Seth Williams recorded a nice catch early in the day as he tries to climb the depth chart at wide receiver.
… Brett Rypien hit Jalen Virgil for a deep touchdown pass down the sideline late in practice.
… Owner and CEO Greg Penner and Owner Carrie Walton Penner both observed practice from the sideline.
… Broncos Ring of Famers Peyton Manning, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith and Randy Gradishar were among those who also took in practice.