ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Just minutes after training camp began, the Broncos went to the part of the field that matters most.
Early and often on Wednesday, the Broncos focused their 11-on-11 work inside the 20-yard line — or even closer — and began to tailor their red-zone offense and defense.
"Especially on Day 1, it's a marathon like we've been talking about, and you don't want to get big, long fields right out the gate," said Nathaniel Hackett said after his first training camp practice as head coach. "I think it's so important to shorten the field. We have a shorter practice, so we just want to get as many reps as you can within the time frame and work the most important area of the field."
The Broncos devoted several periods during their 90-minute practice to the red zone, and each side of the ball found its share of success.
On one goal-line route, inside linebacker Jonas Griffith demonstrated his athleticism to stick with Courtland Sutton and broke up Russell Wilson's pass. On another red-zone play, D.J. Jones was in the backfield nearly immediately as he helped blow up a run play.
Later in practice, the Broncos' defensive line tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, and safety Justin Simmons nearly came up with the first interception of camp.
The Broncos' offense had its moments, as well.
On perhaps Wilson's best play of practice, the quarterback avoided Malik Reed's oncoming rush, skirted outside the pocket and delivered a strike to tight end Eric Saubert in the end zone.
Reed made it known that he thought he'd sacked Wilson, but the quarterback has a knack for escaping pressure.
"He's never going to give up on the play," Bradley Chubb said after practice. "We see that when we're chasing him right now."
Chubb relayed that Wilson told the defense he'd seen that sort of pressure "plenty of times before."
Wilson later threw another red-zone touchdown pass.
And then, as there are during camp, there were moments when the two sides of the ball weren't in agreement about the result of the play. On one goal-line run, offensive players threw their hands up to signal a score, while their defensive teammates suggested they'd stopped the ball carrier short of the end zone.
"I love the competitiveness," Hackett said. "It's funny, it's like as clean of a touchdown as it might be, there's people still saying it's not a touchdown, and if we think it is a touchdown, people are doing everything they can to see its not. That's what you want and that's what you love, so I think it's great."
The Broncos' practice didn't feature many long passes or any highlight interceptions, but it did feature important work.
On Day 1, that was plenty good enough.
WORK FOR EVERYONE
Late in practice, Hackett huddled his team before one final period. After a few moments, a portion of the team jogged to the red zone for a little more work, but it wasn't a final set of plays for the first-team offense. The session involved largely young or reserve players — Wilson, Simmons and Surtain were the type of players who didn't take a snap — and Hackett later explained the intent of the session.
"Whenever you're working through these things, you're always focused on two groups, because you want to jump from one thing [to another]," Hackett said. "I get bored fast, so I want to jump from one thing to the other and move around and move the field and do all that stuff, and sometimes, there's some guys that don't get enough reps. … We started doing this awhile back — and I just like to now focus on the guys that might not have gotten as many reps. Let's face it, those guys will have a lot of opportunities in the preseason, so we want them to be ready. So that's why we do that."
The session stood out as just another example of Hackett's innovative approach to practice.
… Rookie outside linebacker Nik Bonitto set the edge well on a run play in space. He could also see increased work with Randy Gregory sidelined.
"On the field, he had it from Day 1," Chubb said. "He had the bend. He had all the intangibles that you can't really coach, you just go out there and do."
… Safety P.J. Locke recovered nicely on a pass to the end zone and backtracked to break up a throw intended for Montrell Washington.
… Quarterback Brett Rypien had a couple of nice throws, as he found Sutton on a post route for a nice gain and later connected with Washington in the end zone for a touchdown.
… Reed, whose role could be amplified with Gregory on PUP, recorded a nice tackle for loss against the first-team offense and later provided pressure on the previously noted play by Wilson.
Take an inside look at the Broncos' first day of their 2022 training camp series with exclusive photos from team photographers Gabriel Christus and Ben Swanson.