ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Late in practice Monday morning, with the team having already been on the field for over two hours and 15 minutes, Head Coach Vic Fangio called his team together in a huddle. Based on the lengths of training-camp practices in previous years, such a moment would have been a cue that the day's on-field work was at its end.
The team gathered. It broke the huddle with a cry of "Family!" Then it went back to work. The sun and temperature continued to rise, but the Broncos weren't done. For the offense, this was a positive, as perhaps its most consistent work after a scattershot morning to that point came after the huddle.
Still, lengthy practices are becoming the norm. Blasting the double horn at around 11 a.m. is a vestige of the past. Even with an extra week to practice because of the Broncos' participation in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 1, the Broncos still have too much to stuff into their days, and barely enough time to do it.
“I just think guys have to practice. The only way you get better is to practice and get more reps," Fangio said after practice Monday. "One thing you all need to keep in mind is there are 90 guys out there. Although we’re out there a long time, there’s nobody getting more than maybe a third of the reps, so individually it’s not that long other than being out there."
The two-and-a-half-hour practices also reflect the reality of a game day. Fangio said July 17 that he wanted his team to be "callused" and ready to handle the rigors of games that can linger for over three hours. The way to do that is to extend the practices to at least 150 minutes, which has become the norm this year.
"That’s how long a game is. If we were to throw a halftime break in here, it would probably be right at about three hours, so that’s good," he said.
TAKING STOCK OF THE PASSING GAME
During the first four days of training camp, pressure from the Broncos' defensive linemen and edge rushers led to breakdowns in the passing game, leading to hurried and sometimes errant throws.
But on Monday, the passing game saw some self-inflicted wounds, particularly via a spate of dropped, potentially catchable passes in team, seven-on-seven and one-on-one periods.
Fangio said he is "not yet" concerned about the drops.
“[You] just keep catching balls from the quarterbacks and the jugs machine and stay focused and not be worried about getting hit," he said. "Just all the little things."
Denver's defense also batted down three passes at the line of scrimmage. Shelby Harris and Adam Gotsis deflected passes from Joe Flacco, while Dekoda Watson batted down a Kevin Hogan attempt.
It doesn't help that the Broncos' receiving corps has been in flux throughout training camp, with the departures of Aaron Burbridge and Romell Guerrier and injuries to River Cracraft and Juwann Winfree, both of whom sat out Monday's practice. With Emmanuel Sanders also still limited to individual work as he completes his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon, the Broncos have been forced to work in a pair of receivers who just arrived in the last five days (Steven Dunbar Jr. and Jamarius Way) while giving some first-team looks to undrafted rookies Kelvin McKnight and Trinity Benson and first-year player Fred Brown as they liberally rotate their receivers.
But players like Benson are maximizing their chances. Benson had arguably the best catch of the day, grabbing a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brett Rypien near the end of practice. Rypien delivered the ball under pressure, and Benson had separation via a go route, allowing him to catch up to the ball.
... While the passing game struggled at times, the ground game appeared to be on firmer footing. Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Khalfani Muhammad and Devontae Jackson all had some solid runs that were typically set up by quick cuts and acceleration that allowed them to burst forward and capitalize on the hole when it flashed open.
These cutback runs are a staple of the scheme Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello guides. The key to executing them is simple, Freeman believes.
"I'm just reading it out," Freeman said. "[Running Backs] Coach [Curtis] Modkins has helped us out, especially [with] similar things from the past offense to this offense. You remain disciplined in your keys and stay true to them, and then you keep working at them.
"If you happen to get some cutbacks every now and then, take advantage of them, because that's where the big plays are at."
... Rookie tight end Noah Fant had one of his best receptions so far in camp during a seven-on-seven snap in the red zone, grabbing a 10-yard pass from Flacco despite having inside linebacker Joe Jones in tight coverage.
Fangio also said that he had taken notice of Fant's run blocking.
"I’m not surprised by it," Fangio said. "I thought he had the ability and the mindset to potentially be a better blocker than people thought he was or could be. That’s coming along. I’m pleased with that.”
Fant also had a 20-yard reception from Flacco on a play that saw him begin by blocking Von Miller before he released and moved upfield behind the outside linebacker. Flacco then found Fant in space, and he accumulated yardage after the catch from there.
... The Broncos' offense didn't quite cure itself of the false-start bug, as officials called the unit for multiple penalties for a third consecutive day.
“Today was actually a little bit better than it was yesterday from that standpoint," Fangio said, adding that he was not going to panic about those penalties and other offensive miscues.
"Talk to me in a couple weeks and see," he said.
... McKnight created three yards' worth of separation during a one-on-one repetition with a sharp cut that froze cornerback De'Vante Bausby, allowing McKnight to easily grab the pass from Drew Lock in space near the right sideline. Second-year wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton also used a similar cut on a subsequent rep, allowing him to make an easy catch of a Flacco pass.
Hamilton also reeled in a one-handed catch Monday.
... Defensive back Kareem Jackson recorded an interception in a team period, as he capitalized off of an apparent miscommunication that saw McKnight cut off a route, leading to a Flacco pass that sailed right to Jackson.
... Cornerback Bryce Callahan broke up passes in the one-on-one and team periods. His team-period play was the result of good complementary defense, as pressure from outside linebacker Bradley Chubb on a third-and-8 play forced a Flacco pass to a tightly-covered Courtland Sutton, giving Callahan the opportunity to make the play on the ball.
... During a series in which the offense started from its 2-yard line, rookie defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones burst through the line with pressure on Lock that would have resulted in a safety under game conditions.