ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Since tight end Jeff Heuerman suffered a torn ACL during Denver’s 2015 rookie minicamp, the Broncos have stuck to the classroom and walkthroughs during their ensuing rookie minicamps.
That changed Friday as the 47 players — 43 rookies and four first-year players — participated in a full-speed practice in helmets and shorts on the first day of rookie minicamp.
As Head Coach Vic Fangio said after practice, the field work is in everyone’s best interest.
"If we didn't do any of that these three days,” Fangio said, “then they're going to be thrown in with the veterans on Monday, and that's not fair to them nor fair to the veterans, to have people out there practicing that don't know how to practice without pads on in an NFL OTA.
“I think any time you can have practice and take advantage of that, and do a better job of preparing your players and teaching them, you should take advantage of it."
Fangio said these three days of practice will allow them to learn plays and assignments and get individualized attention from their coaches.
The Broncos’ top three draft picks all seemed to appreciate the opportunity to don helmets and practice, albeit for different reasons.
Second-round pick Dalton Risner said the minicamp was “great to just get a feel for things.”
"Obviously we’re just in helmets,” Risner said, “but to get a feel for individual drills and then how team [period] is run, the tempo of practice, what kind of shape we need to be in, the expectations of coaches — it’s really good. I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this before Monday.”
First-round pick Noah Fant, meanwhile, said he sees the rookie minicamp as the first step in a larger competition.
“It’s a good way to get your feet wet,” Fant said. “It’s going to be fun to be out here with the rookies, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting out there with the vets also. [There are] a lot of great players on this team, and there’s going to be a lot of good competition, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Second-round pick Drew Lock? He said he’s just glad to get a football back in his hands.
“I think that’s big that we get to go out there and start forming that bond as guys that are going to play together and get the ball in our hands,” Lock said. “Like I said, we’re itching to get out on the field throughout this whole process. You go to the Combine. You go to the Senior Bowl, [and] you’re on the field. But you’re not established with a team, you’re not with a team, you’re not excited to go put a jersey on.
“Being able to go put a jersey on and start playing was big-time.”
The meeting room, though, will continue to be an area of emphasis. Without that pillar, Fangio said, the players can’t thrive on the field.
"That's another big difference from college to pro — they're going to have a lot more meetings than they had in college,” Fangio said. “They need to learn how to be a good learner in those meetings, keep a good focus and make sure they're constantly learning. Before you can do it on the field, you have to understand it in the classroom."
*_Other notes from Fangio’s Friday media availability:_ *
- Risner practiced at left guard on Friday, but Fangio said he’ll likely move around between now and the start of the regular season. "We played him at guard today, but eventually he's going to learn tackle, too,” Fangio said. “We'll take a look at him at center at some point in between now and the end of training camp. You only dress seven offensive linemen in a game, and somebody has to be able to know how to play more than one position or two positions. You've got to have some utility guys, and if he's capable of doing that for us, then we'll take advantage of it."
- Linebacker and fifth-round pick Justin Hollins also showed positional versatility. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound player took reps at both inside and outside linebacker on Friday.
- If the Nuggets want to advance to the Western Conference Finals, they may want to consider asking Fangio to join them at Pepsi Center on Sunday for Game 7 against the Portland Trail Blazers. "I was there for Game 7 against the Spurs, so they might want to make sure I'm in the building,” Fangio said. “They'll do fine. I think they'll win. Congratulations for their good season, and the Avalanche's. I think they'll win, seriously. They're a better team. I love Jokic and Murray, and the coach is doing a great job. I think they'll win."