ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It seems like every rookie or first-year wide receiver has had his moment so far in training camp. Thursday, rookie John Diarse and returning practice-squad player River Cracraft seized the spotlight.
Cracraft got in on the action early with a one-handed catch of a pass from Paxton Lynch down the right side of the field, then later grabbed a touchdown pass from Case Keenum after he made a perfect adjustment to the pass in the back of the end zone, taking away a potential interception.
Keenum and Cracraft connected again during a later team period, as he found the Washington State product open down the seam for what could have been a 25-yard gain under game conditions.
Given what Keenum said about Cracraft after Wednesday's practice, the ability of the two to collaborate on big plays shouldn't be a surprise.
"I like throwing him the ball," Keenum said Wednesday. "He’s a friendly target. He’s learning, too. He’s learning the NFL game. I think you like having a guy like that, you can move inside, outside, shifty. He’s got good separation at the top of his routes. And he’s learning, too, just like a lot of those young guys."
They appear to be learning well. Near the end of practice, Diarse got involved, breaking open deep on a post route for a long touchdown pass from Keenum.
The top two tiers of the depth chart appear to be set with veteran starters Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas backed up by draft picks Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. But from there, it's wide open, beginning with Cracraft and Tim Patrick, who comprise the third unit. Both of them have received occasional snaps with the first team throughout training camp.
Players like Cracraft and Patrick could leave the Broncos with some excruciating decisions at the Sept. 1 deadline to cut the roster to 53 players.
“I hope so. That’s a good problem to have. We want every spot on our football team to be that competitive," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "Obviously, there’s also [the] practice squad [as a possibility]. We’ve got some good young players that are competing at a high level."
... One aspect of training camp at which the younger players are succeeding is in accepting their role and showing deference to the veterans. Sutton and Hamilton, for example, regularly carry the pads of their veteran teammates without prompting.
"Guys like that last a long time in this league because they understand their role," Sanders said. "I've carried guys' pads, and I think the best teams I've been on -- [players] know their role."
... The Broncos worked in helmets without pads Thursday, limiting the contact they had during the session. That type of work is typical of the final camp practice before a preseason game.
... It didn't take the defense long to make a play Thursday. On the second snap of the first team period, defensive end Adam Gotsis deflected a Keenum pass at the line of scrimmage, setting up Chris Harris Jr. for an interception.
... Cornerback Brendan Langley made a good play on the ball during seven-on-seven work, breaking back to knock down a pass intended for Sutton.
"He had an OK week," Joseph said. "He’s learning how to play corner still, but he’s a talented player that needs more time to figure out how to play corner. I’ve been encouraged with his week."
... Safety Dymonte Thomas logged an interception when he read Lynch's intent as he looked deep for Isaiah McKenzie. Thomas tracked the ball and picked it off, running up the left sideline for what could have been a pick-six under game conditions.
... Quarterback Chad Kelly did a good job reacting to the pass rush on one completion, quickly finding a wide-open Phillip Lindsay just beyond the line of scrimmage as defensive end DeShawn Williams closed in on him. Lindsay quickly turned upfield for a long gain.
... Running backs Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman saw most of the first-team work Thursday, reflecting what Joseph said would "probably" be the case early in Saturday's preseason opener behind the first team.
... The pectoral-muscle injury suffered by Menelik Watson forced Billy Turner, a swing backup at both right-side offensive-line positions, to work at right guard. Andreas Knappe moved to right tackle with the second team in Turner's place.
... Defensive end Clinton McDonald remained sidelined with a shoulder issue that is "still being evaluated," Joseph said.
... After a chilly morning Thursday, warm conditions greeted the Broncos, with temperatures that spiked from 74°F to 83°F under sunny skies.
The Broncos put another intense practice in the books on the 11th day of training camp before preparing for Saturday's preseason opener against the Vikings.