ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Josey Jewell discussed his inside-linebacker partnership with Todd Davis during the offseason, he focused on the communication the duo had built during their time together last season and during OTAs this year.
Now, with Davis sidelined with a calf injury, the process starts anew. Friday, Jewell worked alongside Alexander Johnson, a member of both the active roster and practice squad last year, and fifth-round pick Justin Hollins, a rookie who has worked at both inside and outside linebacker.
Other players such as 2018 sixth-round pick Keishawn Bierria, college free agent Josh Watson and special-teams contributor Joe Jones could see time with Jewell as the Broncos evaluate their depth. Jones filled in for Davis in the offseason when Davis missed a practice for the birth of his child.
"They know their stuff," Jewell said of the backups. "[Inside Linebackers] Coach [Reggie Herring] makes us know our stuff pretty dang good.
"I think they're able to communicate pretty dang well [compared to what] other people think. They think, 'Oh, Todd's out, and maybe it's going to be terrible.' But I think they're doing a great job, and that's why you've got backups."
How well the linebackers communicate will be a crucial factor in determining who the Broncos' third inside linebacker will be -- especially given the tempo at which opposing offenses work.
"It's the one thing you want to be able to focus on early on, is just to be able to communicate with everybody and be able to do it fast,” Jewell said. “If you're going to [face] a no-huddle offense and stuff like that, you want guys to get out there and understand what they're doing, understand other people's jobs, too. So I think that's been going really well and we're just progressing day by day."
Johnson knows that he if can hone that aspect of his game, he'll be able to limit mental mistakes and play as fast as the offense can set itself up.
"One of my goals is to go out there and [have] no missed assignments," Johnson said. "That's the biggest thing, and then once that comes, I'll be able to play as fast I can, and when I'm playing fast, I'm able to destroy some stuff when I'm able to just go and play fast."
PLAY OF THE DAY
... Running back Khalfani Muhammad turned his solid day into a big one with a final-snap catch of a deep pass from Brett Rypien on a wheel route.
Earlier in the practice, he galloped downfield for a long gain on a well-executed draw play that saw him use blocks from Elijah Wilkinson and Jake Rodgers to burst into the open field. But his catch at the end provided the memorable moment of the day.
Muhammad, one of the fastest running backs in the NFL, found himself in tight coverage from Johnson, who strode step-for-step with him as he headed for the right pylon.
"I'm 253 pounds. He's a fast guy. I was running right there with him. But he made a great play. There wasn't a referee to call it, so I say he was out bounds, but he made a hell of a catch," Johnson said.
As frustrating as it was to be on the wrong end of a great play, Johnson knows he can use it as a moment from which he can grow.
"It felt pretty good until he caught the ball. I was like, 'Oh my gosh!' My heart dropped. I was like, 'Man.' But I learned from that play," he said. "I know that next time I've got to run down the field with him, instead of just putting my hands up, I've got to turn around and get my head up so I can catch the ball instead of just trying to swat it out and stare at him. So that's one thing I can improve on -- to look back and try to make the play myself."
TIGHT ENDS DRAW ATTENTION AGAIN
It was another notable day for the Broncos' complement of tight ends. Jake Butt saw seven-on-seven repetitions as he continues completing his recovery from a torn ACL. But the dominant storyline Friday was the shuffling of tight ends onto the first team, as Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Noah Fant and undrafted rookie Austin Fort all received repetitions with the first team.
Fant had multiple receptions while working with all four quarterbacks on the roster, and found success working in the flat on quick out routes. Fort did well at plucking passes out of the air in the flat.
In the course of one offseason, a position that had been a trouble spot in recent years transformed into a strength that is providing the Broncos' linebackers and safeties a stern daily test.
"You've got a bunch of tight ends that can move pretty fast, and are good in space, and also some guys that can block well," Jewell said. "I think we're getting the best work that we can possibly can get. I don't think you can go anywhere else and get the work that we're getting against these guys. So I'm grateful for that. Hopefully that will make us better throughout the season."
The best catch of the day for the tight ends, however, belonged to Bug Howard. After missing Thursday’s work with an illness, he had a slew of catches, including one from Rypien that saw him leap down the middle of the field amid a cluster of four defenders to grab the pass.
Take an extensive look at the first practice of training camp through photos from the full session, from players warming up to their autograph sessions with fans after their on-field work concluded. Today's gallery also includes a selection of photos taken with a camera converted to capture infrared light.
... Hollins' edge-rushing skills give him an additional tool he can use when Head Coach Vic Fangio and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell decide to use their inside linebackers in the pass rush while dropping another defender to compensate. Off the edge, he was able to generate pressure that led to an incompletion on a Kevin Hogan attempt to wide receiver Brendan Langley.
... Wide receiver Courtland Sutton rebounded from a rough Thursday with one of the best catches of the day, a toe-tap grab of a Joe Flacco pass near the right sideline.
... The defense recorded three interceptions, all off backup quarterback Kevin Hogan. Jones recorded the first theft on the sixth team-period play of practice, stepping in front of an attempt to George Aston in the left flat. Pressure from outside linebacker Jeff Holland forced the hurried throw. Safety Su'a Cravens and cornerback De'Vante Bausby also picked off Hogan. For Bausby, it was his second interception of training camp. Outside linebacker Dekoda Watson provided the pressure from Hogan's left flank that led to Bausby's pick.
... Outside linebacker Von Miller was his usual self. On consecutive plays, he crashed through the right side of the Broncos' blocking scheme and into the pocket, generating pressure on Flacco that would have likely resulted in sacks under game conditions.
... The duel between left tackle Garett Bolles and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb was one of the most fascinating to watch during Friday's practice. Chubb found success against the run, reading plays as they developed to force the running backs out of their intended lanes and toward defenders. But Bolles had some success in pass protection, guiding Chubb wide and behind Flacco. The quarterback helped Bolles out by not drifting in the pocket, allowing the tackles a better opportunity to guide edge rushers behind the spot.
... Flacco also extended plays by moving laterally. One of his best completions saw him veer to the left to avoid a pass rush. As he moved, he found tight end Noah Fant and hit him with a 10-yard pass that had plenty of velocity and zip despite the fact that Flacco was moving and not completely set as he threw. Flacco's ability to use his arm talent like this gives him the opportunity to generate completions like this that were infrequent in the last two years.
... Rookie quarterback Drew Lock showed good pocket presence on one completion to River Cracraft. With DeShawn Williams bearing down on him, Lock made a quick step up and fired the strike to Cracraft. Lock also used his hard count to draw outside linebacker Malik Reed offside before a team-period snap.
... Rookie linebacker Josh Watson was quick to identify some run plays as they developed, crashing through into the backfield for what would have been tackles for loss in game situations.
... Right guard Ron Leary saw approximately half of the first-team snaps Friday as he continues working back from an Achilles tendon injury. Jake Brendel filled in for him.