ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As rookie running back Javonte Williams spoke to the media on Monday afternoon, the second-round pick eagerly looked ahead to the Broncos' first padded practice.
"I feel like the real football starts tomorrow," Williams said.
The intensity certainly ramped up on Tuesday morning, as the Broncos put pads on for the first time in training camp and added an element of physicality to their practice.
That was most evident in the run game, as the Broncos spent the early part of Tuesday's session focused on the ground game.
"I thought we ran the ball pretty damn good on offense," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after practice. "I need to go look at the tape. I just think we had a pretty good progression. I think tomorrow's practice will even be better with the pads on."
All of the Broncos' top running backs made an impact on Tuesday, as they showed a mix of vision, power and quickness that allowed each of the players to break a sizable run.
Melvin Gordon III consistently churned up several yards at a time, while Williams used to his 5-foot-10, 220-pound frame to bounce off defenders. And while the run game was Williams' primary contribution on Tuesday, he also made an impact play in the passing game. The UNC product caught a pass out of the backfield and shrugged off DeShawn Williams before taking off for a first down.
"He's been terrific," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "His running ability is very obvious, but the things that we see are his instincts as a football player. Some people just get it, and then we've all been around people that just don't quite get it. They wake up every morning and start over. He gets it, and it shows up in his pass protection, it shows up in being able to get lined up, his awareness. He's got a really bright future."
Mike Boone, a 2020 free-agent addition who hasn't received the same level of publicity as Williams, also made his share of strong plays on Tuesday. On a couple of occasions, he found a hole and was able to display the quickness that could make him a solid change-of-pace option for Denver.
"I like Mike," Fangio said. "Mike is a good running back. He's got juice, he's explosive, he's decisive and he runs hard for a guy that's maybe on the small side. He doesn't play small. I like Mike. Mike is not a guy to fall asleep on."
Royce Freeman, meanwhile, continued to take advantage of his reps and ran through a would-be tackler in one 11-on-11 rep.
It's possible the Broncos' best play in the run game, though, came not from one of their top backs. During one early team-period play, undrafted fullback Adam Prentice cleared the way and took out two defenders at once. If there was any doubt that the Broncos' offense was ready to run the football, that play removed it.
EVALUATING THE QUARTERBACKS
Both Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater found a string of completions on Tuesday, as their passes were largely limited to seven-on-seven work. Lock and Bridgewater did not see a pass hit the ground during seven-on-seven action, and they spread the ball around to players like Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy. They saw limited passing attempts during 11-on-11 work, but Bridgewater fit a nice pass through traffic to Sutton for a 15-yard gain. During his own team reps, Lock found Jeudy for a solid first-down pickup of his own. Neither player threw an interception during either seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 work.
As the Broncos enter the second week of training camp, Shurmur said he's seen improvement from both quarterbacks.
"I've seen both guys getting better," Shurmur said. "This is the best version of Drew that I've seen. I think he's done a really good job. I expected Teddy to come in — Teddy has got experience, he's got experience in multiple offenses and so, what we call apple, somebody else called orange. So, he said, 'Ah, OK, it's orange.' So we roll. I think Teddy has done a good job, and I think the unintended consequence of this is sadly teams typically need two quarterbacks to play throughout the year. So all the good work that they're getting will help both of them as we play this season out."
Fangio said the Broncos may choose to give one quarterback all the first-team reps at practice at some point, but he said they will not follow that approach on Wednesday. Eventually, the team will also tailor its approach to their starter.
"Once we settle on a quarterback as the starter," Fangio said, "obviously we'll do the things that he does well and feels comfortable executing, and the rest of the team feels that too."
For the first time in training camp, the Broncos took part in one-on-one drills, as running backs and tight ends took on linebackers in blocking and receiving drills. On other parts of the field, offensive linemen and defensive linemen battled in reps, and the wide receivers and defensive backs took each other on in different route patterns.
During the blocking drills, some of the best matchups included Melvin Gordon III vs. Alexander Johnson and Noah Fant vs. Bradley Chubb. The defensive players appeared to hold the edge in each of those matchups, as the defenders were able to make their way quickly toward a tackling dummy that represented the quarterback. Malik Reed, Justin Strnad, Royce Freeman and Josh Watson were among the other players with impressive reps.
In the passing drills, the defense again seemed to hold the upper hand. Johnson's physical play disrupted several routes, and he also intercepted a pass that went off Fant's hands. Strnad also came up with an interception, while linebacker Peter Kalambayi stuck with a play to force and recover a fumble. Tight ends Eric Saubert, Albert Okwuegbunam and Austin Fort were among the offensive players to "win" their reps.
…. The Broncos spend a good portion of practice working on situational drills, some of which centered on the quarterback throwing the ball away or spiking the ball to stop the clock.
"You've got to be a little bit careful when you're doing the math on who played well and who didn't," Shurmur said of the quarterbacks. "We may have a period with five plays where it's three runs, play action and a screen. We did a drill today where we were actually trying to throw incompletions to stop the clock. So you might say, 'Holy smokes. That was a crappy throw.' When no, that's what we were designed to do, so, sadly for you guys, you don't have the scripts and you don't know the intention of our drills, but some of that happens."
…. Rookie outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper had a productive morning on Tuesday, as he sniffed out a trick play for a tackle for loss, was physical in the run game and may have had a sack on one rep under game conditions.
"I've liked what I've seen from him," Fangio said. "He naturally plays hard. Some guys have to push themselves to play hard, but it comes natural to him, which is nice. He's got good strength, and I think he's got good football instincts and IQ."
Cooper, a seventh-round pick who missed the offseason program with a heart condition, is battling for a roster spot behind Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed at outside linebacker.
For more on Cooper's return to the field, click here.
…. Justin Simmons nearly recorded his first interception of camp, as he flashed in front of the intended receiver in the end zone to break up a would-be touchdown pass.
…. Johnson, Chubb, Shelby Harris and Marquiss Spencer all likely would have recorded tackles for loss on various run plays during the morning's session. Chubb saw an increase in team reps after playing limited snaps on Monday.