ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- All Brock Osweiler has to this point in his second summer as a Bronco is nearly two weeks of practice performance. The backup quarterback knows that the preseason games to come will offer a better illumination of his progress.
But the early returns on his play have been more positive than negative. He's less tentative in the pocket, even though that means sometimes tucking the ball under his arm and running upfield. He's better able to read a pass rush and know when to stay and go deep, and when to bounce outside. He doesn't see the bullets in slow-motion like Neo in "The Matrix," but he's not completely blinded anymore, either.
"Last year, things were coming at me a million miles per hour. Things have really seemed to slow down," Osweiler said. "I think a large credit to that is just the fact of having an offseason. In that offseason, I was given time to study, look into the playbook further, (to ask), 'Why are we calling this pass play, why are we calling this run play, what does this protection actually do?'
"Now things have slowed down to the point where I'm able to just go out there and play and not think as much."
Although Osweiler has worked on his short-to-intermediate passing game frequently, it's his deep passing that appears to have rounded into form first. Osweiler's arm is of NFL-caliber strength, but simply gunning the football isn't going to create an effective vertical threat; it requires touch and proper timing to lead the receiver and hit him in stride, something Osweiler has done often throughout camp.
"Now my pre-snap reads are better, I'm understanding coverages (and thinking), 'Hey, this is a coverage I might want to take a shot with a post (pattern),'" Osweiler said.
In the same situation last year, "I wouldn't even look at the post," Osweiler noted.
It was clear last summer that if Osweiler had been thrust into action during the 2012 season, the Broncos would have had to distill their game plans down to the bare essentials. That won't be the case if they call on Osweiler this year.
If he backs up his training-camp progress with solid game performances in the next four weeks, it will be safe to call his summer a success. Working with the reserves makes his test different than that of the first-teamers, but it's a necessary part of his education. It's also why calling his Thursday performance "solid" will be enough; "spectacular" may be the goal, but it might not be realistic.
"In the preseason you have a lot of guys who haven't played before and are still learning the playbook," he said. "So if I can get guys lined up in the right position, do the right thing for the play and have that result in first downs and touchdowns, I'll be happy with game one."
1. Joel Dreessen's knee surgery and Jacob Tamme's recovery from a quadriceps injury gives Julius Thomas even more chances to flourish. What he did best during Monday's work was catch short passes in traffic. Thomas wasn't working down the seams often; instead, he ran drags and crosses within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, often with defenders in tight coverage, and easily grabbed one pass after another.
Because Dreessen is out and Tamme has been held back from extensive work as he recovers, Thomas should have the chance to sustain his momentum in Thursday's preseason game, barring an injury between now and then. Make a big play or two against the 49ers, and Thomas' progress will grow from local phenomenon into national focal point.
2. The ups and downs of training camp: against the No. 2 defense Saturday, the offense marched 65 yards to a 4-yard Peyton Manning-to-Demaryius Thomas touchdown. Against the No. 1 defense on Monday in a late-game simulation, the offense turned the ball over on downs, as all four passes thrown were incomplete -- including a pair of drops.
Good pressure helped discombobulate the offense a bit; Robert Ayers had a successful pass rush from the left side that disrupted the first play of the series. But it just demonstrates why you shouldn't get too hyped over solitary possessions or moments, and should consider the larger, day-to-day picture of team and player progress.
3. When Head Coach John Fox and Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase spoke about Ryan Lilja last week, they both emphasized his versatility, noting that he would be another player who could swing between tackle and guard. But it seemed unlikely that his initial first-team work as a Bronco would be at guard -- that us, until Orlando Franklin succumbed to a hip injury on the first snap of the nine-on-seven period.
Right guard Louis Vasquez moved to right tackle, Lilja took over at right guard, and Manny Ramirez remained at center, as he has throughout training camp to date. Most of Vasquez's experience is at right guard, but as has always been the case for Fox and offensive line coach Dave Magazu's lines, one injury often causes multiple shifts as dominoes fall.
"They have to get flexible as far as what positions," Fox said. "That's something we practice all through camp and that's the adjustment we made when Orlando left."
4. As he seems to do at least once a practice, Duke Ihenacho defused a running play before it began, sprinting into the backfield to stop Knowshon Moreno before he could get outside and back to the line of scrimmage.
During practice, Ihenacho has demonstrated a preternatural ability to anticipate run plays before they develop. Of course, doing so against an unfamiliar foe could be a different matter entirely; that's why the coaches place more value on preseason game performance than training camp work.
"It's just all about when it's live bullets -- what are you going to do there and then? He'll get his chance to showcase that this week," said cornerback Champ Bailey.
Still, the early returns on Ihenacho's instincts and aggression can't be overlooked -- especially when he works so often with first-team safety Rahim Moore.
"For a young guy to play with as much confidence as he does -- that's what you want on the field," Bailey said. "I'm just impressed with the way he plays and how much confidence he has in what he can do. I look forward to seeing some big things from him."
5. I was asked on Twitter earlier in training camp about how Matt Prater was faring. I haven't watched much of the kicking and punting work on the east field, but Prater had a couple of pressure-simulation kicks during practice Monday, drilling field goals of 49 and 53 yards to conclude a pair of endgame-simulation possessions. Prater had plenty of leg to spare on each, and could have made either one from 10 yards farther back from the uprights.