ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There's the offensive line that the Broncos expect to have when the season begins -- and then there's the quintet that crouches in front of Peyton Manning during training camp.
The discrepancy between plan and practice is nothing new. Through much of the offseason, the Broncos' plan was for J.D. Walton to open training camp as the first-team center; that was scuttled when he underwent further surgery on his left ankle in June. They expect to have Ryan Clady back at left tackle for the regular-season opener, but his repetitions have been limited as he completes recovery from shoulder surgery.
But the chain reaction of shifts following Orlando Franklin's hip injury suffered during a nine-on-seven period Monday have given the offensive line still more looks. Louis Vasquez bounced outside to offensive tackle during Monday's work, but was back inside Tuesday, and Ryan Lilja, signed to help bolster all interior positions but specifically the depth at center, has returned to the guard spot he has manned for most of his nine-season career.
While Manning remained focused, it was impossible for him to not note the changes.
"Certainly you think about it," he said, "because you've got good offensive players, and they're injured and not in there, it does make an impact on your team, but that's why you have depth.
"Chris Clark's gotten a lot of work since OTAs and in training camp. Vasquez is playing tackle. You just never know what's going to happen during the season. … So the more prepared we are, I think the better we'll be long-term during the season."
Jobs 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 for the offensive line involve keeping Manning upright. So are Jobs 6 and 7. With the shuffling likely to carry over into Thursday's preseason opener, the new alignment faces a challenge against the 49ers' pass rushers -- one that is mildly diluted by the expected absence of Justin Smith, but a challenge nonetheless.
1. Duke Ihenacho had to know that at some point, his celebratory whoops after big plays would be mocked -- and when Ronnie Hillman ran though one of his tackle attempts for a touchdown reception, the offense responded by mimicking him in kind.
But Ihenacho responded in the right way. He didn't get upset; he took his medicine. Then, two plays later, he swatted away a potential touchdown pass from Manning to Julius Thomas. The only thing he could have done better was to actually intercept the football; his anguished response to the play revealed a belief that he could have -- and should have -- added to the two interceptions he posted early in training camp.
2. The "move-the-ball" segments of practice have recently provided the a chance to practice two-minute drill play, and the offense has gotten the better of most of these periods in the last two days. Both the first- and second-team offenses drove to touchdowns against their defensive counterparts Tuesday.
Even though Wes Welker did not take part on the period, Manning was on point to his other targets, completing four consecutive passes to four different targets for 51 yards, capped by a 19-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas. But it's worth noting that had the period been under normal rules, the touchdown might not have happened, as Manning could have been sacked on the first of his four completions if defensive tackle Mitch Unrein had not pulled up when he had Manning in his sights.
3. The emphasis on minimizing contact and injury risk doesn't play into the hands of defensive backs, but the Broncos would like to see better from their secondary than a pair of penalties during the "move-the-ball" period. A holding infraction against Chris Harris while he was covering Demaryius Thomas gave the No. 1 offense a first down early in their touchdown drive, and Mario Butler's pass interference infraction while covering Gerell Robinson on an attempted left corner fade moved the football to the defense's 2-yard-line, setting up a 2-yard Jacob Hester touchdown run.
Linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Kayvon Webster also drew penalties during other periods of practice, providing still more "teachable moments" that are prominent in any training camp.
- At tight end, Virgil Green had been relegated to the shadows early in camp as Julius Thomas saw plenty of first-team work, but now both share the limelight with Joel Dreessen joining Jacob Tamme on the Broncos' growing list of wounded players. Green caught the first pass during a seven-on-seven period and should continue to receive plenty of first-team repetitions in two-tight end packages in the coming days -- work that has been sparse in previous weeks.
"They're crucial," Green said. "I told Peyton today, 'Any kind of coaching you can give me -- anything you want to tell me, just come to me and talk to me.' I'm a guy who takes coaching any way I can get it.
"He told me he liked one of my routes earlier. If he likes it, I love it."
The Broncos carried three tight ends out of training camp last year, with Green suspended for four games, when he didn't count against the 53-man limit. When Green returned, they kept four. With Dreessen's knee issues and Tamme's quadriceps injury clouding matters, they might keep a quartet again.
- Running back remains one of the positions to watch, and the full-speed, play-to-the-whistle style of preseason games could play into Montee Ball's hands. In recent days, Ball has seen a handful of carries blown dead at contact, not giving him a chance to break tackles, which he did exceptionally well at Wisconsin.
The quick whistles of training camp are designed to keep players as healthy as possible, avoiding superfluous contact. The standards of preseason games might serve Ball better and provide a confidence boost as training camp continues.