ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Saturday's practice was shorter than most. But the first session after the preseason opener gave the Broncos a chance to focus on issues that were bugaboos during their 10-6 win over the 49ers.
Protection of the quarterbacks was one. The 49ers sacked Denver quarterbacks four times and kept them under constant pressure, even when it didn't result in a sack. Aldon Smith's bull-rush through Chris Clark on the Broncos' first offensive series was a harbinger of what was to come for Brock Osweiler.
"We had some protection issues we had to clean up from the first half to the second half," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said, and there was no reason to disagree with his assessment. The first-team offensive line conceded contact on the quarterback twice -- Smith on Manning, and Parys Haralson on Osweiler -- and the problems continued from there. But both quarterbacks emerged unscathed, and on Saturday, the offensive line fared better at maintaining the integrity of the pocket.
But if the quarterbacks are under siege again, Gase believes he might call plays differently.
"There were a couple of playcalls where we were holding onto the ball. I think I was trying to open it up a little bit, but we'll see," he said. "I've got to be smarter, maybe get to some quick-gain, some max protections, quicker to help those guys out."
And now, five thoughts from practice:
1. For now, it's Stewart Bradley in the center of the defense. He got the start at middle linebacker Thursday and continued working there with the first team on Saturday.
"I think he is feeling more and more comfortable," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He is a guy that is very active. He hunts the ball, he finishes on the ball and we like that part."
On Thursday, Bradley's first series -- the only one with the entire first unit -- was a mixed bag. On one 49ers carry, he was pushed back and out of play by San Francisco center Daniel Kilgore and right guard Alex Boone. But he also diagnosed an inside handoff to fullback Jason Schepler, blowing up the play quickly. He conceded two receptions to Anquan Boldin, but limited the yardage after the catch to just two yards total and was in tight coverage on both plays.
"I felt like it was a good building block," Bradley said.
2. When Ryan Clady lined up at left tackle during team periods Saturday, he was the only player among the 22 in uniform for the snap who was wearing sweat pants rather than the full practice uniform. His work was limited to no more than two snaps at a time, but he recovered nicely after being beaten to the edge by Derek Wolfe on his first play early in practice.
Nevertheless, that work was promising, and offered an indication that Clady will be ready by Week 1, and won't need to endure the compressed preparation time prior to the 2010 season, when he didn't practice until the final week of the preseason and was rushed to play less than two weeks later in the regular-season opener against Jacksonville.
"We had to ease him in to that first game (in 2010), because he couldn't do anything until really close to the game," Gase recalled.
3. One positive sign for the defense was a continuation of its ball-hawking play from Thursday. Rahim Moore picked off a pass from Manning to Eric Decker at the goal line, and rookie Kayvon Webster intercepted Zac Dysert later in practice.
For Webster, the work is crucial. Injuries to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Tony Carter forced Webster and second-year cornerback Omar Bolden up the depth chart Saturday, and their workload was made heavier by the occasional breathers given to veteran Champ Bailey. But Bolden also needs the work, and a solid game Thursday carried over to Saturday's practice, in which he played with more confidence and assertiveness than he showed earlier in training camp.
"The younger guys get a lot longer look and a lot more reps. Omar and Kayvon are taking advantage of that," Del Rio said. "They are both bigger guys that have speed and the more experience we can get them with getting comfortable with how we do things and what we need out of them, the better. Each of them have had good moments and then moments where they have to be better, but, definitely good experience for them."
4. A brief moment about the two newest quarterbacks on the roster: Ryan Katz has not seen any repetitions in team or seven-on-seven work to this point during training camp, and Zac Dysert threw fewer passes in team periods than he had in recent days. It's not that the Broncos have anything against their two rookie quarterbacks, but between games and practices, they need to get more work for Osweiler.
"Right now our plan is we need to keep bringing Brock along," said Gase. "And then obviously Zac is the third (quarterback) right now. If we can get Ryan in there we will, but nothing is guaranteed. Zac, we'd like to see him work a little more.
"But we can't take anything away from Brock because he needs as many reps as possible."
5.With Wes Welker out of practice per what Head Coach John Fox said was a "club decision," Andre Caldwell got another look as one of the three primary wide receivers with the first team. But if Caldwell is to earn a roster spot, he'll have to avoid the dropped passes that plagued him last preseason. Caldwell caught the only pass thrown in his direction Thursday at San Francisco, but failed to grab two catchable passes from Manning early in practice. He recovered with a leaping grab near the left sideline from Manning later in the session.