ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Absence doesn't simply make the heart grow fonder. It makes applause louder.
This is true no matter what the expectation level is for the coming season. Fans can have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations or faint hopes of the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, and the raucous applause for even the most mundane of accomplishments -- like a smooth catch during a drill with no defenders -- is still the same.
It's understandable. It's been six-and-a-half months since fans had the chance to see the Broncos in person. Six-and-a-half months of pent-up adoration poured forth with every completion, every big play -- even for a smooth jog from the locker room to the west practice field.
The feeling was mutual.
"I know I was excited this morning, driving over here … the juices were flowing," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "We had a meeting last night, and guys were pumped, guys are ready to put the work in. But that's the key word: guys are ready to work."
And the first day of Broncos training camp was all about the business at hand of beginning preparation for the season, and it was a bit ragged, as to be expected for the first practice. But it was enthusiastic, because the boisterous roars from the 3,007 fans on hand rubbed off on the team.
"I think players can feed off of that and have a lot more energy here out at practice," Manning said. "We couldn't hear them from the Ramada, the airport Ramada, but they were lined up here at midnight last night. That's the kind of place that you want to play football, where fans are excited about the season; certainly our players are as well."
1. Excitement didn't mean elegant execution all around. Some passes by all quarterbacks were merely off target; others were intercepted. Handoffs weren't always smooth and comfortable. Manning took extra time during position drills to make sure his running backs were in the proper pre-snap spot.
It was exactly what you expect from the beginning of the process.
"I think it felt like a first day of training camp practice with the almost a six-week layoff," Manning said. "I thought the defense had their way a few times. I thought the offense made a few plays, but I thought it felt like a first day, which is what it was."
Head Coach John Fox saw the same thing.
"To be real honest with you, today looked like the first practice after a five-week break," he said. "But we have plenty of time to get better."
2. Befitting the issues of the team at large on the first day, quarterback Brock Osweiler appeared jittery during early periods of practice. He twice misfired on short check-downs that were targeted between the hashmarks within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage.
But those issues didn't last long, and although Osweiler once held onto the ball too long under inside pressure to settle for a sack, he grew more accurate as the session progressed. He also provided one of the day's highlights, hitting Tavarres King on a post route for a long touchdown just past Kayvon Webster.
3. Gobs of airtime, column inches and bandwidth have already been devoted to the Wes Welker-Chris Harris duels in practice. Welker earned the upper hand in Thursday's work, punctuating his day by beating Harris for a long touchdown pass from Manning in one-on-one drills.
But Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has arguably the most to prove of any cornerback this summer. Physical gifts have never been the issue for the 2008 first-round pick; it's a matter of being more consistent and learning to read the play better. He did that against Eric Decker during one-on-one and team periods, easily anticipating the passes coming his way.
Rodgers-Cromartie was beaten deep up the left sideline during a one-on-one period -- but it took multiple moves for Decker to finally work past him on the play. Decker eventually got going in the practice as he adjusted, but if this duel is played to a standstill throughout training camp, the Broncos will get more than their money's worth out of their one-year investment in Rodgers-Cromartie.
Speaking of cornerbacks …
4. Tony Carter doesn't have the recent draft pedigree of Omar Bolden (fourth round, 2012) and Kayvon Webster (third round, 2013). Carter was the Broncos' third cornerback last year, but with Bolden, Webster and free-agent pickup Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Carter finds himself scrapping for playing time at one of the team's deepest positions.
But he made a bold statement against Demaryius Thomas, breaking up two passes up the right sideline during one-on-one work. Carter later intercepted an Osweiler-to-King pass in seven-on-seven work and nearly picked off a pass to Andre Caldwell in the one-on-one period.
Among the other Broncos to intercept passes were Rahim Moore, who snared a Manning pass intended for Thomas, and rookie linebacker Uona Kaveinga, who intercepted two passes.
5. If Von Miller's appeal of his suspension is denied, part of the solution for replicating as much of his pass-rush production as possible could rest with fifth-round pick Quanterus Smith -- assuming his surgically repaired left knee allows him to show the same explosion he displayed at Western Kentucky.
"I feel like it's going to take a little more time for me to just get used to just playing like this but I think that's going to come soon," Smith said. "I don't think it's any issue rehab-wise or something's wrong with the knee. I think all that's good. It's just getting out there and playing and getting back used to playing football."
Smith has a quick first step and can get to the edge, but acknowledge that he needs to supplement that with an inside move, so opposing blockers can't easily beat him by simply pushing him outside the pocket.
Like Smith, safety Quinton Carter is coming off knee surgery, and his role is to be determined. Unlike Smith, he didn't practice at all this offseason, and the 2011 starter needs to work back into 100 percent form before he competes with fellow safeties Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, David Bruton and Quentin Jammer.