ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Thursday's practice was the final organized team activity of 2013. Next week's sessions fall under a different category of work (minicamp), and unlike the OTAs, are mandatory. But the tenor of the work will be the same: contact is limited and the emphasis is on instruction.
The biggest change?
"We'll keep the players (at team headquarters) in the afternoon. Have more meetings and a second (session) -- a walk-through in the afternoon," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "Installation-wise, we've pretty much thrown everything at them over the first ten OTAs, so we'll just pick up and really want to just finish with next week's minicamp, finish strong this offseason."
Thursday, it was all about finishing OTAs on a high note. Here's a few thoughts from my pages of practice notes:
- One of the most difficult roster decisions will be at wide receiver behind Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas. Tavarres King, Andre Caldwell and Greg Orton all made notable catches during Thursday's practice. Caldwell's was the most athletic; he lunged for a long pass down the middle from Brock Osweiler, beating rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster. Orton's was the most clutch; he caught a touchdown pass from Osweiler, quickly cutting inside and grabbing the ball in stride before Rahim Moore could arrive.
"It's a deep group. I think each guy has really developed in his own way. The biggest thing for them is learning the play quicker and the mental aspect of it," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said.
But, he cautioned, the backup receivers aren't where the Broncos want them yet.
"I think they're starting to head in that direction. We still have a ways to go, though," Gase said.
It might be hard to truly handicap this race until preseason games. When factoring in returner Trindon Holliday, who seems a good bet to make the team because of his special-teams prominence, the Broncos could keep six receivers and still be forced to part with at least one who quickly catches on elsewhere. That's the kind of problem you want to have, but it won't make their choice any easier.
- Running back Knowshon Moreno continued to work in team periods, and showed no ill effects from the knee problems that held him back earlier in OTAs. Moreno showed his acceleration on a pass from Osweiler midway through the practice, quickly finding fifth gear for a solid open-field gain after the catch. It will be interesting to see where he fits in the running-back rotation next week, when Willis McGahee is expected to be on hand for the mandatory minicamp sessions after bypassing the voluntary OTAs.
- It would be easy to overlook Tony Carter given the moves made at cornerback this offseason, and he runs the risk of being lost in an increasingly deep shuffle with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and third-round pick Kayvon Webster on hand, and even Quentin Jammer around as potential depth. But the Broncos know that in Carter, they possess someone with experience playing extensively as a third cornerback, and he capped his work Thursday by breaking up a potential touchdown pass from Manning to Eric Decker in the back of the end zone.
- Another competition worth watching in training camp will be at safety. Quinton Carter, who has been consigned to running laps while completing his rehabilitation, should be working back into playing shape then. Recent pickup Jammer will be in the mix, and so will David Bruton, who has been rotating in with the first team during OTAs.
"David Bruton's had a nice spring and is getting some snaps with the ones right now. He's just earned it," Del Rio said. "He's played so well and done so well in practice. He's taken charge, he's one of our better communicators and he's been a good special teams player here."
But Bruton's play, which has been solid through OTAs, goes beyond the cerebral to his physical advantages. At 217 pounds, Bruton is the Broncos' heaviest safety. He's also arguably their fastest. Both came in handy when he swooped in to break up a potential Manning pass to tight end Julius Thomas, who is 38 pounds heavier than Bruton.
"It (size) is an advantage. I feel like my speed would probably be the bigger advantage," Bruton said.
- Holliday will get every opportunity to be more than a returner. Given the game-day roster crunch -- just 46 active spots -- the Broncos need him to provide some potential offensive contributions. During OTAs, he's made some nice catches on offense, but his Thursday was punctuated by a drop of a potential touchdown pass from Osweiler, who found him deep down the sideline. Holliday is the fastest player on the roster, and plays like it; he gets a great jump off the snap and his straight-ahead speed might be the best in the NFL -- which you'd expect, given that he was once a world-class sprinter who made it to the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials. But until he puts the bobbles behind him, the questions that arose last year during his spate of fumbles will linger.