ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Less than 24 hours remained before the Broncos donned full pads, but on Friday, some Broncos still appeared a bit antsy to get past the preliminaries in shorts and shells and get to true football.
But after a ragged Thursday practice, Friday's work was crisper, as the Broncos appeared to shake off the rust that plagued an inconsistent performance during the training-camp opener.
"I think we're just getting back into that football mentality," Woodyard said. "Being away from the game for five weeks, it takes you a day or two to get back into it. And those are the right steps we need to take.
"Tomorrow is going to be full-speed ahead. It's going to be crazy tomorrow. But it's good that we stepped it up today."
How crazy depends on whether the intensity results in anything extracurricular. The closest thing to it without pads on Friday was when Greg Orton and Tony Carter grappled for the football after Orton appeared to come down with a long pass from Brock Osweiler. There was no harm -- just dogged, battle-to-the-end intensity that coaches want to see.
"There's probably going to be a few fights, because it's always like that on the first day of pads," safety David Bruton said. "As a defensive player, you look forward to it."
If the contact bubbles over into actual shoving in the coming days, that's no problem -- as long as it doesn't lead to long-term injury.
"We're a competitive bunch. You're not in this league to let people walk by or anything," Bruton said. "It can be offense vs. defense getting into a fight, defensive players getting into a fight with defensive players, offensive players getting into a fight with offensive players. It's just the way of the game."
Added defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson: "It's always healthy. Brothers fight, but we love each other."
1. Some of the most difficult cuts will come from a group of pass catchers that looks deep and talented.
Tight end Julius Thomas continues to make too many plays to ignore. His Friday was punctuated by grabbing a Peyton Manning pass near the right sideline, one step ahead of safety David Bruton and linebacker Danny Trevathan. I look forward to watching him in full pads this weekend and seeing how he handles heavier contact at the line of scrimmage.
Rookie wide receiver Tavarres King had another solid day. Andre Caldwell beat Omar Bolden deep up the left sideline for a perfectly placed bomb from Brock Osweiler, who continues to improve at leading his receivers, setting them up for long grabs in stride. Greg Orton also made his presence known, at one point catching three consecutive passes. He punctuated his day with the afore-mentioned catch at Carter's expense.
The presence of Trindon Holliday makes the competition at wide receiver all the more fierce. Holliday is a good bet to make the final 53-man roster because his massive contributions on returns justify it. But he dropped a pair of catchable passes Friday on consecutive snaps, which won't help his chances of contributing beyond special teams.
Holliday's return proficiency is so far above the mean that he's an essential part of the Broncos' equation. The last two years, the league touchdown rates are one per 131.9 kickoffs and one per 60.7 punts; Holliday's averages (including playoffs) are one touchdown every 12.0 kickoffs and one every 26.0 punts. But if Holliday can't prove that he can help in the passing game, the Broncos might be faced with a difficult choice: either have to jettison a more consistent wide receiver or carry one less player at another position.
These are the sorts of difficult roster decisions that teams with above-average depth face. It's the NFL's answer to "#firstworldproblems" on Twitter.
2. Quarterbacks aren't to be touched during live-action drills, a condition underscored by the blue jerseys that Peyton Manning and his understudies wear. But what about when the quarterbacks initiate contact -- as happened when Manning stopped Woodyard after an interception?
"You know, that's a good question," Woodyard said, smiling. "I should have run him over."
Woodyard said he told Manning, "Watch out. He considered giving the quarterback a juke, but thought better of it -- "But I didn't want to embarrass him," he said. It was all with a smile, and all in good fun.
"It was actually a good open-field tackle. A lot better than I thought it was going to be."
3. While Woodyard nabbed the interception during that snap in a seven-on-seven period, safety David Bruton deserved the bulk of the credit. Bruton timed his contact with running back Montee Ball perfectly, sending the football skyward after their collision.
Bruton was beaten on the next play by Julius Thomas, but overall his play has been solid, continuing the momentum he established during organized team activities. This is a different Bruton than the one who started at the end of the 2011 season and in the 2012 playoffs; he's in better position, doesn't over-pursue and makes good use of his unique size-speed blend.
"I feel like I haven't missed a beat -- aside from the first period yesterday, knocking off some of that rust," Bruton said, citing backpedal and cutting issues early in that first practice.
Bruton is the heaviest (217 pounds) and the tallest (6-foot-2) safety on the roster, which brings with it some adaptations that he's emphasized recently, helping bolster what is now a legitimate bid to earn a full-time starting slot.
"I've always had the mindset in my notes to keep the hips low, because I'm a 6-foot-2 guy," Bruton said. "hat's the biggest thing that's helped me a lot. I continuously put that work in, and it's paid dividends."
4. The scant mention of linemen the last two days is not out of ignorance, but of the difficulty of truly gauging progress without pads, particularly at the interior spots. That changes Saturday morning. But so far, there's some promise.
Defensive line: Quanterus Smith's burst off the edge, Robert Ayers' ability to stand his ground at the point of attack against the run, a stunt by Malik Jackson that nearly ended in a sack before Osweiler. There was a bit more pressure on the quarterbacks Friday, which forced a handful of throwaways. There were fewer interceptions as the quarterbacks made fewer unforced errors.
Offensive line: Louis Vasquez looks comfortable, as though he's been playing on the Broncos' offensive line for years. Chris Clark has been steady filling in for Ryan Clady, who is limited as he completes his recovery from shoulder surgery. Vasquez and right tackle Orlando Franklin helped spring Montee Ball for his nicest run of the day off right tackle.
5. During most drills so far, Brock Osweiler and the second team receive as many snaps as Peyton Manning and the first unit. Fox acknowledged this, and cited new quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp as a reason why Osweiler and third-teamer Zac Dysert have each received substantial shares of the snaps.
"Greg Knapp is an excellent teacher. He's done it with famed guys like Steve Young, and he's done it with young guys (Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates) like he did in Houston," Fox said. "You're just trying to get everybody on your squad better, and that's what good coaches do."
But Manning is and will remain the leader -- and he showed how far his leadership stretches midway through practice, when he provided the most heartwarming moment of camp by throwing passes to a young fan in a Von Miller jersey. After the boy couldn't reel in the first pass, he easily caught the second one approximately 27 yards across the field, to the delight of spectators.
Maybe it's the relatively new father in me talking, but that's been the apex of the first two days.