ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The only thing that changed Tuesday as the Broncos returned to practice was that attendance was mandatory. Among the healthy players, that meant everyone but left tackle Ryan Clady and defensive end/linebacker Shaun Phillips were accounted for. Clady hasn't signed his franchise tender, and Phillips was given an excused absence for personal reasons.
Aside from that, it was simply a continuation of the work seen the previous three weeks -- albeit with one prominent player now on hand after being absent the last three weeks.
1. It's hard to gauge where Willis McGahee will fit among the running backs based on one practice. He told media that he had only "a couple" of repetitions, although he expected that number to increase. McGahee is healthy, but he knows the offense better than most at his position. It's still prudent to give Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman plenty of work, since they have the most to learn, and McGahee has the most familiarity, since he's worked more snaps with Peyton Manning than any other Broncos running back.
"We all know what he's capable of doing. So, obviously, the coach isn't asking him (McGahee) if he knows the plays; he's asking us if we understand the plays," said Ball.
2. Ball and Ronnie Hillman have shown the spark the Broncos wanted to see from them in the running game, but where they have made the most progress is in the protection of Peyton Manning. Both have improved in their recognition of the blitz from the first week of OTAs, and although it will be impossible to truly measure their growth until they're taking on pass rushers at full speed.
"I keep narrowing down my mistakes in practice. Today I had no mistakes, just a bad position on a block," Ball said. "But other than that I did pretty good today and I can see that it's all starting to come along."
3. As was the case in OTAs, the Broncos didn't wear pads, and were limited in the amount of contact they could have. However, some players noticed that the two hours of work was at a higher level, even though nothing bubbled over like two weeks ago, when rookie Sylvester Williams was at the center of a scrum.
"Intensity definitely picks up. Everybody wants to snap to the ball and get their keys and read their keys faster and play faster," said defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. "OTAs were really like a feel-out and now it's sort of like real deal training camp without the pads."
4. The timing between Manning and Wes Welker continues to improve, and the duo connected on passes at multiple ranges throughout the team and seven-on-seven periods. Manning attributes Welker's progress to the cerebral aspects of his game.
"You can see, in a short period of time, why he's been so successful in his career. His ability to get open, his knowledge of coverages," Manning said. "He really has an ability to read coverages and I think he takes it as seriously as a quarterback does. That really has worked well for him, and as a quarterback, you sort of appreciate that."
But as has been the case during all of the open-to-media practices, Manning spreads the football around to his targets. Julius Thomas again caught multiple passes, and veteran Jacob Tamme also got in on the act.
5. Since time immemorial, players and coaches have reminded us that the offseason is about developing timing, with the understanding that at times, it's going to be off. That was the case Tuesday morning, as a pair of misfired snaps from Manny Ramirez to Manning forced the offense into salvage mode. Ramirez didn't work much at center with Manning last year; those repetitions went to J.D. Walton and eventually Dan Koppen after Walton fractured his ankle. There's no real concern from the snaps; they simply remind onlookers that it is June, and the offense is still defined by what it will become, not what it is.