ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During one of the Broncos' OTA practices last month, quarterback Joe Flacco got the best of Head Coach Vic Fangio's first-string defense.
Flacco, who recounted the story Tuesday, found wide receiver Tim Patrick in the back of the end zone for a touchdown as the period came to an end.
But then Fangio stepped in.
"It was supposed to be the [second-string's turn]," Flacco said. "And Vic was like, 'All right, run it back.' I was like, 'All right, I guess we'll beat you again.' You can tell [Fangio wants to win each drill]. He's a head coach, but he's obviously got that fire to be that great defensive play caller and get that defense where he wants it to be.
"He wants to win every single day, every single play."
As the Broncos' head coach, Fangio ultimately ends up on the right side of the competition no matter which unit performs best.
"I win no matter who wins out here now," Fangio said laughing.
The defense, though, does win its fair share of the battles. Flacco said Fangio's defense "tests you every day," and that the offense has had to learn from its mistakes.
On Tuesday, the first-string defense stopped Flacco and the Broncos' starting offense during a move-the-ball team period to end practice. The offense failed to convert a fourth down near midfield, and the drive ended. After the second-team offense took their turn, though, Flacco and the No. 1 group headed back on the field.
"We had extra time," Fangio said. "A couple of drives didn't last as long as they could have, so we gave them some more reps."
Those plays against the first-team defense, Flacco said, are nothing if not helpful to the offense's development.
"I think there's been a lot of good and a lot of learning experiences," Flacco said of the offseason program. "That's the beauty of going against such a good defense at the same time [that we're] learning a new offense, learning new guys. There's definitely a lot of room for improvement. It was a good start, a good foundation. I'm really looking forward to improving and really getting going during training camp."
During one team-period play early in practice, the pocket collapsed around quarterback Drew Lock. The rookie quarterback got his legs tangled with a defensive player, and Lock stumbled to the turf.
After practice, Fangio said it can be difficult to offer a competitive rush while avoiding tripping up a teammate.
"It's hard," Fangio said. "We make our guys aware of it all the time, and I think our offensive linemen and our defensive linemen and the outside linebackers — the guys primarily rushing and protecting — have done a great job since we've been here of getting something out of practice in the pass protection and pass-rush mode without overdoing it."
Fangio said Lock was "slowly getting better" as he learns a new offense, adapts to playing under center and adjusts to the speed of the game.
"I don't mean slowly as a negative," Fangio said. "I think he's getting a little bit better every day."
IN GOOD COMPANY
During his time in Baltimore, Joe Flacco played with at least two Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs could someday join those two defensive players in Canton. Von Miller, Flacco said Tuesday, stacks up well to that caliber of player.
"He's another one of those guys," Flacco said. "He is special. We have a couple guys on our defense, it's not just him. But the things he can do to get around the edge and some of the things I think Vic's going to have him doing in the defense, it's really impressive what he can do [and] how he's built."
Flacco also credited Miller for his attitude in the locker room, but he was careful not to offer too much praise.
"I don't want to talk too much about him because I don't want to come off like Mr. Von Miller hype man," Flacco joked.
CHATTING WITH PEYTON
Former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning watched one of Denver's OTA practices last week, and Flacco got the chance to talk with his former opponent.
"It's cool," Flacco said. "I don't really know Peyton that well, so it's still cool for me. He's still a guy I grew up watching playing, and now I'm on the same football field as him. I really don't lose sight of that. Shoot, it's Peyton Manning. I'm still watching him do Nationwide commercials just like you guys are — and sitting there laughing. Any time I get to talk with him and do those kinds of things, it's pretty neat."
Guard Ron Leary participated in some team sessions during Monday's minicamp practice. The veteran guard is recovering from an Achilles injury.
The rest of the Broncos' injured players remain with the same statuses they held during OTAs, Fangio said.
That means running back Phillip Lindsay (wrist) and tight end Jake Butt (knee) are participating in a limited capacity and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) remains to the side with trainers.
"They're all doing well," Fangio said.
Sanders, who suffered his injury in early December, could return to the field sooner than expected.
"I think Emmanuel's doing well physically," Fangio said. "I've got no medical basis for this, but I think he'll be back earlier than people think."
Linebacker Todd Davis was also absent from Tuesday's practice as his wife went into labor.