ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The 6-foot-4, 249-pound player barreled up the field, stuck his foot in the ground and cut toward the left sideline.
The ball arrived into Noah Fant's waiting arms as he created separation from a defender with his unique combination of size and 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed.
The route — "essentially a corner route," Fant said after practice on Friday — wasn't all that different than a near game-changing play he made in Pittsburgh in Week 2 last season. It was also just the latest example of the advantage Fant thinks he may gain when running vertical-themed routes.
"I definitely think so," said Fant when asked if stretching the field takes advantage of his athleticism. "I have some speed on me, and I think that helps."
During his two-year NFL career, Fant has shown he doesn't discriminate against any style of play. He's made plays from the slot, as an in-line tight end and from the backfield. Fant is dangerous from anywhere on the field, as he's hard to stop once he gets going. He's proven at times that, with a full head of steam, he's too fast to be caught by a linebacker and too big for a cornerback to stop.
Against Jacksonville as a rookie, Fant came across the formation from the backfield, caught a screen pass and took it 25 yards for the score. In a home game vs. Cleveland that year, he lined up next to the right tackle before slipping out in a crossing pattern to take off for a 75-yard touchdown. Later that year in Houston, he caught a 10-yard pass in the slot and spun off a defender to pick up 48 yards.
"I also like the short routes," Fant said. "… A lot of people don't want to catch those short routes, but I will. I'll catch them and turn them into something. I pride myself on those yards after catch. I think we're doing a good job of incorporating both, especially in the tight end room. We're getting some routes down the field, we're getting some short routes, we're getting some intermediate routes. We're doing a good job right now of focusing on cleaning everything up and kind of being perfectionists about what we're doing and trying to get better."
In Year 2 of Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's system, the Broncos have the luxury — that they didn't have during the 2020 virtual offseason — to hone in on the details of the offense. The Broncos have maintained that they're ahead of where they were a year ago, as they received the benefit of on-field offseason work.
"[We're] getting to focus on the small things and just working toward perfection instead of bigger picture things," Drew Lock said Wednesday. "That's what's been the most fun, even starting on Day 1. Even during OTAs, we felt like we could do that instead of looking at bigger picture things. That's when guys start to get comfortable, and guys start to play fast. Guys start to make mistakes that are — you're playing 100 percent making these mistakes. You're not thinking, 'Should I have done this? Should I have done that? I was convicted on this, and this is why I did it.' It's been fun. Guys are flying around, and guys are playing fast. They can only get better from here."
Fant finished sixth in receiving yards and seventh in receptions among tight ends in 2020, so "better" would not be insignificant. And as training camp begins, Fant said he feels an increased sense of comfort that should allow him and the entire offense to take another step forward.
"Our offense as a whole — we all know the offense a lot better this year, so we're having a better understanding conceptually of what we're trying to do," Fant said. "Guys can interchange at different positions. I can be split out wide, [and] I can be in the backfield. I think that's for everybody.
"I think everybody is getting utilized in their own specific ways, and I'm definitely happy with where we're going."
'ENTITLED TO NOTHING'
Guard Dalton Risner has started all 32 games since entering the NFL as a second-round pick in 2019. And yet, he said Friday he's approaching this year's training camp with the mentality that he has to reprove himself.
"Just because we're in the NFL, just because I played two years and was drafted as a left guard two years ago, I'm not entitled to anything here," Risner said. "I'm not entitled to the left guard spot. Heck no. I've got to come out here every day and I've got to earn it. I've got to earn that spot. I think that's how our whole team is this year. We all got to earn our spots. Nobody's coming in here and just expecting, 'Hey man, I'm the starter. I got this figured out.' Maybe a few guys, I'm sure those guys deserve it, but for me a lot of the team we're showing up and saying, 'Hey man, we've got to earn this.' We're not entitled to anything out here. There's a sense of urgency that we've got to go."
Risner said there's a "different feel" at training camp this year, but he acknowledged the Broncos have to prove that they've taken a step in Week 1 and beyond.
"It's only Day 3 of training camp," Risner said. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us."
'TIGHT END U'
Fant attended the inaugural "Tight End University" this summer, and he said Friday that the on-field experience should be plenty helpful as he looks to take his place among the league's elite.
"I learned a lot there," Fant said. I got to talk to [Chiefs TE Travis] Kelce, I got to talk to [49ers TE George] Kittle, I got to talk to [former NFL TE Greg] Olsen and [Raiders TE Darren] Waller. Those are the main guys that I took a lot from. I'm not going to go into specifics about everything that we talked about, but I learned a lot from those guys. I learned a lot about the routes that they run, about how they transfer over into what I'm doing. We do a lot of similar things.
"[I'm] definitely excited to try and implement those things this year, and [I'm] definitely excited to play against those guys. [I] developed relationships there. I'm excited to see them play and see them after the game."