DENVER -- Depth is why the Broncos overcame the loss of seven starters -- including two All-Pros -- to finish 13-3 and defeat the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship Game. That was the signature aspect of John Elway's rebuilding job since becoming the team's executive vice president in 2011; he rebuilt a thin 53-man roster over two years, maximized some last-minute pickups, added free agents and developed young talent.
Sometimes, the infusion of youth pushes a veteran to a lesser role. That's why Jacob Tamme was a backup last year behind Julius Thomas. But when Thomas was injured last November, the Broncos were reminded that Tamme is of a quality that could make him a starter with many other teams.
They got another reminder Saturday. With Thomas sidelined as a precaution because of thigh bruise, Tamme was back in the lineup and delivered the most athletic play of the day: a one-handed, 17-yard touchdown catch from Peyton Manning to cap the first possession of the scrimmage period.
"Jacob is always there when you need him," Manning said. He would know better than anyone else, having played alongside Tamme since 2008, when he broke into the league with the Colts.
"Peyton put it in a good spot and every once in a while, a blind squirrel finds a nut," said Tamme. "Just kind of got the arm out there and got it."
Tamme downplays a catch like that because of his experience. Although 38,620 witnessed the reception, it's still just practice, and he's done this before. But that play illustrates one of the crucial assets of the 2014 roster: experienced depth in most areas of the roster. In the secondary, on the defensive line, along the offensive line, and at tight end and wide receiver, the Broncos have at least one reserve with extensive first-team experience.
The Broncos hope for a little better luck this year with injuries. But few teams are better equipped to withstand heavy losses than a team that six months ago played in a Super Bowl with nearly one-third of their starting lineup watching in sweats.
Saturday, that depth was on display, but it was the offense and its reserves that got the better of the "Summer Scrimmage" period that lasted 41 snaps.
And now, the five thoughts (although, if we count the above on Tamme, it's six):
Take a look at photos from the Broncos' summer scrimmage.
- In recent days, the Broncos have often practiced at a quick tempo, with the play clock running. But experiencing it under game conditions is something different, especially for the newcomers.
"I finally got a glimpse of how this offense is. I mean, it's up-tempo," said Sanders, emphasizing "up."
"I mean, we're moving the ball," he continued. "You're making guys miss. And I was like, 'Wow, this is fun.' I'm excited."
Sanders caught two passes in the scrimmage period and had a chance at a touchdown, having beaten Tony Carter on a go route up the right sideline in the red zone, but Manning's pass was just a bit too far. But that failed third-and-7 from the defense's 17-yard-line was the only blight on a solid performance by the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense, which mounted drives of 65 and 48 yards. Manning completed 70 percent of his passes, including the touchdown to Tamme.
"He treated this like a game situation," said Sanders. "He had the fire in his eyes. He was ready to go. 'Goose' (Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase) called a lot of great plays. It was exciting."
Sanders said the offense didn't focus on installation last night, and instead focused on the plays in training camp that worked, using them in the scrimmage period.
"So it was pretty easy," Sanders said.
- Brock Osweiler had the challenge of facing the No. 1 defense, which meant he was under siege. But thanks to his quick thinking, escapability and help from C.J. Anderson (more on that in Thought No. 3), he was able to provide a scrambling threat which forced the first-team pass rush to throttle back -- although there was one scramble that might well have been a sack from Derek Wolfe had this been a game situation. Wolfe was in the backfield, but the third-year quarterbacks stepped away and ran for six yards.
Taking the edge off pressure from the front seven provided more time for Osweiler, who used it to find Gerell Robinson later on the drive for a 22-yard pass play on third-and-2. Robinson got behind Quinton Carter, and leapt for a well-placed pass from Osweiler that no defender had a chance to intercept.
No. 2 O marches to a TD vs. the No. 1 D. Gritty 11-play drive. C.J. Anderson outstanding. Osweiler composed under fire. Robinson nice grab. — Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) August 2, 2014
"Brock Osweiler did a good job going against our first-team defense today. I saw him take some steps," said Head Coach John Fox.
Thursday's preseason opener against Seattle will reveal more about Osweiler's progress, but this was another positive step. Working behind the backup offensive line, he made time and room where it didn't exist, kept his eyes downfield and the defense off-balance.
Before the scrimmage period, Osweiler was just fingertips away from perhaps the best executed pass play of the session.
Best route/throw of 7-on-7 was Osweiler to Virgil Green. Had 2 steps on McCray. Led perfectly for 25-yard gain. Problem? Green dropped it. — Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) August 2, 2014
Osweiler also threw a pass in 7-on-7 that was nearly intercepted. But there was no pass rush then; with pressure mounting in the scrimmage period, Osweiler responded in a way that wasn't seen two years ago or even last year. That's the type of progress Gase and Quarterbacks Coach Greg Knapp need to see.
No. 3 quarterback Zac Dysert was also effective, guiding the offense to a touchdown and field goal against the No. 3 defense, primarily using his running backs and tight ends to move down the field. It was a promising day for the offense -- and a frustrating one for the defense, which failed to prevent a score on any of five possessions (one for the No. 1 defense against the second-team offense, and two apiece for the No. 2 defense against the No. 1 offense and the No. 3's against each other).
- C.J. Anderson picked up 25 yards on three carries with the No. 2 offense, 17 of which came on a run to the outside in which he burst through linebacker Brandon Marshall for extra yardage. But his finest moment came when he picked up a blitzing Nate Irving up the middle.
Instead of being sacked, Osweiler scrambled away for a 4-yard gain. Anderson's alert pickup was the difference between third-and-9 and third-and-3. That provided Osweiler the flexibility to execute a draw play to Anderson that saw him gain five yards for the first down. The No. 2 offense built confidence from there, as they marched 65 yards in 11 plays to a touchdown.
Anderson's frame translates well to blocking; he's stout and gets his legs set. He has a skill set that works well in Denver's offense.
- Friday, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow getting better every day. That continued on Saturday, as Barrow nearly intercepted Osweiler in the seven-on-seven period and later read a quick pass to Sanders perfectly, limiting him to a 4-yard gain.
The No. 2 defense was under fire from Manning, but Barrow held his own when needed. Malik Jackson also could have notched a sack of Manning during the second series between the top offense and second-team defense, but he held up, and Manning subsequently located Tamme for 37 yards up the left sideline.
- Bennie Fowler isn't facing Aqib Talib in practice. So when Osweiler targeted Fowler near Talib in the red zone, he had to make it count.
Few in the stands would have expected the undrafted rookie to beat the Pro Bowler. Perhaps fewer could have foreseen that Fowler's power and moves would cause Talib to miss a tackle. But nine yards later -- three of which came after Fowler eluded the seven-year veteran -- all of that had come to pass.
"He has confidence, and in order to play this game, you've got to have confidence," said Sanders. "He's fast, he's got great hands, (and) he has that ability to learn. And he's extremely humble. He wants to be good."
No one was prouder than Sanders, who has taken Fowler under his wing. Sanders often works with Fowler and Cody Latimer -- a fellow rookie and Big Ten product -- after practice.
"Any time Bennie's making plays, I'm excited for him," said Sanders. "When he takes the technique that I'm starting to show him and applies it to the field and is successful, it makes me feel good. I feel like a coach sometimes."