ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –There was long anticipation for Thursday's practice. After several months of build-up, the doors opened to the team's Dove Valley training headquarters to kick off training camp 2012.
Out of the doors poured 4,371 fans – as well as the seven member of the team's 2012 draft class. For both groups, it marked a milestone.
The fans got their first chance to see the team live in action, and the rookies got their first taste of an NFL training camp.
"I couldn't sleep last night," said Derek Wolfe, the team's top selection in the 2012 draft. "Not a chance. I woke up every 20 minutes. I love being out here. This is what I love to do. Every aspect of it I love. It's been too long."
Fellow second-round pick Brock Osweiler might be overshadowed by the four-time NFL MVP ahead of him on the quarterback depth chart, but the rookie was just as excited to take the field in front of the fans for the first time.
Osweiler plans to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the future Hall-of-Famer in Demaryius Thomas during these training camp sessions.
"We have those sheets out there because we're just trying to keep up with Peyton and just follow along," Osweiler said. "But every day is a learning process for me. We have a very big playbook, and there's a lot of detail that goes into that playbook. I'm just trying to master a few things each day, improve upon things, and not make the same mistake twice. If I can do that, I think I'll be okay."
The team's third-round selection, running back Ronnie Hillman, said that the biggest difference between what he experienced in OTAs and Thursday's training camp opener was the speed of practice.
Now that everyone has had plenty of time to learn the playbook, Hillman said that coaches have higher expectations.
"It's a little bit faster pace," he said. "They expect a lot more out of you and expect you not to mess up. I think I did pretty good. I think I could do a lot better, but for right now, I did decent."
After officially signing his rookie contract earlier this week, today's practice served as a welcome-to-the-NFL moment for Osweiler.
"It felt really good," he said. "There was a lot of anticipation building up to the first day -- excitement, nerves, whatever — it's all pretty normal. To get the first practice underway and done with feels good. It's almost a dream come true. I'm at training camp with the Denver Broncos. It felt really good to be out there today."
BAILEY SEES IMPROVEMENT
Nobody on the practice field gets a better feel for the performance of the wide receivers than the men tasked with guarding them.
Cornerback Champ Bailey matched up against wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas for portions of Thursday's practice and came away impressed with the improvements made by the pair of third-year wideouts.
"[He looks] like a different person," Bailey said of Decker. "He's grown so much. He wants to learn. He wants to be the best. I love that about him. The guy is making tremendous strides and I expect him to get better and better every week."
As for Thomas, Bailey praised his route-running progress.
"(Route-running) was the biggest thing for him because he's a bigger guy," Bailey said. "Bigger guys struggle running routes most of the time. He's on top of it now. He looks like one of the best now because he's running his routes as crisp as can be and he's catching the ball."
Bailey, who usually squares off with the opposing team's top receiver, knows what skills to look for in a wideout.
So how high is Thomas' ceiling?
"As high as you want to make it," he said. "It's really up to him. He has the talent and the raw skills. It's just the work. He's got to put the work in."
Bailey said that he has also noticed marked improvement from second-year safety Rahim Moore.
Moore, who was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, started seven games for the Broncos last season. The second-year safety saw first-team reps with the defense during Thursday's practice.
He finished his rookie campaign with 31 tackles and one interception – numbers he'd like to see increase this season.
"He's good now," Bailey said of Moore. "It's like night and day for him. Last year, he didn't have a chance to get to know his teammates or anything before we threw him out there. That's why he struggled a little bit. Now that he has a year under his belt to get comfortable, he's going to be tremendous for us."
McGAHEE RUNNING STRONG
For most NFL running backs, 30 is a dreaded age.
For Willis McGahee, it's just another number.
Last season, McGahee turned in four 100-yard games after turning 30 on October 20. His 5.0 yards per carry after his birthday ranked second among all players with at least 150 carries in that span.
"You got to have a big heart," McGahee said about continuing his success as he ages. "You have to want it. That's what I do. I can't worry about nothing else. It isn't the fact of saying you're 30. Last year they said I was slow. I don't think I'm slow. I think I can beat half these guys on this team. They don't think so. You just have to maintain yourself, just keep your calm. Don't worry about what people think."
After entering the NFL following a severe knee injury during his final collegiate game, McGahee said his goal was to make it in the league for a decade.
Now that he's in his 10th season, he's ready to keep running.
"I was just telling somebody, I played with James Jett my first year in Buffalo," he said. "That's a long time ago. We have fun with it. It makes me feel young again. I was telling somebody, all I wanted was to get to 10 years. Now I'm at 10, I want more. Keep on going until the wheels fall off, baby."
While McGahee is not planning on giving up his position as the team's starting running back, he thinks Broncos fans will be pleased with the newly drafted player who will share the workload in the backfield.
"He's coming around," McGahee said about Hillman. "He's adjusting pretty well. He's going to bring a little spunk as soon as he gets comfortable. Right now he's still a little timid walking around wanting to know everybody, trying to be careful. Once he loosens up, he's going to show everybody's what he got."
For critics who might think McGahee doesn't have enough left in the tank for another Pro Bowl season?
"I use that for fuel," he said. "You tell me I can't do it, my goal is to go prove you wrong."
With a 16-year difference between the oldest player on the Broncos' roster (Manning) and the youngest (Hillman), there were plenty of jokes between the younger players and veterans on the first morning of practice.
Hillman, who said he was 6 years old during Manning's rookie season, remembered playing as the video game version of Manning.
"All I (remember) is watching TV and watching all the coaches talking about how they can't stop him," Hillman said of his memories of Manning. "Playing with him on Madden, too, nobody would want to play (against) him because he was the best player on there."
Manning got in on the age-difference fun as well.
"(Wide receiver Brandon) Stokley and I were talking, and it's fun being around these guys who are 22 and 23," Manning said. "It keeps you feeling young. It's humbling at times when they say they enjoy seeing you play on ESPN Classic; that's not exactly what you want to hear. But I do enjoy getting to know these guys, and that part has been fun for me."
McGahee, who says he's not one to mess with the rookies too much, joked about Von Miller's comments about their age gap. "He's like, 'Man, I was in middle school when you were in college,' McGahee said. "I'm like, 'Von, shut the…'"