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Notebook: NFL 'starts feeling real' as draft picks, CFAs and other young players hit the field for rookie minicamp


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — About two weeks ago, Marvin Mims Jr. endured an excruciating wait that ended with getting a phone call from the Broncos.

But being drafted and knowing that he'd reached the NFL didn't truly set in until this weekend, when he arrived in Denver for the team's rookie minicamp.

"After the draft, it was cool for that weekend," Mims said. "And then Monday hits and I'm sitting around just waiting, training and all that stuff. Then, to get here, you actually start feeling it. … Walking around and seeing other guys here, it starts feeling real."

For Mims and the nearly two dozen other rookies, practicing as part of an NFL team is "a dream come true," as he described it, but they also know their work is just beginning.

On Friday, the group of draft picks, college free agents, first-year veteran players, pro tryout players and rookie tryout players hit the field for the first time during rookie minicamp, and then held their second practice on Saturday before local media.

The goal for each of them is essentially the same — to make a good impression.

As Head Coach Sean Payton said after practice, this period can provide a toehold for players to enter the league, even for tryout players, as it was for Adam Thielen in 2013. And for the teams, it can end up providing them with great players that may instead find a welcome home elsewhere.

"Historically — and we talk about this all of the time as coaches — for me, my biggest fear is that somebody that is out here for three days ends up somewhere else [and is] playing well," Payton said. "We are really trying to look at everyone. Not just the draft picks, but the guys that are here for three days. The challenge sometimes because we're not in pads, if any one of us were here for just three days, we're going to go pretty hard and try to make an impression."


As media watched practice from the hill, inside linebacker Drew Sanders made the kind of play that has Broncos fans eager to see him in action in the fall, picking off quarterback Ben DiNucci in 7-on-7 action.

"I just did my job and it ended up working out in my favor," Sanders said.

Payton said the play was part of a larger trend with players from the draft class making impact plays.

"The draft class has all made a number of plays," Payton said. "… It was good play by Drew, [he had] a good break. Marvin had a real good set of plays yesterday. We're rotating a lot of guys in. Then what we'll do as the staff, [is] we'll have a quick lunch, then we'll go up there, we'll just sit in that room and watch every rep together, which is a little different maybe than you would do in season. But you're watching it together, you're talking about who we're looking at, [if he is a] tryout player [or] signed free agent. Shoot, we have nine or 10 of our own players that are here on roster that are allowed to be here because they don't have a credited league year. We are really watching each rep and trying to get a handle on how the guys are doing."

As the Broncos hosted rookies, other first-year players and players trying out for the team, take a closer look at the work on the field with photos from Broncos team photographers.


The Broncos' more veteran players did not take part in the annual rookie minicamp, of course, but they have been hard at work in recent weeks during the offseason workout program, progressing through the stages that started with strength and conditioning workouts before gradually ramping up to football activities as spring goes on.

And during that period, it's also been a learning experience for the new coaching staff as it jells together.

"With our team, currently we're in Phase II," Payton said. "In that, simply, we're still lifting, running and doing a lot of that. That's gone well. Phase II allows you to get on the field. … It's not this [rookie minicamp], it's more football school. We made this comment in the staff meeting; we're getting our logistics as coaches, where we're at with the stations, where I expect drills to be, where I expect players, what I expect it's supposed to look like."


In each of the previous two years, the Broncos have conducted a joint practice against another team before playing them in a preseason game.

And with the Rams coming to town in August, Denver's hoping to make it a third straight year, Payton said Saturday.

Payton noted that nothing has been announced yet, but he said the intention is for the Broncos to welcome the Rams to Denver for a joint practice during the week leading up to a preseason Week 3 game vs. Los Angeles.

"We're on the road with two games, and I think the goal is to have a joint practice with the Rams," Payton said. "[Rams head coach] Sean [McVay] and I have talked, and then I know that obviously the ownership groups are connected, and [Rams general manager] Les [Snead] and [Broncos GM] George [Paton]. There's been no announcement made, but I think our hopes and goal is to have a chance to practice here. … So our goal is to have a joint practice with Los Angeles and then play that third game."

The Broncos' preseason game vs. the Rams is slated for Aug. 26 at Empower Field at Mile High.

Denver previously has taken part in joint practices on 13 occasions, including last year's practice with the Cowboys at the Broncos' team headquarters and 2021's practices against the Vikings. From 2014-19, joint practices were an annual occurrence, with five of those being held at the Broncos' training facility.


One immediately noticeable difference from previous offseason practices was that players' helmets were almost completely blank, all without the usual Broncos logo decals on the sides.

Payton said it doesn't represent any kind of symbolic meaning, though — nothing to do with having to earn it or anything like that.

"It's the spring, so the equipment guys have to begin to put stuff on helmets or not," Payton said. "There's nothing significant about that other than … it's really just simply a functional decision. Let's make sure that we've got the tape on the front with their last name. And then training camp start the same way and at some point we'll put the logos on the helmets. It's probably just because that's what we've always done, and it's easier for the equipment room. It's not this, 'Hey, you haven't earned it,' because these logos aren't going to be on for any of them this whole offseason. There's just no reason. I think everyone knows they're all Denver Broncos players; there's no confusion. But I think more just practical."

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