ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos have two more days to end their organized team activities on a high point. But their last offseason on-field work in front of media for 2015 was anything but a peak in Head Coach Gary Kubiak's eyes; it was pockmarked with miscues and dropped passes.
"Let me be honest with you, we didn't practice [well] today," Kubiak said. "We were kind of sloppy and we were down some people. We did get going and practiced better at the end of practice but we've got to push through. It wasn't our best day, that's for sure."
That didn't mean there weren't some good performances on the day, but missed opportunities held back the offense at times. At the end of practice, the No. 1 offense drove to a C.J. Anderson touchdown run against the top defense, but that was aided by a pass-interference call against cornerback Bradley Roby, who was in coverage against wide receiver Nathan Palmer.
The absence of some receivers pushed Palmer up the ladder. That's where the takeaways from Monday's organized team activity begin.
- OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHER RECEIVERS.**
With Demaryius Thomas' status unchanged and Cody Latimer watching from the sideline with a hamstring injury, Palmer had the chance to get on the field and catch passes from Peyton Manning during a team period.
Wide receivers Jordan Norwood and Kyle Williams also had hamstring issues. Palmer and Bennie Fowler both responded with multiple receptions. Fowler got up high for one grab from Brock Osweiler.
Solomon Patton also saw extended work with Osweiler throughout practice and used his quickness to consistently get open underneath.
"We were very short at practice at wide receiver and defensive line, but we made it through," Kubiak said.
2. MANNING STEPS UP IN THE HURRY-UP.
To the surprise of no one, Manning flourished when the Broncos went into the two-minute drill, recovering from some difficulty on his first series to guide the offense to a touchdown on the second.
"He struggled one period and he took them right down the next period," Kubiak said. "But I think he's getting real comfortable with what we are doing and then there's times we're turning loose with what he's done and obviously that's an easy comfort zone for him."
Manning displayed a good feel for the pass rush, adeptly stepping forward to elude one Von Miller rush and later reading the blitz perfectly and finding Palmer open on the outside to set the offense up in a first-and-goal situation.
Manning also showed his usual ability to drop the football into the narrowest of windows. He found Anderson near the left sideline, dropping the pass in despite skin-tight coverage from linebacker Todd Davis. The officials working the practice ruled it was a catch, despite the defense's protestations. It was vintage Manning, and also showed another dimension to Anderson's game.
3. KENNY ANUNIKE TAKES CHARGE.
Before suffering a season-ending elbow injury late in last year's preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys, then-undrafted rookie Kenny Anunike was a summer star, and seemed poised to crack at least the practice squad, if not the 53-man roster.
This year, he's tried to pick up where he left off -- albeit from a different position. Although fellow 4-3 defensive end DeMarcus Ware moved to outside linebacker, the Broncos kept Anunike on the line, forcing him inside to work as a 3- and 5-technique end in the new 3-4 alignment.
The continued absence of Antonio Smith and a sore quadriceps for Vance Walker opened a door for him Monday, and he responded by consistently breaking through the No. 2 offensive line and generating consistent pressure on Osweiler and Zac Dysert.
Anunike played at 260 pounds last year, but is now between 270 and 275 pounds. That still leaves him as the Broncos' lightest defensive lineman by a 10-to-15-pound margin, but he's able to use that to his advantage.
"No question. Being a little bit smaller guy in there, I'm able to use my agility (and) my speed to get around those bigger, heavier guards and get back there on the quarterback and make those TFLs [tackles for losses] that I was making out there today," Anunike explained.
During one period late in practice, he wreaked havoc, swatting away one Dysert pass at the line of scrimmage and surging past Matt Paradis and Shelley Smith to generate later in the series, which went along with a pressure he mounted on Osweiler moving inside of rookie Max Garcia.
But Anunike's tipped passes -- one each against Dysert and Osweiler -- might have been his most impressive plays of the day. On both, he didn't have a big pass-rush lane, so he pulled back and moved inside to get in better position to deflect the attempts. This is exactly what the Broncos' defensive coaches want to see: linemen who quickly get their hands up.
This also helps allow the linemen to capitalize on the pressure from the outside. If they're in position to deflect passes, they give the quarterback no safe option, whether, inside, outside or throwing into a thicket of upraised arms.
"We have two perennial Pro Bowlers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller coming off the edge. Those quarterbacks, they see it, and they feel that pressure. So what are they going to do? Naturally, they're going to step up," Anunike said. "That's going to give us guys in the 3-[technique], the 5-[technique], the nose, the shade and the four-technique an opportunity to get that quarterback when he steps up."
- TY SAMBRAILO'S TRIAL BY FIRE.**
Every repetition Sambrailo receives against Ware helps. There won't be many instances in the regular season when Sambrailo must contend with anyone tougher and more athletic than the eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro.
Ware generated pressure early in practice, but as the session went on, Sambrailo settled down. He did a better job getting in position to guide Ware outside the pocket and behind Manning, from which point the quarterback stepped up and made his throws. When Ware went inside, left guard Ben Garland helped contain him.
The left-side duo also helped spring Anderson for one of his better runs, quickly getting outside to clear the way for an Anderson sweep to the left.
The challenge for Sambrailo and Garland cranks up when the pads go on for training camp in August. But if they can hold their own against Ware and defensive end Malik Jackson, then they will have a good base on which to build against other defenders when the regular season arrives.
- KICKIN' IT:**
Connor Barth and Brandon McManus divided the placekicking repetitions Thursday, and each endured some ups and downs -- with an emphasis on the latter during Monday's work.
During one period, Barth missed wide right, then hit a re-kick and another attempt after that. One of the attempts he hit in practice saw the football bounce off the right upright and through the goal posts.
McManus missed wide right and also hit the left and right uprights during his work Monday. McManus' leg strength remains his greatest asset; on a missed 55-yarder, the football hit halfway up the left upright; if it had possessed the accuracy, it might have been good from 70 yards.
Kubiak wasn't watching the kickers, but he was aware of their struggles.
"Somebody told me they missed a few," he said. "I'll go back and look but obviously it wasn't good enough today, but we'll see."
Punters Britton Colquitt and Karl Schmitz held for both. This is crucial, because if the Broncos end up keeping just two kicking specialists -- as Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis has indicated he would prefer -- then the surviving placekicker will have to adjust to a new holder if Schmitz beats out Colquitt.
Kubiak reiterated DeCamillis' sentiments about preferring not to use one of the 53 spots on someone who specializes in kickoffs.
"I think you'd love to have that roster spot somewhere else," Kubiak said. "I think things happen to you during the season where you have to do things differently and I think that's what happened here last year. So, we'll see how it works out."
The Broncos donned helmets again to open the last phase of OTAs and make their final impressions before training camp in July.
- OTHER NOTES:**
Dysert made some good decisions during his work Monday, none better than when he escaped the pocket after outside linebacker Gerald Rivers got past left tackle Michael Schofield. Dysert adeptly felt the pressure, stepped up and took off into the open field for what would have been a potential 20-yard gain in game conditions. …
… Rookie nose tackle Darius Kilgo was disruptive, getting a good push inside and getting his hands up to deflect a pass. …
… Outside linebacker Shane Ray did not see any team repetitions, but he did work in seven-on-seven. He simulated pass rushes and dropped into coverage. …
… Running back Montee Ball read the blocks in front of him well throughout the practice. He accelerated well after making his cuts and turned that into some solid gains, particularly late in practice …
… David Bruton and Omar Bolden saw more work with T.J. Ward absent from the voluntary session. Bolden punctuated his day with a pick-six off Brock Osweiler during a seven-on-seven period. Rookie cornerback Lorenzo Doss also came with an eyelash of a pick-six off Osweiler during a team period. …
… Cornerback Kayvon Webster was aggressive and active, highlighting his day with a leaping deflection of an Osweiler pass intended for wide receiver David Porter.