ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you're so inclined, you can bathe Monday's practice in ballyhoo, trumpeting that it's the first true competition between offense and defense since the 2012 season ended in January. Or you can simply call it the first on-field session of Phase Three of organized team activities.
The latter description has considerably less fanfare but is closer to the relatively businesslike spirit of the day.
It's one day, so this is only a snapshot. It's certainly not a big picture -- and for all we know, the players that flourished Monday could faceplant Tuesday, when the media isn't around to watch and take notes. The same could also be true in reverse. So don't make too much of Monday's work. But even a morsel is tasty after four months of starvation, so without further ado, here's five observations from the practice.
1. The Peyton Manning-to-Wes Welker connection delivered what you would expect on the first day of offense-versus-defense practice. They collaborated for some nice gains during team period of practice, but also had a missed connection during a seven-on-seven period, where Manning's toss was a bit too far.
"Going against a defense, we'll continue to learn, and there'll be some things we need to work on and improve," Manning said. "But that's what OTA's and training camp are for."
2. In terms of personnel, the offensive line isn't yet up to speed. Chris Kuper and J.D. Walton were among the players who were outside, but not practicing. Neither are expected back before training camp, but Walton's presence with the offensive line group during drills was a positive sight.
Safety Quinton Carter and rookie defensive end Quanterus Smith were also on hand, but limited to watching and working out. Carter, who is recovering from microfracture surgery, ran laps around an adjacent practice field.
Running back Willis McGahee was the only veteran not on hand for the practice, but that isn't unusual; he wasn't here for all of the OTAs last year, either.
"This is a voluntary camp," Head Coach John Fox said. "A lot of guys have certain offseason-type things, and it's been that way for us since they've been with our team."
3. Don't sleep on Greg Orton. There's a reason why the Broncos have kept the former Purdue and Arena Football wide receiver around for two seasons on the practice squad; as Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said on May 11: "We get to watch him every day against the defense, and he gets open a lot." Monday, Orton was a frequent target of Brock Osweiler, and their work was highlighted by an in-stride grab up the left sideline against the No. 2 defense during a seven-on-seven period.
It was a generally good day for some of the Broncos' younger targets. Others who jumped into my notebook because they kept making plays included receiver Gerell Robinson, who was on Arizona's practice squad last year before returning this offseason, and tight end Julius Thomas, who worked in an OTA for the first time in his career and displayed his athletic fluidity on a leaping catch from Osweiler during a seven-on-seven period.
Probably no receiver was more frustrated Monday than Trindon Holliday, who muffed consecutive punts in a special-teams period, but cleanly fielded the rest of the footballs launched his way. The returner said last week that ball security is his "main priority," and he planned to work on it throughout OTAs.
4. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said in March that one of tasks was to get used to playing alongside Kevin Vickerson, to figure out "each other's style and what we're comfortable with," as he said back then. Their offseason will focus on learning to play off each other. While there's only so much room for growth in the minimal-contact, no-hitting environment of OTAs, they can learn what points to attack when facing an opposing offensive line. If they flourish together, the Broncos could have their best interior presence against the run since the mid-2000s.
5. Last year, the Broncos brought in veterans Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence to bolster the cornerback corps. Chris Harris outplayed them both and eventually became the starter, just like he outplayed a host of others higher than him on the depth chart in his rookie season of 2011. Given his past play, it would be a shock if he didn't respond well to the big-ticket arrival of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and he got off to a good start by intercepting a Manning pass late in practice and returning it for a touchdown. From a player who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last year, that comes as no surprise.
"I mean, he's used to doing that," safety Rahim Moore said. "That's Chris Harris."
Safety Duke Ihenacho also intercepted a pass when rookie quarterback Zac Dysert tried to lob in a pass down the seam.