ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Adam Gase wants his offense to go faster. So what better way to underline this point than by wasting no time getting to the up-tempo work during organized team activities?
"We're just working on the fast part right now," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said.
"It's something that we're getting used to right now," added running back Ronnie Hillman. "I think it's going to be a great thing, it lets us just get out there and play fast."
That's something that wouldn't have been possible for the offense in its first year with Peyton Manning at quarterback. During last year's OTAs and training camp, the Broncos had to gradually progress into being able to run an up-tempo offense. Doing so in the first week of offseason practices would have led to three wasted days. Given the limitations placed on May and June sessions, that would have been more than the Broncos could have afforded.
But when Manning and Gase scan the field, they see plenty of familiar faces. It's easier to bring a handful of players up to speed – and ask them to catch up to their teammates – rather than bring the entire group from zero to 60. Players like Wes Welker and Louis Vasquez can catch up, and lean on their teammates to help them.
The challenge isn't just in learning the playbook and applying it, but executing a quick offense at 5,280 feet above sea level.
"Well at first it was the altitude, getting acclimated and being here," said Vasquez. Once I'm acclimated and all that, now it's just the terminology. That is just going to come naturally."
Although Manning's career has been defined by his ability to dictate the game's pace without a huddle, the Patriots and Tom Brady have become the standard-bearers for quick play. In 2012, they snapped the ball once every 24.7 seconds of possession time; against the Broncos in Week 5, that pace was once every 24.1 seconds, only held back by a heavy run emphasis in the second half of Denver's 31-21 loss at Gillette Stadium.
The Broncos were up-tempo, but averaged one snap per 27.5 seconds. As a result, the Patriots ran 101 more plays last year – an average of 6.3 more per game. But tempo is about more than raw numbers of plays relative to possession time; it's about keeping the defense from being able to substitute or adjust. If the Broncos learn how to play at the fastest possible tempo now, it will be easier for them to work more deliberately later – whether they huddle or not.
"I would say the tempo we're going at right now – it's more predicated due to the fact that everybody is the same page," Gase said. "That is really what I was talking about in terms of our speed of the game – it is all going to be predicated off of Eric (Decker), Wes and the tight ends knowing what's going on and being able to keep up with the quarterback. That's really what's going to increase our play."
Manning should easily be able to dictate the pace with a word or two at the line of scrimmage. If he detects a tired, discombobulated defense, he can call for a quick snap; if he sees otherwise, he can take his time to set up the offense – or give his teammates a chance to catch their breaths."He has the ability to slow it down. If I call a play and he wants to take a peek, he has the ability to slow that down. He's able to change the pace of the drive," Gase said. "We can be in the third play and he could slow it down, he can speed it back up. We have the ability to code-word things and guys know that there are trigger words to say, 'Hey, we're going now.'"
And then it's a question of how fast – and how far – they go."A lot of people can't keep up with our team. We're a fast team," said Hillman. "So, hopefully it translates over to the season."