ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --With no pads and helmets, Friday's one-hour rookie minicamp practice marked a quiet start to what the newest Broncos hope is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
The moment was momentous, but so will plenty of others to come -- including next Monday, when these rookies work with their new veteran teammates for the first time.
"Once you walk out those doors and you step out here [onto the practice field], it kind of sinks in," first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch said. "But I think it will really hit me once all of those veterans get back in there and we're all in the locker room together and we've got to practice.
"I think when I get out there with the vets, it will feel for real."
This weekend's work is about getting the Broncos ready for that moment -- but doing so carefully, which is where we open the takeaways from Friday's session.
1. Scaling back the on-field work.
Last year's rookie camp ended being defined by the season-ending torn ACL suffered by tight end Jeff Heuerman. This year, there are changes.
The biggest change was signified by the baseball caps worn on players' heads, rather than helmets. That means keeping things at a jog-through pace, and emphasizing teaching over higher-speed repetitions.
"We did change from a standpoint [that] we don't want to get combative or [have] too much 11-on-11 stuff, so we're really just jogging through," Kubiak said. "When we are doing individual [work], we want to find out what we have, and what type of shape they're in. So it's kind of cut in half, so to speak."
Other teams are tweaking their weekends in the hopes of avoiding the injuries that defined rookie minicamps league-wide last year. Like Heuerman, Jaguars first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. tore his ACL during his rookie minicamp and was lost for the season.
Meetings and orientation sessions also define the weekend.
"It's quality time for us. We had them for two hours last night in meetings; we've got them here for a couple of days," Kubiak said. "We can show them a lot of examples about players, and talk about guys that aren't in the building that will be in the building on Monday."
The work will continue Saturday without Lynch, who graduates from Memphis then. But the Broncos will have RB Devontae Booker, who graduated from Utah on Friday.
- How Lynch did -- and how he's "all in."**
During the individual period of practice, Lynch threw an array of short to intermediate throws to his receivers and fullbacks, working outside to the receivers and inside to Andy Janovich and Manasseh Garner coming out to the backfield.
"Just watching him today, he's swimming," Kubiak said. But from the start to finish, just handling the huddle, those types of things, I think this guy is going to make up a lot of ground very quickly.
"He's very eager. He's got some very good characteristics or energy, I should say, from a leadership standpoint -- just watching him work out there.
"There's a lot to do, but he's all in, so we're looking forward to it."
Given that it was Lynch's first day, the timing was not always where he wanted it.
"I thought I threw decent," Lynch said. "It was my first time throwing in a while to real receivers, so I came out here, got some work with the other guys, and obviously our timing is going to be off in learning the footwork and learning their steps, so it's going to be a little different."
Having a former college teammate, Mose Frazier, helped him. Lynch completed more passes to Frazier than anyone else at Memphis.
"Having Mose here makes me feel a little bit at home, just because we have kind of got that chemistry," Lynch said.
"We've got a long way to go," Kubiak said. "But it's exciting to see a kid like that and what he can become."
3. Getting under center is the big point of emphasis for Lynch.
All of Lynch's work Friday was under center and dropping back. That's nothing new for him; he has been focused on that aspect of his game ever since Memphis' season ended and he transitioned into NFL-preparation mode, so he could show teams that he had the ability to operate under center.
But he's also leaning back on the early days of his matriculation at the University of Memphis.
"We did this offense my freshman year at Memphis, so I've been in the huddle, I've been under center, I've done all that," he said. "Then at Memphis we had to re-learn in the spread. So now I'm just re-learning what I learned."
That eases the transition a bit, but there are profound differences.
"It's the NFL, there's way more terminology. There's more stuff you've got to know at the line," Lynch said.
"I know there's a lot to coach me up on right now, just because I just started," he added. "I'm just trying to get used to everything."
There may be no better position at which to take two players in the same draft class than safety.
Not only can the two players push each other, but they can also begin building the communication that is so vital to the position -- perhaps more so than any other position on defense, since the safeties play a key role in getting the entire unit set before the snap.
As third- and sixth-round picks, respectively, Simmons and Parks can lean on each other and built a rapport that will help ease their transition and prepare them to contribute in the NFL at some point.
"We were just working together out there on the field, and working through communication to make sure that we were setting each other up," Simmons said, "and just talking through plays.
"It's awesome," Simmons continued. "Having another guy like Will to push me and myself pushing Will -- that's what you want."
Simmons even used last year's offseason slogan to describe how he expects the symbiotic relationship with Parks to work.
"The term, 'iron sharpens iron,' that's kind of what you want here," Simmons said. "So when we're out here on Monday and you get to meet the rest of the guys, we've already pushed each other, so we can continue to do that with the vets, and hopefully make this defense that much better."
- A key point of emphasis: learning "what it is to be a Bronco."**
That, above all else, is what Kubiak wants his newest players to take from the weekend's work.
"We get four football practices, and we're going to throw a lot at them from that standpoint," Kubiak said. "But I just hope they get a feel for being around this building, understanding how we want them to go about their business, deal with you guys [the media], understanding who they are in this town when they're working.
"When they walk in the locker room Monday, I'd like to get them as comfortable as I can, because that's a big shock for them. A little bit of football, and a lot about life here for a couple of days."
- So what does it mean to "be a Bronco"?**
Simmons listened intently at meetings and offered his take on that phrase.
"It's tradition. It's the winning tradition. It's carrying yourself with class, high character -- and most importantly, and I think Coach Kubiak hits it hard, it's carrying yourself as a professional," he said.
"It's no longer Boston College in front of my name, or even my last time, with Simmons. It's Denver Broncos before anything else.
"In doing that, it's more than myself. It's more than even the people that have come just a little bit before me. It's that past tradition; it's that winning tradition.
"It means a lot. It makes you want to carry yourself the right way. and have the right mindset when you're in the facility, and even out off the field, as well."
The Broncos got their 2016 rookie minicamp underway Friday. (photos by Eric Bakke unless otherwise noted)
- Getting ready for to roll with the veterans.**
By Monday, the coaches hope the rookies have acclimated just enough to where they are ready to work with the returning veterans.
"Monday's kind of a shock for these kids, because they come in here for a couple of days and they feel good with what they're doing, and they walk in the locker room with Aqib [Talib] and those guys," Kubiak said. "So it's a little bit different. I'm trying to get them ready for that."
Simmons and Parks got a head start on that, meeting starting safety T.J. Ward, who stopped by to watch the rookie practice.
"[It's] a guy being in here when he doesn't have to, just showing the hard work it takes to be where he's at," Simmons said, "A guy of that caliber, that's where you want to be. Seeing that makes you makes you want to work even harder to get to that point.
Simmons and the rest of the defensive players at rookie camp listened as Ward spoke to them during a pre-practice meeting.
Ward's advice? Pay attention to your coaches.
"He was just like, 'Hey, man, you guys just go out there, have fun, really pay attention to what Coach [Joe] Woods and Coach Samson [Brown] are telling you; they obviously know what they're doing,'" Simmons recalled.