ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Mandatory minicamp concluded Thursday with no further injury setbacks and an emphasis on red-zone work throughout the two-hour practice at the UCHealth Training Center.
Notes from the Broncos' ninth on-field session of 2016 OTAs follow:
The Broncos wrapped up their minicamp week Thursday with plenty of offensive and defensive highlights. (photos by Eric Bakke)
- NO HELMETS, BUT NO SCALING BACK THE WORK.**
The veterans who received rest days Wednesday were back at work Thursday, but it was a ballcap session with no helmets.
"Our work's been good," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We took the helmets off today and kept our speed going. We've got a long way to go, but a lot of things to build off of."
The only unexpected absence from practice was that of inside linebacker Brandon Marshall, who was excused to be the guest speaker at the commencement exercises of Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas, Nev., his alma mater. In previous weeks, Marshall was limited to individual work as he recovers from surgery to repair a dislocated finger.
2. TAKING A LONG LOOK AT CORNERBACK DEPTH.
"Did you know the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity'?"
-- Lisa and Homer Simpson, 1994
Being without Aqib Talib this week is certainly something the Broncos were not expecting. But the extensive work given to Bradley Roby and Kayvon Webster this week can only help get a better gauge on the quality of the team's depth at cornerback as they face Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders regularly.
Thomas and Sanders had Wednesday off, but were back at work Thursday. Mark Sanchez targeted them on more than half of his throws, and each responded with big plays, including two catches by Sanders near the right sideline that saw him tap his feet just before getting in-bounds.
Roby and Webster will face few challenges like the one they have in practice, and even with the inherent disadvantage defenders have in non-contact practices, still made some plays.
"Kayvon's definitely improved. The game's slowing down for him," fellow cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "Now you get into Year Four, and he already has the tools and the ability to make plays.
Webster nearly had an interception Thursday, coming up just short on what would have been a diving pickoff of a Mark Sanchez throw to Demaryius Thomas.
"Sometimes your process can be slow as a cornerback, but now I think he's definitely sped up," Harris said. "Him and [Roby] definitely, I think they took that leap to where the game's slowing down for them."
The biggest key now is consistency. Harris said that Roby's ceiling is "high," but what he accomplishes is "up to him."
"It's about how much work he wants to put in, because he has the talent. It's always about how much work you want to put in, and preparation each week," Harris said. "And do you have that mindset of, 'I want to be the best every day,' and not have one of those days where I'm balling, I'm confident, and then out of nowhere, you just don't show up. He just has to be more consistent.
"I've seen him definitely grow this offseason. He just has to eliminate those dumb days when he just doesn't want to play. If he can just continue to grow and be consistent every day, he has a very high ceiling."
3. MAINTAINING THE DEFENSIVE AGGRESSION WITHOUT TALIB.
Talib's absence will allow the Broncos to evaluate Roby, Webster and second-year cornerback Lorenzo Doss and see if they can handle being left on an island in man coverage as Phillips did so often last year with Harris, Talib and Roby.
"Definitely. I'm positive that all our corners are able to handle that, down to Doss," Harris said.
Doss' play in particular has caught Harris' eye.
"I think Doss is the only one ahead of me in pass breakups [during OTAs and minicamp],'" Harris said. "So he's definitely having great OTAs, too."
4. QUICK REACTIONS IN COVERAGE.
Corey Nelson and Todd Davis have each made plays to break up passes in OTAs, but Thursday it was Davis' turn, as he made a quick read on a Sanchez attempt to C.J. Anderson in the right flat to swat away the pass.
Rookie Justin Simmons has also shown a knack for being around the football throughout OTAs, and during the seven-on-seven period he reacted quickly when Trevor Siemian looked for Henry Krieger-Coble on a short pass across the middle.
What was most impressive was how Simmons avoided heavy contact. Most of the time, a player positioned as Simmons was, just behind the tight end, would creep onto the target's back, drawing a flag. Simmons avoided that trap and made a clean deflection.
"He made quite a few plays," Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We chart every day how many plays they make, what they do well and what they do wrong. He's in the plus territory, so he's doing well."
Safety T.J. Ward also made a play on the football, intercepting a pass from Sanchez in the end zone during the seven-on-seven period and darting up the east sideline for a long return.
5. SANCHEZ PASSING THE TEST SO FAR.
Even without players like Talib, Marshall, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, the defense is fast and formidable.
"It's definitely hard. They've got to go against us every day, so we're not making it easy for them," Harris said. "But I think Mark had a great week this week."
Ward's interception was just the third of OTAs for Sanchez, and only the second since the first period of the first OTA on May 24.
"He's done some really good things," Kubiak said. "[But] today I reminded him of some mistakes that he made in the red zone. He's got to play really well for this team, and he's capable of doing that."
- "UP AND DOWN" FOR PAXTON LYNCH.**
That's how Kubiak described his progress, and such vacillation is is expected just nine practices into his NFL career.
One area at which Lynch is improving is anticipating his receivers' routes as they make their breaks. Lynch is able to release the ball as they start their cut to the outside, and the football usually arrives on time.
"Paxton is so talented. It's an easy thing to see how gifted he is throwing the ball and stuff," Kubiak said.
But while Lynch is improving at looking off the safety and using his shoulder fake and pump fake to disguise his intent, sometimes he will overthink in the moment, which leads to a delayed throw.
"Sometimes he'll get real slow because that's when you're thinking too much," Kubiak said. "It's up to us as coaches to lock in to what he really understands and what he's doing and cut him loose.
"In my mind right now if we're in Chicago, first preseason [game], I know what he knows. We have to have growth upon that as we move forward. He's got to continue to grind in what he's doing. A lot of expectations."
- DeCAMILLIS: PUNTING COMPETITION IS "NECK AND NECK."**
So far, there is no clear leader in the duel between Britton Colquitt and rookie Riley Dixon.
"Riley has got a lot of ability, but Britton is a smooth, good veteran," DeCamillis said. "It's going to be a heck of a competition going into training camp."
Thursday, Dixon and Colquitt worked on their placement punting, with the line of scrimmage near midfield. All of their punts stayed out of the end zone. Each had hang times of greater than 4.4 seconds on four of their five punts.
"I don't think we had a touchback, which is good in that particular drill," DeCamillis said.