ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Prior to the beginning of rookie camp on Friday, it had been at least four months since any of the Broncos' newest members suited up for practice, but each was still plenty busy.
Between training for the Combine and pro days or visiting and interviewing with teams, Denver's rookies have had a lot to draw their attention. Just getting back on the turf provided some relief on Friday.
"It was a long pre-draft process, so it's nice to finally get out there on the field and play some actual football," said tight end Jeff Heuerman, whose last major action ended with his team celebrating under confetti after a national championship victory over Oregon in January.
The team's third-round pick has used the months since to overcome an ankle injury that bothered him throughout the 2014 season and kept him from reaching the production (26 catches, 466 yards, 4 TDs) he posted in 2013. Now fresh and healthy, Heuerman looked the part on Friday, exploding out of his cuts and even making a nifty one-handed grab during one-on-one drills.
While that catch was a nice moment for the rookie on his first day he didn't make too much of it.
"I didn't feel like 'I've arrived,'" Heuerman said, laughing. "I was just glad I caught it. I'm really far away from arriving."
Yes, there's a long way to go even before the start of training camp, but there's also reason to expect an early impact from the now-healthy tight end in his debut season. Even with Virgil Green re-signing and free agent additions in Owen Daniels and James Casey, the prominence of tight ends in Head Coach Gary Kubiak's system should offer the 92nd overall pick in the draft plenty of chances to showcase his skills.
"Learning the playbook these last few days ... tight ends are very active," Heuerman said. "That's what you want.
"There's a lot of tight ends here too and I'm looking forward to learning from them and competing."
Kubiak has already taken notice of Heuerman around Dove Valley and is happy with what he sees.
"He's played in a big program, so nothing is [too] big of a stage for him," Kubiak said. "Walking around this locker room, being around people, watching him prepare for practice, you can tell. He's got a bright future."
The former Buckeye admitted his head is spinning "a little bit" while learning the pro-style playbook. That's understandable considering Heuerman is learning to huddle for the first time after never doing so in high school or college. (As he put it with a laugh, "It's cool -- I go opposite the quarterback.")
But he added that coaches are "not overdoing it" with the mental workload, and players are responding well on the field
"We had a good [practice] this morning," he said. "They haven't given us so much that we can't handle (it)."
Heuerman isn't the only one adapting quickly to his new team. Tackle Ty Sambrailo said the dream of being an NFL player sunk in when he put on a Bronco jersey and helmet for Friday's practice, but he isn't shy about trying to seize a starting job.
"I'm extremely ready," Sambrailo said when asked about the responsibility of protecting Peyton Manning. "Obviously there is a process and a path that needs to be taken to get to a place where I can compete for that job."
The rookie tackle's transition to the Broncos' offense should be aided by his experience in Jim McElwain's system at CSU, which is one of the more pro-ready schemes in college football and involves "a lot of outside zone" runs, a staple of Kubiak's offenses over the years. Those reps with the Rams should help Sambrailo -- who Kubiak called "a quick study" after the draft -- catch on quickly.
"It's a lot of the same technique and ideas, it's just different verbiage," Sambrailo said. "I think kind of learning the new language will take a little bit, but once that kicks in, it'll be pretty easy."
How quickly Sambrailo and Heuerman progress will help determine whether or not the Broncos will see returns on the 2015 draft in September, but they appear to be on the right track. They'll get an opportunity to show what they've learned in a few weeks, when the veterans will join the rookies on the field for the team's first OTAs.
Check out photos from the first day of rookie camp, where several new Broncos made their first appearances on the field. (All photos by Gabriel Christus)