DENVER — Courtland Sutton stopped near the tunnel to sign imaginary autographs.
Dalton Risner played imaginary catch with an imaginary fan.
The tight ends pretended to pump up the empty stands during pre-practice warmups.
Empower Field at Mile High felt different Saturday, as the Broncos practiced on their home field without fans in attendance. It was a preview of the Broncos' Sept. 14 opener against the Tennessee Titans, and it wasn't quite the same as having 76,000 fans celebrate every score.
Instead, the Broncos — like teams around the country will likely do — relied on artificial crowd noise to replicate a traditional game-day environment.
"It was really weird, without a doubt," Drew Lock said after practice. "It sounds like there's fans here. Then you look up and there's no one behind any one on the sideline. It was weird. It does add a little bit there. We're not just out at practice where it's completely quiet and nothing's going on. It's definitely a little different. We'd rather have real fans, obviously. It's something we'll have to adjust to."
Lock and Head Coach Vic Fangio both mentioned the possibility of returning to Empower Field at Mile High again before the opener for a night-time practice, and Lock suggested the team may also begin to blare artificial noise in at practice, as they often do in the regular season.
The Broncos will not have fans at their first two games, as the Steelers — the Broncos' Week 2 opponent — also announced they will not host fans in the season's first two weeks.
While Fangio would prefer to have fans in attendance, he thought the Broncos' solution was a strong alternative.
"I thought the environment was fine," Fangio said. "That was realistic crowd noise. That's what it could be on home games until we have fans or road games that don't have fans. I thought it was good, it was better. Being in a big-league stadium brings a little oomph to the party and I felt that early on. You could tell guys getting ready and dressed, it was more game-like than practice-like. I think the games will still be highly competitive as they always have been. You just won't have the third party there, meaning the fans, which are an important part of sports."
Von Miller, who has long entertained fans with his sack dances, agreed with his head coach.
"It was different, but when you start running around and stuff, they've got the crowd noise in there," Miller said. "When you start running around, you're not really paying attention to it. It's just different. It's definitely different and definitely not the same not having all of the fans and all of Broncos Country in there. But the crowd noise, it does the job."
WHERE THE BRONCOS STAND
The Broncos have just over two weeks until they kick off the season against Tennessee, and Fangio feels like his team is in a good spot despite limited practice time. But the week ahead, Fangio said, may be the most important of all of training camp.
"I like our team," Fangio said. "I like where we're at. Obviously, I wish some of the guys that have been missing time with the nagging injuries were practicing, but I like where we're at. It's a little uncomfortable comparing it to all the other years in the NFL with the lack of time and no preseason games, but all 32 of us are in the same boat. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out. We have to do well. We have five days of practice this coming week before we get into Tennessee week. These are probably the most valuable practices we'll have through camp. We have to take advantage of them to iron out some things, get sharp and get ready for our opener."
MAYOR HANCOCK ADDRESSES THE TEAM
As practice concluded, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock joined the team on the field and spoke to the group for several minutes.
"He spoke to the team for a little bit and thanked them for their work in the community," Fangio said. "[He] thanked them for the work they're going to do featuring the community and pledged his support to help. It was a good visit."
Fangio said Hancock's visit was "a combination of the players and the organization reaching out to him." He said Hancock had a mutual interest in speaking to the team. Fangio expects the organization will have other individuals address the team at a later date.