ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The offseason is a time for optimism, and the Broncos emerged from OTAs and minicamp feeling well about their progress and the potential for schematic changes to alter the team's fortunes after consecutive losing seasons.
But as usual, a few players stood out from the work. Here are 10 players whose performance kept earning stars in my notebook from the five practices media was able to witness at UCHealth Training Center over the last four weeks:
CB DE'VANTE BAUSBY
A season in the ill-fated Alliance of American Football left him in regular-season shape for the start of OTAs, and the absence of Chris Harris Jr. until last week gave him an opportunity to work on the first team in sub packages. Bausby capitalized, building off his prior experience in Head Coach Vic Fangio's scheme with the Bears and the ballhawking potential he displayed in the AAF.
The competition between Bausby and Isaac Yiadom for the No. 4 cornerback spot will be one worth monitoring at training camp -- especially because there could be times when Kareem Jackson works at safety, leaving one of them as the No. 3 cornerback behind Harris and Bryce Callahan.
OLB BRADLEY CHUBB
It should come as no surprise that Chubb and Von Miller represented the biggest problems for the offense as it attempted to find its footing in Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello's scheme.
At times it was difficult to separate one pass rusher from the other in terms of how often each generated pressure on Joe Flacco. Chubb was particularly effective at complementing his work past the outside shoulder of the tackle or tight end with an effective interior surge up the B-gap past the tackle's inside shoulder.
QB JOE FLACCO
It's all about leadership and decision-making for the Broncos' new starting quarterback. Hordes of teammates praised the former, and his work during OTAs and minicamp displayed the latter.
Flacco's ability to stretch defenses vertically is well-known, and he continued to utilize the deep pass as a key component of his arsenal. But with Chubb and Miller bearing down on him and Fangio and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell dialing up pressure from all levels of the defense, Flacco did well at identifying the spots vacated by pressure, allowing him to keep the offense going with short-to-intermediate passes.
Running back Devontae Booker, fullback Andy Janovich and tight ends Troy Fumagalli, Noah Fant and Jeff Heuerman were all beneficiaries of Flacco's quick decisions.
RB ROYCE FREEMAN
With Phillip Lindsay completing his recovery from offseason wrist surgery, Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker both saw extensive work with the first-team offense. Booker was particularly effective catching passes out of the backfield, which has been his strength over the last three seasons.
But Freeman looked like he could be capable of carrying the load for extensive stretches, having put an injury-derailed rookie season behind him.
What was especially impressive was Freeman's ability to generate extra yardage via sharp cutbacks in the backfield. To find success in any iteration of this scheme -- going back to the 1990s 49ers, where Mike Shanahan built on the Bill Walsh concepts before carrying them to Denver in 1995 -- the running back must be able to make quick, decisive cuts to capitalize on defenders being drawn out of position as they follow the initial flow of the play.
TE AUSTIN FORT
A leaping touchdown grab during a red-zone period in the third week of OTAs provided a signature moment for Fort, whose play is part of how the tight-end group has turned into one of the deepest on the roster.
Fort, Bug Howard and first-round pick Noah Fant made catches all over the field during their first Broncos offseason. While Fant looks primed to have a significant role, particularly as a red-zone and third-down target, Fort could work his way into a practice-squad spot -- or perhaps more -- if he continues to maximize his opportunities.
TE TROY FUMAGALLI
Until a dropped pass this week, the second-year tight end caught everything thrown his way during the open-to-media practices. Fumagalli flourished at finding vacant areas within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and Flacco found him for a series of solid pickups.
The short-area route-running evoked memories of fellow Wisconsin product Owen Daniels, who played with Joe Flacco in 2014 in Baltimore and operated in a similar scheme with the Ravens that year and Denver one year later.
Fumagalli used his rookie season to recover from a sports hernia, but as he rehabilitated, he hit the weight room. He said that he added 10 pounds over the course of the regular season. In the long term, Fumagalli could offer a physical complement as an in-line tight end to Fant.
“He’s doing great," Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello said. "Again, he was an unknown. No film on him. It’s hard to see what you have before you get here. He’s done a great job like a lot of guys we’re excited about. He works very hard at it. He has the right attitude. He’s competitive and he’s versatile."
S WILL PARKS
With multiple interceptions and some near-thefts -- including one this week -- Parks could be one of the primary beneficiaries of a scheme that is designed to generate interceptions.
Parks also did well at providing pressure when asked to attack the quarterback.
OLB MALIK REED
While there was a moment this week when Reed's aggressiveness resulted in a collision with rookie QB Drew Lock, he more often did well at properly channeling his quick first step and his burst off the edge to breach the pocket and make things uncomfortable for the Broncos' three backup quarterbacks.
Reed also looked comfortable dropping into space in coverage, a product of the time he spent as a 4-3 linebacker at Nevada, when coverage was a key part of his responsibilities.
WR COURTLAND SUTTON
It's important to view Sutton's rookie season in the proper context. While the final four games of the season did not go as he hoped, as the offense languished without Emmanuel Sanders, he still became the 15th rookie receiver since 2010 to finish with at least 40 receptions, 700 yards, four touchdowns and 14.0 yards per reception.
Most of the receivers in that group went on to become among the league's elite pass catchers. Doug Baldwin, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Amari Cooper and JuJu Smith-Schuster represent 10 of the other 14 names in that group.
Sutton showed flashes of brilliance that he could be a No. 1 wide receiver, including a pair of deep receptions from Flacco during minicamp.
"I think he’s gaining confidence," Scangarello said. "I think you combine a good football IQ, good work ethic, a good guy with some talent -- the sky is the limit. We’ll see where he can take it."
DL DEMARCUS WALKER
Playing at the heaviest weight of his career, Walker looked more comfortable than he appeared at any point in the previous two years, generating pressure from the interior and stuffing a slew of runs behind the line of scrimmage throughout OTAs.
The chance to mash the reset button in a new scheme and with a new head coach and defensive coordinator aided Walker, who finds comfort in concepts that he executed in college.
"It's just a whole different system and a whole different type of technique that Coach Fangio has brought to us," Walker said. "This type of technique that I'm playing is something that I played at Florida State."
The upcoming work in full pads will reveal whether Walker can truly step forward, but he is off to a good start.
"I think he’s making progress and ultimately with D-Line and O-Line you have to have the pads on to see," Fangio said during OTAs. "I like where he’s at. I like where he’s at emotionally too. I think he’s in a good spot emotionally. he’s probably matured in the last couple of years and were going to see what he has or doesn’t have here come training camp."