ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Wednesday wasn't really a crucial demarcation point in the Broncos' offseason; it was the first day of the third phase of organized team activities, a title so long it could qualify as its own miniseries.
But it was the first day since Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 2 that the Broncos could wear helmets.
"It's real football," Head Coach John Fox said. "You get to practice against somebody. Offense and defense practice against each other. That’s really the first phase where that’s allowed by the new CBA. So I just call it real football."
There's no hitting, but it was "real" enough to get a feel for the Broncos' progress, and a few items stand out from the 90-minute session.
1. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware looked like he did in his prime years prior to the injuries he suffered in 2013. With his quadriceps and elbow healed, he consistently exploded off the edge and disrupted multiple pass plays -- and one potential run.
"(Peyton Manning) tried to do that bootleg play that he did on me when I played with the Cowboys -- it didn't work this time," Ware said with a laugh, referring to Manning's touchdown run in Week 5 of last season.
2. In watching safeties Rahim Moore and T.J. Ward work together for the first time, their pre-snap communication stood out. The two had never lined up together with helmets on, but you wouldn't have known it; the two looked as though they had been working as a tandem for an entire season.
"There were some times where things didn't necessarily have to be said, we just kind of vibed off each other's movements on the field," Ward said. "I think we're just going to get better with time."
Moore showed no signs of lingering trouble from the compartment syndrome in his leg that ended his 2013 season in the first half of the Broncos' 10th game, and described himself as "faster and stronger" than he was last year.
3. Even without Joel Dreessen, who was not in uniform Wednesday, the Broncos have plenty of depth at tight end and weren't afraid to use it, with Virgil Green joining Julius Thomas as a frequent target of Manning. Thomas was on the receiving end of arguably the offense's best play of the day, a gorgeous deep cross in which he was slanting upfield and would have scored a long touchdown. But Green was Manning's most frequent target, and caught everything No. 18 threw his way.
4. Off to the side, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller worked out in rehabilitation from their ACL tears. Considering that they suffered their injuries at a relatively late point -- January and December, respectively -- their ability to run and do myriad agility drills bodes well for their progress in being ready at some point during training camp or the preseason.