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Mason's Five Thoughts from Camp Day 5

Posted Jul 28, 2014

Practice got intense Monday, as tempers boiled over into three short-lived scuffles.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It took five practices for tempers to bubble and boil over into actual scuffles.

"Camp's long. These are the dog days. You get out here, people are frustrated. It's hot. People are tired," said defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. "Some people are on the bubble, so they're really pushing it. Another guy might not be going as hard."

During Monday's practice, three donnybrooks flared among Broncos, beginning with a scrap between linebacker L.J. Fort and center Will Montgomery. A scrum that appeared to involve Wolfe, Ben Garland and others, and a final encounter during a short-yardage period closed out the practice.

That sent the Broncos into a welcomed day off to cool down -- but with little worry that the incidents would escalate further. After all, this is now the middle of training camp of a team playing a combative sport. A little enmity in the midst of competition is natural. As long as the intensity doesn't manifest itself beyond the occasional dustup, these are signs of a camp throbbing with intensity.

"I think it just got a little hotter today and people were just a little annoyed, that’s what I think it is," said defensive lineman Malik Jackson. "Plus, that day off, everybody’s trying to show what they’ve got."

For each side of the line of scrimmage, it's a bonding experience. Teammates rushed to the side of the players involved.

"If one guy on the defense is in a fight, the whole defense is in a fight," Wolfe said.

"The defense is trying to become a whole unit now, and when one guy's fighting, we've all got to fight. That's kind of how it is," he added. "Obviously, we're all teammates, and when we go to the locker room, it's over. But on the field, it's war. We've got to go out there and battle."

Added Jackson: "Sometimes it just boils over, but as long as we don’t take it in the locker room, I think it’s cool."

And before the Broncos take a day to cool their jets, a few thoughts linger from the day's work.

1. The offense is adjusting to the defense's aggression, and made some plays in spite of coverage that could not have been better.

One example came in a red-zone period from the 6-yard-line. Peyton Manning threw to Julius Thomas, who had made a precise cut at the goal line, heading to the sideline while straddling the line. Danny Trevathan did not give ground in coverage and stayed with Thomas step for step. He was there to meet and engulf Thomas the second that the pass arrived, but could not prevent the touchdown. For Trevathan to have done more, he would have needed to take a penalty.

This is similar to what Montee Ball has experienced. As he noted Saturday, his running lanes "are a lot smaller." It is more difficult for him to navigate, and he's learned to accelerate quicker. When the offense succeeds, there's a sense of accomplishment. The same goes for the defense. The first test will come when the Seahawks arrive for the preseason opener Aug. 7, and the No. 1 units see someone else.

2. DeMarcus Ware's absence because of a leg bruise isn't expected to last long. But that gave coaches a chance to look at Quanterus Smith and Kenny Anunike moving up a line to play higher than their current position.

Smith generated pressure. He flashed his speed in the one-on-one period and shook off Julius Thomas to stifle a Ball run in his direction during a team period.  

But Anunike, working against the No. 2 offensive line, seized the day. Since camp started he's muscled his way into my notebook for his work in one-on-one drills and his consistency in providing a pass rush from the edge. Monday, he showed both: he blew past Paul Cornick on consecutive plays in the one-on-one period, then got a "sack" of quarterback Brock Osweiler. Wolfe also had a sack of Osweiler.

"He's coming along nicely," said defensive end Malik Jackson. "He stepped up with the two's, and I told him, 'It's time to shine.' ... His pass rushes are nice; his run (defense) is nice, and getting better. He's doing real good for a rookie."

Anunike said he's studied the pass-rush moves of Jackson, Ware and Von Miller by watching hours of footage. He's reaping the rewards now.

3. It seems like Marvin Austin and Lerentee McCray always get their names into my notebook.

Today, Austin earned notice was with the pressure from the inside that forced Anunike's sack, and by continuing to burst into the backfield in team and 9-on-7 periods. During a one-on-one pass-rush drill, Austin used his quickness and strength to get Orlando Franklin off-balance and on his heels at the snap, knocking him back toward where the quarterback would have been.

McCray got pressure on Manning early during the first team period of practice. He got around the left side of the offensive line, forcing backside pressure on the quarterback, who got the pass away to Ball just in time.

4. The physicality of the last two days of practice has led to more aggressive play from the defensive backs -- although, for cornerback Omar Bolden, it crossed the line into penalties. He was whistled twice for contact against opposing receivers.

Safety Duke Ihenacho had the day's biggest hit, a shot on Ronnie Hillman after a reception that jarred his helmet loose. Ihenacho has a seven-pound edge on Hillman. Fellow safety Quinton Carter did not have the same advantage, but delivered a shot on rookie running back Juwan Thompson, who is 25 pound heavier. It didn't remove Thompson's helmet, but was one of the most rattling collisions of camp.

5. The full-contact, short-yardage period saw the No. 1 defense twice get the better of the top offense. Jackson, Williams and safety T.J. Ward were chief among those responsible. When the two defensive linemen crash through against the run, Ward arrives to finish off the play and close any gaps on the flank. Ball didn't have much room as a result, but did eke out one first down.

The No. 1 offense had much more success in the 9-on-7 period, repeatedly opening gaps through which Ball sprinted for some of his best runs of training camp.

After the first units went to the sideline, was no surprise that C.J. Anderson burrowed forward for a first down; he uses his short stature and stout frame well in third-and-1 situations. But Ronnie Hillman also succeeded at moving the chains, and powered through a thicket of players for a first down when he had little space in front of him.

Hillman also broke off one of the day's best runs, bolting through a hole created by the left side of the No. 2 offensive line. Solid blocking created the opportunity, but the third-year running back read it perfectly and accelerated to daylight.

And one more …

This is the best news of the day for the Broncos. If Harris' hopes come true, he should be practicing in individual periods soon, as he predicted last week.

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