When the Broncos open their first on-field OTA (organized team activity) workout Wednesday, the happiest guys on the field may be the defensive coaches.
That's because the Phase 3 portion of the offseason program begins. And that means for the first time 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are allowed while the team is on the field. Overall, teams are allowed 10 OTA workouts and the maximum time in the facility for players goes from four to six hours per day.
No live contact is permitted, nor are 1-on-1 drills between offensive and defensive linemen or wide receivers and defensive backs, but for the first time defensive players can line up against something other than a trash can that is serving as the proxy for an offensive player.
“That’s when you can really start to see where you are,’’ Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “I think the new offseason stuff is a little harder for the defense to get dialed in. You get the work in on your conditioning and in the playbook, but really working through it against some other people doesn't really start until (Phase 3), I think that makes it a little tougher on our side of the ball.’’
And Harris Jr. isn’t alone there. Defensive coaches league-wide, the Broncos' included, believe it’s tougher to make progress under the guidelines of the current collective bargaining agreement.
They don’t want more contact, but they do wish they could line defensive players up against other human beings in Phase 2 of the program -- Phase 1 is conditioning with the team’s strength and conditioning staff only. In Phase 2, the offense can’t line up against defenders either, but the offense can work on positioning and execute plays how they would in a game.
Defensive players need to see what’s happening in front of them to make adjustments in the pass rush or in coverages. But in Phase 2 they can only line up again objects placed on the field, such as large trash cans.
They can’t even have players hold blocking pads.
“We’ll always do what needs to be done as far as the rules, but I do think it’s a little tougher for the guys on defense to get a feel for things,’’ Fox said. “[Phase 3] is kind of the first chance to really work specific things against the offense.’’
It’s no small matter for the Broncos since they do have significant turnover on defense. Safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, all expected starters, represented most of the high-profile signings in free agency. The Broncos also used their first-round pick, 31st overall, on cornerback Bradley Roby, and they both want, and expect, to get Roby into the rotation quickly, especially since Harris Jr. said he doesn’t expect to go full speed until “about halfway through training camp’’ after surgery to repair his ACL.
The Broncos will hold OTA workouts Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to go with June 2-4 and June 16-19. Their mandatory three-day minicamp -- the only portion of the offseason program that is mandatory for the players -- will be June 10-12. Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer will likely miss most, or all, of this week's OTAs since he was one of more than three dozen rookies chosen to participate in the 20th annual NFLPA Rookie Premier, a three-day seminar in Los Angeles the players union has put together to help players adjust to the business of football.
The event runs Thursday through Saturday and put on by NFLPI, the marketing and licensing branch of the players association. Latimer is not 100 percent as he returns from surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot suffered in a pre-draft workout.