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Rookies in bit of a rush job for Broncos

6/2/2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The newest, and youngest, Denver Broncos are riding the learning curves right now.

And not those nice little graceful sweeping numbers, but hairpin curves, the kind sharp enough to pull fillings out of your teeth.

"Their heads are swimming right now," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "Everybody can say they ran an NFL system in college, but here it happens faster and there's more of it."

There is an experiment underway around the league and the Broncos' suburban Denver complex is included. For the first time, the scaled back offseason program that is part of the current collective bargaining agreement has arrived with an NFL draft held in May.

So the rookies, who need the most time to get ready to play in order to contribute in some way, will have the least.

"You just have to get into the playbook every chance you get," said Broncos rookie tackle Michael Schofield. "The expectation is that you will do that and even though it hasn't been that long, it's easy to see you'll be left pretty far behind if you don't."

This year's draft was almost two weeks later than the late-April slot it has held in years past. This year the Broncos held their rookies-only minicamp the weekend following the draft in an attempt to get some of their first-year class ready to contribute for a team that went to the Super Bowl last season.

The Broncos are in Phase 3 of their offseason workouts at this point, meaning they can do some 11-on-11 offense vs. defense work, as well as some 7-on-7 and 9-on-7 drills. Head coach John Fox said he hasn't seen any dropoff in the ability to get those first-year players up to speed -- yet -- but that he has noticed it all feels a little more compressed.

One of the issues, Fox said, is a coaching staff can't make plans to adjust down the road because there has been no directive from the league that the draft will stay in May, though many in the league are already assuming that's the case.

"It's all speculative right now," Fox said. "I kind of liked it the way it was, but like everything in this league, it changes and you adjust. As long as they keep all 32 teams equal it's kind of just what it is. It didn't really affect that much of the football yet, but like a lot of things, time will tell."

"Until they tell us that's all official, when the combine is, when the draft is, I'm not going to do anything drastic to adjust to it unless we see a need there," Fox continued. "It's not a huge football thing yet, but if they start messing with it more than it could be."

For the Broncos, it means this year's rookie class will have to impress a little more quickly than those in seasons past to find their way onto the roster or into the lineup.

And while the Broncos' defensive playbook has plenty of pages in it to challenge them, those players on offense may even have a little bigger hill to climb given that most of the time quarterback Peyton Manning runs a complex offense out of a no-huddle look at the line of scrimmage.

"I'll tell you what, the playbook is definitely a lot harder than any playbook I've ever been a part of because they do a great job of moving guys around," said Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Broncos in free agency this past March. "That's what I want to be a part of."

The Broncos believe if first-round pick Bradley Roby holds up his end of the bargain he should be, at minimum, in the team's specialty looks on defense by the time the regular season begins. And that two other picks -- Schofield, a third-rounder, and linebacker Lamin Barrow, a fifth-rounder -- could push for playing time as well. Roby, Schofield and Barrow have all shown enough in recent OTA workouts for the team's decision makers to expect them to push hard in training camp for some snaps. But when decisions get made for the regular-season lineup, it's the mistakes, the mental errors that move players down the depth chart.

Wide receiver Cody Latimer, the Broncos' second-round pick, also figures to be in the rotation on offense, but he has yet to practice full speed as he recovers from a fractured foot he suffered in a pre-draft workout in January. But Latimer has spent plenty of time alongside Manning. He's following the team's on-field practice each day as Manning has done some extra work with Sanders on parts of the playbook. Manning also asked that Latimer be a part of the quarterback's foursome in the recent team golf outing as well.

"You come ready to work," Latimer said. "They have to trust you to put you out there, so you have to show them they can trust you in however much time you have."