- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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DENVER -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
The Broncos took to their home stadium Sunday for a practice that was open to the public. There were 21,993 folks on hand at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for what would have the same kind of workout the team would have done at its facility. The players genuinely liked getting away from the relative peace and quiet, at least when it comes to crowd noise, and from the construction going on at the team’s complex. Because of that construction, no fans will be able to attend the Broncos’ practices there during this year's camp. “They do miss the fans on a daily base there at Dove Valley,’’ head coach John Fox said. “I know they appreciated it and enjoyed it.”
It was the second consecutive day the team practiced in full gear and Sunday’s practice was choppy at times because of it. But Fox’s practice plan gave fans plenty to look at as the team put a heavy emphasis on red-zone drills. Those on hand got to see a variety of plays featuring the first-team offense against the first-team defense inside the 10-yard line. Quarterback Peyton Manning was ruthlessly efficient, in 7-on-7 and full team drills in the red zone. Manning connected on scoring passes to Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and Jacob Tamme in one 1-on-1 drill between receivers and defensive backs alone.
The Broncos have shown already they are going to continue to expand tight end Julius Thomas’ role in the offense. So much so, that even in the sunshine and rainbows environment that is the routinely the optimism that surrounds training camp, Thomas continues to show he’s in line to improve on the 65 catches and 12 touchdowns of last season. Sunday, Manning threaded a ball in between Kayvon Webster and T.J. Ward to hit Thomas for a score just minutes after Manning had put a ball up high in the back of the endzone for Thomas to snag for a score. On the play in the back of the endzone, Thomas reached over the Broncos best coverage linebacker, Danny Trevathan, for the touchdown. Trevathan was in good position, but the ball placement was right on and Thomas, a former basketball player at Portland State, knows how to work in traffic.
Given that running back is a crowded position with plenty of youth -- Ronnie Hillman, entering his third season, is the most experienced of the group -- those looking for a spot may want to take a page from Hillman’s work Sunday. The Broncos didn’t tackle live on special teams, but Hillman returned some kickoffs and showed good burst doing it. And with the kickoff return job wide open, some of the running backs looking for a roster spot may be wise to lobby for their chance to return kicks in the coming weeks.
Some of the Broncos players lost their footing at times early in practice, especially closer to the sidelines at the south end of the stadium. But several people with the team, including Fox, attributed it to how the field was prepared for the Manchester United-AS Roma soccer game at the stadium Saturday afternoon. “It wasn’t bad, they cut it a little shorter than we’re accustomed to, we had some slippage outside the numbers a little earlier.’’
Odds and ends: Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler hit two long throws during the stadium practice, the first to a diving Greg Hardin in 7-on-7 drills early in practice and another to tight end Gerell Robinson in team drills later in the day. ... Hardin made another diving grab, on a throw from Zac Dysert later in practice. ... Webster may have had the biggest hit of the practice when he plowed into running back Montee Ball as Ball reached high for a swing pass from Manning. ... Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who has been excused since Wednesday night due to his grandmother's death, was slated to return to the team Sunday night and be on the practice field for Monday morning's workout.