Broncos conclude first mini-camp |

Broncos conclude first mini-camp

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Denver Broncos cornerback Alphonso Smith runs with the team before training at the team's football training facility in Englewood, Colo, on Friday, June 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It’s all over, and just beginning.

The Denver Broncos on Sunday completed their final on-field work before the start of training camp the final week of July. Three mini-camps and 11 days of passing camp have provided new coach Josh McDaniels and his staff clues about the composition, abilities and aptitude of his roster.

But without contact, it’s tough to gauge where a revamped squad that includes 42 new players since last season’s 8-8 finish under since-departed Mike Shanahan completely stands.

“It’ll be an interesting training camp for us because we’ve got a lot of good football players at the same positions and those guys understand their roles as far as battling for spots and the playing time they’re going to try to earn,” McDaniels said after Sunday’s practice at the team’s Dove Valley headquarters.

“But there’s a lot of battles that we couldn’t really figure out this spring because we didn’t have pads on.”

Among the most hotly contested positions should be along the defensive front, outside linebacker and running back.

Rookie first-round pick Knowshon Moreno spent the final mini-camp running behind veterans LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter. But given McDaniels’ repeated stance that Moreno has three-down ability, he could work his way to the top of the depth chart this summer.

“As long as we keep making each other better, we’ll be all right,” Moreno said.

At outside linebacker, several converted defensive ends are getting their first taste of playing in stand-up fashion in Denver’s new 3-4 alignment.

Tim Crowder and Robert Ayers, the Broncos’ second No. 1 pick in April, spent most of this camp with the first unit. Elvis Dumervil and Darrell Reid also have been in the mix with the first group, especially on passing downs.

“A lot of them were foreign to the position but not quite anymore. They were in March,” McDaniels said. “I think you’ll see a tremendous amount of improvement from the beginning of August to our first game of the season in September and throughout the year because they are playing a different style.”

The new alignment has allowed a Denver defense once based on the speed of its linebackers to get bigger on the edge, regardless of who plays. Ayers, Crowder, Dumveril and Reid average 263 pounds.

“That’ll always give you an advantage when a team lines up and wants to just maul you off the ball,” McDaniels said.

The defensive line group remains a huge question mark. The first group features career backup Ronald Fields at the nose tackle flanked by unknown Ryan McBean and Kenny Peterson, one of the only holdovers from a Denver defense that ranked 25th or worse in eight major categories and allowed 448 points in 2008.

Only second-year pro Marcus Thomas, backing up Fields, has a track record as a starter among the second-team defensive line. Backup ends J’Vonne Parker and Nic Clemons have combined to play in 20 pro games with zero starts.

“There are a lot of different faces over there. It’s a different scheme. But we’re competing,” receiver Eddie Royal said about playing Denver’s revamped defense over the last several weeks. “There’s been some good fights.”

Denver still has about two weeks remaining in its off-season strength and conditioning program before breaking for about a month. The schedule is a departure from the schedule instituted for many years by Mike Shanahan, whom McDaniels replaced in January. Denver frequently was the last to hold a mini-camp in early July.

But McDaniels indicated that, for now, he’s seen what he’s needed to over the last several months.

“I think the players and coaches have worked extremely hard to get where were at. We still have a long ways to go, but we know a heck of a lot more about the players we’re working with,” McDaniels noted. “And they know more about the system and the way were going to try and use them.”

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