May 28, 2014 Updated: May 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm
CENTENNIAL — With a bleached-white smile that lit up for the cameras, DeMarcus Ware told the story of his first practice as a teammate of Peyton Manning.
"He tried to do that bootleg play he did on me when I played with the Cowboys," Ware said. "It didn't work this time."
There you have it, the tale of Denver's first practice of 2014: A future Hall of Famer pulling a fast one on a future Hall of Famer. Must be nice, Broncos.
"It's different," Ware said. "When you have a captain like that, you want to play for him."
To be real, this was supposed to be a column about Ware. He's sharp, eloquent and stayed free from trouble while captaining the Cowboys for nine years before jetting to Colorado. This was supposed to be a column on how Ware, the 31-year-old defensive end, must assume a leadership role on a defense that is without Champ Bailey's presence and already has more arrest warrants (one) than sacks (zero).
There's time for that column. It will happen eventually, since we still should have questions about the Broncos defense: if Von Miller's knee (and head) is right, how the pieces will fit together and whether it can provide balance for Manning's powerful offense.
But that column will have to wait.
Because after watching the Broncos hit the Dove Valley practice fields for the first day of Organized Team Activities on Wednesday, my initial takeaway was striking:
These Broncos are loaded. The amount of talent on offense and defense is startling.
I don't know if the Broncos will win 13 games again (the schedule is tougher), win the AFC again (the Patriots got better) or lose in the Super Bowl again (the Seahawks didn't fold). I don't know if the Broncos are nastier and meaner and better-suited to match up with the best defense I've seen in almost 30 years, Seattle's.
But when the NFL MVP isn't the story of the first practice, the other talent must be something truly worth writing about.
On his first snap, Manning looked to his right to see Pro Bowler Demaryius Thomas covered by Pro Bowler Aqib Talib, "the toughest corner we played against last year," Manning said. He then looked downfield to see Pro Bowler T.J. Ward at safety. Pro Bowlers Wes Welker and Julius Thomas were within throwing distance, as was shifty wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
"He's certainly a talented player," Manning said.
If Manning looked far enough to his left, he could have seen Miller, who, if you remember, had 30 sacks in two seasons, and Chris Harris, whom I expect will return from injury to lead the Broncos in interceptions. Miller and Harris are out for now but expect to return by season's start.
The defensive line included Malik Jackson, Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams and a healthy Derek Wolfe. Kevin Vickerson didn't practice but will, eventually.
As for the offensive line protecting him, Manning said: "Getting Ryan (Clady) back, that's kind like a signing a free agent or having a top pick in the draft. He's the top left tackle out there."
Are we to believe the Broncos are the top team out there? Not unless Seattle moved to the Arena League.
Are these Broncos their most talented team since the back-to-back Super Bowl champions of '97 and '98? When healthy, it is.
Even if the Broncos had ignored free agency, their roster for the 2014 season would have been drastically different than what they had in the Super Bowl. Put in the simplest terms, here are the players who didn't play in the Super Bowl but are expected to play for the Broncos next season: Clady, Harris, Miller, Moore, Wolfe, Vickerson, Talib, Ward, Ware. Eight starters in all, five Pro Bowlers among them.
When you see this collective on the field for the first time, it is an eye opener.
"You could sort of see the intensity in each other's eyes," Ware said. "We had to really let our guards down like, 'OK, OK, we're on the same team.'"
The Broncos still need a leader on defense, still need proper health, still need a middle linebacker, still need a tailback who won't fumble or blow a blocking assignment.
But the sheer talent on their practice field?