DENVER — The first day of Broncos Training Camp 2017 was marked by food trucks, an owl and Paxton Lynch rocking a Belichickian cutoff T-shirt.
“At Memphis a coach said, ‘Son, trees don’t grow in the shade,’” Lynch explained. Then he caressed one of his biceps.
The Broncos quarterbacks were conspicuous by their presence.
Thursday's crowd at UCHealth Training Center? Smaller than usual — no Tebow, no Peyton, no playoffs — but still crazy impressive for a workday. Two thousand, maybe? Hey, this isn’t Raiders Nation. Broncos Country has jobs.
“Business was good," said the food truck guy, pitching “Mile High Sliders” alongside taco guy and snow cone guy. "We had a line all morning.”
Couldn’t make it out for Day 1? No worries. Football’s back, and The Gazette’s got your back:
9:22 a.m.: Where there once was a Tebow, then a Peyton, then a Brock, then a Peyton again, now there's a…. Kyle Sloter? The ex-UNC Bear is first on the field. Sloter scored a 38 on the Wonderlic; he’s smart enough to follow the advice Demaryius Thomas offered to rookies: “Be on time, you’ll be fine.”
9:25: The other QBs — Lynch and Trevor Siemian — debut with handoffs. And what a handoff it was! The QB contenders are more comfortable, evidenced by Lynch’s exposed “trees” and Siemian’s self-deprecating approach to his third camp. “Hopefully the No. 13 that rolls out of the locker room tomorrow is better than the slappy that rolled out here today,” Siemian said. Straight from the Peyton playbook, Siemian’s usage of “slappy” wins him the day.
9:46: Where there’s a Von, there’s a way. “Bring it,” Miller said of his seventh training camp. The Spandex shorts are a nice touch, for certain demographics. And I hear he’s still ticked from losing out on NFL Defensive Player of the Year to Khalil Mack of Oakland’s 26th-ranked defense. First prediction of 2017: Vonnie Football with 19 sacks, trumping his career-high 18.5.
9:52: Does Emmanuel Sanders need friends? The wideout spends a lot of time by himself.
9:54: The Vance Joseph era begins with a twist. Off the bat (snap?), the new coach throws his first-team 'O' and 'D' into a series of heated red-zone drills — a move steeped in competition and straight from the Mike Tomlin playbook, former Steeler Ryan Harris tells me. “Get right into it,” says Harris, the right tackle for the Super Bowl 50 champs. “Waste no time.”
10:22: The most interesting man in camp is Jamaal Charles — if not here, in Kansas City. On this day, and more to come, Charles isn’t practicing. He’s off to the side in a right-knee brace.
“Jamaal’s totally cleared,” Joseph said. “The plan is for Jamaal to take it slow.”
10:23: Know another tailback who took it slow? Devontae Booker. Talk about a slow play: the Broncos say Booker broke his wrist in the spring, didn’t know it, returned to the practice facility this week and “had trouble bench-pressing,” Joseph said. He added, “It’s obviously been there a couple months.” Booker’s out six weeks due to a surgery he could’ve undergone months ago. My biggest question for these Broncos — the running game — just ballooned.
(3:41 p.m.: The Broncos sign Stevan Ridley, the ex-Patriots running back. Take that, Belichick!)
10:26: Where’s Derek Wolfe? I miss Derek Wolfe. “Stomach issue,” Joseph said. There you have it: as he promised, the Wolfman finally digested some poor quarterback’s kids.
10:36: Paxton Lynch throws his trees into the air. Touchdown, Broncos! The crowd goes bananas. Colorado loves Paxton. He’ll win the quarterback job. Mark it down.
10:38: Siemian zips a perfect spiral into the flat for a first down. The incumbent starter clearly knows the offense better than Lynch. It’s Siemian’s job to lose. Mark it down.
10:40: I have no idea who’s going to quarterback the Broncos.
10:41: They don’t, either. But this brain trust should find the right guy: Joseph, John Elway, Gary Kubiak (as a Houston-based scout, though Joseph said “most of my coaching philosophies come from coach Kubiak,” suggesting they will chat), offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and QBs coach Bill Musgrave are all former quarterbacks. If that many former quarterbacks can’t identify the right quarterback, they hired the wrong coaches. Joseph compared Siemian and Lynch, saying Siemian is the more “conservative” passer, while Lynch has “the big arm.” V.J. then added the important part: “But until we block better and protect the quarterback, it won’t matter who’s back there.”
10:42: I think The Decision comes after the Broncos-49ers practices (Aug. 16-17) and preseason game (Aug. 19). They’ll have 15 practices and two games as a QB sample size.
11:02: The double horn sounds. Day 1 is a wrap. Or is it? Aqib Talib notices a scarecrow owl has been placed just outside the locker room door. What’s with the owl, 'Lib?
“I think it’s for the birds,” Talib said. “Bodyguard for the birds.”
Good thing Paxton has some trees to share.