ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Robert Ayers was impressive all minicamp, quickly grasping his new responsibilities on defense as he rotated in with the first team.
Now, the Denver Broncos rookie defensive end/linebacker is just hoping he didn't lose his standing.
Ayers signed a five-year deal Monday, showing up for training camp a week after his fellow rookies reported. The first-round pick knows he has some catching up to do to make up ground.
"Any day, any hour, any workout, anything you miss is always going to be a setback," Ayers said. "Hopefully, I didn't get too far behind."
With Ayers on board, that leaves tailback Knowshon Moreno, the team's top pick, as the only unsigned player from its 10-member draft class.
Ayers was on the field before the evening practice session, taking new coach Josh McDaniels' mandatory -- and difficult -- interval sprinting test.
He passed with a few seconds to spare.
With tired legs, though, Ayers -- at the urging of McDaniels -- opted to put off practicing with the team until Tuesday.
"(McDaniels) thought it would be best not to come out and make a bad first impression," Ayers explained.
The Broncos used their 18th selection to take Ayers, a defensive end out of Tennessee. With Denver implementing a 3-4 scheme, Ayers will play more of a hybrid role as he alternates between the line and linebacker.
He even shed a couple of pounds, just to get faster on the field.
"You want to feel light and want to be able to move," he said.
Although Ayers missed several practices and team meetings, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan doesn't think he is too far behind.
"He is familiar with all the language and everything we're doing," Nolan said. "He's a bright guy."
So bright, in fact, that he realizes the friendly welcome he received from the veterans Monday was just a facade.
The real welcome comes Tuesday when he assumes the rookie duty of carrying the veterans' equipment off the field.
Not that he minds. Ayers is just happy to be at camp. He said it was stressful watching the other first-round picks sign as he waited for his deal to get done.
"I felt like I was missing out on opportunities to make an impression and earn a spot on my team," Ayers said. "I tried my hardest to get here as quick as possible under reasonable circumstances with my contract. Now I'm here. I'm willing to put the last couple of practices in the past and try to catch up and make my name in the NFL."
Ayers was spending time with the first team leading up to training camp. He's hoping to quickly work his way back into the rotation.
"Getting to the NFL is phase one," Ayers said. "The next step is to become a big name in the NFL. That's what I want to do."
Asked if he had any advice for Moreno on ending his holdout, Ayers politely evaded the question.
"I'll leave that for when he gets here," Ayers said.
Moreno, a running back out of Georgia, was taken with the 12th overall selection. Once he signs, Moreno is expected to compete with free agent tailbacks LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter for carries, along with holdovers Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press