Five observations from Broncos camp

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Five observations from the Broncos' training camp:

1. Royal beginning

Keep an eye on Eddie Royal.

Wide receivers typically don't make much of an impact as rookies; in the last decade only four rookies had 1,000-yard receiving seasons, including just two of 43 who were drafted in the first round. Royal was turning heads in practice on Monday, first with an over-the-head catch on a deep sideline pass, and later with a diving grab in the end zone.

Mike Shanahan, the Broncos' coach, said he thought Royal was the best receiver in the last draft. Yet, he lasted until the 42nd pick, in the second round, when Denver made him the fifth wideout drafted. Shanahan plans to use Royal as the team's primary punt and kickoff returner, but Royal has a chance to force his way into the starting lineup, too.

Quarterback Jay Cutler said Royal has picked up the offense quickly, rarely makes mistakes and gets in and out of his breaks quickly. In short, Royal is not acting like a rookie receiver, and that's how he had it planned. He spent extra time learning the playbook so that when he is on the field, he's able to react instinctively, something that's usually difficult for a rookie.

Royal figures it helps him, too, that in practice he is competing against a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly.

"I know Sundays won't be much tougher than that," he said.

"I don't want to play like a rookie. I don't want to seem like a rookie at all. I'm out here with veterans and, when I'm on the field, they don't expect me to play like a rookie. I'm setting the bar high for myself and I'm looking for big things this year."

Adds Shanahan: "Royal is very consistent. He's going to be a starter in this league a long time."

2. Here's the kicker

The new kicker, Matt Prater, has a strong leg. But he also has big shoes to fill as the replacement for Jason Elam, who held the job for 15 years and made more than 80 percent of his field goal attempts.

Prater joined the team during the 2007 season and became a late-season kickoff specialist who impressed the coaches with his strong leg (five of his 11 kickoffs in 2007, with the Broncos and earlier with the Falcons, went for touchbacks). After Elam signed with Atlanta as a free agent, Denver brought in a rookie free agent but saw enough of Prater in spring workouts to hand him the job.

He is, however, under no illusions, acknowledging, "You're only as good as your next kick," even while appreciating Shanahan's show of confidence.

"It means a lot (that) they have confidence in me," he said. But he also realizes that, with a couple of bad games, that confidence can dissipate quickly.

Prater credits special teams coach Scott O'Brien for refining his technique during the offseason, and he said that working with Elam at the end of last season helped him, too. The Broncos hope that will be enough to reverse the 1-of-4 field goal showing that Prater had for Atlanta at the start of the 2007 season.

3. New-look defense ready to stop the run?

Changes in the defensive system and a revamped corps of linebackers almost certainly mean the Broncos will be better against the run this year.

Of course, they could hardly be worse, ranking near the bottom of the league last season both in yards per carry (4.6) and per game (142.6).

D.J. Williams played adequately at middle linebacker for a season but he is moving back to the weakside, his natural position, where he played well earlier in his career. The problem Williams had last year was that under Jim Bates' system, the Broncos didn't line a man up on the center, and someone always came free to block Williams. Denver hopes to avoid that this year, regardless of who wins the middle linebacker job.

Boss Bailey, brother of Champ, joined the Broncos this year from Detroit. He's a heady veteran who was under-utilized by the Lions.

All the improvement at linebacker will really pay off if the defensive line plays better than it did last year. Champ Bailey says the Broncos already are more consistent in this training camp than they were even at the end of the 2007 season. But even though Bailey and Dre Bly combine to form one of the league's best cornerback tandems, Bailey understands -- as the Super Bowl confirmed -- that his success is dependent on others.

"This game is built by how good your front is," he said. "I don't care how good your back end is, those guys make everything happen."

4. Clady steps right in

Offensive tackle Ryan Clady, the first-round draft choice, is a load.

Clady is big, strong, physical and smart. It was somewhat out of character when Shanahan anointed him a starter the day he was drafted, but so far Clady is drawing wows for his work in camp.

Camp: Englewood, Colo.

Preseason games:
Aug. 9: at Houston,8 p.m. ET

Aug. 16: Dallas, 9 p.m. ET

Aug. 22: Green Bay, 9 p.m. ET

Aug. 29: at Arizona, 10 p.m. ET

He dominates 1-on-1 drills, and with his quick feet, he's able to react successfully even when he makes a mistake, which is not that often.

"Clady has really jumped out," Shanahan said. "I knew he'd be good, but he's much better than I anticipated as a rookie, both mentally and physically. He's been pretty impressve."

The learning curve for offensive tackles used to be steep, and to a degree, still is. But the performances last year by Cleveland's Joe Thomas and San Francisco's Joe Staley might be making coaches less reluctant to play an offensive tackle as a rookie.

5. RB battle

Denver has depth at running back, but it is unproven.

Selvin Young was a pleasant surprise a year ago, when he rushed for 5.2 yards a carry and had the third highest rushing total (729) yards of any undrafted rookie running back since the common draft began in 1967. Now the Broncos might have another pleasant surprise in third-round pick Ryan Torain.

Torain is a 225-pound power back who showed good strength in a drill on Monday. From the 2-yard line, he went straight ahead, bulling his way past a bunch of would-be tacklers into the end zone. On the next play, also from the 2-yard line, Torain got the ball again and this time tried to leap over the line -- coming down hard and short of the goal line.

So give him points for enthusiasm and trying.

Shanahan never has been a running back-by-committee coach and he's not likely to change that philosophy but he has used more of a two-back approach in recent years and Torain could force him into that again.

Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to NFL.com.

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