ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos wrapped up the public portion of training camp Thursday morning and quarterback Peyton Manning finished his day on the field by tossing a pass or two to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
In all the Broncos set an attendance record at their practice complex with 41,925 fans over the 15 open workouts held at their Dove Valley complex. The total surpassed the previous record of 41,304 over the 15 open workouts in last summer’s training camp, which was also Manning’s first year in Denver.
The Broncos do not have bleachers next to the main practice fields, so fans simply sit on a grassy hillside to view the action. The Broncos also drew a crowd of 44,439 to a rain-soaked scrimmage Aug. 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“[The fans] are unbelievable,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “The epitome of that was our practice down at the stadium when it poured rain and they stuck around to see us play.’’
• Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, an undrafted rookie who led the team with 69 yards rushing in the preseason opener in San Francisco last week, severely sprained his right MCL during Thursday morning’s practice.
Anderson, who was taking snaps with the second-team offense because Knowshon Moreno is currently sidelined with a bruised right knee, was helped to the locker room with just more than 20 minutes remaining in the workout.
Depending on swelling and how Anderson’s rehab goes in the coming days he could miss as much as six weeks in all. The Broncos must cut to 75 players on Aug. 27 and to 53 players on Aug. 31.
"It's awful, just awful," Manning said. “ … It surely did not look good. You could hear him out there grimacing, which is not a sound any player likes to hear."
“He’s having such a great camp,’’ said cornerback Champ Bailey. “ … I just hope he can bounce back faster than normal.’’
With Moreno not expected to play in Saturday’s preseason game in Seattle after being held out of practices Wednesday and Thursday, Lance Ball figures to get plenty of work in the second half of the game against the Seahawks.
Anderson has made a significant jump on the depth chart with his work thus far in camp. At 224 pounds he is also the team’s biggest back and has looked like a potential fit for one of the reserve spots when the roster choices get made.
Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have split work with the starters all the way through camp -- Hillman has been the No. 1 -- with Moreno working as the No. 3 and Jacob Hester the No. 4. Hester can play at running back when needed and at fullback when the team uses a two-back set. He is also one of the team’s most consistent pass protectors at the position and has a full docket of special teams work.
MCL sprains as severe as Anderson’s routinely take a minimum of four weeks to heal and players, particularly skill position players, usually are not ready for a full return until six weeks have passed.
The Broncos will likely have to consider Anderson’s progress when they make their roster decisions.
• Linebacker Von Miller was excused from practice for personal reasons -- he was in Washinton D.C. meeting with officials from the NFL Players Association -- so the Broncos offered a glimpse of how the defense would look to open the regular season if the All-Pro selection does not win his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
As they have shown in recent days, Stewart Bradley would play the middle in the base defense while Nate Irving, who was the starting middle linebacker through all of the offseason program, lined up on the strong side. When the Broncos went to some of their specialty packages in passing down work, times when Miller moves to defensive end or another rush position, Shaun Phillips played in Miller’s usual spots.
“Shaun Phillips was in there playing linebacker and playing defensive end some on third downs and you had Nate Irving in there as well with Stewart Bradley,’’ Manning said. “Any time you have a player injured or a player that is not able to go, somebody else has to step up and that’s what teams have to be able to do.”
Miller is expected to start and play in Saturday’s game in Seattle.
• Broncos director of pro personnel Tom Heckert, who had been suspended without pay for a month in the wake of a drunk driving arrest in June, returned to the team Thursday. Heckert will travel to Seattle with the team Friday and has resumed his normal duties. He was arrested June 11 in Parker, Colo., just 36 days after he had been hired by the team.
“I walked by his office and he was all smiles,’’ Fox said. “It was good to see him back and we support him.’’
With Broncos’ director of player personnel Matt Russell also suspended indefinitely for a separate drunk driving arrest, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway had not elected to hire an outside consultant or former general manager to help with player evaluations during the suspensions. Instead the duties were divided among other members of the Broncos' personnel department such as Lenny McGill, the team’s assistant college scouting director, and assistant pro personnel director Anthony “Champ” Kelly.
• Odds and ends:
With just more than 2,000 fans on hand Thursday, the Broncos still used a speaker system to simulate crowd noise when the offense had the ball in team drills … The starters are expected to play most, or all, of the first half Saturday night against the Seahawks … Bailey intercepted Manning in the endzone during team drills. When asked if he will enjoy watching it later on the practice video, Bailey said; “Oh yeah, love watching that. When Peyton throws it, it’s even more meaningful.’’
• In addition to Moreno, running back Jeremiah Johnson (knee), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring), wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle), wide receiver Lamaar Thomas (concussion) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were held out of practice. None are expected to play against the Seahawks unless they show significant improvement in Friday’s short workout before the team leaves. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) is still expected to miss the preseason.