ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Their plans for a tickertape parade through downtown Denver scuttled by a miserable performance in the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos hadn’t heard the roar from supportive fans in more than six months.
That ended Sunday when Peyton Manning walked out 10 minutes before practice at Sports Authority Field and began signing autographs and then continued with his touchdown throws to Julius Thomas.
The Broncos closed their Dove Valley training facilities to the public during training camp this year because of a $35 million construction project. They’re working out in relative solitude except for three workouts at their downtown stadium, where Sunday’s practice drew 21,933 fans.
“It makes it easier,” defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “Training camp goes by a little smoother with the fans being involved. So, it’s always a pleasure to have them around cheering us on.”
This was the Broncos’ first appearance at Sports Authority Field since Jan. 19, when they beat New England 26-16 in the AFC title game.
Former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, one of the Broncos’ free agent acquisitions this offseason, was injured that day when he collided with Wes Welker.
“We don’t even talk about it. It’s a football play, man,” Talib said. “We don’t talk about nothing that happened last year.”
That would be a good advice for the rest of the Broncos, whose record-shattering season ended with a dud of a Super Bowl when they were blown out 43-8 by Seattle.
Afterward, general manager John Elway made wholesale changes to his defense, signing Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware, who missed the last half of Sunday’s practice with what coach John Fox termed a minor “lower leg bruise.”
Only three defensive players who started in the Super Bowl — Danny Trevathan, Terrance Knighton and Nate Irving — were in the lineup when the Broncos’ starters squared off Sunday.
“Once again, I got a little teary eyed,” said cornerback Rahim Moore, who made his first appearance at Denver’s downtown stadium since Nov. 17, the night before he underwent emergency surgery on his left calf. “I missed the stadium. It feels like my first time out here.”
Same with star pass-rusher Von Miller, who hadn’t suited up here since blowing out his right knee in December.
“I got an opportunity to go out on the field and play the game I love, and that’s what’s most important to me,” said Miller. “The crowd, it always pumps the juices. It’s always motivated me, and getting out there in front of the fans is great. They cheer for every play that you make, everything that you do. It’s definitely an encourager.”
Safety Quinton Carter, who spent the last two years on injured reserve because of a balky knee, had waited the longest of anybody on the roster to get back on the field. He hadn’t played at the stadium since Sept. 17, 2012.
“It’s a long time, almost two years,” Carter said. “It feels great to get back out there with the guys and feel the energy from the crowd.”
This was also the first chance for fans to see Denver’s draft class led by cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer, who has capitalized on star Demaryius Thomas’ absence so far with several head-turning catches.
“When you’re at practice regularly, everybody gets golf claps, but now it’s like you’re in a game,” Latimer said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be out here.”
It was an undrafted rookie — Fresno State speedster Isaiah Burse — who capped the afternoon workout with a 50-yard touchdown catch from Zac Dysert.
“Obviously this is my first time being in the stadium. I’d only seen it on TV,” Burse said. “Walking out and seeing all the fans and all the love, it’s just a crazy feeling.”