Reports from Broncos Training Camp of a tougher team with more "chippiness" among players has been well-received in Broncos Country the past few weeks as players have been quick to boast of their new, more menacing mentality.
And after that toughness was front and center a week ago against Seattle, Broncos fans were especially happy.
But after three fights, coach intervention and Danny Trevathan being carted off the field yesterday, players took a deep breath (and later a sigh of relief) and went home early.
What a day......— Terrance Knighton (@MrKnighton2u) August 12, 2014
Although the Broncos - and many fans - have been applauding via social media the increased animosity in practice, Peyton Manning wasted no time voicing disapproval for fights.
"You do it in a game, it usually costs you something important," Manning said, noting it costs a drive, field position, or gives the other team good field position. "I am in to treating practice like a game, so I am not a fan."
After three different altercations in Tuesday's practice, Head coach John Fox called the team in to remind players to control their emotions.
"This will happen in games and it's something we are training to improve," Fox told the media later.
The Denver Post reported that rookie running back Brennan Clay has been at the center of many of the skirmishes in recent days, including the one yesterday that prompted Fox to intervene.
"[Fox] wants us to be tough, but we have to be smart when we're being tough," said linebacker Nate Irving. "We don't want to be a dumb, tough team. We want to be a smart, tough team."
Manning likes tough too. But he really likes smart. And there is a big difference in his opinion. Fights that lead to penalties - especially costly ones - are not smart.
"The really killer penalties are when you have them stopped on that third down, they've got to punt, you're going to get the ball back, and then, boom, somebody creates a mental mistake and loses their cool and gets a personal and they get an automatic first down and it costs you the game," Manning said. "It is a matter of staying disciplined, staying composed under the intense situations."
Brandon Marshall - the second-string linebacker who will likely fill in for Trevathon after the starter suffered a fractured tibia in practice - noted that football is an intense game and players have to be smart with their emotions.
"We get passionate and sometimes we get angry, so [Fox] said to control that when it's with your teammates," the linebacker said. "So while we're trying to get prepared for the season, just keep everybody healthy, keep everybody up and just be smart."
Who's the 'next man up' to replace Trevathan?
Injury to the starting linebacker means a replacement will be needed for at least the first three games of the season.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders noted that this balance of tough and smart is not always easy, calling football a game of "controlled violence."
"One minute you've got to be mad and the next minute you've got to forget about it and start over and get mad all over again," said the former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver, adding that having physicality can give teams a good advantage over their opponents. "But it's bad because you don't want guys going out here fighting."
In praising Sanders' level of study of the Broncos offense, Manning highlighted the aspect of the game he believes is ultimately more important than the physical play of football.
"Let's face it, the cerebral part of the game to me is just as important as the physical part of the game," Manning said. "If you don't know what you're doing, it is hard to put you in there."
He has a point. And we've all become enamored with the work ethic Manning puts in day after day to understanding even better a game he has clearly mastered.
At the same time, Manning is no wuss. Rahim Moore said as much when he stated that the future Hall of Fame QB "trains like a free agent."
Manning took those words from his safety to heart.
"I had a coach [David Cutcliffe at Tennessee] who taught me at an early age to treat practice like a game. This is where you become a better football team," Manning said, adding that part of that includes taking care of each other and avoiding injuries. "You don't just show up on a game and expect to be a good football team."
And that's exactly why the Broncos have been practicing "harder" and with more physicality.
"I think we've set the bar in a decent spot with our first preseason game," said tight end Jacob Tamme about last week's win over Seattle. "We just have to keep building on it."
Both Tamme and Manning agree there is some middle ground between being a physical team on Sundays and beating up your own guys during the week.
"There's a healthy balance somewhere," Tamme added. "You can't have guys get hurt. I think everyone understands that, so it's not a big deal. Everything will be fine tomorrow."
Sanders, one of the new guys to the Broncos roster, summed it up best.
"At the end of the day we're a team, so you don't want guys hitting each other, trying to knock guys out or hurt guys out here," he said. "We're only as strong as our weakest link."