ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – On the south practice field at the Broncos’ facility Thursday, Denver’s offense and Dallas’ defense displayed nothing but peace, love and understanding.
Or, if not love, than at least a workmanlike approach that led to no drama over the course of more than an hour of team work against each other during the franfchises’ joint practice.
On the North field, however, there was no such state of peace.
The Denver defense and Dallas offense skirmished at least a half-dozen times over the same time frame, including a particularly heated exchange between Cowboys offensive lineman Matt Farniok and Broncos defensive lineman Marquiss Spencer. Farniok roped Spencer to the ground behind a play and Spencer jumped up and threw several punches at Farniok’s helmet.
The action bubbled over so many times that veteran safety Kareem Jackson, perhaps Denver’s most notable trash talker, at one point found himself playing diplomat rather than instigator.
“Sometimes I can be a peacemaker and be that guy,” Jackson said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m pouring gas on the fire. Today was the 1%.”
The aggressive approach to the day and the joint practice, Jackson said, was by design.
“Guys come in your backyard, like as a kid, and try to take your ball and leave with it,” he said. “That’s just, defensively, that’s how guys are. That’s how we are as a unit. We have to bring that intensity and sometimes it gets a little chippy. It’s football. There’s 11 guys out there with egos.
“At the end of the day, you want to reel it back a little bit and get some work done and I think we did.”
Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy before practice said, “we don't want the fights. We're not here for fights. I don't view it as toughness," and added for emphasis to stay away from each team’s star quarterback. Mission accomplished on the latter, but not so much on the fighting front.
“When you come out here and you’re on the road and playing in somebody else’s environment, practice environments, things can get chippy as you saw,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Tensions are high, emotions are high, first time going against somebody else. But when you put all that to the side and look at the Xs and Os, the way we executed and the way we communicated, we definitely took a step.”
Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb said he apologized to Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott after knocking him to the ground and added he thought for the most part the physicality and aggressive nature of the workday didn’t get out of hand.
“The aggression and all that flair when you’re going against someone that’s not your teammate, but at the end of the day it’s all love,” Chubb said.
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It remains to be seen how much any of the starters on either side will play when these teams reconvene for the preseason game on Saturday night, but Thursday was chock full of work – and standout plays – from some of both groups' best players.
Dallas wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, for example, opened a two-minute drill with back-to-back catches on slant routes against Jackson and then cornerback Pat Surtain II and then finished it with a double move to the post for a touchdown against cornerback Michael Ojemudia.
“It’s good competition for me,” Surtain said of facing Lamb. “Iron sharpens iron, and obviously he’s a good player. Going against him helped me get better.”
Denver’s No. 1 receiver, Courtland Sutton, also made several big plays over the course of what Broncos first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson said was a good day for their unit.
“Courtland’s been exceptional,” Wilson said. “He’s got an amazing skillset in terms of, obviously, the ability to catch the ball down the field, but he is extremely, extremely bright. … He’s one of the best receivers I’ve seen in terms of understanding the game and what’s going on.”
Similarly on defense, Chubb and Dallas’ Micah Parsons frequently generated pressure over the course of the practice. Parsons at one point ripped through the right side of the Broncos’ offensive line – something of a question mark with Billy Turner on the physically unable to perform list since the beginning of camp – on three straight snaps. Denver’s defensive front put a strong first step forward as well.
“(Parsons) is a beast,” Hackett said. “He and (DeMarcus Lawrence), there are a couple of guys on that defense that are special players. We wanted to try to test some guys and see what would happen and they stepped up to it, but I’ll tell you, Parsons is a good football player.”
Progress for Denver’s offense
Hackett thought his top offensive group got off to a hot start on the day – Wilson completed his first three passes and overall spread the ball around to an array of receivers, backs and tight ends – but then struggled some in the two-minute drill, where the unit did not generate a touchdown in two chances.
“Overall, hey, when you come out without any injuries and you get to go against somebody else and get good work, you always feel great about it,” Hackett said.
Wilson said Denver’s offense is ahead of schedule so far.
“It’s impressive to see,” he said, lauding his unit position by position. … “The investment they’ve put into every day and every moment, it’s all about them and what they’ve done. It’s been a joy to be able to work with them every day putting in the extra work and I think it’s obviously added up to us looking really sharp, playing really clean football, executing in every way throughout the day.”
Football’s small world
Before practice, Denver outside linebacker Randy Gregory found Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and gave him a big hug. Gregory, of course, signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Broncos this offseason. He’s on the PUP list and hasn’t done any work yet after spring shoulder surgery. That didn’t stop him from getting into one of the scrums, though not far past the edge of the pile.
“He missed us,” Prescott said.
Quinn and Hackett also chatted coming off an offseason in which both men interviewed for the Broncos head job.
Parsons and Surtain have known each other since eighth grade, were the No. 5 and No. 6-ranked high school recruits in the country in the 2018 class, respectively, and then went No. 9 (Surtain) and No. 12 (Parsons) in the 2021 NFL draft.
Meanwhile, Hackett and McCarthy have their own personal connection. McCarthy at one point worked for Hackett’s dad, Paul, who was on hand Thursday to see the practice.
“They’ve been like family to me and I wouldn’t be here without Paul Hackett,” McCarthy said.
“It’s unbelievable,” Hackett said. “(McCarthy) is a guy I’ve looked up to since I was about 8 or 9 years old. He means so much to me and my dad and to be sitting on the field and be having a conversation and be there with him and have an opportunity like this with him for the first time, I can’t tell you how amazing that is and how it feels.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Parker Gabriel on Twitter @ParkerJGabriel.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys, Broncos repeatedly fight in joint training camp practice