Minicamp practice on a hot Wednesday afternoon had ended, and all but three Broncos players headed to the locker room to lighten their load for the upcoming weightlifting session.
The three players who stayed behind on the field for an extra 15 minutes of work were veteran quarterback Peyton Manning and rookie running backs Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson.
It was a telling sign, a fateful moment for veteran running back Willis McGahee.
The following morning, the Broncos released McGahee, their leading rusher the past two seasons. Ball and Anderson might be around for years to come.
"Growing up as a kid, seeing Willis and seeing the things he did for Miami and things he did for Buffalo and Baltimore and then here, for me growing up, he was a big deal," said Anderson, who was 11 years old when McGahee suffered his memorable knee injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. "Even though I only got a couple days to meet him, he seemed like a real nice guy. It's unfortunate, but it does make my position stronger since I'm one of the bigger, power guys in the group."
Contrary to what recent events may suggest, McGahee's release had nothing to do with his absence from the Broncos' offseason program that included 10 organized team activity (OTA) practices. In truth, had McGahee showed up for the first OTA practice May 20, he probably would have been released by May 23.
McGahee's fate essentially was sealed when the Broncos drafted Ball, a former Wisconsin star, in the second round — one year after they drafted Ronnie Hillman, a running back from San Diego State, in the third round.
Hillman and Ball shared the first-team reps, with a few plays sprinkled in for veteran Knowshon Moreno, during the OTA sessions at Broncos headquarters. Hillman, Ball and Moreno showed enough to the coaching staff during OTAs to make McGahee expendable.