Broncos careful to avoid a bad mix
November, 19, 2013
By Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThe Broncos have been deliberate when adding veteran free agents like Peyton Manning.ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On his way through 15 NFL seasons that have included 12 Pro Bowl selections, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has seen players come and seen players go.
He’s seen good signings and some not so good, he's seen teams with guys all rowing in the same direction, and teams with guys who won't even put the oar in the water. And he’s seen it takes just one bad veteran apple to push the whole tree down.
Or as Bailey put it: “One thing you don’t want to do is put a bad vet in your locker room."
It comes to light as the Broncos, now 9-1, have had some veteran players do what they’ve been asked to do, whether it was what they expected or not, and not made waves. Players who have had bigger roles for the team or in other places, with different job descriptions now.
“The locker room, the team spirit, it’s all connected in how you relate to each other," Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said. “If you’ve got a guy who’s sour, that’s always complaining about something, his own situation, whatever it may be, it sucks the life out of the group."
Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway has always said one of his first goals as the team’s top football decision-maker was to “get the locker room the way it needed to be," and the best way to do it is building a foundation of homegrown players by “stacking those draft classes." But Elway also wants free agency to be a tool to fill in around the edges, or in the case of signing quarterback Peyton Manning, as the ultimate dip into the annual veteran talent grab.
“But you always want to make sure, whether it's one-year deal or somebody like Peyton, that it’s the right guy, that he’s going to be what we want for the Denver Broncos," Elway said.
The Broncos signed Quentin Jammer, a 12-year veteran, on May 30 in hopes he could make a move to safety and be a physical player who could play in coverage deep down the middle of the field. But once he arrived and practiced with the team, Del Rio said the thought was Jammer simply played better at cornerback, but the Broncos also had some depth there.
As a result Jammer played just one snap in the first seven games of the season combined.
“But there aren’t many guys like him," Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He just gets to work, and when we needed him he was ready. Guys like that, who have done as much as he has, they make you go. We all can see how to go work from guys like him and Champ."
With some injuries and Jammer’s play through the week in practice, he has since played 19 snaps on defense against the Redskins, 33 against the Chargers, including two snaps to open the game when Rodgers-Cromartie told Jammer to take his spot to make the start against Jammer’s former team. And Jammer had 20 plays on defense in Sunday night’s win against the Chiefs.
“I think that’s another great example of a guy, when you talk about a proud veteran that has played at a high level for a number of years in the league, and for him to remain a positive teammate -- I think that’s why you saw that kind of tribute start that he got (against the Chargers), because the group recognizes this is a guy that has a lot of skins on the wall, and this guy has played a lot of good football," Del Rio said. “ ... For a guy -- a veteran guy with all his experience, all his accomplishments -- he’s accepted his role and been a great teammate. It’s such a positive thing to have for your football team."
Tight end Jacob Tamme played 46 percent of the Broncos' snaps on offense in 2012 on the way to 52 receptions. This season, with Julius Thomas having been the primary receiver at the position (Thomas already has 10 touchdown catches this season), Tamme has played just 52 snaps on offense over the first 10 games, and has three catches.
But Tamme is the team leader in special teams tackles, has played on 63 percent of the plays on special teams, and came within an eyelash of blocking a punt against the Chiefs on Sunday.
Safety Mike Adams, a 10-year veteran, started 16 games last season, but lost his starting job in training camp to Duke Ihenacho. Adams has since played in some of the defense’s specialty packages to go with one start this season when Ihenacho was injured. Adams will likely be looked to again with free safety Rahim Moore having had surgery on his lower right leg Monday morning.
“But a guy like Mike, he knows what he has to do and he’s always ready," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We have a lot of good guys in our room who just want to win. We all want to play for sure, but we all want to win, and I think everybody does what they have to do to make that happen."
Then there’s Shaun Phillips, another 10-year veteran, a player the Broncos signed to a one-year deal during the draft weekend this past April. Some personnel executives said before Phillips signed in Denver they believed he could still have an impact in a defense if he went to a successful team with a strong locker room after his frustration in the Chargers’ failure to make the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Phillips currently leads the Broncos in sacks with nine, and has enabled the Broncos to overcome Von Miller's six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy to open the season.
“From some of the things that we determine in evaluating the tape and then working with him and getting him here, he’s been a pleasant surprise," Del Rio said. “I mean, he’s been a little better than we’d hoped in terms of his impact and his leadership. Smart, tough guy. He’s a great communicator ... Yeah, very happy with him."
But if things don’t go nearly as well, the solution is fairly simple to say, but often difficult to perform in these salary-cap times. But Del Rio said there is only one real repair to make for a signing gone bad.
“I’ve seen those guys disappear, which is the best thing a team can do," Del Rio said. “It’s abracadabra time. They disappear. That’s what typically happens, if it’s disruptive, you would hope a team, at least a team that wants to be successful, would relieve that situation, because you have to relieve it to cure it."