AFC West: Britton Colquitt

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times when John Elway the football executive looks every bit like the go-for-it, take-the-risk-to-get-the-reward guy he was as a Hall of Fame quarterback.

And Friday, when the Denver Broncos released their Pro Bowl kicker, Matt Prater, was one of those times. Prater, who had served three games of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, was poised to be reinstated on Monday.

[+] EnlargeMatt Prater
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe Denver Broncos released Matt Prater on Friday.
But Elway looked at the team’s salary-cap situation, the Broncos' long list of impending free agents, Prater's off-the-field trouble and the performance of Brandon McManus and made the call. The Broncos released a proven late-game performer at a position where late-game performers can decide the biggest games.

"I think part of it is evaluating Brandon," Broncos coach John Fox said following Friday's practice. "… But you take the leap of faith and a lot of personnel decisions. It's no different than any one we've made up to this point in our tenure."

It is a leap of faith for a team that considers itself in the Super Bowl conversation. Prater was a proven player, a guy who made 25 of 26 field goal attempts in the Broncos' 13-3 finish in 2013 and had made 51 of his career 54 attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime.

But Elway is a financial conservative, at least -- for the most part -- when it comes to the salary cap, yet he's a football daredevil as well. Elways doesn't like the Broncos dancing on the salary cap's edge, has consistently talked of keeping the roster stocked with youth and athleticism and that "I like to have the room to deal with all of the things that come along and keep us competitive over the long haul. I see a big part of my job as making sure we're two and three steps ahead in what we do."

But Elway is also the guy who, after signing a still-recovering Peyton Manning, said, "There is no Plan B."

The Broncos' actions show Friday's move has been in at least the back of their collective mind for some time. They didn't just sign any kicker to deal with Prater's suspension. No, they traded a conditional draft pick to the New York Giants in August to acquire McManus.

Given that McManus is now on the Broncos' roster in Week 5 of the season, the conditions of the pick kick in, and the Giants will now get a seventh-rounder from the Broncos in the 2015 draft.

For his part, McManus, at least given he hasn't yet faced a late-game situation with a win or a loss in the balance in the regular season or playoffs, believes he has essentially kicked with his job on the line with the Colts, Giants and Broncos over the past two seasons. It has prepared him for kicks when the clock nears 0:00.

"Going into the preseason the past two years, I wanted go in and compete and earn that job, so I knew I couldn’t miss any kicks," McManus said. "So I have full confidence with myself with the game on the line."

There is no question -- physically, McManus fits the job profile. His right leg is nuclear, and he has consistently made 59-yard field goals in warm-ups. Several Broncos players, including punter/holder Britton Colquitt, said Friday that McManus has had many days when he hasn't missed in practice. But practice is practice and a far different endeavor than kicking into the wind/rain/snow/knee-buckling pressure for a regular-season win, a playoff spot or title on the line.

Privately, the Broncos believed Prater was not at his best in training camp with the suspension hanging over him. Given that, as well as the fact he is subject to increased testing in the league's substance-abuse policy because of the suspension and a 2011 DUI charge that could result in an indefinite suspension with another positive test, the Broncos have taken a chance.

There is also the matter of money, as is always the case in any football decision or otherwise. Prater's cap figure was originally $3.107 million for this season, but the Broncos will save $2.294 million off the cap this year and $3.25 million off their 2015 salary cap.

The list of impending free agents for the Broncos is also a who's who on the depth chart. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Wes Welker, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, tackle Orlando Franklin and safety Rahim Moore are just some of the players poised for the open market following whatever becomes of the season.

Colquitt said McManus has "big shoes to fill," but just as the Broncos once didn't really know what they had in Prater -- who had been cut by three different teams before he was signed by the Broncos in 2007 -- the Broncos hope they have again made the right call on an unproven kicker with potential.

Broncos Rewind: Preseason Game 3

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the end the Denver Broncos played their starters until halftime Saturday night, or just about what they had planned to do against the Houston Texans after three days’ worth of work against the Texans leading up to the game.

That will also do it for virtually all of the regulars since they will not play in Thursday night's preseason finale in Dallas.

But after a look at the game video from the 18-17 loss to the Texans, here are some items of note:
  • With just three tight ends in uniform due to injuries, offensive coordinator Adam Gase still went to work some in a two-tight-end look with mixed results. With the starters in the game, the Broncos used it for nine snaps before halftime with Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas in the formation, including all seven snaps on a second-quarter possession that ended with a Peyton Manning interception. The Broncos had five called runs in the look and Manning was sacked once. The Broncos will consistently work the three-wide-receiver look as their base formation much of the time this season -- 35 snaps in all for the starters Saturday, including penalty snaps. But unless something unexpected happens when the roster gets cut to 53 players next week, the Broncos will most likely have three tight ends on the roster during the season, so Saturday was a rather tidy dress rehearsal for that. Green's return will allow them to muscle up a bit more when they're in it and some additional game-planning should help. But it has to be an effective option for them against some of the sturdier defensive fronts they'll face.
  • One of the more effective looks for the Broncos defense last season was their dime (six defensive backs) and it should be an even more reliable option this season with the addition of safety T.J. Ward to go with some additional depth at the position. The Broncos didn’t play cornerback Chris Harris or cornerback Kayvon Webster in the game, but still fared well in the look against the Texans’ starters. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 2-of-4 passing against the Broncos’ dime package with Ward, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter, Omar Bolden, Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby in the lineup. The completions went for 12 and 5 yards on the Texans' first scoring drive. The Texans eventually converted a fourth-and-1 on a 4-yard run by Alfred Blue, also against the dime look. The Broncos will mostly use the formation in passing situations, but their ability to stay in it could depend on how they do when offenses try to run on it because it's a lighter look in terms of personnel. Ward helps, with his ability to drop down to the weak-ide linebacker spot as he can play along the line of scrimmage in a run fit or drop into coverage.
  • Some of the most difficult roster decisions for the Broncos will come in the defensive line, especially if they keep just eight at a deep position. In a scenario where they keep eight, they are going to lose more than one defensive lineman who could play elsewhere. Saturday night Kevin Vickerson, who was on injured reserve during the second half of last season with a hip injury, got his first action of the preseason. Vickerson carries a $2.266 million salary-cap figure for the upcoming season and given the Broncos’ current cap situation contracts are going to be a bigger consideration in cuts than in the previous three seasons. They would take a $500,000 hit for “dead’’ money if Vickerson is released, so ultimately the Broncos would see a $1.766 million cap savings. It's not huge but perhaps necessary. Vickerson played 24 snaps with the second-team defense in the game.
  • For the optimism surrounding a still-high-powered offense and a revamped defense, the Broncos' special teams didn’t have the kind of night you would expect in the third preseason outing. Matt Prater, now facing a four-game suspension to open the season, missed a field goal and took a chunk of sod out of the ground even as he made his other attempt in the game. Britton Colquitt shanked a punt in the first half -- a 27-yarder with plenty of field to work with -- and rookie Mitch Ewald missed a 36-yard field goal attempt. Couple that with the up-and-down work they’ve had in the return game throughout the preseason and there’s plenty of work to be done.
  • The snap leaders for the night on offense were Manning and the starting offensive line, with 43 plays in the game (all in the first half). On defense Bolden led the way with 39 snaps in a variety of packages with linebackers Corey Nelson and Lerentee McCray checking in at 37 plays each.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Just a few days ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said because no fans have been able to attend the team’s training camp practices this year due to construction at the Broncos' complex, that the players might need something to boost them "especially when you get into that third or fourth padded practice and it’s kind of the dog days of training camp."

Well, Monday morning marked the team’s third padded practice of training camp and Manning took it upon himself to give the workout a little kick start. The Broncos routinely play music out of a speaker roughly the size of a Smart Car while the team stretches.

Each day brings a different musical selection from a different player or coach, ranging all over the genre map. Monday’s offering was "Rocky Top," a remember-when country song played at almost every play stoppage and/or touchdown by the University of Tennessee marching band – Manning’s alma mater.

So, as the song played Monday, Manning offered up the dance steps to go along with it. Punter Britton Colquitt, also a former University of Tennessee player, joined in as well.

The video of the five-time NFL MVP is already making the social media rounds.

"I love it," said defensive end Malik Jackson, another former Vol on the Broncos’ roster. "They need to play it every day. ‘Rocky Top’ is awesome. Go Vols."

"It was his day to pick the music so it wasn’t a surprise to me what it was going to be," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos launched themselves into free agency earlier this year, many in the league were quick to compliment the team's salary-cap standing that enabled them to be so aggressive. And John Elway, the team's top football decision-maker, has routinely said he doesn't want to do so many things "that we're right up against the cap. We want to stay competitive, compete for world championships and that means handling ourselves in that arena, too."

But as the Broncos continue to try to get a long-term deal done for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, they are nudging up against their cap restrictions.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDenver will have to adjust its salary-cap number in order to give Demaryius Thomas a contract extension.
Currently, at least until the rosters league wide are cut to 53 players following the fourth preseason game, teams only have to be under with their top 51 salary-cap figures. That puts the Broncos under the cap right now, but with their top 51 coming in at just over $132 million (the cap baseline is $133 million per team) they will have to do at least some work before the end of the preseason -- even with some accounting benefits like rolling over some unused cap space from 2013 -- to sign Thomas, get 53 players under the cap and have enough room to effectively deal with any potential players on injured reserve.

And for a team that had just $24 million worth of salary-cap charges for players on injured reserve by the time they loaded the plane for their Super Bowl trip -- most of that was left tackle Ryan Clady, who signed a new long-term deal with the team last offseason -- that is not something to take lightly.

Overall, the Broncos have about $4.6 million of workable cap space after counting their top 51 contracts, including rollover from last year, as they turn toward training camp. So it’s a good time to take a look at some money matters and where things stand at some of the notable spots on the depth chart.

  • Quarterback Peyton Manning has the team’s highest cap figure, at $17.5 million and the Broncos have the biggest cap gap of any position between starter and backup with No. 2 Brock Osweiler, still on his rookie deal, coming in at $959,094 against the cap.
  • Wide receiver Wes Welker’s $8 million cap figure is highest among the wide receivers and the fourth highest on the team behind only Manning, Clady and defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
  • Decisions are coming at tight end. Of the seven tight ends on the roster at the moment, the top five will be unrestricted free agents following the 2014 season, a list that includes Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. Tamme’s $3.5 million cap figure leads the way at the position, just in front of Dreessen’s $3.1 million. Dreessen has not participated in the team’s offseason program because of knee troubles.
  • Of the six Broncos players who currently have cap figures of at least $7 million for '14, four play on offense and two – Clady ($8.6 million) and guard Louis Vasquez ($7.25 million) – are offensive line starters. So, to be Manning, or play nearby in the formation, is where the big money is. Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib – both free agency signings this past March – are the defensive players among the six.
  • The Broncos’ biggest dead-money hit – salary-cap charges for players no longer on the roster – is $2.1 million for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had the second year of his original contract with the Broncos voided five days after the Super Bowl. Other notable dead-money charges are $1.83 million for the retired Chris Kuper and $500,000 for Willis McGahee, who was cut over a year ago.
  • Best value contract for the Broncos has to be linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the team in tackles last season and checks in at a $596,018 cap figure, or behind Von Miller ($6.613 million) and Nate Irving ($848,750). Overall, Miller is the only linebacker on the team’s roster with a cap figure over $1 million, a fact that will change when Trevathan’s deal is up after the 2015 season.
  • Though defensive tackle Terrance Knighton’s representatives had been hoping for a renegotiation after Knighton’s high-quality play down the stretch last season – the Broncos declined the overtures – he still leads the team’s defensive tackles with a $2.75 million cap figure.
  • Both Broncos kicking specialists – kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt – have cap figures over $3.6 million for ’14. Prater’s is $3.81 million while Colquitt’s is $3.67 million.
For the second consecutive season the Denver Broncos watched all they had done in a 13-3 season get shoved aside and stuffed out of sight by an stunning end to their football year.

In 2012 it was the shocking double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens and this time it was a mauling at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. After several looks at the video and discussions with NFL pro personnel executives from both conferences, here is a report card for the 2013 team.

There is no grading curve. A's, as always, are far more difficult to earn than a Pro Bowl slot. Grades were awarded to the players on the Broncos' season-ending, 53-man roster and most of the starters who suffered season-ending injuries after playing at least four games.

It is, however, not a Super Bowl grade. The title-game meltdown is in there, but the body of work goes from the season-opener to what transpired in MetLife Stadium.

Today it’s the special teams’ units as well as the starters who finished out the season on injured reserve.

The scale:

A - Consistently dominant. What some personnel executives give a "blue" rating, a nod to veteran personnel evaluator Mike Giddings, a former Broncos assistant coach.

B - Productive starter/key situational player who could fit smoothly into almost any lineup in the league.

C - Did the job asked of him with consistency.

D - Substandard. Salary and playing time didn't match output.

PNP - Practice but not much play.


Aaron Brewer: B

In his second season as the long-snapper, he was consistent in both placement and velocity of snaps. He’s never a concern.

Britton Colquitt: B

With a record-setting offense scoring touchdowns most of the time, he punted a career-low 65 times this past season. Still considered around the league as one of the better players at the position, but finished with a career-low 44.5 gross yards per punt and did suffer the first blocked punt of his career in regular-season finale in Oakland after an assignment was missed up front.

Matt Prater: A-

Led the league in touchbacks on kickoffs, as you would expect from somebody with his leg strength playing half of his games at altitude, missed just one kick all season and set NFL record with 64-yard field goal on frigid day against the Titans.

Trindon Holliday: C-

After a quality start with two touchdown returns in the season’s first four games, his season dissolved into some questionable choices with the ball as well as some issues hanging on to it. He bobbled seven kickoffs or punts over the last 10 games of regular season.

Injured starters

Ryan Clady: A

He played in just two games, but the Broncos’ issues in pass protection, which cropped up against the more physical fronts they faced, including the Seattle Seahawks’, would have been far easier to deal with had he been in the lineup. His return is significant in what the Broncos should be able to do on offense in ‘14.

Chris Harris: A-

Versatile, hard-nosed, savvy player who simply competes harder than most others on every snap and is unafraid to take on any matchup. Coming off ACL surgery, he’s going to need some time to resume his duties on the team’s defense.

Von Miller: B-

He simply has to be an A player for this team on the field, in the locker room, and in how he prepares. He showed flashes of his athleticism when he returned from his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, but many personnel executives believe he simply tried to play too heavy in his return and became more of a bull rusher than a consistently effective edge player. And he’s coming off ACL surgery and some with the team are looking, with a raised eyebrow, at his post-Super Bowl jaunt to try to get into the Seahawks’ victory party.

Rahim Moore: C+

A 10-game starter before a lower leg injury put him on injured reserve. The Broncos had designated him for return in case he would have been available for the playoffs, but he never returned to practice. He was headed for his best overall season at the time of his injury.

Kevin Vickerson: B-

Suffered season-ending hip injury in 11th game (at New England). When paired with Terrance Knighton in the middle, the two were an effective early-down combination at defensive tackle. Vickerson was also starting to be more disruptive in pass-rush situations at the time of his injury. He was also, however, the team’s most penalized player at the time of injury -- 10 penalties in 11 games, including two for unnecessary roughness and two for unsportsmanlike conduct. Sylvester Williams is going to play more, not less, moving forward, but if Vickerson returns healthy in ’14, the Broncos will have just the kind of interior depth they want.

Derek Wolfe: C

His season ended after he suffered seizure-like symptoms on the team’s bus ride to the airport in late November just before the Dec. 1 game in Kansas City. Before the incident, however, Wolfe often appeared frustrated on the field and did not have more than two tackles in any game. He lost some weight during his absence and the Broncos, after initially bringing him back to practice on Christmas, kept him off the field the rest of the way.

Denver Broncos season wrap-up

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 2
Preseason Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.

Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.

Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.

Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.


All-AFC West: Denver Broncos

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Stack records and touchdowns like the Denver Broncos did this season and people notice.

The Broncos finished with a single-season record for points scored -- 606 –- as quarterback Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes, also a single-season league record. The Broncos also became the first team in league history to have five players score at least 10 touchdowns; no other team in league history has had more than three.

As a result, there are plenty of Broncos' names dotting the All-AFC West team's offense, selected by the division’s NFL Nation reporters. Manning was selected along with wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, guards Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez and right tackle Orlando Franklin. Manning was the least sacked starting quarterback in the league of those who threw at least 320 passes -- 18 times.

“We always say with team success comes personal rewards,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said.

Running back Knowshon Moreno deserved a look as well with 1,038 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs to go with 60 receptions, but Jamaal Charles did even a little more in the Chiefs’ offense with 1,287 rushing yards to go with 70 catches.

San Diego Chargers rookie Keenan Allen beat out Wes Welker for the third wide receiver slot. Welker, who missed three games because of a concussion, finished with 73 catches, 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Center Manny Ramirez, in his first year at the position, has consistently drawn praise from Manning throughout the season, and some personnel executives have said he deserves consideration as an All-Pro. But Chargers veteran Nick Hardwick was the choice in the middle of the line.

Defensively, the Broncos have had their struggles, but the NFL Nation reporters acknowledged some of their best -- especially cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who is the team’s most versatile player at the position. The Broncos moved Harris all over the formation with a variety of duties, and while Harris was inexplicably passed over by his peers in the league as even a Pro Bowl alternate, he was an All-AFC West pick here.

Defensive end Shaun Phillips, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Danny Trevathan also got the nod.

Where the Broncos took a hit came on special teams. Matt Prater, despite an NFL-record 64-yarder this season to go with a 25-of-26 showing on field goals, including 6-of-7 from at least 50 yards, did not make the cut. Prater also set an NFL record for touchbacks on kickoffs this season.

And Britton Colquitt, with 44.5 gross and 38.5 net averages this season, lost out to his brother, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt. Dustin Colquitt has a gross average of 46.0 and a net average of 40.2 and punted 22 more times than Britton did this season.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 29, 2013

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: The win means quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense closed out the regular season with every significant scoring and passing record in their possession. Manning finished the regular season with 5,477 passing yards to go with 55 touchdowns while the Broncos had broken the league scoring record by halftime. Denver also earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC postseason.

Stock watch: This past week Manning was asked about the records the Broncos were poised to break and he quickly said winning was most important. Perhaps in the big picture that is certainly true, but Manning's season, at age 37 and after four neck surgeries, was nothing short of remarkable. It was his first 5,000-yard season in his storied career and, with four more touchdown passes against the Raiders, it was his ninth game of the season with at least four scores thrown.

A tad worrisome: Broncos punter Britton Colquitt had a punt blocked for the first time of his career in the third quarter Sunday. That play kept a rather disturbing trend going on special teams, with poor ball security, some big returns allowed and now a block over the past two months. The Broncos will practice several days during their postseason bye week and it's a sure bet special teams will be a big part of those sessions.

Two-man show: The Broncos tried to get Ronnie Hillman involved in the running game Sunday -- he had 12 carries for 30 yards -- but the Broncos' running game is largely a two-man affair headed into the postseason. Rookie Montee Ball had 72 yards on 10 carries as Knowshon Moreno was largely given the day off (six carries, 23 yards). But Ball and Moreno have turned it into split duty because of their work in the passing game. Manning's first four completions of the game went to Moreno and Ball. And by the time the Broncos had finished their first two scoring drives, Moreno had five catches to go with one for Ball.

What's next: The Broncos will get a weekend off with their bye through the wild-card round. They will try to balance enough work to keep their edge with the idea of getting a fairly battered team a little rest. But after last season's double-overtime loss at home in the divisional round, there will be a big push from the team's veterans to make sure everybody stays on track.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater owns the best field goal percentage from 50 yards and beyond of any player in league history who started his career after the league's AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

He's also never missed a kick of at least 50 yards in overtime in his career -- he's 4-of-4.

But on a frigid, blustery night in New England, the Broncos passed on a potential 54-yard game-winning field goal attempt in overtime Sunday night. Facing a fourth-and-8 from the Patriots' 37-yard line with 5:01 remaining in overtime, the Broncos passed on giving Prater a chance and had punter Britton Colquitt punt it away instead.

Prater would have had to kick into the stadium's open end on a night when the wind battered kicks to the ground for both teams. Interim head coach Jack Del Rio said he asked Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers if it was in Prater's range.

"I asked Jeff ‘Are we in range?' and he said 'No,'" Del Rio said following the 34-31 overtime loss. "I even said, 'Field goal here?' and he said 'No, I really don't think we can make this kick here.' It was tempting, because it was close."

Prater had made a 48-yarder in pre-game warm-ups in the open end of the stadium, but did not attempt any longer kicks before the game, when he routinely kicks 50-yarders and even a 60-yarder or two when the weather is better.

Prater has also been standing out in the elements for several hours by the time overtime was played. He had just one touchback on a kickoff to that end of the stadium in the game -- late in the fourth quarter, after the Broncos had tied the game 31-31, but even that kick didn't go very deep into the end zone.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo blistered the Broncos defense for 506 passing yards and five touchdowns -- just the fifth such game in the league's history -- the Broncos were left shaking their heads and vowing improvement in the coming weeks.

Or as safety Duke Ihenacho put it when he went to the bottom line, "It was a bad game for us defensively."

And after a long look at the video from Sunday's win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos defense and special teams:
  • It was a rather quiet depth chart move, but one that was clear to see the first time the Broncos lined up in their nickel package Sunday, which was on the Cowboys' first offensive snap of the game. Rookie Kayvon Webster continues to be the most active member of the Broncos' first-year class. He was moved ahead of cornerback Tony Carter in the nickel, playing an outside spot when Chris Harris moved down into the slot. "He's a guy that's proved worthy," said Broncos coach John Fox Monday. "He's earned his playing time. These guys practice out here, we've watched practice, we watch the tape and he's performed well. He earned those reps." Webster has routinely shown up around the ball in his limited work. He's shown speed, aggressiveness and has been one of the team's better tacklers in the secondary. And the team felt good enough about what he can do to leave him in man-on-man situations. Webster knocked the ball free from Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant in the second quarter. In all Webster played 49 of the Broncos' 58 defensive snaps against the Cowboys.
  • Romo said the Cowboys believed all week they could find room "down the seams" -- essentially down the hashmarks -- on the Broncos' defense. And Dallas certainly did, largely attacking the Broncos' nickel and dime packages in the intermediate and deep middle of the field. There was a 27-yarder to tight end Jason Witten in the first quarter, a 25-yarder to tight end Gavin Escobar in the first quarter and a 26-yarder to Witten in the fourth quarter. Toss in wide receiver Terrance Williams beating Carter for an 82-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter and the Cowboys piled up big play after big play right through the heart of the Broncos' coverage plans. After largely playing it safe for much of the season, Romo finished with nine completions of at least 20 yards and three completions of at least 38 yards. It isn't a new issue, even with all the good the Broncos did on defense last season. They still struggled mightily last season to cover opposing tight ends -- the Broncos surrendered 81 receptions for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns to opposing tight ends in 2012. And Sunday was really the first time opposing tight ends had made such a dent in things. They did surrender 74 yards receiving to the Giants' Brandon Myers in Week 2 and the Eagles Brent Celek had 57 yards receiving, but neither player had a touchdown catch. The Chargers Antonio Gates, the Colts Coby Fleener and the Chiefs Sean McGrath are on the schedule in the coming weeks. Whether it be the safeties or the linebackers, the Broncos need a little more from those marking the big guys in the pass pattern.
  • The Broncos need to create some more pass pressure up front as well. Romo had several snaps when he neither had to leave the pocket to avoid pressure nor had to pick up the pace when he moved through his progressions. Fox said Romo had one snap "when he was standing back there for 10 seconds." Some of the numbers are impacted as the Broncos played a far more controlled scheme in the rush against the read-option quarterbacks in Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor. In those two games the Broncos defensive ends, particularly Derek Wolfe, had to hold the edge and make sure not rush deeper into the backfield than the quarterback as to not leave an escape lane. But it is somewhat surprising after five games the Broncos linebackers have just 2.5 sacks combined and Wolfe has just one. Things will likely change when Von Miller returns from his suspension the Monday following the Jaguars game. Then, if Miller has done all of the work with the team's strength coaches Fox and his teammates have said he's doing, offenses are going to have to slide things Miller's way. That should open some things up. The Broncos are tied for seventh in the league in sacks with 15, but they've also faced the third-most passing attempts of any defense in the league -- 209. So, in sacks per pass attempt the Broncos are 18th in the league. In the end they have to win more 1-on-1 battles, especially with the injuries they've had on defense that almost requires them to send the reinforcements into coverage and rush four.
  • The Broncos signed punter Britton Colquitt to a $13 million deal during training camp because they believed in his ability to consistently tilt field position in their favor. But he has been their Maytag man thus far. No punter who has played in five games has punted fewer times than Colquitt's 15. Colquitt did not have a single punt Sunday in Dallas. The Colts' Pat McAfee is close to Colquitt's pace, having punted 16 times in five games. By contrast Colquitt's brother, Dustin, has punted 32 times for Kansas City this season.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just before free agency opened the Denver Broncos were cruising along in good salary-cap standing, with less than $100,000 worth of dead money -- charges for players no long on the roster -- against their 2013 salary cap.

That was just before Elvis Dumervil couldn't find a fax machine and the Broncos had to release him to avoid paying a $12 million salary guarantee. Boom for Doom, and not only was Dumervil gone, but a $4.869 million dead-money charge was on the Broncos' books immediately after his departure.

Then the Broncos released linebacker D.J. Williams, who was already carrying a $500,000 dead-money charge for '13 because of some earlier business. And with that, another $1.832 million in dead money went on the books.

After they released running back Willis McGahee in June -- he remains unsigned -- another $500,000 in dead money was added. The release in July of linebacker Joe Mays created $3.5 million in cap space the Broncos used to help sign Ryan Clady to a long-term deal, but also added a $666,667 dead-money charge.

So, the Broncos went from having less than $100,000 in dead money to deal with on this year's cap, a remarkable piece of work given where things were two years ago, to $7.868 million in dead money. That's still not in the OMG territory some teams are operating in, but it will impact at least a few of the choices the Broncos will soon make.

It also had at least some impact on why the Broncos renegotiated guard Chris Kuper's contract -- his base salary went from $4.5 million to $1.05 million -- at the same time he was set to move off of the physically unable to perform (PUP) list Tuesday to return to practice on a limited basis.

Certainly Williams' release was a given after his off-field issues began to far outweigh his on-field production. The Broncos had significant concerns about McGahee's knee after he stayed away for much of the offseason program. And the Broncos needed cap space to sign Clady and Britton Colquitt even as Mays was going to have a difficult time making the roster when all was said and done.

But Dumervil's flip-flop from no to yes on a renegotiated deal that led to the fax snafu certainly stung when it happened. And it will sting, at least some, once again when the Broncos cut the roster to 53 players next month.
A look at the Denver Broncos' roster and the Class of 2009 doesn't have as many players in the team's foundation as it should.

Those picks are now fifth-year players and should be several members of the core lineup -- poised to be signed for the long term with the team if things have gone the way it was hoped.

Just three draft picks -- running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive end Robert Ayers and safety David Bruton -- and two signed as free agents remain -- running back Lance Ball and punter Britton Colquitt.

Moreno is currently third on the depth chart at running back. Ayers is trying to make the most of his best to be an impact player in the defense after Elvis Dumervil's departure. Ball hopes he can do enough to carve out a roster spot. When the Broncos look to re-sign the players in that class, they have to go to special teams.

Earlier this offseason the Broncos signed Bruton, a safety/special teams ace, to a three-year, $5.5 million deal. Sunday the Broncos finished work on a three-year extension for Colquitt worth $11.7 million.

"Kind of surreal right now, hard to believe,'' Colquitt said. " ... I'm humbled and grateful ... I've already had a few of my friends and people text me 'my son's going to be a punter, I'm sending him to you when he's 15' or whatever. I always tell people special teams is the way to go.''

At least part of the depth issues the Broncos faced in the two previous seasons as well as in this training camp at times, can be traced to the significant hole left behind from both the 2009 and 2010 drafts.

The team selected 19 players combined in those two drafts, including four first-rounders. Ayers, Colquitt, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Zane Beadles are the only current starters from those two drafts -- center J.D. Walton, a 2010 pick, has also been a starter, but is currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Beadles, a second-round pick in 2010, is in the final year of his original deal and the Broncos will face a decision at the end of the season about his long-term value and future with the team.

Even Colquitt, now the highest-paid punter in the league at $3.9 million a year average on his deal, didn't stick at first in '09. He was cut at the end of training camp and was out of the league until the Dolphins signed him to the practice squad in December of that year.

Eight days after joining the Dolphins practice squad Colquitt was signed to the Broncos active roster to close out the '09 season and he has been with the Broncos since.

"It was very humbling not to make it (in camp) that year when I thought I could,'' Colquitt said.

In the end Colquitt and Bruton are good at what they do, and are needed pieces in a playoff team's puzzle. But the fact they are the two players to re-sign long-term from all who arrived in 2009 is also a sign that while the Broncos have made significant progress since 2010's 4-12 finish, the work isn't done.
John Elway may have played the league's glamour position in his Hall of Fame career, but as a football executive Elway works the nuts and bolts of roster building.

Sure, he's placed plenty of value on the quarterback position -- Peyton Manning's $96 million deal is proof of that. But Elway also values defense -- his first draft pick in each of the last three drafts has been a defensive player (Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams) -- and he has opened the checkbook on special teams.

Just before the Denver Broncos' 2012 training camp opened the Broncos signed Matt Prater to a four-year, $13 million deal. And Sunday, the Broncos signed punter Britton Colquitt to a three-year extension worth $11.7 million.

In 2012, Colquitt was third in the NFL with a 42.1 yard net average and had the second lowest return average at 6.2 yards. Colquitt is also the Broncos' all-time leader in gross average (46.2) and net (40.2) over the course of his career.

The $3.9 million per year average over the life of the deal makes Colquitt the highest paid punter in the league. With a total windfall of $4.275 million this year ($3 million signing bonus to go with a $1.275 million base salary) Colquitt also leads the league's punters in total pay in 2013 as well.

The Buccaneer's Michael Koenen ($3.25 million base salary this year), the Chargers Mike Scifres ($3 million base) and Britton's brother Dustin ($4 million signing bonus to go with $950,000 base salary) are the only punters in the league to come in at or above the $3 million mark this season.

That's a lot of salary cap coin for the kicking game. Toss in the three-year, $5.5 million deal the Broncos signed special teams ace/safety David Bruton to earlier this year and Elway has made it clear the third phase of the game is a priority.

Some would consider that special teams spending a luxury, but it's no-frills foundation thinking in team building for Elway where field position is an important component.

With Ryan Clady's five-year, $52.5 million deal that was signed just before trianing camp opened, the Broncos sit at just more than $121.6 million against the cap on their top 51 salary cap figures (only the top 51 count until final cuts when all 53 players must fit under the cap). The Broncos do have some rollover space added on -- about $11.5 million -- so they do have some wiggle room, but they would need to make some adjustments for another major deal.

Links: Moore rises to Allen's challenge

August, 2, 2013
Denver Broncos

The team has opened negotiations to give punter Britton Colquitt a contract extension, writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post. Colquitt had a net average of 42.1 yards per punt and he placed 27 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line last season.

Brandon Moree of has highlights from Day 8 of training camp.

Cornerback Champ Bailey knows a position switch to safety is in his future, writes the AP's Eddie Pells. "You’ve got to look at history," Bailey said. "Ronnie Lott. Rod Woodson. Aeneas Williams. They all did it, and they all did it before I did. History says this is about that time. I understand that and I’m not naive about it."

Kansas City Chiefs

In an effort to lose weight, nose tackle Dontari Poe has given up barbecue, writes Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star. "It might be the hardest thing I’ve had to do since I’ve been here," said Poe.

Receiver Jon Baldwin, a first-round pick in 2011, has been plagued by dropped passes early on in camp, the AP reports.

The Chiefs made a few roster moves Thursday, adding offensive tackle Mike Tepper and cornerback Kamaal McIlwain.

Oakland Raiders

"Setting the edge" isn't the most glamorous part of a defensive end's job, but it's a task that suits Oakland's Jason Hunter just fine, writes Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. "Basically, setting an edge is getting an extension on that tackle and knocking him back, that way it stops the line of scrimmage so the (running) back can't just get to the edge, and it forces him back inside to where the help is," Hunter said.

Tracy Porter says he's moved past having his jersey number taken away from him and given to Charles Woodson, writes Scott Bair of "The jersey situation is what it is," Porter said. "It got some attention because I spoke out about it. I didn’t like the way it was handled, but whatever man. I’m not going to leave camp because my jersey number was switched."

After coach Dennis Allen said Tuesday that the team didn't have a go-to receiver yet, Denarius Moore rose to the challenge. On Thursday, Moore had a great day of practice and earned praise from Allen, who said Moore "clearly responded to the challenge,” writes Bair.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers' defensive line has lots of potential, but it is definitely short on experience, writes U-T San Diego's Kevin Acee.

U-T San Diego's Chris Jenkins takes a look at tight end John Phillips, who signed as a free agent after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. "I was just looking for something new, looking to establish myself,” said Phillips. “Hopefully, I can get out here and be more versatile in this offense. Maybe I can carve out a role for myself where I can catch more balls."

Running back Ronnie Brown thinks he can make some waves in coach Mike McCoy's offense, writes Ricky Henne of McCoy "offers me opportunities to do some different things besides just running the ball," Brown said. "He accentuates the things you’re good at, so I’m going to be involved in the passing game and get to show my versatility as a back, what I’m capable of doing and what I’m comfortable doing."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- News and notes from Broncos training camp Thursday:

  • Ryan Lilja, who arrived in Denver on a Thursday morning flight and was set to sign his contract after going through a physical, did not participate in practice, but he was expected to be on the field for a Thursday evening walk-through. Broncos coach John Fox says Lilja is a swing guard/center signed for depth at the moment. But as a former teammate of Peyton Manning's in Indianapolis, Lilja has far more experience with the long list of audibles Manning uses in the offense.If he's healthy -- he had toe and knee surgeries following the 2012 season -- he could find his way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. The Broncos coaches cited his two quality outings against the Broncos last season when Lilja was with the Chiefs.Lilja started at center last season against the Broncos on Nov. 25 and Dec. 30.
  • [+] EnlargeTony Carter
    AP Photo/Jack DempseyWith Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sidelined, the Broncos put Tony Carter back in the starting lineup at right cornerback.
    With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out for what is expected to be at least two weeks with an ankle sprain, the Broncos took a look at Tony Carter in the right cornerback spot in the base defense during Thursday's workout, keeping Chris Harris as the nickel corner.Harris started 12 games at right corner in 2012, including the playoff loss to Baltimore, but the Broncos prefer his toughness and quickness in the slot. Carter has a bit more speed in the open field and is far more comfortable on the outside.The Broncos signed Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason, however, because they were looking for more size at the position overall. Rodgers-Cromartie is 6-foot-2 with a big reach, while Harris is 5-foot-10 and Carter is 5-foot-9. The Ravens went after Carter on the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation in the divisional-round playoff game.Carter missed the jam on the Ravens' Jacoby Jones on the touchdown play.

    It has potential to be something the Broncos will have to consider moving forward from time to time. Rodgers-Cromartie has had ankle troubles in the past having torn ligaments in the ankle during the 2011 season in Philadelphia.
  • Rookie defensive end Quanterus Smith left practice Thursday with a sore knee. That will bear watching in the coming weeks.With the departure of Elvis Dumervil and the possibility Von Millerwill face a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy -- Miller is expected to have his appeal hearing later this month -- Smith is a big part of the pass-rush plan, especially in the specialty packages.He suffered a torn left ACL during his senior season at Western Kentucky and was limited for much of the offseason workouts. Thursday was the first time he has left a practice in training camp.
  • The Broncos continue to work toward a contract extension for punter Britton Colquitt. Colquitt signed a one-year, $1.323 million tender as a restricted free agent in the offseason.But the two sides have had extensive talks and are closing in on a multiyear deal.
  • Rookie defensive end Sylvester Williams (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (thigh) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were among those held out of practice Thursday. Broncos coach John Fox has characterized all three as "day-to-day."