AFC West: Dan Koppen

Double Coverage: Broncos at Giants

September, 12, 2013

For the third time in their careers, brothers Peyton Manning and Eli Manning will oppose each other as the starting quarterbacks in the same NFL game. Peyton's Denver Broncos travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on Eli's New York Giants at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Both of these teams have dreams of playing in the Super Bowl in that very same building in February. But while Denver looked the part of the contender in its Week 1 rout of the defending champion Ravens, the Giants turned the ball over six times in an ugly opening-week loss in Dallas. Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Giants team reporter Dan Graziano break down this week's Battle of the Brothers.

Dan Graziano: So yeah, Jeff, I don't know if you were able to dig this up on your end, but my research does indeed confirm that the two starting quarterbacks in this game grew up in the same house with the same parents. I wonder if others will catch on and ask some questions and write some stories about that angle this week. I don't expect Eli Manning to admit that he's looking for revenge after his big brother beat him twice while he was with the Colts, but I'm sure there's some element of that going on. I have two little brothers myself, and personally I'd be pretty annoyed if I ever lost an NFL game to either one of them. Do you think this game means a little something extra to Peyton Manning?

Jeff Legwold: Dan, I wasn’t planning to ask about this ... but OK, I'm in. I've been around Peyton since my time in Nashville and his at the University of Tennessee, so I'm fairly certain Peyton isn't a big fan of this from a personal perspective. Plenty of his friends said after the Colts released Peyton they didn't even think he would go to an NFC team, let alone the Redskins (pre 2012 draft, of course) because there was far more potential to face Eli if he did. They’ll talk this week, but there won’t be any football on the phone. From a football standpoint Peyton is in regular-season mode, which is intense, focused and running the show. The Broncos didn't show all of their changes on offense against the Ravens last week -- they have another gear they can hit in the no-huddle they didn't use against Baltimore -- but Peyton has plenty of places to go in the passing game. How do you think the Giants' revamped defensive front will approach all of that?

DG: Yeesh. Another gear? The rest of the league can't be excited to hear that. The most positive and effective change the Giants made on defense this offseason was at defensive tackle, where they believe they've beefed up and are better suited to stop the run than they were a year ago. But while that sounds nice and useful, the plain fact is that the Giants' defense needs a dominant pass rush from the front four in order to be effective. The linebackers are terrible, and Dallas' short-range-passing game plan Sunday night showed that it's not hard for the rest of the league to figure that out and take advantage of it. The cornerbacks are just so-so, and if Prince Amukamara is out with a concussion (still unknown at this time), that unit becomes a liability. The key will be Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul generating pressure on Peyton from the edge. Pierre-Paul looked rusty and didn't play a full game Sunday as he was coming off of June back surgery and missed the preseason. If he can take a big step forward this week in terms of conditioning and practice time, that would help. He's the difference-making player in their defensive front -- the one who has the ability to take over a game if he's 100 percent. They need him as close to that as possible if they're going to pressure Peyton Manning enough to limit the time he has to take advantage of all of those options.

Peyton's brother has his share of options as well. Three different Giants receivers had more than 100 yards in the opener, including big second-year wideout Rueben Randle. With Victor Cruz in the slot and Randle and Hakeem Nicks on the outside, how are the Broncos equipped to cover the Giants' receivers?

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJason Pierre-Paul and New York's pass rush may be the key to containing Peyton Manning.
JL: It is an issue for the Broncos, especially if Champ Bailey (left foot) isn't ready to go. He was jogging early in the week, but did not take part in Monday's practice. He has been in for treatment every day, including Tuesday, and still hopes to get himself back in the lineup. The Broncos signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason because they believed he could take his game to another level and that they could help him do that. He played like the former Pro Bowl pick (2009) he was in the opener and shut down Torrey Smith and showed plenty of athleticism. But take Bailey out of the mix and the Broncos are small when they go into the nickel. When Bailey doesn't play, the 5-foot-10 Chris Harris starts and the 5-foot-9 Tony Carter then comes in for the nickel. Without Bailey that puts Harris in the slot and Carter on the outside and quarterbacks tend to go after Carter in that situation. If Bailey plays -- and he's made no secret he wants to -- that gives the Broncos better matchups. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes to mix it up overall and uses a lot of people, and if they get the right down-and-distance situations, he likes to even break out a seven-defensive back look and the rushers come from everywhere in the formation.

When Del Rio is looking at the Giants' running game, what will he see?

DG: Oh, yes. The run game. Better known as "The Only Thing I've Been Writing About Since Sunday Night." I still think the answer to your question is second-year back David Wilson, though his much-publicized pair of fumbles (and his less-publicized issues in pass protection) have the Giants tweaking last week's plan to give Wilson a full starter's workload. They had a bunch of veteran backs in for workouts Tuesday and ended up signing Brandon Jacobs, but Wilson is still the former first-round pick and the big-play threat who's likely to get the bulk of the first-down and second-down work as long as he doesn't fumble anymore. They had planned to use Andre Brown as the passing-downs back and the goal-line back before Brown broke his leg in the final preseason game, and after Wilson's tough opener, it looks as though Jacobs has been brought in to fill Brown's role. But Wilson's still their best running back, and assuming they throw him right back in there, he's someone for whom the Broncos will have to account. When he does hold on to the ball, he's impressive to watch run.

One guy who obviously stood out for the Broncos in their opener was the tight end, Julius Thomas. The Giants had no answers for Jason Witten on Sunday and, as I mentioned earlier, don't have anyone in their linebacking corps to really cover tight ends. So was Thomas a one-game wonder, or is this a serious candidate for a major role in the passing game?

JL: Dan, the Broncos and Thomas waited two years to see what folks saw last Thursday night. Since the Broncos took the former Portland State basketball player in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, he offered glimpse after glimpse on the practice field of what the potential was. But he suffered an ankle injury on his first NFL catch -- in the second game of his rookie season -- and wasn't the same after. He had surgery to repair the ankle before last season and spent much of the year simply being a game-day inactive. But coming down the stretch last season, players kept talking about what Thomas was doing in practice, and in training camp this summer he consistently ran away from defensive backs. He's great at getting the ball in a crowd and the Ravens did what most defenses figure to do, rotate coverage to the likes of Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, and leave Thomas with just one defender. Thomas is still raw in some of his route running -- he is in just his fourth year of football after just one season's worth in college -- and sometimes will drop one he shouldn't, but the guy is a matchup problem for defenses, especially since Peyton Manning trusts him enough to throw it to him in almost any situation.

Opposing tight ends did plenty of damage against the Broncos' defense last season with 81 receptions for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns as a position group. They've seen Brandon Myers plenty in previous seasons, how does he fit in an offense with so much output at wide receiver?

DG: Yes, Myers was kind of the forgotten man Sunday night with all of the wideouts going nuts. And as long as those three wideouts are healthy and productive, I wouldn't be surprised to see that continue. Myers is the Giants' fourth different starting tight end in four years. And over the past five years, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 40.6 catches per season. Martellus Bennett's 55 catches last year were the most by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 in 2007. So while Myers was a big receiving threat in Oakland, I doubt he'll threaten 70-80 catches this year as a Giant. They just don't use their tight end as a weapon in the receiving game the way a lot of teams do. Now, might they pick a matchup, such as this one, in which you say the team hasn't been strong against tight ends, and throw it to him more in such a game? Entirely possible. Myers looked like a significant part of the offensive game plan in training camp practices, so there are definitely some packages in which they'll throw to him. But right now, with injuries on the offensive line and the problems they're having in general with pass protection, I believe they need Myers to stay in and block more.

Speaking of protection, and getting back to what I think is one of the key points at least from the New York end, what's the state of the Denver offensive line in front of big brother Manning? Are the Giants' pass-rushers in for a challenging day?

JL: That was THE story in the preseason for the Broncos. Two of their starting linemen -- right tackle Orlando Franklin and left tackle Ryan Clady -- had offseason surgeries and Clady didn't play in the preseason. They lost center Dan Koppen to a torn ACL in training camp and spent much of August signing veteran linemen to address depth issues, before finally bringing two of those signees -- John Moffitt and Steve Vallos -- onto the final 53-man roster. They want the three-wide set to be their base formation on offense -- they ran their first 20 plays from scrimmage out of it against the Ravens -- but can't play it if they can't protect. Their first target in free agency, because they felt like they surrendered far too much pressure up the middle, was guard Louis Vasquez, who got the longest deal (four years) the Broncos gave to any player they signed in the offseason. They had some bobbles early against the Ravens, went to a two-tight end set briefly in the second quarter to reset things and kept themselves together when they went to three-wide after that. Center Manny Ramirez is the key; when he plays well, the Broncos can stay in that three-wide look and they can consistently pressure defenses out of it.

Rushing a Manning is something the Broncos have to consider as well. What do the Giants think of a pass rush without Von Miller in it for another five games?

DG: I'm sure they wish he was coming back in time to face the Eagles in Week 4 and the Cowboys in Week 5. But as a Week 2 development, the Giants will take it. Preseason injuries shook up the Giants' line. They have rookie first-rounder Justin Pugh starting at right tackle, which wasn't the plan. They have left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backup tackle James Brewer playing left guard for the first time in his life. Add in the blocking downgrade at running back, and Eli Manning's protection is one of the major issues the Giants are having right now. Like his brother, Eli has an insanely quick release, so he doesn't need a Hall of Fame line in front of him in order to be successful. But he does need some level of comfort back there, because he's not at his best when he has to move his feet. George Selvie and a cast of backup rushers had success against the Giants' line Sunday night and helped rattle Manning into three interceptions, so it's not as though the Broncos necessarily need Miller to get the job done. What are they doing with their pass rush to overcome that significant loss and the loss of Elvis Dumervil to the whims of a fax machine?

JL: With Dumervil now in Baltimore and Miller suspended for five more games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the Broncos are missing 29.5 sacks from last season's defense that tied for the league lead (52) last season. The Broncos talked to plenty of veteran pass-rushers in the offseason and, after deciding John Abraham and Dwight Freeney wanted too much money, they signed Shaun Phillips during the draft weekend. And it's Phillips who is going to have to be the biggest part of the solution in the pass rush until Miller comes back. He was up to the challenge with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against the Ravens. Del Rio likes plenty of pressure packages when the Broncos get the lead and will rush players from anywhere in the formation The Broncos are particularly aggressive and creative out of their dime looks as well as the seven-defensive back look. They still have to show they can win one-on-one matchups in the rush when the game is tight, however. The rush didn't really kick in against the Ravens -- Flacco was largely untouched in the first half last Thursday -- until the Broncos had built the lead and the Ravens had to open things up some.

The Giants will be one of three NFC East teams the Broncos will play over the next four weeks, so do the Giants believe the Broncos' no-huddle look will be an kind of preview for what's to come with the Eagles?

DG: Good question. The Cowboys showed some no-huddle Sunday, and obviously the Giants are going to have to expect it from the Eagles, so perhaps these are some good early tests for them. Makes me think it really would help if they had some better all-around instinctive playmaker types in the linebacking corps. But they don't prioritize that position, and they think if they can get to the quarterback they can make up for deficiencies there and in the secondary. We'll see. It's a lot to ask of Tuck and Pierre-Paul, but they've both been great players at times in the past.

Anyway, I think that about covers it. Should be a fun one Sunday at the Meadowlands. See you there, Jeff.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In an offseason/preseason when Broncos center Manny Ramirez has seen the Broncos sign Dan Koppen, sign Ryan Lilja, sign Steve Vallos, centers all, and even talk to Eugene Amano, Ramirez has simply held down the job, day after day, practice after practice. And Tuesday Ramirez received a vote of confidence.

Namely the guy he snaps the ball to every day in practice.

“Manny has done a great job,’’ quarterback Peyton Manning said. “He’s worked hard. He’s in a new position. The best teacher is experience and there’s not a walk-through or taking snaps before practice or a single play in practice that’s not valuable that he’s not learning something, that I’m not learning something from him. He and I are constantly communicating and he’s done everything that the coaches have asked of him. I think he’ll just continue to get better each day.’’

Good thing Manning feels that way because since Koppen is already on injured reserve and Lilja is now dealing with a knee issue -- he had knee and toe surgery early in the offseason -- Ramirez has continued to be option No. 1 at the position. He has never started a regular-season game at center since being moved into the middle of the offensive line from guard during the Broncos’ offseason program, but he's fairly locked in at this point, having started the first two preseason games.

Ramirez figures to play into the third quarter Saturday night against the Rams. Broncos coach John Fox said Tuesday he plans to take all of the regulars, on both sides of the ball, into the third quarter.

“We like getting them used to coming out after halftime,’’ Fox said. “Halftime is an event in itself. So this will be the first time they have to come out and play after the halftime routine.’’

The Broncos did add another potential center Tuesday when they traded defensive tackle Sealver Siliga to the Seahawks in exchange for guard/center John Moffitt. Moffitt, a third-round pick by the Seahawks in 2011, has started games at both guard spots in Seattle.

He also started 15 games at center in his career at Wisconsin, 13 of those as a sophomore. Moffitt did miss time as a rookie in Seattle with a knee injury, but entered training camp in a battle to be the starter at one of the guard spots.

But like Lilja and Vallos, Moffitt now moves into the depth chart behind Ramirez in the middle of the offensive line. And Ramirez is still the guy snapping to Manning.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Not only has Chris Kuper dealt with surgery, a major infection, a long rehab and a contract shave that could cost him roughly $3.5 million, but now he gets to handle a new position as well.

Given that they have one center (J.D. Walton) on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, another already on injured reserve (Dan Koppen) and the current starter (Manny Ramirez) has never started a regular-season game at the position, the Broncos continue to look for reinforcements in-house.

[+] EnlargeChris Kuper
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesBeset by injuries at center, the Broncos will give guard Chris Kuper some practice time there.
And so, even as he returns from offseason ankle surgery, Kuper will be asked to practice at center at times. He took some snaps in individual drills in Tuesday's practice, his first of this training camp.

"[That's] pretty much it ... I pretty much started today," Kuper said. "I've done it a little bit in the past, but nothing extensive."

Kuper said the last time he had played center in a game was during his junior season at North Dakota, when he moved from left tackle to center in a game for "three snaps.'' In Mike Shanahan's tenure as the Broncos' coach Kuper was a backup long snapper.

It will still take some time, however, before Kuper is fully integrated into practice as he works his way back to full strength. He has dealt with a variety of issues with his left ankle since suffering a fracture and dislocation in the 2011 regular-season finale.

He played in seven games last season, starting five, but had additional surgery following the season as well as treatments for an infection in the joint, and so he was held out of the offseason program and the early portion of this training camp.

"Not there yet," Kuper said. " ... I'm not going to put a time frame on it just because coming back from this thing before and it didn't work out the way I wanted it to."

As far as Kuper's future at center, Broncos coach John Fox said: "We'll look at it. Guys have that flexibility."

"We've all talked about doing it," Kuper said. "And [it's] something I need to work on."

(Read full post)

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 13, 2013

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Live on Colorado's front range long enough, and you live with an unshakable, that's-the-way-it-is truth. That most days, as in 300 or so a year, the sun shines brightly and the skies are blue.

But when the storm clouds come rolling down the mountains, it's an ambush -- they come fast and with menacing intent. And that, really, is the story of the Broncos' offseason.

"Hey, you have to deal with all kinds of things along the way," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, now entering his 10th season with the team. "And we've had plenty of things to deal with around here over the years; sometimes we've done a good job with it, sometimes we haven't. I tell the young guys all the time, we'll see how we handle things. We can be good, but we have to get to work, because thinking you're good and being good are always two different things."

The Broncos entered free agency as Super Bowl favorites, then they signed Wes Welker to a Peyton Manning-led offense that had already been good enough to be No. 2 in scoring in 2012. They drafted well, and filled some other needs with veteran signees Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Stewart Bradley and Shaun Phillips.

Yep, football sunshine and blue skies.

Then there was Faxgate and Elvis Dumervil's rather messy exit from the team that drafted him in 2006.

Then two high-ranking front-office executives -- director of pro personnel Tom Heckert and director of player personnel Matt Russell -- were arrested on drunken driving charges a month apart. Heckert was eventually suspended a month without pay -- he's due to return to the team Thursday -- and Russell was suspended indefinitely.

Then defensive playmaker Von Miller was slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, a revelation that came with the rather troubling fact that Miller had previously violated the policy to get to the suspension phase.

Miller's appeal will be heard Thursday by league officials, and a decision is expected before the regular-season opener against the Ravens.

Toss in a pile of injuries, especially to the offensive line, and it's clear coach John Fox's task will be to keep a talented team on track as it wrestles with the expectations around it, as well as the pothole-filled road it has already traveled.

"It's been my experience if you don't expect a lot, you don't get a lot," Fox said. "Keep the bar low, and that's where people go. We're going to keep the bar high -- I don't mind expectations -- and I think the guys have had good focus. They know the work that has to be done, and I know they'll do it."


1. Deal with it. Former Broncos defensive end Alfred Williams might have said it best. Williams said the Broncos are the only team in the league "with 20 preseason games."

So true. After a 13-3 finish that included an 11-game winning streak dissolved into a crushing playoff loss to the Ravens, the team's fan base essentially sees the coming regular season as little more than an inconvenience before another postseason chance.

That can be a lot to handle for a team, especially if players and coaches get too focused on the potential lack of appreciation from the outside world for anything that happens along the way. More than one person inside the team's Dove Valley complex has expressed frustration in the past six months over the fact that few folks bring up the 13-3 record, the win streak or the division title, and that it is all Ravens, all the time in any discussion about the 2012 season.

Frustrating indeed, but the Broncos have to find some peace of mind somewhere as they move through the next four months.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
Harry How/Getty ImagesWhile the Broncos wait for star left tackle Ryan Clady to return from shoulder surgery, the team has many questions on the offensive line.
2. Front-line issues. Left tackle Ryan Clady, a newly minted five-year, $52.5 million contract in hand, is still working back from offseason shoulder surgery and is not yet 100 percent.

Center J.D. Walton had ankle surgery just before minicamp and isn't expected back in the lineup until late October or early November at the earliest. He was just seen at the Broncos' complex this past week without a walking boot on for the first time since the operation.

Walton's backup, Dan Koppen, tore his ACL in the first week of training camp and is done for the year.

It leaves Manny Ramirez, who just started his first career game at center in the Broncos' preseason opener in San Francisco, and 31-year-old Ryan Lilja, who was signed out of retirement after two surgeries (knee, toe) earlier in the offseason, as the options in the middle.

Given that defensive coordinators routinely believe the best way to pressure Manning is through the middle of the formation, the Broncos will need an answer to protect him.

3. Defense will tell the tale. We get it, it's a quarterback league. The rulebook essentially begs/demands that people put the ball in the air almost nonstop in any situation. Offense puts people in the seats.

Whatever. Remind me, but wasn't the Super Bowl -- a Super Bowl played by the two teams that ran the ball the most during the playoffs -- won on a goal-line stand when an offense couldn't/wouldn't punch it in from the doorstep?

The Broncos put up 35 points this past January and were sent home to the collective couch. And when you get right down to it, in back-to-back playoff losses, the Broncos have surrendered 694 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns with just one interception and one sack combined against Tom Brady to close out the 2011 season and Joe Flacco to close out 2012.

So, Manning to Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker looks nice on a magazine cover, but how the guys on the other side of the ball do will have plenty to say about how far this team goes.


It's a talented roster with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time behind center and a remember-when defensive talent bursting with potential in Miller. Denver is a balanced team that finished in the top five in both offense and defense last season with one of the great home-field advantages in the league. Oh, and the guy running the team is a Hall of Fame quarterback who knows a thing or two about what a title-winning locker room should look like.


There are some in the league who looked at the Broncos' drama-filled offseason and said they had the tumultuous profile of a team that had won the Super Bowl instead of losing two rounds before the title game. The Broncos have had the infamous fax issues, the off-the-field troubles, a reality show, a looming suspension of a superstar and more than their share of injuries. Maybe when the games count, none of that will matter, but history is littered with teams that put the championship cart before the horse, content to enjoy the fruits of potential rather than the actual title.

  • [+] EnlargeWes Welker
    Marc Piscotty/Icon SMIThere will be plenty of opportunities for Wes Welker in Denver's offense.
    Welker's signing is going to work out -- barring injuries, of course -- exactly the way everybody wanted it to, including Welker. He fits the offense. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase will even expand Welker's reach in Denver's playbook compared with what Welker did in New England, and Welker has worked hard to fit in. There has been some hand-wringing both near and far about where the "catches" were going to come from for a guy with five 100-reception seasons. The answer is that the catches are already in the offense. Working mostly out of the slot last season, tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Brandon Stokley combined for 97 receptions, 1,099 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers from Welker would fit quite nicely.
  • The offensive line is an issue to keep an eye on until the Broncos prove it's not. Getting Clady back in the lineup -- he's still on track to start the opener -- will help greatly, but they've struggled to protect the quarterbacks in practice against their own high-end defense, as well as in the preseason opener. If things don't improve, the Broncos will spend an awful lot of time tossing dump-offs to the hot receiver or shallow crosses because they can't protect long enough to go down the field.
  • Miller's potential and ability are almost limitless. Former longtime Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier, the guy who called the shots for the Orange Crush defense, has said Miller has the potential to be the franchise's best-ever defensive player. But Miller, the results of his appeal of his four-game suspension notwithstanding, has to hold up his end of the bargain, both on and off the field, to make that happen. And the Broncos will have to decide over the next season or so -- his contract is up after 2014 -- just how high they'll want to go on an extension and whether the investment will be worth it over the long term.
  • Folks can wish it were different, especially as they wrestle with their fantasy lineups each week, but every indication on the practice field -- as in EVERY indication -- is that Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball are going to share the workload in a variety of down-and-distance situations. And Knowshon Moreno and Jacob Hester figure to at least be in the third-down mix as well at times.
  • Hillman, however, should benefit from Gase's concerted effort to create more impact in the run game outside the hashmarks. The Broncos weren't all that good, or committed, to the outside runs last season. And if Hillman runs with decisiveness and the Broncos can get it done up front -- they brought longtime assistant Alex Gibbs back to help with the zone-run game -- there are some big plays waiting.
  • The games will ultimately be the gauge, but safety Rahim Moore has had a quality camp in an offseason in which many wondered how he would bounce back from the ill-fated leap in the playoff loss to the Ravens. But the bottom line is Moore played more snaps (1,044) than any other player on the defense last season with substantial improvement over his rookie year in 2011, and if everyone else had played their assignments on the Jacoby Jones touchdown, Joe Flacco wouldn't have even thrown the ball that way in the first place. So, those guys should buy Moore a nice dinner for taking the heat and watch him in the starting lineup again.
  • Thomas sported a heady 15.3 yards-per-catch average on the way to 1,434 yards receiving last season. But that per-catch average should go up given the choices defenses are going to have to make with Welker in the formation. If defenses double in the short and intermediate area to deal with Welker, the Broncos' tight ends and Thomas can overpower most defensive backs down the field.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has consistently said, since the team made him the 18th pick of the 2009 draft, that he has far more to offer when the opportunity comes. And the opportunity has arrived with Dumervil's departure. Ayers has just 6.5 career sacks in his four seasons and has played for four defensive coordinators along the way, each of whom wanted something a little different from him. But Jack Del Rio is back for a second consecutive year, and Ayers is the starter at rush end. Now's the time.
  • Reports of Bailey's demise are exaggerated, but he is certainly a 35-year-old entering his 15th season. Or as he put it: "I had some plays in the playoff game I should have made, pure and simple. I didn't, but I can let it drag me down or just get back to it. I still think I can play and I think I have shown I can still play at a high level." The Broncos will pick their spots more when they single him up, but he has been top-shelf throughout training camp while running stride for stride with the Broncos' best receivers.
  • The Broncos have an awful lot riding on how Gibbs and offensive line coach Dave Magazu get things worked out on the offensive line. If the Broncos can add some pop out of the play-action run game and consistently protect Manning out of a three-wide receiver set, the points should follow.
  • Some say Welker's presence in the offense means the Broncos will throw more in '13. However, Manning's 400 completions last season amounted to the second-highest total of his career, and his 583 attempts were the third-highest. In a perfect world, the Broncos would like those totals to be slightly lower this time around -- Manning himself has said "we'd like to run it more" -- because it would mean they simply ran the ball to close out games in which they already had the lead.

Denver Broncos camp notes

August, 12, 2013
Here are some from Monday's training camp;

• When it comes to the Denver Broncos' passing game staying after school, or at least after practice, is a good thing. A very good thing.

And Monday afternoon Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker stayed on the field to do some red zone work with quarterback Peyton Manning. Thomas, in particular, ran routes until Manning was satisfied any wrinkles had been ironed out.

Manning has consistently talked about "doing the work'' to build the kind of chemistry with Thomas, Decker and Wes Welker that he had with his receivers in Indianapolis.

"We had worked together so long that ... there were times Marvin (Harrison) would go in motion and I could change a play when he went past me,'' is how Manning has put it. "We're looking to build that. And the think I'm proud of here is these guys aren't afraid to work.''

Monday Manning spent much of the post-practice time with Thomas working on throws to the back corner of the endzone.

"Guys just trying to get better,'' said Broncos coach John Fox. "Those little things that maybe proved deficient in practice or those types of things ... a lot of guys to clean up stuff they want to improve on.''

• Tight end Jacob Tamme was back in uniform for a padded practice Monday, but took part only on a limited basis. Tamme suffered a thigh injury in an Aug. 1 practice, returned for one practice days later, and had been held out since.

"I'm making progress,'' Tamme said.

With Joel Dreessen expected to miss the preseason after arthroscopic surgery on his knee Julius Thomas has continued to work at tight end with the starting offense. Thomas has also repeatedly flashed his athleticism in team drills, including a touchdown against the No. 1 defense in Monday's practice.

• Center Ryan Lilja, who was signed out of retirement by the Broncos after Dan Koppen went to injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury, did some individual work snapping to Manning as Monday's practice began.

But Manny Ramirez continued to work with the starting offense for the remainder of the day.

In the preseason opener Ramirez, like the rest of the Broncos starters in the offensive line, played 12 snaps -- seven with Manning, five with backup Brock Osweiler. Lilja, in a bit of a surprise, played 41 snaps on the evening.

Stewart Bradley continued to work at middle linebacker with the defensive starters. Nate Irving, who spent the offseason workouts as well as the early portion of training camp as the starter in the middle, has worked plenty at strong-side linebacker since Bradley was moved into the starting role.

And should Von Miller's appeal fail and he is suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy -- the appeal will be heard by the league Thursday -- it also means the Broncos have worked on their Plan B without really saying so.

Irving would play the strong side on early downs if Miller's suspension is upheld and Shaun Phillips would move into the strong side in pass-rush situations.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had returned to practice Saturday after missing time with an ankle injury, took part in Monday's full-gear practice on a limited basis.

He played in some of the specialty situations with Chris Harris working as the starter at right cornerback.
The Denver Broncos were just days into camp when they lost center Dan Koppen, a potential starter at best and a No. 2 player on the depth chart at worst, to a torn ACL.

Koppen is already on injured reserve, and the Broncos have seen starters/potential starters like right tackle Orlando Franklin, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Joel Dreessen, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams each miss practice time with injuries suffered since camp opened.

And no matter the frequency of injuries or the salary cap status of the player who is helped off the field, Broncos coach John Fox will always publicly stick with his mantra.

"Next man up, that's what we live by," Fox said. "Because you have to, nobody is going to feel sorry for you. They ain't cancelling the games."

But year after year, the teams that say "next man up" too many times usually lose the most games. The numbers from 2012 confirm it once again and show, at least in some way, why the Broncos were 13-3 and reeled off an 11-game win streak.

Twenty-one teams used at least 60 different players on their 46-player gameday rosters last season -- teams designate seven "inactives" for every game. Only five of those teams made the playoffs (Cincinnati, Green Bay, Washington, New England and Indianapolis).

Of those five, only the Redskins dealt with a major injury at quarterback when Robert Griffin III suffered a knee injury against the Ravens.

Jacksonville (2-14) used the most players on the 46-player gameday rosters (75), followed by Deroit (4-12), the Jets (6-10) and the Colts (11-5) -- all at 68 players.

The Broncos were beneficiaries of relative good health, using 59 players on the gameday roster; just three teams used fewer -- the Vikings (53), the 49ers (55) and the Falcons (56). The Texans, Seahawks and Rams were also at 59.

The Super Bowl champion Ravens were at 60.

No wonder players often end conversations with "stay healthy." And no wonder the status of those already in the training room in Denver could impact how things go in the coming weeks and months.
In a preseason when the Broncos have been forced to juggle plenty on the offensive line, another ball went in the air.

Right tackle Orlando Franklin left practice with a right hip injury Monday. X-rays were negative on the hip shortly after he went to the trainers' room, but Franklin was slated for a MRI exam as well to check for any soft tissue damage.

It's still unclear if Franklin's injury would keep him out an extended period of time, but it forced another set of moves along the offensive front to keep practice going in a camp that has already been full of adjustments.

The Broncos have two centers already out in various stages of injury recovery in J.D. Walton (on the PUP list) and Dan Koppen (out for year with torn ACL). Guard Chris Kuper is still trying to come back from an offseason surgery on his ankle and tackle Ryan Clady is still practicing only on a limited basis in his return from offseason shoulder surgery.

When Franklin left Monday's practice, Louis Vasquez, signed to a four-year deal in free agency to bolster the middle of the Broncos' protection schemes, was moved into the right tackle spot and Ryan Lilja, who was signed only last Thursday, moved into Vasquez' right guard spot.

Manny Ramirez has worked with the starters at center throughout camp, but has never started a game at the position in the NFL and backup Chris Clark has been working at Clady's left tackle spot. As a whole the position continues to represent the biggest point of uncertainty for a Super Bowl hopeful.

But Broncos coach John Fox remains optimistic.

"We feel good about where we are in the offensive line,'' Fox said. "We'll find exactly what the details are with Orlando, but I am pretty pleased with where we are.''

Quarterback Peyton Manning had hinted following the team's scrimmage Saturday night that the Broncos' intended to fast-track Lilja to get the veteran lineman ready to play. Monday was proof of that as Lilja, formally listed as the fourth-team center on the depth chart, was immediately put in with the starters after Franklin's injury.

"He's very, very football smart -- very high football character as far as that goes,'' Fox said. "I'm really more concerned with him right now getting in hitting shape more than we are whether he knows what he's doing.''

Lilja has said "a lot of the terminology, I'm familiar with,'' after playing in front of Manning with the Colts 2004-2009.

Lilja figures to play at least some with the starters in Thursday's preseason opener in San Francisco if the Broncos deem him ready physically. He was not in an offseason program having believed he was retired before he signed in Denver and also had knee and toe surgeries in the offseason.
  • Tight end Jacob Tamme (thigh) returned to practice on a limited basis Monday. Monday afternoon tight end Joel Dreessen also had the second arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the last two months.

That left Julius Thomas to take most of the reps with the starters. Thomas, after battling an ankle injury for almost two seasons, has steadily earned more and more playing in this training camp. He had surgery on the ankle following the 2011 season.

With Dreessen's surgery, Thomas will get the remainder of the preseason to continue to show what he can do in the offense, easily his best chance to earn significant playing time since being a fourth-round pick in '11.

He injured his ankle on his only career catch, in Cincinnati, during his rookie season.

  • Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who injured his knee last Monday, returned to practice today ... Middle linebacker Nate Irving was excused for personal reasons and did not participate.

Broncos seek answers in scrimmage

August, 3, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos will take the field tonight at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for their now annual summer scrimmage, and it will be the best open-to-the-public glimpse they've offered thus far of what's to come this season.

In recent years, it has been an eye-opening experience for those on the field as well. There was a crowd of thousands booing a stunned Kyle Orton in 2009 when he threw his third interception of the workout. There was more than 40,000 on hand last August, most of whom lustily booed a third-down draw play.

While a few thousand folks pile into training camp practices each day, the stadium scrimmage is often a young Broncos player's first experience with the depth of knowledge and passion for the team in the region.

Or as former Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil once put it; "It's where you find out what this place is all about.''

And while there will be plenty of eyes on Peyton Manning -- to see if his receivers are right and that his arm really is stronger this time around -- there will be a few others to keep under the microscope as well tonight:

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesRookie RB Montee Ball has impressed early in Broncos camp. Will he wow spectators in Saturday night's scrimmage?
The running backs: The Broncos have shown every indication the carries, catches and snaps will be divided up at the position with Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball leading the way.

But the backs who play the most when the games count will be the ones who make the fewest mistakes in an audible-heavy offense. And while running with the ball is on the top of the to-do list, it is just part of the equation. Hillman has the speed and explosiveness Ball does not, while Ball is bigger, runs with more vision in tight places and has fared slightly better in pass protection thus far.

They're both going to play plenty in the season, but how much and in what situations is still to be determined.

The safeties: Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has used plenty of combinations in camp thus far and has made it clear he's going to cycle in plenty of players in a variety of ways during the season.

But at the moment Duke Ihenacho has made the improbable jump from practice squad guy for much of 2012 to running with the starters this past week. And Ihenacho has done it by playing the position how Del Rio wants it played, with good "eye discipline'' -- reading the right keys -- and by making a play on the ball when the opportunity is there.

It is the fine line between playing with top-tier discipline and having enough aggressiveness to force a turnover when the chance arrives. And it's why some guys are losing snaps and why Ihenacho has received more.

A tough line to walk, but it's why Del Rio has worked so many players at the position already as he searches for the right combination. In short, too much freelancing or too much robotic behavior will get you moved down the depth chart.

Center: Sure, people don't buy their season tickets in hopes the center will have a big year, but this is a significant issue for the Broncos.

Defensive coordinators routinely say it's tough to get Manning with pressure packages designed to free the rushers on the edge. Manning usually, almost without fail, sees the plan in his pre-snap reads and will deliver the ball before the edge player can cover the extra real estate needed to get to him.

So, pressure up the middle is the preferred way and it was a spot the Broncos had a difficult time covering at times last year. The Broncos have a center on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list in J.D. Walton and one on injured reserve in Dan Koppen with Manny Ramirez, who's never started an NFL game at the position, as the current starter.

Ramirez certainly works at it and is a powerful player who does far better in the run scheme, but loses his leverage in pass protection at times. Some defensive line coaches around the league will say if you get Ramirez leaning a bit in his pass sets, you can get him off the spot because he does not always recover and create a lane.

And though the Broncos did sign Ryan Lilja this past week, Ramirez is still the guy. Lilja was retired when the Broncos called and had largely approached his offseason that way, so he looked rusty in his initial work on the field, as expected, and may need a little time to show if he's going to push for playing time or not.

The Broncos are going to have to decide over the next few weeks if they can still open the formation as much as they'd like in a three-wide receiver set if they can't consistently block the middle of the field. It may push them toward more two tight end or two-back looks at times with an extra player sliding in the protection in the middle of the field.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Some relatives already in Denver, a future Hall of Famer at quarterback and chance to be a part of a "specal team'' was enough to lure Ryan Lilja out of what he thought was to be the first season of his retirement from the NFL.

But there was Lilja on Thursday night, in a No. 57 jersey, a newly minted Broncos center. Lilja will go through his first full workout with the team Friday morning, and it's clear the Broncos have designs on getting the veteran up to speed as quickly as possible.

"It only took a day mulling it over, talking to my wife,'' Lilja said. " ... I couldn't pass it up.''

Lilja is now the second 30-something center the Broncos have signed in the past four weeks. They agreed with Dan Koppen on a one-year deal July 2 as a veteran presence in the interior of an offensive line whose current starter, Manny Ramirez, has never started an NFL game at the position.

But Koppen tore his left anterior cruciate ligament Sunday and will miss the season.

So, after reaching out to some others, the Broncos decided to take a chance, in Lilja, on another player who had not been in an offseason program. Lilja also had knee and toe surgeries following the 2012 season.

The 31-year-old was Peyton Manning's teammate in Indianpolis for five seasons -- 2004 to 2009 -- and played on two Colts Super Bowl teams, to close out the 2006 and 2009 seasons.

"That was a big part of me coming back, it's a special team, it's a special offense, you picture being in the huddle and it's a cool place to be,'' Lilja said of the Broncos.

Much like Koppen's signing, it's a calculated risk for the Broncos to bring in another player who has not been in an offseason conditioning program, but they felt compelled to make the move since they already have one center on the physically unable to perform list (J.D. Walton) to go with one on injured reserve in Koppen.

They have made it clear that with an audible-heavy offense and a Super Bowl shot, they want some veteran savvy at the position and are once again selling their potential to many veteran free agents, players like linebacker Stewart Bradley, defensive end Shaun Phillips, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Koppen, all on short-term deals for a chance at a deep postseason run.

"This excited me, it kind of gave me new purpose," Lilja said. "I have to be honest with you, it got me going."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach John Fox keeps saying Manny Ramirez is the starting center for the Broncos and yet the Broncos keep searching the football world for centers.

Ramirez, who has never started an NFL game at center but was moved into the middle of the offensive line during offseason workouts, went through those workouts with the starters, including the June minicamp.

But when doctors said in June that J.D. Walton needed another surgery on a fractured ankle he originally suffered last September that would keep him out of the lineup until at least late October or early November, the Broncos signed the soon-to-be 34-year-old Dan Koppen. He started 13 games for the Broncos as Walton's replacement last season, including the playoff loss to the Ravens, and was on track for some work with the starters in this training camp until he tore his left ACL this past Sunday.

Fox again affirmed Ramirez as the starter Monday -- "I've said it like 10,000 times'' -- even as the Broncos have now signed the 31-year-old Ryan Lilja out of retirement. Lilja is also coming off toe and knee surgeries following the 2012 season that helped push him toward the decision to retire.

"I think there is no substitute for experience, we're pleased to have him in the building," Fox said. " ... We're going to continue to look at people that we think can help us, whether it's depth or competing for starting jobs.''

Executive vice president of football operations John Elway has consistently said he wants a draft-built depth chart with plenty of youth as the team's foundation, but it's clear the Broncos coaches want more experience on the interior of the offensive line, even at the risk of rolling the dice on players like Koppen or Lilja who were not in offseason programs anywhere in the league before they were signed.

The Broncos also approached Jeff Saturday, retired and now an ESPN analyst, as well as Eugene Amano about the job, and neither of those players have been in offseason programs either. The recent signings have also taken some practice reps and moved one of the Broncos' own draft picks -- Philip Blake, a fourth-rounder in 2012 -- down the depth chart.

Blake spent his rookie season in '12 on injured reserve after thumb surgery.

So while Fox keeps re-affirming Ramirez is the starter at center, the Broncos keep bringing in more experienced players for the job.

Links: Praise for Chiefs QB Alex Smith

August, 1, 2013
Denver Broncos

The Broncos coaxed Ryan Lilja out of retirement to help fill a void created following a season-ending knee injury to Dan Koppen.

The Denver Post looks at what an up-tempo Broncos offense would look like.

Kansas City Chiefs

Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star writes: "If third-year receiver Jonathan Baldwin fails to play up to his potential this season as a much-needed complement to No. 1 target Dwayne Bowe, it won’t be for lack of conditioning."

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson speaks very highly of starting quarterback Alex Smith.

Oakland Raiders

Getting Jacoby Ford back on the field is important for the Raiders.

The team added depth to its defensive line Wednesday with the acquisition of defensive tackle Myles Wade.

San Diego Chargers

The changes made to the Pro Bowl format that were announced Wednesday didn't alter safety Eric Weddle's opinion of the game.

Dwight Freeney on his famous spin move: "If it's not there anymore, I'll be done. It's always good to bring it out during camp to see if I can still do it. But I know I was born to do that. I'll probably stop running straight before I stop spinning."
The Denver Broncos are considering reuniting Peyton Manning and offensive lineman Ryan Lilja.

Fox Sports reported Tuesday night that the Broncos are talking to Lilja, 31, about ending his retirement. Lilja, who has seen time at guard and center, played with the Chiefs from 2010-12 after his stint with Manning in Indianapolis from 2004-09.

Denver is looking for help at center now that Dan Koppen out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Starter J.D. Walton is out until at least November with an ankle injury. Right now, the starting center would be Manny Ramirez.

I can see why Denver is interested in Lilja. He is a veteran with experience at center -- and he has a rapport with Manning. In an emergency situation, Denver could do worse than Lilja.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chargers signed rookie safety Tony Burnett out of USC. They also cut rookie quarterback Mike Hermann and gave rookie cornerback Kenny Okoro the waived-injured designation, meaning that the team could keep him, on the reserve-injured list, if he clears waivers.

The Chiefs cut defensive back Buddy Jackson.
You can cross Jeff Saturday off a list of possible Denver Broncos center candidates.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that QB Peyton Manning’s longtime battery mate has no plans of ending his retirement. Saturday, who retired after last season, is down to close to 230 pounds. Manning and Saturday played together from 1999-2011 in Indianapolis.

Manning and the Broncos have a hole at center. Dan Koppen suffered a torn ACL Sunday in practice and is out for the year. Regular starter J.D. Walton suffered an ankle injury last September, and he is out until at least midseason. Right now, guard Manny Ramirez is Denver’s starting center.

In other AFC West notes:

The San Diego Chargers are a future “Hard Knocks” candidate.

The Denver Broncos now need a new backup plan at center after Dan Koppen tore an ACL on Sunday in practice.

He was Denver’s starter last year after J.D. Walton was lost for the season last September. It was disclosed earlier this offseason that Walton will be out at least until November. Koppen was then re-signed but is now done for the year.

The center market is thin and the team will likely turn to Manny Ramirez. He is a natural guard, but he was working with the first-team offense at center in the offseason program. So he at least has some rhythm with Peyton Manning.

The team signed Steve Vallos on Sunday. The veteran will be a backup. I’d also expect Denver to scour the waiver wire late in training camp, but because center is such an important position, Denver may have to roll with Ramirez.

In other AFC West news:

The San Diego Chargers added some depth to a thin secondary by signing William Middleton. He spent the past four seasons in Jacksonville and has a chance to be a rotational player.

The Kansas City Star reports that guard Jeff Allen likely won’t be out long after he injured his shoulder on Saturday. He is vying with Geoff Schwartz for a starting job.

Houston has interest in linebacker Joe Mays. Denver cut him last week.
Peyton ManningDustin Bradford/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and the Broncos have a lot to prove following last season's disappointing playoff exit.

Last time we saw the Denver Broncos, they were stunned at home in double overtime in the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

Denver headed into the postseason riding quarterback Peyton Manning and the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL. It won 11 games in a row to close the season. After the disappointing defeat to Baltimore, Denver felt like it blew a golden opportunity to win its third Super Bowl.

Undeterred, Denver went out and made several key additions to an already strong roster. Some think this is a Super Bowl-or-bust team.

Let’s look at the top 10 reasons why this is a team we can’t wait to see in 2013:

1. An uncomfortable setting: Denver executive vice president of football operations John Elway said early in the offseason that he wanted it to be an “uncomfortable” atmosphere in the Broncos’ building in 2013. Basically, Elway wants to see his team have a sense of urgency after the Baltimore fiasco.

Elway lived it as a player. Like the 2012 Broncos, the 1996 Broncos were the No. 1-seeded team in the playoffs and lost at home in their first playoff game. Elway said that loss led to the next year’s team being uncomfortable and angry. It worked. Denver won the next two Super Bowls. Elway knows it can happen again, so it will be interesting to see if a similar theme develops this season as the Broncos react to the playoff loss.

“Expectations are high,” defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “We know what we’ve got to do. We had a bad taste to our season ending last year. We’re trying to get that out and go forward and go further than we did last year.”

2. What is the Super Bowl window? The Broncos have been asked this often already, and training camp is still a few weeks away. How long is the window to winning a championship going to be open? Some folks think it’s this year. I do not agree. I think it will be open as long as Manning is healthy. He is 37. Manning can play at a high level for at least another two years. The way this roster is built, there is no doubt the team is thinking Super Bowl in the immediate future. This is a team poised to win now, not in 2016.

The Broncos get it.

“In the end, we want to be holding up that trophy,” 35-year-old cornerback Champ Bailey recently said.

3. Manning’s health: Manning was brilliant last year, recording one of the best seasons in his decorated career. But he was not at full strength. He had four surgeries to repair a neck injury that kept him out of the entire 2011 season in Indianapolis. Manning was healthy last year, but there was some rust. By all accounts, he has made major strides this offseason. Manning should be even more entertaining to watch in his second season in Denver than he was in his first season.

4. Manning’s tempo: A healthier Manning might mean a more active Manning. Manning said very early in the offseason that he wanted the offense to move at a faster pace. New offensive coordinator Adam Gase has been working the unit to move at a quick pace all offseason, and it seems to be taking. This doesn’t mean the Broncos are going to use a pistol offense or Manning is going to look more like Robert Griffin III than himself. It just means Denver is going to utilize its talents and work to be more crisp and keep opposing defenses on their heels.

5. Welker in the slot: In an offseason in which Denver reloaded, no addition made bigger headlines than the free-agency signing of slot receiver Wes Welker. He was a huge part of New England’s success and seems like a perfect fit in Denver. Manning loves to get the ball to his slot receiver, and Welker has led the NFL in catches over the past six seasons. Combine Welker with young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and it’s difficult to imagine Denver’s passing game will be stopped much.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesThe addition of Wes Welker as well as incoming rookie Montee Ball gives the Broncos a lot to like on offense.
6. Miller and company: Third-year linebacker Von Miller is developing into one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He is dominant and was a big reason why the unit was ranked second in the NFL last year. The unit has gotten better, as whole, around Miller. Yes, Elvis Dumervil is gone, but Denver is confident Shaun Phillips, Quanterus Smith and Robert Ayers will give Miller enough help. And if they don’t, there’s no reason to believe Miller will not continue to raise the level of his game.

7. The rookie running back: Denver took Wisconsin workhorse Montee Ball in the second round. Denver has immediate plans for Ball. Unless he completely falls on his face in camp and in the preseason, Ball will have a major role in the offense from the start of the season. Denver thinks Ball can have a major impact. If he is successful, there will be little not to like about this offense.

8. The damaged offensive line: One of Denver’s major concerns is the offensive line. It is banged up. Center J.D. Walton, who was lost for the season last September, will be out for at least half the season. The team has brought back Dan Koppen to take over for Walton again. Star left tackle Ryan Clady is coming back from a rotator cuff injury, and Orlando Franklin was out with a toe injury. The long-term prognosis is fine for this line, but it is banged up right now. If injuries continue into the season, it will be an issue.

9. The defensive front: Two years ago, this unit was a mess. Now it’s strength of the team. Denver added Terrance Knighton in free agency and grabbed a falling Sylvester Williams with the No. 28 overall pick in the draft. This unit is versatile and talented. It has a chance to be dominant.

10. The Del Rio factor: The Denver defense has rare continuity. Coordinator Jack Del Rio is back for his second season. Last year, Del Rio was Denver’s seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons. He had great success with the unit and the players loved him. Defensive players have been raving all offseason about the importance of having Del Rio back.