AFC West: David Bruton

Broncos Camp Report: Day 8

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • The Broncos have found some pro personnel gems in recent seasons, veteran players signed to short-term deals with injury or performance questions in tow, who play their way into the rotation in Denver. Last year, Paris Lenon was a training camp signing who eventually started at middle linebacker. In 2012, it was safety Jim Leonhard, Justin Bannan and Brandon Stokley who turned a 1-year deals into premium snaps. This year it just might be defensive Marvin Austin, a former second-round pick by the Giants whose career has been de-railed by injuries, including a back injury with the Dallas Cowboys last season. Austin signed a one-year deal with the Broncos earlier this year, and coming off back surgery has said he's healthy and looking for a rebound. He has consistently flashed in practice thus far and dominated one-on-one drills with the offensive linemen Thursday, though he did have two false starts during one of his turns in the rotation. "He's come off of a fairly significant injury and he looks like he's got that explosiveness and quickness he had when he came out of Chapel Hill," said Broncos head coach John Fox. The Broncos, who kept 10 defensive line after cuts in 2011, nine in 2012 and eight last year, could be faced with keeping nine or 10 because of their depth this time around.
  • No. 2 quarterback Brock Osweiler has had some bobbles in this camp as the Broncos defense has turned up the heat on the offense as a whole -- Peyton Manning has had a far more difficult time against the team's re-vamped defense than he did in drills last summer -- but he continues to show plenty of progress as well. Thursday he showed plenty the scoring touch on the deep ball with two in-stride throws for touchdowns to Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler, respectively. Latimer's catch was a double-take worthy one-hander in between David Bruton, Omar Bolden and Jerome Murphy as he crossed the goal-line.
  • As the Broncos went through short-yardage work in the run game, the defense got after it. Cornerback Aqib Talib stopped rookie running back Kapri Bibbs short of the goal-line in one set, safety John Boyett cracked rookie Brennan Clay on another and middle linebacker Nate Irving stopped Montee Ball cold in a goal-line drill. “We want to be nasty, we want to be aggressive," said linebacker Danny Trevathan.
  • The Broncos had some of the league's officials on hand for practice as part of the NFL's preseason tour. The players were shown a video outlining this year's rules changes as well as the “points of emphasis," which include downfield contact by defensive players on receivers as well as defensive holding. No flags were thrown on the defenders in coverage in Thursday's practice. The officials will be at Broncos' practices through Saturday's scrimmage at Sports Authority at Mile High.
  • Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who was pulled out of a practice earlier in camp with stiffness in his lower back, was taken out of Thursday's practice as well. Broncos head coach John Fox said; “(He) should be fine, we'll evaluate him day to day." The Broncos also held defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee), defensive end Greg Latta (right hip) and cornerback Lou Young (groin) out of Thursday's workout. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware (lower right leg) was limited, but did return to the practice field for the first time since Sunday.
  • The Broncos have one practice Friday -- at 10:25 a.m. MT.

Broncos camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • When the Broncos selected wide receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the draft in May, they did it knowing full well Latimer had suffered a fracture in his left foot in a pre-draft workout, much like Demaryius Thomas had before the Broncos made him a first-round pick in 2010. "I think they're like experts when it comes to that because it's worked out for them before," Latimer said. The Broncos dialed Latimer back for much of the offseason -- he did some limited team work in the team's three-day minicamp in June and the final set of organized team activities -- but looked just fine Thursday as he consistently flashed top-tier speed throughout the practice. He will get some premium snaps this season.
  • With Demaryius Thomas excused until Monday, Andre Caldwell took plenty of reps with the offensive starters. Caldwell, who signed a two-year deal to stay with the Broncos just before free agency opened in March, watched the team draft Latimer and sign Emmanuel Sanders. But quarterback Peyton Manning trusts Caldwell and showed even in Caldwell's limited playing time last season he was willing to throw to Caldwell in tight situations. And Thursday Manning made it clear people shouldn't be quick to dismiss Caldwell just yet in the wide receiver rotation, offering, "Caldwell will have a more significant role this season."
  • In the wake of the team's announcement that Pat Bowlen was stepping down as the team's owner this week, team president and CEO Joe Ellis met one-on-one with three players -- Manning, special teams captain David Bruton and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Ware just signed in March, but this, as well as how Ware has conducted himself in offseason workouts, shows his standing in the locker room already. He spent time with almost every pass-rusher on the practice field Thursday, offering tips during drills, including to Derek Wolfe, Von Miller and Quanterus Smith. It will be absolutely stunning if Ware is not one of this team's five season-long captains.
  • The issue is a long way from being decided, but, as expected, Chris Clark is getting the first look with the starters at right tackle. The Broncos figure to do at least some mix-and-match at the position over the next couple of weeks with Clark and Winston Justice having received the bulk of the work in minicamp and OTAs. But if they stick to the plan to take a look at all of the possibilities, rookie Michael Schofield has shown enough in offseason work to get a look as well.
  • The Broncos lost 16 fumbles last season, the most in the league, and lost three more fumbles in the playoffs. So, safe to say ball security has been a front-burner issue for the Broncos all through the offseason with the appearance of a green ball that has been carried around by the likes of Manning and Thomas. But the fumble reminder is blue for training camp and Manning was toting it around Thursday. Things still need attention as the Broncos put the ball on the ground twice in team drills, both on strip plays by the defense.
  • Some odd and ends: With Chris Harris Jr. on the physically unable to perform list, Kayvon Webster got some work in the base defense in the two practices. ... Linebacker Von Miller, who isn't expected to be cleared for full contact until the Broncos' third preseason game, took part individual drills with the linebackers and some 7-on-7 drills. Asked about his knee he said "it feels good for today."
The fine folks at ESPN's Stats & Information group have confirmed what many have long thought about the 2009 NFL draft.

There were many scouts and personnel folks in the league who didn't like what they saw on that draft board in the weeks and month before they had to make those picks and they've all tried to dig out of it over the five drafts since.

Turns out their instincts were right with the benefit of some quality hindsight.

Of the 256 players selected that year, there are almost as many out of the league -- 122 -- as there are still on one of the 32 teams -- 134. However, just 38 of 256, or a not-so-sizzling 14.8 percent, remain on their original teams.

For the Broncos, the grand total of 2009 players selected in the 10-player draft class who still has a spot on the depth chart is one. As in safety David Bruton, the first of two fourth-round selections that year.

And while that was clearly a difficult draft board for the entire league to figure out, it was a dismal year for the Broncos since they had more premium picks in it than they've had in any draft since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

The Broncos had five selections in the draft's top 64 picks that year, two first-round picks and three second-round picks. Handled the right way, it should have been the foundation of what they have now, but none of those five top 64 picks remain with the team and of those five only running back Knowshon Moreno started more than 10 games in multiple seasons.

Moreno just had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2013 to go with 60 receptions in the Broncos' high-flying offense. It was easily his best overall season with the team, but concerns over his long-term health -- he had multiple knee procedures, including to repair a torn ACL, to go several other soft-tissue injuries in his time in Denver -- led to the Broncos to decide not to re-sign him in free agency. Moreno signed a one-year deal in Miami.

Robert Ayers, taken at No. 18 overall that year, had the same number of sacks in 2013 -- 5.5 -- as he had in his first four seasons combined, including none as a rookie when the Broncos tried to fit him into their 3-4 defense under Josh McDaniels. The Broncos let Ayers sign elsewhere, too, and he signed with the New York Giants earlier this year.

McDaniels used a second-round pick (No. 64 overall) on Richard Quinn, a tight end who had all of 12 receptions in his career at North Carolina. McDaniels' hope Quinn would be a factor as an on-the-line blocking tight end simply never materialized at any point after Quinn arrived.

McDaniels also traded a first-round pick, in 2010, to move up in the second round to select cornerback Alphonso Smith and then traded Smith, to the Detroit Lions, a year later. And safety Darcel McBath (No. 48 overall) showed some potential, but had injury issues with the Broncos and ended up playing in a Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers with just one career start in the league.

It is a draft that has left a substantial hole in the Broncos' developmental plans to be sure, but the Broncos can take heart there. They were obviously not alone.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos see Marshawn Lynch run the ball for the Seattle Seahawks, they can see the math.

They see the back-to-the-basics equation that every broken tackle by the running back in Super Bowl XLVIII will be a chance for the Broncos to have a broken heart.

"With such a strong back … a quick back and somebody his size, you have to gang tackle," Broncos safety David Bruton said. "You can't just leave it up to one guy. We have to try to get 11 hats to the ball all the time."

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Steven Bisig"I haven't seen on film any guys really taking him down by themselves or knocking him back," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton of Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
When it comes to the dimensions, Lynch is not what would be considered a big back by many who evaluate football players as a livelihood. He's 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, bigger than some of his peers as a team's primary ball carrier but smaller than some others.

But Lynch runs heavily, and when it comes to adding the force and acceleration to his mass, he is one of football's best finishers. Bigger players slide off or are shoved aside.

And it isn't a confetti run every time he touches the ball. Sometimes, it's a 3-yard run after several 3-yard runs, before Lynch drops his shoulder on a defender who doesn't finish the job. His earthquake run in the 2010 wild-card game, when he stiff-armed former Broncos and New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter on the way to a 67-yard touchdown run when eight New Orleans defenders had a chance to tackle him brought cheers loud enough to have formally registered as seismic activity.

"You have to gang tackle a guy like that," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "You try not to have so much pride as a defensive player and want to go out there and make the plays yourself. Especially with me being a D-lineman. Obviously, I think I can go out there and handle it all by myself, but we have to gang tackle him. I haven't seen on film any guys really taking him down by themselves or knocking him back. We'll have to do a good job containing him and not allow him to break big runs."

Since the start of the 2011 season, Lynch leads the NFL with 39 total touchdowns, two more than Adrian Peterson and three more than Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

And for the most part, the Broncos know where Lynch plans to get to work. In the NFC Championship Game win over the San Francisco 49ers, 107 of Lynch's 109 rushing yards came between the tackles. The Seahawks use plenty of two-back looks as well to help clear the way. The Broncos have often this season answered heavy-run formations with more of a 3-4 look on defense without outside linebackers standing up on the line of scrimmage with three down linemen, especially on early downs.

But a lot of how things go against Lynch will be how the Broncos fare in those initial one-on-one moments, defender and running back. And the Broncos will have to either get him down on their own or at least slow him long enough until the help arrives.

“Every week has been a challenge," Knighton said. "We stepped up to the challenge last week stopping New England's run game. San Diego had success running the ball in the regular season and we stepped up to that challenge in the playoffs. It just gets worse and worse each week. Going against a back like this -- we obviously have to stop him and can't allow him to get going. A guy like that who builds momentum and has confidence that he can run the ball just makes it worse for us."

"A guy like Marshawn Lynch, he requires us to do some extra film study and do some extra hitting," Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips said. "He is that kind of player."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will play in the franchise's seventh Super Bowl a week from Sunday because they did enough in the draft to make it that far, they did enough in free agency (OK, Peyton Manning is the ultimate free-agency home run) and they made it all work over the past three seasons.

But even with the extreme makeover that came with John Elway's return to the team as its chief football executive in January of 2011, even with the title-game appearance, there is still a roster hole the Broncos will have to address moving forward.

[+] EnlargeShaun Phillips
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJohn Elway signed veterans like Shaun Phillips to help win now, but is also committed to rebuilding through the draft.
Or, to put it another way, there is a reason the Broncos will be the older team in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Broncos have seven players on the current 53-man roster who have played at least 10 seasons in the league, led by Manning's 16. The Seattle Seahawks have one: defensive end Chris Clemons. While the Broncos have certainly climbed all the way out of their 4-12 finish in 2010, they also are still a product of that season and the smattering of nonplayoff finishes that came before it.

For those who believe the draft is the team's foundation -- and Elway counts himself as one of those -- the real guts of a roster are those fifth- and sixth-year, homegrown players. Players drafted and then signed to their second contracts to stay put. Of the Broncos' captains -- Manning, Champ Bailey, David Bruton, Wesley Woodyard and Wes Welker -- just two have been with the team since they were rookies. That’s Bruton (2009 draft) and Woodyard (2008 undrafted rookie).

A player in his sixth season would be a product of the 2008 draft. And since ’08 the Broncos have had two coaching changes and two changes at the call-the-shots general manager level as well. Each resulted in a complete teardown from the previous regime. That is why this current roster includes a pile of young players to go with the veterans who have been around for at least 10 seasons. The Seahawks have 24 players with three seasons experience or less on their current roster -- players who came into the league in 2011 or after, while the Broncos have 22.

It means the Broncos' roster gap is rooted in '08 and '09. For the Broncos, only Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady remains from the ’08 draft, which was Mike Shanahan’s last season with the team, while Woodyard remains a high-quality find as an undrafted rookie from that year as well.

A player in his fifth year would be a product of the 2009 draft. For the Broncos that includes only Bruton, running back Knowshon Moreno and defensive end Robert Ayers. While Bruton is a special-teams regular, Moreno is still the only one of those three players who played at least 50 percent of the team’s snaps on offense or defense this season.

And that has put the Broncos in a position to be active in free agency at the front end -- the recruitment and signing of Manning in 2012 -- to go with a series of one-year contracts to experienced players. This past year that included defensive end Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), cornerback Quentin Jammer and linebacker Paris Lenon.

"I’ve always said if we can find somebody better than we have, we have to find them," Elway said. "And if they’re out there then we’ll sign them. So age and all that at this point in time, with where we were coming out of a 4-12 year and then we go to 8-8 now at that point and then you get a guy like Peyton Manning. Now it’s about trying to find all the pieces together … but we’re not just trying to find young guys. We’re going to find guys that fit, young and old guys, that fit together."

From Elway’s perspective, a Super Bowl trip only helps his cause, as would Manning’s expected return for 2014 if doctors give the quarterback the go-ahead in the weeks following the Super Bowl to play next season. So, even as Elway would continue his quest to "stack those draft classes year after year," to make the draft the foundation of sustaining what they’ve done over the past three seasons, the Broncos would be a popular destination for veteran players in search of success.

"It comes down to the thing is that it’s been my goal to really continue what [Broncos owner] Pat Bowlen created in the fact that people want to play here," Elway said. "So players will come here late in their career when they know they have a chance to win a world championship and they know the reputation of the Denver Broncos since Pat Bowlen has been here that it’s a good place to play … . If money is the No. 1 thing, we’re really not on the same page if it’s all about money, in my mind."

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

December, 4, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos put a firm grip on the AFC West race this past Sunday with their second win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the span of three weeks.

It's difficult to throw a new wrinkle at a division opponent, especially with just 14 days in between games, but the Broncos showed the Chiefs a little different look on both sides of the ball.

And after a long look at the video from Sunday night's win, here are some thoughts on the team's defense and special teams:
  • Linebacker Von Miller has four sacks in the six games he has played for the Broncos since he returned from his six-game suspension to open the season. At times, especially in the first half against the New England Patriots he has looked every bit the All Pro he was last season when he finished with 18.5 sacks. And at times he has not. Sunday, he had several quality pressures, including on a Danny Trevathan interception that was negated by a penalty on Chris Harris Jr. as well as late in the game when Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert hyper-extended his knee trying to slow Miller down. He also had a tackle for loss and was often “impactful'' as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio puts it. But in the end, at least at this stage of his return, Miller is a different kind of player than he was. He's looked different in practice and looked different in games. Personnel executives around the league now use words like “good'' and “potential Pro Bowl level,'' to describe him when last season they used words like “elite'' and “special.'' Miller is making his tackles close to the line of scrimmage or for loss and he is, at times, pressing the pocket and forcing offenses to adjust. But the game video shows a player more intent on playing with power, using the added bulk he intentionally put on his frame during his suspension. No question he is often good at the power game. He rushes with leverage, moves tackles back into the quarterback and gets the corner with a two-hand swipe to get the tackles hands off him right after the snap. But while good is good, Miller was an elite speed rusher in 2012, as in a rare talent, top of the line. And no matter the letter grades or numerical designations put next to what he's done thus far, the simple truth is, and many personnel folks around the league agree, he hasn't been elite yet for an entire game. Miller himself has said he's a “work in progress'' and the Broncos need some more progress.
  • There were times, particularly in the early going Sunday, when the Chiefs found some room to run against the Broncos' nickel package (five defensive backs). Included during that early damage was a 13-yard run by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and a 26-yarder by Smith. The Broncos have a slightly bigger nickel look they use with Quentin Jammer at one of the three cornerback spots and they fared better as the game wore on. Jammer, rookie Kayvon Webster and Harris Jr. were in the three cornerback spots in the nickel in much of the second half. It is something others will take a look at down the stretch, however. The Broncos will need safeties Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams to be physical when they are asked to moved to the point of attack.
  • Not every team has a running back like Jamaal Charles, who was the top priority for the Broncos' defense in both the run game and the passing game. But the Chiefs were able to swing Charles out of the backfield at times to Miller's side to get Miller out of the pass rush. Miller was forced to go with Charles, leaving the Broncos with a three-man rush going after Smith. Miller played it well, however, and it is part of his overall game that has progressed a great deal since his rookie season when the Broncos would often pull him off the field on passing downs.
  • Without defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson -- he's now on injured reserve with a hip injury suffered in the loss to New England -- and defensive end Derek Wolfe in the lineup Sunday, the Chiefs often found a little room to work in the middle of the field. On a first-and-10 play from the Broncos' 37-yard line late in the first quarter, the Broncos were in a base defense with a bigger as they expected a run. Jammer and Harris were the two cornerbacks while Mitch Unrein and Terrance Knighton were the two defensive tackles with all three Broncos' starting linebackers in the formation as well. The Chiefs still carved out a lane and Knile Davis, who also had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game, went up the middle for 20 yards. With Vickerson out for the remainder of the season, it is a play -- an old school lead play in these pass-happy times -- that figures to get repeated from time to time in the coming weeks to see if the Broncos can hold their ground.
  • Davis' 108-yard kickoff return was the longest surrendered by the Broncos in the franchise's history and also the first one returned for a touchdown in Jeff Rodgers' tenure as the Broncos special teams coordinator. If you polled the Broncos players about who the team's fastest players are, safety David Bruton and cornerback Tony Carter are two of the names that would quickly come up. And it was Bruton and Carter who the 227-pound Davis ran away from to close the deal on the play. Davis did run a 4.37 40-yard dash at last February's scouting combine so he has top-tier speed. Davis also suffered a fractured ankle three times -- the right twice and the left once -- in a four-year span as he moved from his prep career to the University of Arkansas, so some teams did have a medical red flag on him coming into the draft.

Broncos defense a high-traffic area

November, 23, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio has a contract with his defense.

Not an unspoken one, mind you. There’s no fuzziness at the bottom line; it’s all laid out, point by point, for all to see, in every meeting, in every practice.

“And Jack has let everybody know they’ll play if guys show him they’re ready," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “You do what you’re supposed to do, and you’ll play. Everybody knows it, there's a job you can do."

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
AP Photo/ Eric BakkeBroncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has proven to his players that if they work hard for him, he'll find them playing time.
It hasn't always been that way for Del Rio. But times change, the game has changed, and while the defensive huddle used to be the realm of every-down starters -- that once in, they stayed in -- it's no longer the case. The salary cap and the continued expansion of the passing game dictated change had to come. Defenses have had to be able to play big, play small and everything in between, as offenses have flooded the field with receivers to go with a generation of 65 percent passers. And Del Rio believed, even after the Jacksonville Jaguars had fired him 11 games into the 2011 season, when he called defenses again, and if he had the personnel he needed on the depth chart, there was more to be done.

“You grow with the experiences that you have," Del Rio said. “The fact when you do that guys stay more in that, stay in the plan, understand that if they play well they’re going to play more."

Del Rio did it last season, his first in Denver. Over the course of the team’s 13-3 finish in the regular season, Del Rio used 13 defensive players for at least 30 percent of the defensive snaps for the season, most of those based on using players in specific roles in specific situations the defense faced, even if it was just a play here and a play there. The Broncos rotated up front in the defensive line, used an array of linebackers in a variety of down-and-distance situations, and often moved people in and out in the secondary.

While it changes week to week based on the opponent, Del Rio said with playing time always a legitimate possibility, players stay engaged through the workdays leading up to those games, because there is always a chance they can find a way into the lineup.

“You kind of avoid the it-doesn't-matter-what-I-do thought," Del Rio said. “It’s healthy for your team to remain competitive all the time for playing time. To reward guys who are doing well and find ways to utilize the talent you have available."

“No doubt," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “[Del Rio] is going to put you in there."

Take safety David Bruton. A special teams captain who is a reserve on defense, he played just 2.3 percent of the defensive snaps last season. But after re-signing and putting in a quality offseason worth of work, that total is up to 10.3 percent this season, even with largely the same personnel in place.

The Broncos have had nine defensive backs in uniform for games this season, and used them all in the defense at various times. Del Rio has moved linebackers -- other than middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who is the every-down stalwart in the front seven along with Danny Trevathan -- and defensive linemen into the games depending on the job at hand.

“You always want talent and character, good players who can be starters for you," Del Rio said. “But we just feel if there’s something you can do, something you can give us, we should make sure we’re using everyone to the best of their abilities."

“I think everybody feels that through the week and into the game," Woodyard said. “I tell the young guys all the time, show them what you have, what you can do and be ready all the time, don’t let it slip, and he’ll get you in there."

Broncos want to be Fox's get-well card

November, 5, 2013
John Fox Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsFrom executives to team captains, the Broncos organization has to get extra effort from everyone to make up for the medical absence of coach John Fox.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos don’t know when John Fox once again will roam the halls of the team’s complex, stopping at most every door along the way, making everyone with an office or cubicle feel as if he or she is an important piece of the football puzzle.

Fox learned that routine from Hall of Famer Chuck Noll when Fox entered the league as Noll’s secondary coach in 1989.

“Chuck could talk about anything with anybody,” Fox has said. “He was always curious about people, and I think everybody with those teams felt like they had an important job in the big picture. Everybody was invested.”

As Fox recovers from Monday’s open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve, the Broncos say the job of filling in for Fox is not only the day-to-day football duties but also Fox’s presence in the building. That will fall to everyone in some way. Many hands will be needed to make light work.

“I think we’re all just wanting to take care of business and wanting to carry on and make Coach proud,” said interim head coach Jack Del Rio.

“I talked to the staff [Monday], as well as the players, and said that, when you look at John Fox and what his strengths are -- his strengths are his enthusiasm and his energy he brings to the building each day, as well as the practice field,” said John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations. “You can never replace that because the fact is he’s one of the most energetic guys there is … and the fact that everybody -- not only the staff and players, but everybody -- we all have to try to make up for that loss of not having John and his energy and his enthusiasm around.”

Elway said Fox’s doctors will determine when Fox can return to the job as well as how much Fox can do at that point. The Broncos have set no timetable on it, but it is expected to be several weeks, and maybe the remainder of the regular season. Dr. Eric Skipper, medical director of adult cardiac surgery at Carolinas HealthCare Systems Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, where Fox underwent surgery, said the recovery time from the procedure could run as long as eight to 10 weeks after an initial hospital stay of five to seven days.

Skipper, who was not on Fox’s surgical team, said that a job’s parameters determine the return, that “it really all depends on when you’re released to do heavy lifting. So, depending on your job, you can re-enter the workforce at varying intervals.”

Elway has simply said that the Broncos will do whatever is best for Fox moving forward, that “we’re not only looking at this season but looking at what’s best for John for the rest of his life.”

Overall, a recovery time of eight to 10 weeks would put the Broncos through their final eight games of the regular season. They arrived at their bye week at 7-1, trailing only the 9-0 Chiefs in the AFC West race, but with two games against the Chiefs in the next four weeks. So, whatever becomes of Denver's regular-season finish and its postseason seeding likely will be done without Fox along for much, or all, of it.

Which is why the Broncos, from the executive offices into the locker room, say it’s on everyone to “keep this train on the tracks,” as Elway put it.

“As leaders, we know that we have huge responsibility with the team and we have to keep the guys in line,” said safety David Bruton, a special-teams captain. “Our team is very mature; our guys know that we’re on a mission, and, just as leaders, we’re going to keep pushing that along.”

“As a head coach, you make sure everybody’s in sync, everybody’s in tune and you make sure that everybody’s handling their business,” safety Rahim Moore said. “And that’s his job. So, when he’s not here, we still have to think that he’s here and still keep that same mindset. So, that’s going to make everybody else work harder. It’s going to bring our team even closer.”

It will be also be the kind of test the Broncos need to pass if they are to reach the on-field goals they have set for themselves. After last season’s playoff loss to the Ravens, Elway talked about a team that needed “to learn how to win” in the postseason, how to deal with the small margin for error that comes with playoff football. And whether it be the transgressions of front-office executives arrested for DUI or Von Miller’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy or Miller and Julius Thomas missing court dates, the Broncos haven’t always handled their day-to-day business in recent months.

Interim head coach Jack Del Rio ran his first practice Monday, and, for the players, it all looked as if Fox were running the show. And that’s been Del Rio’s message, as well, that the systems are in place, the playbooks are in hand, that now it’s just about showing up for work. Elway, too -- although offering that nothing is more important than Fox’s long-term health in the equation -- indicated that, from a team perspective, if the Broncos are truly title worthy, they will show it in the coming weeks during Fox’s recovery.

“For us to get where we want to go, we’re going to have a bunch more bumps, too,” Elway said. “I think you learn from each bump. It makes you tougher -- it makes us tougher as an organization. It makes us tough as a team, and all that can do is help us because … there is going to be plenty more adversity as we go ahead, and all it does is teach us how to be resilient about it and learn from it and get tougher from it.”

“Coach Fox instilled how he wants us to prepare, how he wants us to practice, how he wants to play,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “It’s getting echoed through the coaching staff and the leaders on the team. We just want to go out there and win, make his process a little bit easier.”

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

October, 13, 2013

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 35-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars:

What it means: The Broncos talked all week about not letting point spreads and the Jaguars' winless ways get to them. Then they went out and played like it all got into their heads. The Broncos will speak of the Jaguars’ effort -- and first-year coach Gus Bradley certainly should receive plenty of kudos for the kind of effort his now 0-6 team put in -- but the Broncos were not themselves Sunday and it almost cost them.

Stock watch: When the Broncos selected Malik Jackson in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, they were hoping to get a swing player who could fill in on a situational basis at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Jackson has since carved out more and more playing time because he just gets it done. Playing for the injured Robert Ayers Sunday, at defensive end, Jackson had one three-play span in the third quarter when he had two sacks to go with a tackle for loss on a running play.

Out of sorts: Right from the start the Broncos could not find a rhythm. And while they escaped with a win, the struggles impacted even quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny in the second quarter. Manning dropped a low shotgun snap in the fourth quarter that the Jaguars recovered. Manning and center Manny Ramirez also combined for another fumbled snap in the first half. Couple all that with a return to Indianapolis set for next Sunday, and Manning doesn’t figure to be in the best of moods this week.

More special-ness: The Broncos have consistently made plays on special teams this season, including two blocked punts and two touchdown returns by Trindon Holliday over the season’s first four weeks. Add Sunday’s win to the list when Jeff Rodgers' group added a well-timed fake punt -- safety David Bruton took a direct snap for 35 yards on the second-to-last play of the third quarter. The Broncos scored to end that possession and scored on their next possession as well to finally break things open a bit.

What’s next: Get out the three rings, because it will be a circus this week in Denver. Linebacker Von Miller returns Monday from a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and Manning will be preparing for his first game in Indianapolis since the Colts released him following the 2011 season.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos pushed themselves to 4-0 Sunday with another record-setting day from quarterback Peyton Manning as they scored a franchise-record 52 points in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles. And after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos defense and special teams:
  • When the Broncos prepared for their first look at first-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s offense, Denver’s coaches said they were using video largely from the regular season's first three games. Which is why running back Chris Polk may have been a bit of a surprise to the Broncos game-planners. When Polk pounded his way for 4 yards through the middle of the Broncos defense for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the day, it was Polk’s first carry of the season. He was a player the Broncos had looked at before the 2012 draft, because at 222 pounds he was one of the more productive big backs on the board. But an extensive medical file, including left shoulder surgery in both 2008 and 2009 to go with knee surgery in 2011, likely kept him from being draft. Polk signed with the Eagles last season as an undrafted rookie.
  • The Broncos were fairly effective using a “spy’’ on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on many third-down situations to try to contain Vick in the run game. The Broncos used a variety of players for the job, including linebacker Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Shaun Phillips. The Broncos then played man coverage in the secondary on many of those third-down plays. And they were far more successful, far more disciplined in the second half. After surrendering 101 yards rushing in the first half Sunday, including 39 from Vick, the Eagles rushed for 65 in the second half with just two of those yards coming from Vick.
  • With as much as the Cowboys have thrown the ball to running back DeMarco Murray, the Eagles' success in getting the ball to the running backs in the passing game at times against the Broncos will certainly get a look from the Dallas coaches. Five of Vick’s 14 completions in the game went to running backs and one in particular is the kind of play that could be a concern for an aggressive defense like Denver's. With just under 4:30 left in the second quarter, the Broncos sent five rushers at Vick on a second-and-7. But instead of keeping running back LeSean McCoy into block to help block, McCoy released immediately and the closest Broncos linebacker or defensive back was 8 yards away. McCoy caught a little flip pass, thrown over the rush, and went 21 yards for the first down. Running back Bryce Brown had 35-yard catch-and-run on a similar play in the game.
  • Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has used safety David Bruton far more on defense than all of his predecessors did on the job during Bruton's time with the team, but when the Broncos signed their special teams captain to a three-year, $4.5 million deal in the offseason they had plenty of other duties in mind. Bruton is consistently one of the team’s best, and most active players in kick or punt blocking units. But Sunday he also showed he can block in the open field when asked in kickoff returns as well. It was Bruton’s and cornerback/safety Omar Bolden's blocks that set Trindon Holliday free for a 105-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter. Bolden picked off Eagles wide receiver Jeff Maehl, creating the initial lane and Bruton knocked down Eagles cornerback Jordan Poyer at the 45-yard line and that left Holliday with only the kicker to beat. Bruton locked on and drove Poyer to the ground. “I mean (Holliday) is a tremendous talent, but he needs people blocking for him,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox.
  • Steven Johnson’s blocked punt, scoop of the loose ball and 17-yard return for a touchdown was the result of Eagle’s long snapper Jon Dorenbos simply making a poor choice. At the snap, with Johnson lined up in the gap off his right shoulder, Dorenbos inexplicably looks left as soon as he lets the ball go and comes out of his stance, where there is no rusher. Dorenbos briefly puts his right hand on Johnson, but Johnson is already well into the gap on his way to punter Donnie Jones. "I knew I might get in there when he let me go,'' Johnson said.
No Von Miller. No Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos know their two top pass-rushers from a year ago, from 2011 too for that matter, won't be in the lineup Thursday night.

Dumervil will be across the field, in a Ravens uniform, having departed Denver after a messy fax machine fiasco that caused the Broncos to release him to avoid paying him a pile of guaranteed money ($12 million). For his part Miller will be serving the first of a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

That's a combined 29.5 sacks from last season. They face a quarterback -- Joe Flacco -- the Broncos sacked just once in last January's playoff loss even with both Miller and Dumervil in the lineup.

"There were times when we'd say 'OK, Von will get there'," said Broncos defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. "Now, all of us have to get there."

And to do that the Broncos will have use a little more variety in how they go about things. Last season they made the transition from run downs to passing downs with three constants in the rush packages when it was time to get after the quarterback -- Dumervil, Miller and Wolfe.

Dumervil played 922 snaps last season, Miller 961 and Wolfe came in at 903.

Take that kind of playing time out of the mix and the Broncos will use people more situationally. Wolfe will still be a constant, but Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers and Malik Jackson will be used in a variety of ways up front. To make it all work Phillips has to be what he was with his 9.5 sacks last season and perhaps even a little more. Ayers, who has just 6.5 career sacks, has to have the breakout season he's been waiting to have.

The Broncos figure to get linebacker Wesley Woodyard, five sacks in 2012, into the mix as well given Woodyard, too, is an every-down stalwart in the defense.

"We have to win on first and second down so we can get after it on third down," Wolfe said. " … Just like every game."
  • The Broncos voted for five team captains -- Peyton Manning and Ryan Clady on offense, Woodyard and Champ Bailey on defense to go with David Bruton on special teams. League rules allow six captains per game and the Broncos coaches vote for the sixth on a game-by-game basis. But of the names Clady's selection is notable. It is the first time in Clady's six seasons with the team he has been voted as a captain by his teammates, a sign of his growing statue in the locker room. "It's an honor for sure," Clady said. " … I plan on doing what I've been doing since I got in the league, just leading by example on the field. Not big on vocal leadership, but I'll do my best." Clady, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, said he's ready to go physically for Thursday's opener. Clady has practiced through the week. "I feel like I'm in really good shape," Clady said. " … I'm just around 100 percent, I wouldn't say 100, but good enough to play ball."
  • Last season the Broncos were the best second-half team in the league, which was a good thing because they were often over-coming sluggish starts, none filled with more stumbles than a trip to San Diego when they trailed 24-0 at halftime before going on to a 35-24 victory. But by season's end no team in the league sported a bigger second-half point differential with their opponents than the Broncos -- a plus-161 points (299 second-half points scored, 138 allowed). The plus-161 was the third-highest total in the post-merger era. But in an effort to build the mindset of a quicker start, Broncos coach John Fox adjusted practice throughout training camp and the preseason and had the Broncos go right to a high-speed team, 11-on-11, practice period right after the stretch instead of individual drills. "That's one of the things we tried to do during training camp was work on coming out here and having better tempo coming out of the gates instead of waiting until that second play of the second period of practice," said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. " … We had no choice but to try to start fast."
  • The Broncos filled out the last spot on their practice squad Monday with linebacker Brandon Marshall. Marshall was a fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in the 2012 draft and played in five games for the team last season.
  • Bailey, who has not practiced since injuring his left foot on Aug. 17 in the preseason loss in Seattle, said Monday he's "very close" to being ready to play. The Broncos will balance having Bailey for the long haul with his desire to play in the opener when they make the call. He has not taken part in a team workout since the injury.
  • Woodyard on Dumervil being gone; "He was like a big brother to me, but just like little brothers get a chance to face their big brothers, they're ready to fight, put up a fight and get a victory."
The Denver Broncos, like the rest of the league, will tie a bow on the preseason Thursday night. Most of the team’s regulars will get the night off against the visiting Arizona Cardinals, but decisions still need to be made at a few spots at the back end of the roster.

With that in mind, some things to keep an eye on:

One of the most difficult spots for the Broncos to make cuts ahead of Saturday's deadline to pare the roster to 53 players -- the bulk of which will come Friday -- will be in the secondary.

The Broncos kept nine defensive backs on the opening-weekend roster in 2011 and 10 last season -- five cornerbacks and five safeties. The issue this year is that Denver has two young, homegrown cornerback prospects in Omar Bolden and rookie Kayvon Webster, who have shown themselves to be worthy of the roster and would raise the overall athleticism at the position.

With Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Rahim Moore, Duke Ihenacho, Chris Harris, David Bruton and Tony Carter having worked in the top seven slots all through the preseason, that doesn’t leave room for Webster, Bolden, Mike Adams and Quentin Jammer to all make it.

If the Broncos stick with nine players in the secondary, they are essentially choosing between youth and experience for those final two spots. If they keep an extra cornerback, however, it may be an indication they feel they need to open the season with some insurance for Bailey’s foot injury.

Unless Denver takes the uncharacteristic step and keeps 11 defensive backs, Bolden and Webster both figure to play plenty against the Cardinals to state their cases.

  • Brock Osweiler is slated to get the start at quarterback behind what is largely a backup line. That has been a tough combination thus far in the preseason for Osweiler, who has been sacked eight times in the three previous games behind the reserves. It makes it difficult for the Broncos to work out of the three-wide look as much as they’d like given that they haven’t consistently protected the quarterback in it -- even when the starters have been in the game -- this preseason. If things get dicey they might have to go big again, as they did last weekend against the Rams. After opening the game with three wide receivers and allowing too many rushers to get too close to Peyton Manning, the Broncos went to a two-tight-end look. They lined up in a two-tight-end look on 29 of the next 35 plays after the opening three-and-out, including all 12 in a drive that ended with a blocked field goal. The Broncos might feel like they need to give Osweiler a little more beef up front.
  • The last few rosters spots will be decided on special teams, and the Broncos could use a good showing there. In the past two games they have surrendered a 107-yard kickoff return for a score, a 33-yard punt return, an 81-yard punt return and seen a field goal blocked. Many of the Broncos' youngest players will have a chance to help their causes against Arizona, with Denver special-teams coach Jeff Rodgers looking for those who display speed and smarts.
  • [+] EnlargeKayvon Webster
    AP Photo/Eric BakkeCornerback Kayvon Webster, a third-round pick, gets a last chance tonight to show he deserves a roster spot.
    The Broncos have lost five fumbles in three preseason games -- two by Osweiler, two by Ronnie Hillman and one by Julius Thomas. Hillman is not expected to play Thursday, but things need to be cleaned up. Lance Ball and Jacob Hester figure to get some work as the Broncos face some tough decisions at running back as well. Hester has not had a carry in the preseason and is the only back that has lined up at fullback thus far.
  • The Broncos have to sort things out in the offensive line, where they kept nine players in both 2011 and last season. After the starting five -- Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin -- the Broncos need a swing tackle, likely Chris Clark, and a swing guard/center or two, with Ryan Lilja, Steve Vallos and Philip Blake in the mix. Blake, a fourth-round pick in 2012, has been headed the wrong way on the depth chart -- the Broncos didn’t even work him much at center in the preseason, a position he played in college and one they originally drafted him for. Blake is decidedly on the bubble -- a long way down for a player some believed was pushing to start before a thumb injury ended his rookie season. He has regressed since that point, so he's either not getting the message about the changes in the offense or is not reacting well to the coaching he's getting. Rookie tackle Vinston Painter has shown the kind of athleticism that deserves a roster spot, but the Broncos may be in a position where they have to hope he makes it through waivers so they can sign him to their practice squad. Lilja is a tough call, too. Denver certainly likes him in the offense, but he had microfracture surgery on his knee just a few months ago and has missed significant amount of practice time of late because of the knee.
  • Rookie quarterback Zac Dysert will likely get his most significant work of the preseason. Dysert has shown some quality scrambling skills in practice, so he could have an entertaining down or two if he gets loose. He projects to the practice squad, but the Broncos would like to see some better accuracy from the pocket, especially in the shorter and intermediate routes.
  • Linebacker Lerentee McCray and wide receiver Lamaar Thomas are the undrafted rookies with the best chance to make the final 53 -- especially McCray. If the Broncos don’t keep McCray, there are at least two other teams that would consider signing him. He’s a big-bodied linebacker who, while not always showing good instincts, has the ability to disrupt an offense and closes to the ball with speed and intent.
DENVER – The Broncos' battered secondary took another hit Saturday night, with some difficult decisions to come.

Omar Bolden, who had regularly worked in some of Denver's specialty packages, suffered a left-ankle injury in the Broncos' victory over the Rams. Bolden limped to the locker room in the fourth quarter and is scheduled for an MRI on Sunday.

Bolden’s injury did give Quentin Jammer, who has worked at safety the majority of the time in the preseason, a chance to play cornerback with the second-team defense. Jammer, signed as a depth player late in the offseason, was decidedly on the bubble in a crowded secondary heading into the game, and could help his cause if he can show he can multi-task.

To that end, he got plenty of work in the second half, working at cornerback opposite rookie Kayvon Webster. Jammer was active, finishing with three tackles and two pass breakups. The Broncos have some tough calls to make in the secondary overall, with Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tony Carter and Chris Harris to go with Bolden and Webster at corner, and Rahim Moore, Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton at safety to go with Mike Adams and Rodgers-Cromartie.

That’s 11 players at a position where the Broncos traditionally keep nine or 10. The Broncos kept 10 players in the secondary when they cut their roster to 53 last season -- five cornerbacks and five safeties.

Bailey (foot) did not play Saturday and is still a question mark for the regular-season opener. Rodgers-Cromartie left Thursday’s practice after being kneed in the lower back, but started Saturday’s game and played until halftime.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Quarterback Peyton Manning has often spoken about how the Broncos' defense, with its speed all over the formation, can make the team's offense better during training camp.

That the first-team against first-team work -- the kind that rarely, if ever, is done during the regular season as a team gets ready for an opponent each week -- can be revealing for a playoff hopeful.

"Because you've got a lot of talent over there [on defense] and they compete hard on every play, they don't give you anything,'' Manning said. "That's what you want.''

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Marc Piscotty/Icon SMICompeting against the likes of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker during camp has benefited Denver's defense, safety Rahim Moore said.
Safety Rahim Moore believes turnabout helps just as much. That a Broncos defense good enough to finish second in the league in points allowed last season, is getting as much, or more, from dealing with Manning every day.

"Wes Welker is a great receiver, I believe he will be a future Hall of Famer one day, [Demaryius Thomas] is a rising star, Eric Decker is a rising star and Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback to ever touch a football to me,'' Moore said. " ... You feel like you go against those guys every day, makes you ready for anything.''

It doesn't always go without the rough spots at times, however. Wednesday Moore and running back Ronnie Hillman got into a brief post-play scuffle in a particularly heated set of team drills.

"I look at it like if you're not really out there fighting, having some kind of controversy, you're not really playing,'' Moore said.

"It's like two brothers fighting ... you slap 'em on the side of the head and move on,'' coach John Fox said.

In other Broncos news:

  • Broncos rookie running back C.J. Anderson, who led the team in rushing in the preseason opener in San Francisco last week, believes he got an advance look at what an NFL no-huddle offense looks like in his last season at California.Anderson, who was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted rookie immediately following the draft, rushed for 790 yards in his senior season with the Bears. And in the summer before the 2012 season began, former Cal coach Jeff Tedford spent a week with the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.

    Tedford, at the time, said he was looking for some inspiration to use tight ends and running backs more ways out of a spread look.

    "I think it gave me a glimpse of what that kind of offense would like in the NFL,'' Anderson said. "It gave a feel for what it looks like on Sunday. ... I think it's helped me some here.''

    Anderson got a few additional plays in Wednesday's practice because Knowshon Moreno was out with a bruised right knee. It meant Anderson got to run a few plays with the second-team offense. The Broncos have liked Anderson's work with the ball in his hands, but want to see him far more consistent in his assignments and avoid the concentration lapses he's shown at times.
  • At times Manning takes practice to the next level when it comes to trying to cover every scenario in training camp. the Broncos will, despite the expected presence of a few thousand fans at the last open-to-the-public practice of camp Thursday morning, likely break out the jumbo speakers for the workout.The Broncos use the speakers to pump in crowd noise during the regular season -- when the offense has the ball in the days leading up to road games and when the first-team defense is working in the days leading up to home games. The Broncos want to give the offense a little taste of a road atmosphere before the team heads to Seattle Friday afternoon for Saturday night's preseason game.
  • In the bad is good department, Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman made a big play out of a botched one during team drills. Hillman fumbled the ball forward as he tried to turn the corner around the right end and the ball bounced twice before he scooped it up on a dead run. Hillman then outraced all of the defenders, including safety David Bruton, for what would have been a scoring run.
  • Rookie wide receiver Lamaar Thomas, who left Tuesday's practice after a blow to his helmet in a red zone drill, is being treated for a concussion. He was held out of Wednesday's practice. ... In addition to Moreno, safety Quinton Carter (knee), running back Jeremiah Johnson (toe), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring) and wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. ... Former Broncos coach Red Miller, who guided the team to its first Super Bowl appearance to close out the 1977 season, was at Tuesday's practice. ... NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch is expected to visit Thursday's practice.
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.