AFC West: Eric Studesville

With the NFL's scouting combine just around the corner and free agency set to follow on March 11, today marks the second installment of a position-a-day look at where the Denver Broncos stand at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitments and where their needs are greatest.

Today: Running backs. Tomorrow: Wide receivers.

It's slightly odd when a 26-year-old is the elder statesman, but that's exactly what Knowshon Moreno was when the Broncos' running backs gathered in their meeting room this past season. A player who had wrestled with questions about his maturity during his time with the Broncos was suddenly, for both personal progress and performance, the standard to follow.

Or as running backs coach Eric Studesville said: “Knowshon did that, and if the other guys in that room want to see how to handle yourself when it doesn't really go your way, or when it does, they have an example right in front of them.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsWith Knowshon Moreno (not pictured) being a free agent, Montee Ball may need to step into a starting role at running back.
And that's where the questions start for this group and the Broncos -- right at Moreno's immediate future and the readiness of the other players who were in that room with him last season.

The Alpha: It was unquestionably Moreno in 2013, but his contract's up. So Montee Ball may well have to be a heady combination of maturity far beyond that of a typical second-year player and the young legs at the position the Broncos want.

Salary cap: At the moment, three backs under contract for '14 will account for just 1.6 percent of the Broncos' salary cap if the limit comes in at about $126.3 million per team. Ball's cap charge is set to be $787,347, Ronnie Hillman is at $807,708 and C.J. Anderson is set at $499,166.

Pending free agents: Moreno, who was the first draft pick of Josh McDaniels' tenure, is an unrestricted free agent. He's also the only free agent the Broncos have at the position of players who were on the 53-man roster this past season.

Whether to re-sign Moreno will be a difficult choice for the Broncos. Moreno has had two major knee surgeries, including an ACL repair in 2011 to go with a stem-cell procedure last offseason, so while he may be looking for starter money -- and who wouldn't be after rushing for 1,038 yards to go with 60 catches this past season -- the Broncos may hope to keep him, but as a rotational player.

Who could stay: If the league's other personnel executives play it cool with the soon-to-be 27-year-old running back (in July) with a surgical history, Moreno could return to the Broncos. But it's clear they see big things in Ball's future and like the way he rebounded down the stretch. His lost fumble Nov. 24 in New England was his third of the season at that point and there was some consideration to reduce his playing time, but he did not have another fumble the rest of the way and finished as the team's second-leading rusher.

He also improved in pass protection and flashed at least some potential as a receiver.

Who could go: Paging Ronnie Hillman, it's time to snap out of it. Hillman, a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, is still the most explosive big-play threat the Broncos have at the position. But after essentially being handed the starting job through the offseason and into training camp last year, his season dissolved into being a game-day inactive over much of the season's second half, including all three postseason games.

The Broncos have invested a prime draft pick in him, but patience is not a trait any player should rely on, even a draft pick for a team that would like as many homegrown players on its depth chart as possible. The feeling, in house, is that Hillman moped more than a little after his demotion and didn't do all he could to earn some playing time back.

He's still just 22 years old -- he was one of the youngest players in the '12 draft -- and there is plenty of potential, but he'll get a hard look through the offseason and into training camp. If he would like to remain in the league's highest-scoring offense, his on-field actions need to prove that.

What they like/want: With Peyton Manning at quarterback, the position has certainly evolved for the Broncos, even in John Fox's three seasons as head coach. The Broncos now need a back who can function as a primary runner, protect the passer and catch the ball on key third downs.

And, oh, don't fumble or make any assignment errors that get the quarterback hit.

That's a lot to ask and the Broncos figure to either take a look at running backs in the second or third day of the draft or make an economical signing in free agency should Moreno move on.

Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): 3

Moreno was the team's leading rusher in '13 and his 60 catches were fifth in the first 600-point offense in league history. His 13 total touchdowns trailed only wide receiver Demaryius Thomas' 14.

That's plenty of output from a player who may be able to secure a better offer elsewhere. The Broncos certainly believe Ball is ready to be at the front of the line, but they need somebody to be a third-down back and provide a little big-play pop.

Also, this group needs to be ready tackle new challenges because the running game figures to get a tweak or two in the playbook. The Broncos know, even with all of the NFL records they set on offense last season, they need to have more options when an opposing defense or Mother Nature make it difficult for them to throw the ball.
Just four days ago, Denver Broncos coach John Fox was on the practice field telling his team it had to be ready for anything when the second half of the season begins Monday.

On Saturday, those words turned out to be quite the prediction after Fox found himself in a Charlotte, N.C., area hospital. Many team officials, including members of Fox’s coaching staff, expressed their relief Saturday evening to hear Fox was “doing fine," as he said in a text message to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen. Fox had been taken in for tests after experiencing light-headedness during a round of golf.

Fox
Fox


Fox, a former head coach of the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons, still has a home in suburban Charlotte. The 58-year-old was undergoing further tests and evaluation Saturday night, and the possibility remained for what team officials called a “minor procedure" to be performed.

The Broncos (7-1) have a bye this week, and coaches and players were given Thursday through Sunday off. On Monday morning, the Broncos have a regularly scheduled team meeting at 8:05 a.m. PT. But news of Fox being taken to a hospital traveled quickly among team personnel, who may have to make some adjustments in the coming days if doctors advise Fox to refrain from working at all in the week to come.

The Broncos’ medical staff was in contact with the doctors treating Fox on Saturday night and will apprise the team’s football operations staff and coaching staff of when Fox will be discharged from the hospital and return to Denver. Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway was in contact with Fox as well.

But if Fox is forced to miss any time in the coming week, he has assistant coaches in place who could coordinate the Broncos' efforts through a game week. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would run practice this week if Fox was not in attendance, and the two would set the on-field and meeting schedule for their respective groups as they normally do. Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers would run those units.

Del Rio, who was the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach for nine seasons before he came to Denver, has the experience to act as a public spokesman in the days leading up to the Nov. 10 game against the Chargers in San Diego. Del Rio could certainly manage the sideline during a game if Fox was not available to return to his duties by next weekend.

Also on Fox’s staff is running backs coach Eric Studesville, who was the team’s interim head coach to close out the 2010 season after Josh McDaniels was fired with four games remaining in the season.

Earlier this season, Fox lauded the experience of his staff.

"We've got a lot of guys who have seen a lot of football in this league," he said. "It is a great group, and I feel like it gives us an advantage in a lot of ways."

Broncos Rewind -- Offense

September, 17, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos passed a big early-season road test against the Giants and after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos offense:
  • In the archives it will simply be a 12-yard pass on first down from Peyton Manning to rookie running back Montee Ball in the first quarter of what became an 18-point win, but it again showed the kind of patience the Broncos, and Manning, are going to need in the passing game no matter how everybody wails about the long ball. Ball easily caught the ball in space and ran for the first down because the Giants linebackers retreated at the snap with the intention of guarding the first down marker and working forward from there. It was a prime example of the kind of careful zone coverages the Giants played much of the day. And that’s how teams are going to play the Broncos, and already have much of the time over the first two weeks. It’s why Manning had just one completion of more than 20 yards Sunday -- a 36-yarder to Andre Caldwell on the Broncos’ opening possession. People don’t want the Broncos wideouts working the intermediate and deep parts of the field against man coverage, that’s a long-standing recipe for trouble for defenses against Manning. So, expect more and more defenses to make Manning pick away at them. And until the Broncos get a little more pop from the running game -- and they did Sunday when they went to a two-tight end look -- the linebackers are often going to be moving away from the line of scrimmage instead of toward it. And to avoid those pesky frustration mistakes, Manning and the offense must continue to exercise patience and wait for the right moments to go big.
  • From a football perspective, the biggest question Chris Clark will have to answer at left tackle as Ryan Clady's replacement will be in the Broncos’ three-wide receiver set. The five offensive linemen have to consistently win even if they are outnumbered, and they have to dominate if it’s a five-on-four situation. If the Broncos can’t hold up in three-wide they won’t be able to play as much as they’d like. But in terms of the mechanics, not much will change. In a three-wide receiver set -- even if Clady is in the game -- the Broncos often line up the tight end -- usually Julius Thomas -- on the left tackle's outside shoulder (they did several times against the Giants), making the offensive left the strong side of the formation. So, if they want to give Clark a little help on that side of the formation, it's just business as usual.
  • The Broncos simply have to take advantage of when they get what running backs coach Eric Studesville calls “the friendly boxes’’ in the run game. If they can keep making defenses pay for playing pass first, even when the Broncos are in run looks, the Broncos will eventually have a chance to open things up a little more down the field. The Broncos made the most of two opportunities Sunday. On Knowshon Moreno's first touchdown run -- and 20-yarder around right end early in the second quarter the Giants had just six defenders in the box with the Broncos in a three-wide receiver look. When Julius Thomas and Orlando Franklin sealed off the right side, the Giants defensive backs were too far down the field to rally to the ball. It was also the first Broncos carry of the season in the run game for more than 10 yards. On Moreno’s second touchdown run -- a 25-yarder in the third quarter -- the Giants had seven players in the box to respond to the Broncos’ two tight end look. On that play, Franklin and tight end Virgil Green sealed the right side and the Broncos receivers had again run some of the downfield help away from the ball.
  • Manning and the Broncos should give a clinic on how to get the ball snapped before a play can be reviewed. Manning has always been one of the best at catching defenses with the 12th player on the field with a quick snap, but he will also get the team up to the ball and get it snapped if he thinks there’s some question about what just happened. Sunday, after a Demaryius Thomas fumble downfield was recovered by running back Knowshon Moreno for a 17-yard gain late in the third quarter, there was some question if Thomas had possession of the ball to begin with or if had simply been an incomplete pass. But before the Giants coaches could relay an opinion down to coach Tom Coughlin about a possible challenge, Manning had the Broncos ready to go as soon as the umpire spotted the ball. They Broncos snapped it and that was that. Five plays later Moreno ran it in for the score. During the game broadcast CBS analyst Phil Simms said following the two plays somebody in the coaches' box had to have the "courage'' to let Coughlin know what was going on even if they got just a quick look at a replay.
  • Number of note: Manning had 18 of his 30 completions in the game for 10 or fewer yards.
  • Dominant formation: The Broncos lined up with three wide receivers on 52 snaps.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 2

September, 16, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 41-23 win over the New York Giants:

Bigger still better sometimes: It is certainly an odd quirk, and frankly not always logical at first blush, but a team built decidedly to be a three-wide affair on offense has now needed to go to two tight ends in each of its first two games to reset things when they have the ball. In the opener the Broncos waited 20 plays before they tried a two-tight end look, and on Sunday they didn’t do it until their first possession of the second half after they had run 40 snaps of three-wide in the first half. The result was slightly more pop in the run game and three consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half after they sprinkled it in. As quarterback Peyton Manning said, “It’s just one guy for another," but it keeps making a difference. And as Joel Dreessen gets closer to a return to the lineup after two offseason arthroscopic knee surgeries, it's something they will likely consider a little more from time to time, even as they quickly move back into a three-wide look when they feel they have a better flow.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Elsa/Getty ImagesMontee Ball needs to protect the ball better if he hopes to get more touches.
Code yellow: Yes, referee Gene Steratore’s crew called a tight game in the secondary -- the Broncos had eight penalties called on defensive backs alone -- but Denver still has to be a more disciplined lot all around. A 132-yard penalty total is not always going to be camouflaged by an 18-point win. The taunting penalty on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton in the third quarter is part of a league push to dial down the post-play stuff. And like it or not -- and Broncos coach John Fox certainly made it clear during the game that he didn't agree with more than a few of the flags -- the Broncos have to adjust.

Confidence game: Running backs coach Eric Studesville will have some work to do with the Broncos' young backs to keep them engaged. Ronnie Hillman got just one carry against the Giants, likely a tough total to swallow for the guy who was the starter all through the offseason, and rookie Montee Ball is averaging just 2 yards a carry and lost a fumble against the Giants. The Broncos are going to need both of those players to produce when called upon, and they've had a bumpy ride in the early going.

Clady’s injury a question: A lot of what the Broncos want to do in the offensive front, especially in pass protection, is based on Ryan Clady being at left tackle. The Broncos have not shown the same pop on offense when he isn’t there. He suffered a left foot injury Sunday and was limping after the game. It will bear watching through the week, because the Broncos have a more difficult time opening up the formation when he's not in there.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach John Fox has made it pretty clear he wants to get Von Miller as much work as possible, even with a six-game suspension on the horizon for the two-time Pro Bowl selection.

And it's pretty clear when Fox does that it means somebody else isn't getting the work. A tough call, but Fox has elected to keep Miller engaged and with the starters as the suspension nears.

Fox has had to weigh the benefits of working Miller in the starting defense now to better prepare Miller for his scheduled return to the field in Week 7, against the snaps that could have gone to players elsewhere on the developmental curve. Because every snap Miller takes in practice, as well as in the preseason games, is a snap that didn’t go to one of the Broncos younger, less experienced players.

Miller
Fox said following the league’s announcement of the suspension he would play Miller against the Rams this past Saturday and he did just that, starting Miller in the game. Miller finished with 18 snaps on defense. Miller will also play Thursday night against the Cardinals in the preseason finale and will officially begin his suspension Saturday.

But as Fox explained it this past weekend, Miller has a six-game suspension and “I wasn’t going to make it eight."

All of that said, however, it has really been injuries to Robert Ayers (Achilles/ankle) and Derek Wolfe (neck) that have made it possible for the Broncos to work Miller and still get the linebackers the work they need to cover for his absence. Miller played at defensive end against the Rams and is expected to do that against the Cardinals as well. Miller worked with the starters at defensive end in Monday’s practice, with veteran Shaun Phillips at the other defensive end spot, while Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving (in Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot) and Danny Trevathan worked at linebacker in base defense.

Malik Jackson, a fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has also gotten plenty of work with Wolfe and Ayers being out. Like they do with Wolfe, the Broncos like Jackson’s potential because he can play on the interior in the defensive line and at end.
  • Broncos running back coach Eric Studesville may grow hoarse as he tries to get the message across, but with the regular season closing in, pass protection will continue to be a huge piece of the decision about who plays at running back for the Broncos. And it’s why Knowshon Moreno has steadily worked his way into the conversation and earned a selection of snaps with the starters over the last week, including in the 2-minute drill to close out the first half this past Saturday night against the Rams. Rookie Montee Ball has surrendered the biggest hit on quarterback Peyton Manning in the preseason with Ball’s missed protection assignment against the Seahawks. Asked Monday, after he had taken the majority of snaps with the first-team offense in practice, if Manning had said anything to him after the play, Ball said; “No, he didn’t have to. Coach E (Studesville), he did a great job being the coach the he needed to be and he was yelling at me, screaming at me, which was most definitely needed.’’
  • With the first round of cuts having been made and Omar Bolden (ankle) out of practice, Quentin Jammer had the opportunity to try to show the team’s coaches he can be an option at cornerback. Jammer had been signed in the offseason to primarily be a coverage safety who could line up and handle some cornerback duties in situational work from time to time. But Jammer played at cornerback against the Rams and lined up there exclusively in Monday’s practice. It will be a big week for Jammer as he is likely on the bubble to make the 53-man roster, so any multi-tasking skills will help his cause. At one point the secondary for the second-team defense was Jammer and rookie Kayvon Webster at cornerback with David Bruton and undrafted rookie Ross Rasner at the two safety spots. Rasner has caught the team’s eye and certainly is, a quality practice squad candidate if he can’t wedge his way into what will be the most difficult position group for the Broncos to make the cuts.
  • Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, who was held out of Saturday’s game because of an ankle injury he suffered in Seattle, was back with the starters in Monday’s practice. He, like most of the Broncos regulars, is not expected to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale.
  • Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), safety Quinton Carter (knee) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) did not participate in Monday’s practice. Bailey and Dreessen continue to work toward trying to get back for the regular-season opener. Even with Julius Thomas’ emergence in the passing game for the Broncos as a tight end who can line up on the line as well as out wide and in the slot, Dreessen is still the team’s best receiver/blocker combination and the offense will need him, especially out of the three-wide receiver set against the better pass-rush teams.
Peyton Manning Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsFor Denver rookie Montee Ball, protecting Peyton Manning is a higher priority than taking handoffs from him.
Since Terrell Davis powered his way to the 1998 NFL MVP award to go with 2,008 rushing yards in the Broncos' second of back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, since he was the unquestioned stopping point for a handoff in the offense, Denver has, by both necessity and choice, led the mix-and-match movement in the league's backfields.

Since the start of 1999, nine different running backs have led the Broncos in carries for at least one season. Over that 14-year span Denver has not had a running back lead the team in carries in three consecutive seasons.

And a team that once churned out 1,000-yard rushers like Apple products coming off the assembly line has now had just one back -- Willis McGahee in the read-option season of 2011 -- in the past six years finish with 1,000 yards.

What gives?

"It's probably a combination of things," said Broncos coach John Fox. "There are injuries, changes in the offense, changes in your personnel and just the nature of the job. That's a high-impact job in a bigger, faster, stronger league. I'm not sure anybody really sits there these days -- unless you have one of the top, top guys -- and thinks one guy is going to get you through."

And fantasy football owners be damned, the Broncos stand poised to break out the committee to run the ball once again in 2013. But how those carries will be divvied up might surprise some who watch a group that includes Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Jacob Hester.

Because while running the ball is great -- it's in the position's name after all -- for the Broncos' backs to get the ball, they're going to have to be good when they don't have it.

"I've said, whenever a young guys asks me, everybody who gets to the league can run, everybody can catch, but here, the way the game is played right now, you have to block," said Davis, a Broncos Ring of Fame member. "So, learn how to block, do the work and block. That's what I tell them, even if they haven't done it before because they were the main option, because that's what will get you on the field in this league and here, with this team."

Or as Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville said, "Bottom line: The better you do in pass protection, the more run opportunities you’re going to have. That's it. You aren't going to get the ball if we don't take care of the quarterback. They all know that, they are all aware of that. They don't get to run until we see the rest of it."

The Broncos certainly fit the league's profile for a passing team in a pass-first league. They have Peyton Manning at quarterback, they signed Wes Welker in free agency and their favorite formation on offense as the games grew in importance in 2012 was a three-wide receiver look.

They know defenses want to rush Manning in the middle of the formation, a formation they have to open up when they go to three wide receivers. That often puts the running back in the role of last man standing in pass protection, the guy who has to pick the most dangerous rusher who has broken free from the guys up front.

Make the right choice and there's a big play waiting in the offense. Make the wrong one and the quarterback will take a hit that almost always joins the list of biggest hits of the year and always carries the potential to crater a season.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Hillman
AP Photo/Jack DempseyRonnie Hillman is Denver's most explosive runner, but his ability to block will determine how much he'll get on the field.
So, open-field speed is great, vision in traffic a must, but the Broncos' runners know their to-do list has another rather large item on it that has nothing to do with any runs to glory. It's also why the committee appears to have formed again.

"We all know we have to keep Peyton from getting hit," Hillman said. "If you can't make the right choices in there blocking, you're probably not going to get the ball."

To that end, Hillman has put on about 15 pounds from last season and hovers closer to the 195-pound range, far better than the 178 pounds or so he came in at when the Broncos faced the Ravens in the playoffs in January. Hillman, entering his second season, is the most explosive runner the Broncos have, the big-play threat in an offense that wants more big-play runs this time around.

Ball, a rookie, spent plenty of extra time with Manning during offseason workouts in post-practice discussions about the nuances of protection schemes and the fine line between knowing when to stay in and block and when to leave the backfield to be the hot-read option.

Moreno, because of his knee troubles of recent seasons, and Hester have not shown the run skills in workouts the two youngsters have, but they are more proficient in those long-yardage responsibilities. Hester has appeared at both running back and fullback in practices, while Moreno, now up to 220 pounds, has also shown a proficiency in pass protection.

There is also the matter of audibles. Perhaps the biggest of Manning's many gifts at quarterback is his ability to change the play just before the snap to get his guys in the look that is the biggest problem for a defense.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who faced Manning twice annually in Fisher's long tenure with the Titans, said, "He knows your intentions and he knows what to do, all before he snaps the ball. ... So even when you're right, there's a good chance you're wrong."

But for Manning's audibles to work, everybody else on offense has to be ready to make the changes as well. It's another hurdle for Hillman and Ball in their effort to be at the top of the rotation (when the Broncos released their first "official" depth chart of the preseason Sunday, Hillman was the No. 1 back).

“So, I always keep in my mind that they’re two young guys, but we have to age them, in terms of their knowledge of the offense, rapidly," Studesville said. “The reality of our offense is we do what the quarterback can do, so they have to catch up, they’ve got to get it. We're not going to put people out there who slow the quarterback down. If they don't understand that and don't get it, they won't play."

It's all important because the Broncos know people defend them with Manning as a passer at the top of the list. So, against a vast array of nickel, dime and other specialty defenses designed to stop problems in the air, the Broncos have to find a way to wind the clock, convert first downs, pound it in the end zone from in close and create explosive runs.

And while one back used to be enough for the job, Denver is more than comfortable using several once again in 2013.

"When we get those friendly boxes because of the way people defend Peyton, we have to feel comfortable with whoever we put back there to run it," Studesville said. "And when we get to the season, I think we will. We like this group."

And that's group, as in more than one.
John Dorsey was the scout who helped bring Vonta Leach to the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2004.

So it is natural to think Dorsey, now the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, could have some interest in the fullback now that he is a free agent. The Baltimore Ravens cut Leach this week and has now been linked to the Chiefs and Broncos.

Leach's agent, Ralph Vitolo, said he talked to Dorsey this week and has not talked to the Broncos. Vitolo said Dorsey was “non-committal” but said perhaps the team could interest in Leach at some point. The Chiefs have several young fullbacks and I can see Leach getting a look if the Chiefs want a veteran presence the position.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chiefs claimed pass-rusher Austen Lane off waivers after the Jacksonville Jaguars cut him on Thursday. He was a fifth-round pick in 2010 and has 16 starts. He could be a backup outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. Defensive tackle Daniel Muir was cut to make room for Lane.

Former Oakland Raiders safety Matt Giordano has signed with the St. Louis Rams. Giordano started 22 games for Oakland over the past two seasons. Giordano was a high-effort player, but he isn’t considered a solid starter and is more of player that adds depth. The Raiders signed Charles Woodson, who is a big upgrade over Giordano.

The San Diego Chargers announced Dr. David Chao has left the team because he wants to spend more time with his family. He was under fire from the NFLPA because of malpractice allegations. He has not implicated after a recent investigation.

A group of Broncos will attend the funeral of the parents of running backs coach Eric Studesville in Madison, Wisconsin. The couple was killed last week in a motorcycle accident in Texas.
Some Denver minicamp notes:

Veteran cornerback Champ Bailey said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio coming back for a second season is huge for the unit. Last year, Del Rio became Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons.

“It means a lot,” Bailey told reporters Tuesday. “For a corner, specifically, it doesn’t change a whole lot for me personally. But I can see the difference in the guys around me. That makes a huge difference in what we can do up front and on the back end with the safeties.”

Bailey said this is the deepest group of cornerbacks he’s seen in his 10 season in Denver.

Safety David Bruton, meanwhile, has been getting some work with the first unit. He has been largely a special-teamer, but might see more time with the base defense.

Veteran running back Willis McGahee is participating in the team’s mandatory minicamp after staying away from the voluntary portion of the offseason for what he described as family reasons. McGahee will likely have a lesser role in the offense this season after the Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the second round and with second-year player Ronnie Hillman set to see more playing time.

Denver running-backs coach Eric Studesville is working at the minicamp, a week after his parents were killed in a motorcycle accident.
The Denver Broncos received a boost this week when rookie pass-rusher Quanterus Smith returned to the practice field for the first since tearing the ACL in his left knee less than seven months ago.

Smith was a fifth-round pick and has tremendous pass-rush ability. He was leading the NCAA with 12.5 sacks at the time of his injury.

Many scouts thought Smith would be taken much earlier had he not been injured.

“He was the most interesting player left on the board today,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said at the time of his selection. “If he continues to develop, you may have a big-time steal.”

Barring a setback, Smith should be a full a participant in training camp and has a chance to be a contributor as a rookie.

In other AFC West notes:

The Broncos are helping the family of running back Eric Studesville deal with a tragedy. His parents were killed in a motorcycle accident this week.

The Chiefs signed third-round pick, tight end Travis Kelce and fourth-round pick, linebacker Nico Johnson. Both players are expected to play a lot as rookies. The lone remaining unsigned Kansas City rookie is tackle Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick of the draft.

The Chiefs also signed cornerback Vince Agnew. He spent some time with the Cowboys last year.

Update: The Oakland Raiders joined the rookie signing party. They signed six of their 10 picks. They signed four sixth rounders, (tight end) Nick Kasa, (running back) Lataivius Murray, (tight end) Mychal Rivera, (defensive linemen, and their two seventh rounders, (receiver) Brice Butler and (pass-rusher) David Bass.

 
The Denver Broncos are in mourning Wednesday.

The parents of running back coach Eric Studesville were killed in a motorcycle accident in Texas on Tuesday.

“Our most heartfelt condolences go to Eric Studesville and his entire family following the tragic loss of his parents, Al and Jan Studesville,” the team said in a statement. “We were devastated to learn of their passing today. Our thoughts and prayers are with Eric and his family, and our organization will support them however possible during this difficult time.”

The Broncos cancelled media availability for their organized training activities (OTA) practice.

Studesville, 46, is a popular member of the coaching staff. He was the team’s interim head coach to end the 2010 season after Josh McDaniels was fired. He was kept on staff when John Fox took over as head coach. Studesville’s parents were major influences in his life as the Denver Post explained in this 2010 story.

Our condolences go out to Studesville and his family.

In other AFC West news:

U-T San Diego reports the Chargers are showing some interest in former Denver defensive tackle Justin Bannan. The Chargers need depth there and Bannan is a versatile player. He is solid against the run and he’d likely come cheaply. The interest makes sense.

U-T San Diego reports new pass-rusher Dwight Freeney reported to voluntary OTAs Wednesday for the first time since signing late last month.

New England quarterback Tom Brady said it was a “very sad day” when his close friend and top receiving option Wes Welker signed with Denver this spring.

AFC West coaching staffs

March, 16, 2011
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Thanks to ESPN Stats and Information’s Russell S. Baxter, here is a look at the complete coaching staffs of each AFC West team:

Denver: John Fox

Dennis Allen, defensive coordinator

Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator

Jeff Rodgers, special teams coordinator

Clancy Barone, tight ends

Keith Burns, assistant special teams

Brian Callahan, quality control/offense

Adam Gase, quarterbacks

Sam Garnes, assistant secondary

Justin Lovett, strength and conditioning assistant

Dave Magazu, offensive line

Ron Milus, secondary

Wayne Nunnely, defensive line

Jay Rodgers, quality control/defense

Greg Saporta, strength and conditioning assistant

Richard Smith, linebackers

Eric Studesville, running backs

Tyke Tolbert, wide receivers

Rich Tuten, strength and conditioning

Kansas City: Todd Haley

Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator

Bill Muir, offensive coordinator/offensive line

Maurice Carthon, assistant head coach

Richie Anderson, wide receivers

Mike Clark, strength and conditioning

Gary Gibbs, linebackers

Steve Hoffman, special teams

Bernie Parmalee, tight ends

Pat Perles, assistant offensiveBe Line

Anthony Pleasant, defensive Line

Brent Salazar, assistant strength and conditioning

Nick Sirianni, offensive quality control

Otis Smith, defensive quality control

Emmitt Thomas, defensive backs

Adam Zimmer, defensive assistant/assistant linebackers

Jim Zorn, quarterbacks

Oakland: Hue Jackson

Al Saunders, offensive coordinator

Chuck Bresnahan, defensive coordinator

John Fassel, special teams coordinator

Greg Biekert, linebackers

Chuck Bresnahan, defensive coach

Willie Brown, squad development

Adam Henry, tight ends

Sanjay Lal, wide receivers

Brad Roll, strength and conditioning

Kevin Ross, assistant coach, safeties

Kelly Skipper, running backs

Mike Waufle, defensive line

Steve Wisniewski, assistant offensive line

Rod Woodson, assistant coach, cornerbacks

Bob Wylie, offensive line

San Diego: Norv Turner

Clarence Shelmon, offensive coordinator

Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator

Rich Bisaccia, special teams

Cris Dishman, assistant secondary

Steve Gera, coaches assistant

Hal Hunter, offensive line

Jeff Hurd, strength and conditioning

Don Johnson, defensive line

Charlie Joiner, wide receivers

Jason Michael, tight ends

John Pagano, linebackers

John Ramsdell, quarterbacks

Vernon Stephens, assistant strength and conditioning

Mike Sullivan, offensive line

Steve Wilks, assistant head coach-secondary

Greg Williams, assistant linebackers

Ollie Wilson, running backs

Denver notes

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
10:50
PM ET
The Carolina Panthers are not bringing back running backs coach Jim Skipper. He said he had a chance to join the Denver Broncos’ staff in a to-be-determined role.

Skipper said the Broncos’ brass wanted new coach John Fox -- who came over from Carolina -- to keep running backs Coach Eric Studesville, who did an admirable job as interim coach after Josh McDaniels was fired. Instead of going to Denver, Skipper said he will likely wait until next year for a job or retire. He was close with free agent Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams and Williams said Skipper’s future with the Panthers would play a role if he wanted to return.

Williams is also close to Fox and he could be interested in joining him. Fox likes to run the ball and he could be interested in pairing Williams with Knowshon Moreno.

Longtime Denver scout Cornell Green was named the AFC scout of the year by the Fritz Pollard Alliance. Green has been with Denver for 25 years.
New Denver Broncos coach John Fox announced a portion of his coaching staff.

As previously reported, the additions included offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and running backs coach Eric Studesville, two holdovers from Josh McDaniels’ staff. Studesville finished the season as Denver’s interim head coach. Other holdovers from McDaniels’ staff include tight ends coach Clancy Barone, defensive line coach Wayne Nunnely, defensive quality control coach Jay Rogers and offensive quality control coach Brian Callahan.

Fox also hired two of his former Carolina assistants Dave Magazu (offensive line) and Tyke Tolbert (receivers).

The biggest remaining open job on Fox’s staff is defensive coordinator. McDaniels’ defensive coordinator, Don Martindale, is not expected back. Denver was ranked last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010. Among the candidates for the top defensive post is former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach Jim L. Mora and recently fired Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

From the look at the early additions to the staff, it seems like Fox -- a defensive specialist -- will bring in a mostly new defensive staff. That is not surprising and considering Denver’s issues this season, a coaching overhaul on defense is probably necessary.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting that McDermott has become the defensive coordinator in Carolina.

Report: Denver keeps Studesville

January, 17, 2011
1/17/11
1:48
PM ET
The Broncos have rewarded Eric Studesville for undertaking a difficult situation at the end of the 2010 season by bringing him back for the 2011 season.

The Denver Post is reporting that Studesville will be the running backs coach on John Fox’s staff. The two were assistants together with the New York Giants years ago. Studesville was the running backs coach under Josh McDaniels before McDaniels was fired in December with four games remaining in the season. Studesville became Denver’s interim coach and the Broncos had a 1-3 record under him.

Studesville impressed Denver’s brass with the way he handled the team after McDaniels was fired. Studesville was one of the five candidates interviewed for the head-coaching job before Fox was hired Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are looking at former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as a potential candidate for the same job. In a radio interview, Fox further explains what he’s looking for in his coaching staff among other topics.
The Denver Broncos met with former Carolina coach John Fox on Wednesday. He is the fifth candidate to meet with the Broncos, who are giving fans an inside look of the interview process.

Denver is now expected to review the candidates and decide whether to bring in any other possibilities. At this point, Denver is not preparing to ask permission to talk to speak to any other candidates. There is a strong chance that Denver’s new coach has already been interviewed.

The following is a look at the five candidates:

Rick Dennison, offensive coordinator, Houston Texans

When interviewed: Tuesday

The skinny: Dennison is a former Denver player and assistant coach. He is the most connected of the candidates to John Elway, Denver's new chief of football operations. Dennison interviewed to replace Mike Shanahan two years ago and is a quiet, smart coach. I’d be surprised, however, if he was the choice.

Perry Fewell, New York Giants, defensive coordinator

When interviewed: Sunday

The Skinny: He is considered one of the better young defensive minds in the NFL. He is a detailed coach, who impressed Denver’s brain trust with leadership abilities. I could see him getting a second interview.

John Fox, former Carolina Panthers head coach

When interviewed: Wednesday

The skinny: Fox is the headline name of this mostly unknown group. He has coached Carolina for the past nine years, is a strong presence, and is a good football man. Even though the Panthers tumbled terribly this season, hiring someone as experienced as Fox could be considered a coup. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the leader in the clubhouse.

Dirk Koetter, Jacksonville Jaguars, offensive coordinator

When interviewed: Tuesday

The skinny: Koetter may be a sleeper candidate. He is well respected as a strong offensive mind. Koetter is a reserved, quiet man who is known for his dedication. He was the coach at Arizona State and at Boise State and has the head-coaching experience that Elway desires. He could score with another interview.

Eric Studesville, Denver Broncos interim head coach

When interviewed: Sunday

The skinny: Studesville is the underdog candidate. He was Denver’s running backs coach before he took over for the fired Josh McDaniels in the final four games. Studesville finished with a 1-3 record, but Denver’s brass appreciated how hard he worked and how he kept the team together in the final month of the season. I’d be stunned if he got the head-coaching job, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team tried to keep him in some capacity.

Note: Former Stanford and new San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams all declined interview opportunities. If the Falcons lose to Green Bay on Saturday, Mularkey could still interview.

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