AFC West: Jacob Tamme

SAN DIEGO -- Running back Ronnie Hillman did return to practice this past week, but only on a limited basis and as a result was one of the Denver Broncos' seven game-day inactives Sunday.

And after a week when the Broncos went through their work with a substantial list of injured players their list of inactives Sunday for the AFC West matchup with the San Diego Chargers reflected it.

In addition to Hillman (left foot), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) was among the seven players as was tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot), wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder).

With the absence of Tamme and Cornick (who was lined up as an extra tight end in recent games), Julius Thomas is expected to be back in the offensive game plan. Thomas, who was in uniform last week against the Buffalo Bills for the first time since he suffered a left ankle injury, did not play against the Bills.

But Thomas practiced fully Friday and is expected to reclaim his usual workload.

With Hillman being an inactive and Montee Ball having been placed on injured reserve Saturday, the Broncos will have C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and Jeremy Stewart as their top three running backs against the Chargers.

The other Broncos game-day inactives were: tackle Michael Schofield and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was a full participant in the team’s practice Friday, the first time he has taken part fully in a team workout since he suffered a left ankle injury in the first quarter of the Broncos’ Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis.

Thomas, who was in uniform for the Broncos’ victory over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday but did not play a snap in the game, was formally listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers. Thomas, unless he suffers some unexpected setback in the team’s walk-through Saturday or in pregame warm-ups, is expected to play in San Diego and get close to his usual workload in the offense.

“He was active for the game a week ago; I saw great progress last week," Broncos head coach John Fox said following Friday’s practice. “And even better progress this week."

Despite missing three games, Thomas is still tied for the league lead in touchdown catches with 12, the same as Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson. In the Broncos’ Oct. 23 win over the Chargers in Denver, Thomas had two receptions for 23 yards and was held without a touchdown.

Thomas’ return comes at an opportune time, as the Broncos can clinch their fourth consecutive AFC West title with a win Sunday. Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) is questionable for Sunday’s game and reserve tackle Paul Cornick, who has lined up as an extra tight end at times this season, is out with a toe injury on his right foot.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (right ankle) were all held out of practice Wednesday, but practiced fully Friday and will all play against the Chargers.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who practiced for the first time Wednesday since he suffered the injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders, took part in Thursday’s and Friday’s practices on a limited basis and was formally listed as questionable for the game.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is currently practicing but is still on the injured reserve/designated to return list and is eligible to play Sunday if the Broncos move him back on the roster, participated fully in practice throughout the week. The Broncos are expected to move him to the active roster Saturday so he can play Sunday against the Chargers.

Safety Quinton Carter (knee) did not practice Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Running back Montee Ball (right groin) and wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion) did not practice this week and will not play Sunday.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos looked more like themselves for Thursday’s practice when wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (right ankle) were all back in the offense.

All three of the regulars took part on a limited basis in the workout and are expected to play in Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers. With a win the Broncos will clinch their fourth consecutive AFC West title and the playoff spot that comes with it.

Tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) also continued to work toward his return to the lineup. Thomas, who said Wednesday he felt "far better" about his chances to play this week than he has in previous weeks, took part on a limited basis Thursday. The Broncos could certainly use Julius Thomas in the lineup, or they will have to make some adjustments to their game plan.

The Broncos have been working out of a two-tight-end look more in recent weeks than they did previously in the season, even with Julius Thomas out. However, tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and reserve tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot), who has played as an extra tight end, were both held out of practice Thursday. They missed Wednesday’s workout as well. It meant Virgil Green was the only player at the position on the roster to go through all of Thursday's practice. The Broncos, however, have expressed some private optimism that Julius Thomas will be ready to play Sunday.

"I would say it’s fair, we’ve made adjustments," said Broncos head coach John Fox.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who practiced for the first time Wednesday since he suffered the injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders, took part in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis. He has missed the past four games.

And linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is practicing but still on injured reserve/designated to return and eligible to play Sunday if the Broncos move him back on the roster, participated in all of Thursday’s practice. If the Broncos want to play Trevathan in Sunday’s game, they would have to move him to the 53-man roster by Saturday.

In addition to Tamme and Cornick, running back Montee Ball (right groin), wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos practiced Wednesday without pads or helmets, but eight players were held out due to injuries.

Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle) were among the regulars who did not participate Wednesday. Six more players, including tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle), safety David Bruton Jr. (groin) and cornerback Kayvon Webster, were also limited in the practice.

When asked, after reading the list of names, if it would have been easier to simply say who did practice fully, head coach John Fox said, “I considered it."

The injuries, however, are not considered serious enough to keep any of those players out of Sunday’s AFC West showdown with the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos can clinch their fourth consecutive division and the playoff spot that comes with it with a win and Demaryius Thomas, Anderson, Welker, Tamme and Bruton are all expected to be ready to play Sunday.

The Broncos continue to hope Julius Thomas, who was in uniform for the win over the Buffalo Bills but did not play a snap, will be ready to play Sunday in San Diego as well.

“We’re trying to finish strong," Fox said. “ … It’s at the point of the season you want guys fresh, their health and restoration off a long season is the most important … We had an early bye, a lot of reasons. I thought their focus was great (Wednesday), thought we had a great practice."

Also notable among the players limited in Wednesday’s practice was running back Ronnie Hillman. Hillman’s participation was his first since suffering a left foot injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Hillman has missed the past four games. Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is currently practicing but still on injured reserve/designated to return and eligible to play Sunday if the Broncos move him back on the roster, also practiced.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said his ankle injury shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.

Thomas, who had his ankle stepped on by a teammate in Wednesday’s practice, did not practice on Thursday. Thomas took part on a limited basis on Friday and was formally listed as probable by the Broncos for Sunday’s game.

“It feels way better, way better,’’ Thomas said following practice.

Asked if he would be ready to go against the Bills, Thomas said; “Let’s go.’’

Thomas was limping slight in the end zone at one point during this past Sunday’s win against the Kansas City Chiefs but said the current injury was in a different spot.

“I tweaked it in the end zone a little bit … but I actually got stepped on this time,’’ Thomas said.

And on how much he did in Friday’s practice, he hadded; “I did enough, I was able to get out and run, felt OK.’’

Julius Thomas, who has missed the last two games since injuring his left ankle against the St. Louis Rams, took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis and was formally listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Thomas has consistently said this week that he’s “close’’ to a return, but he has also not taken part fully in a practice since his injury.

Cornerback Aqib Talib (left hamstring) practiced fully this week, including Friday, and is expected to start against the Bills.

Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (elbow), safety Quinton Carter (knee) all took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis and were listed as questionable.

Wide receiver Cody Latimer, who was having concussion symptoms in Thursday’s practice, did not practice Friday and is under the league’s concussion protocol. He will miss Sunday’s game.

And cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot) and Montee Ball (right groin) all worked with one of the team’s strength coaches during practice Friday. All three will miss Sunday’s game.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Denver Broncos’ win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.
  • Barth
    The Broncos made the switch at kicker earlier in the week, waiving Brandon McManus and signing Connor Barth. Barth arrived on Tuesday and kicked a career-best five field goals in the game. And after the game punter Britton Colquitt, a borrowed microphone in hand from one of the Denver television stations, took a spin as a reporter, asking Barth several questions in front of his locker. After teasing Barth about the wind at Arrowhead, Colquitt asked, "Seriously, though, a career high in field goals, 5-for-5, how do you feel about that?" And Barth responded "Whatever I can do to help the team, it was exciting." Colquitt, the holder on field goal attempts, then asked; "What is it like to know all you’ve really got to do is close your eyes and swing your leg?" Barth then gave some props to Colquitt and long-snapper Aaron Brewer. Barth was the fourth kicker in franchise history to have five field goals in a game. Quarterback Peyton Manning said Barth told him that "he was laying out by the pool this time last week."
  • The Broncos did not have cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) or tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) in the lineup -- both were game-day inactives. Both players did some work with the strength coaches before the game, but when asked after the game how close they were to playing, Broncos head coach John Fox said, "not close enough." The Broncos reported no major injuries following the game, but tackle Louis Vasquez left the game for one play after having his leg rolled up on from behind and tight end Jacob Tamme left the game briefly in the first half, but played in the second half. Tamme had a wrap on his ribs/lower back. Both players will be among those evaluated more on Monday morning.
  • David Bruton gained 13 yards on a fake punt in the second quarter. The Broncos had punted and pinned the Chiefs at their own 9-yard line, but Andre Caldwell was called for running out of bounds, without being blocked, on the coverage so the Chiefs chose to force the Broncos to punt again. Only this time the Broncos elected to direct snap the ball to Bruton, who went around the left end for the first down. The Broncos turned it into a field goal 11 plays later for a 17-0 lead. "We’ve been working on that one a while, good to see Bruton run the ball," Manning said.
  • Linebacker Von Miller can expect a letter from the league this week for his hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Miller was called for a late-hit/roughing-the-passer penalty. He also struck Smith in the back with the crown of his helmet. Miller has been fined before, so he will likely feel the sting of the multiple-offender status. Miller was fined $25,000 last December for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Now it's the Denver Broncos' turn. They get to decide, by both will and deed, attitude and altitude, if Sunday’s 22-9 loss to the St. Louis Rams was just one of those days or the unveiling of a team not quite as good as it hoped to be.

“I think everybody in here will bounce back,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “ … It’s a long season, sometimes somebody is going to get you if you’re not all the way on. They played better than us, they deserved it, but sometimes those games happen. You don’t like it, but sometimes they do happen. Look around the league.’’

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Tom GannamThe Broncos are just 2-3 on the road and have fallen back in the race for home field in the playoffs.
Take a spin around the league and those kind of what-happened games can be found, as can a variety of responses. For the 7-3 Kansas City Chiefs it was a 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the season opener. For the 7-3 Indianapolis Colts, take your pick, it was either a 51-34 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers to close out October or Sunday night’s 42-20 loss to the New England Patriots.

For the 6-3-1 Cincinnati Bengals, it’s also multiple choice with a 27-0 loss to the Colts, a 24-3 loss to the Browns or the 43-17 loss to the Patriots.

“This league is hard, everybody’s got players,’’ Harris Jr. said. “We didn’t handle our business and we got beat. Now we see how we respond, because we still have confidence in what we can do.’’

There are two rather vivid examples of those who handled what came next exactly how a playoff hopeful handles such things. For the 9-1 Cardinals the Broncos were one of those days – a 41-20 Denver victory Oct. 5 when Cardinals had No. 3 quarterback Logan Thomas go 1-of-8 when Drew Stanton was knocked out of the game -- but they haven't lost since.

And then there are the Patriots, who had all things questioned, including their quarterback Tom Brady, after a primetime 41-14 thrashing by the Chiefs on Sept. 29. They haven’t lost since. Much of the national conversation after that loss was that Brady was done, Bill Belichick was done, the last days of the dynasty were upon them. But the Patriots adjusted, they continued to ascend, they handled their business with six consecutive wins, including three of those wins over current division leaders in the Bengals, Broncos and Colts.

“It’s about getting back to work,’’ Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker said. “ … Nobody feels sorry for you or anything, so you get back to work.’’

The Broncos, who have already lost to the Patriots, are one game behind in the loss column as well in the race for the AFC’s homefield advantage. That might be key for a team that has been dominant at home -- 5-0, 34.6 points per game -- and not quite middle of the road on the road -- 2-3, 27.0 points per game.

“I don’t think concerned is the right word, frustrated is,’’ Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme said. “ … They outplayed us. I think we’re frustrated, we have to play better. We know we have a team good enough to do some really good things this year and get to the end goal.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos tight end Virgil Green, who has missed the past two games with a calf injury, was dressed for practice Thursday in his helmet and jersey, but did not participate in the workout.

Green has said in recent days that he feels like he’s closing in on a return, but he also did not practice Wednesday.

"It’s just a healing process," said Broncos head coach John Fox following practice.

Green’s absence meant the Broncos had just two tight ends on the active roster working in the offense -- Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme. Thomas and Tamme traditionally work in more of a receiver role, and Green has usually been the player the Broncos like to use when they go to a two-tight end formation with the intent on working more in the run game.

That is an issue to address this week as the St. Louis Rams have 16 sacks over their past four games, so the Broncos have talked about the importance of slowing down the Rams' front with an effective run game as well as some play-action work in the passing game.

With Green out of the lineup against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday, the Broncos ran every offensive snap out of a three-wide receiver look.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (foot) and linebacker Nate Irving (knee) did not participate. Irving is expected to miss several weeks with a sprained MCL in his right knee, suffered in the Broncos’ loss to the New England Patriots. Hillman suffered a left foot sprain against the Raiders that is expected to keep him out at least two to three weeks.

Montee Ball was again a full participant in practice -- Wednesday’s practice had been Ball’s first full team workout since his Oct. 5 injury -- and is on track to play Sunday. C.J. Anderson, coming off 163 total yards against the Raiders, including the game-changing 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown, is expected to get the start, with Ball and rookie Juwan Thompson in the rotation.

The Broncos, with frigid temperatures in the Denver area again Thursday, practiced indoors at their newly opened facility.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since John Elway signed Peyton Manning as the Denver Broncos quarterback and then went about the business of surrounding the future Hall of Famer with as balanced a team as possible, the Broncos have done many things well.

Like score touchdowns. And win games, 32 of the last 40 regular-season ones to be exact.

They also haven't let one loss become a losing streak.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe Broncos haven't lost consecutive games since Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2012 season, Peyton Manning's first with the team.
"Elway has done an exceptional job of putting together a world championship roster and we've got to have a world championship mindset around here," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. "And I think that we have that."

Following the Broncos' previous loss this season -- Sept. 21 in Seattle -- they won games against the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers by 21, 14, 25 and 14 points, respectively.

In Manning's tenure, the Broncos haven't lost consecutive games since Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2012 season, the second and third regular-season games he played for the team. With that in mind the Broncos have tried to hit the re-set button on all things this week with the big picture, still-a-lot-of-season-to-be-played, plenty-of-things-left-to-do approach.

"Of course we lost, but sometimes you've got to swallow that humble pie and I think it makes the core of the group a lot stronger," Sanders said. "So we kind of hit the re-start button and are just trying to get this thing right again.”

"I've seen teams lose games and they don't recover from it, for whatever reason," said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. "I think we are focused on trying to respond and play better. Can (a loss) be a good thing? Yeah, if you respond. I think you'd like not to get slapped in the face to get refocused. I think you'd like to be focused every week."

There are times when the mea culpas about self-inflicted errors being the difference aren't really the case. But in terms of Sunday's loss, the Patriots' 24-point second quarter featured an interception by Manning, some special teams breakdowns that resulted in an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown by Julian Edelman, a missed field goal by Brandon McManus, a failed fourth-down conversion on offense and defensively the Broncos didn't slam the door after those any of those mishaps.

Offensively, defensively or on special teams, the Broncos simply didn't halt the trouble after one mistake.

"Certainly when you get kicked right in the stomach, like we did on the road last week, you get chance to take a good, hard look at yourself," said Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme. "We need to continue to get better and I think we're all on that same page."

Which is why the Broncos say they're completely locked in on the Raiders at this point, 0-8 or no 0-8 start in Oakland, as Denver tries to dial in for the second half of the season.

"You can't lose track of your goals," said tight end Julius Thomas. "This thing started in April for us. So, every day isn't always the day you want … you get back to work and do the right things."

Denver Broncos Rewind: Offense

October, 7, 2014
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a point in the Denver Broncos' 41-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals when things had simply gone into another-play, another-record rhythm.

Quarterback Peyton Manning set personal bests, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas set personal bests and the Broncos set some franchise bests. But as Thomas said following the game, “You’re always going to find some things to look at."

So, after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos’ offense:
  • Often you can see both the lock-it-down, play-the-percentages approach of Nick Saban as well as Mike Martz's wild side in Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s play calling. The two coaches have been important mentors in Gase’s career. But against a Cardinals defense that came into the game No. 2 in fewest points allowed per game and in the league’s top five in total defense, Gase opened the game channeling Martz to be sure. On the Broncos’ first three snaps on offense they were in a four-wide-receiver, no-running-back set. On their first drive they emptied out the backfield four times. The Cardinals like to crowd the line of scrimmage, so Gase spread them out to force them into one-on-one situations in open space. No, the Broncos didn’t run the ball particularly well out of those open formations, especially in the first half. But in the end, 41 points and 568 yards are attention-grabbing numbers. In all, the Broncos ran eight plays with an empty backfield, or more than they had in their first three games combined.
  • There are habits and then there are ingrained habits after 17 years in the NFL. But on a first-and-10 from the Broncos' own 28-yard line with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter, quarterback Peyton Manning carried out the kind of precise play-action fake he always has in his career. However, this time the Broncos were in one of the empty sets, with running back Ronnie Hillman lined up in the left slot, so Manning simply faked a handoff to air. Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote did, albeit briefly, still take a look -- i.e. habits, ingrained -- before going to chase where the pass was headed. The play, set up to be a screen to Thomas, was finished when Cardinals defensive end Kareem Martin batted down the throw.
  • Amid all the offensive fireworks, it can be easy to lose track of some of the little things. But saying you stay mentally engaged and ready to go on the sideline in a game and actually doing it week to week, down to down, are two different things. But tight end Jacob Tamme makes it a point to be ready to roll. With just more than three minutes to play in the third quarter, the Broncos opened a possession in a two-tight-end set (with tackle Paul Cornick playing as the second tight end). Julius Thomas had a 25-yard catch-and-run to get a first down and Thomas was then blocking on 2-yard run by Juwan Thompson on the following play. Thomas waved Tamme on to take a breather and Tamme, lined up in the right slot, immediately made a 17-yard reception for a first down and went to the sideline as Thomas and Virgil Green came in the game. “I’ve been in all the situations, I’ve started, been a backup, been a situational guy, played special teams," Tamme said. “I make it point to keep myself ready to go in at any moment because any moment can mean something."
  • Against two of the more physical defenses on the Broncos' schedule, both from NFC West teams, the Broncos have run 58 and 62 plays out of the shotgun (penalty snaps included) against the Seattle Seahawks and Cardinals, respectively, in the last two games. They have also run the ball out of the shotgun/pistol 12 and 21 times, respectively, in those two games with decidedly mixed results.
  • The Broncos, with wide receiver Wes Welker under a suspension for the first two games, showed more two-tight-end sets in their opening two games -- they ran just one play out of a three-wide-receiver formation in a Week 2 win over the Chiefs after having roughly a 50-50 split in the season opener. But over the last two games, they have begun, as they did last season, to lean more on the three-wide. They had 43 plays in three-wide in the overtime loss in Seattle, with 30 snaps in two tight end. They ran 63 plays in three-wide against the Cardinals, three with four wide receivers. The Cardinals did bring at least some of that on themselves by, sometimes with far too much bull-headedness, constantly challenging one of the greatest matchup quarterbacks in the league’s history with a steady diet of man coverage on the outside. Had the Cardinals adjusted as the Broncos continued to shred their defensive game plan, the Broncos may have felt more inclined to respond with some variety.

W2W4: Broncos Week 3

September, 20, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- New day, new year, new team. That has been the theme, all week, as the Denver Broncos have prepared to face the Seattle Seahawks.

And why not? This game is a rematch in name, but not really in depth charts. When the Broncos line up on defense Sunday in CenturyLink Field, they will start at least seven players on defense who did not play in the 35-point Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks. And defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams will be the only two defensive players still playing in the same spots as they did in that game.

“The guys who didn’t play in the Super Bowl, were hurt, or weren’t here yet, you’re always going to hope you would have made a difference,’’ said safety Rahim Moore.

And as the Broncos prepare for a Week 3 trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks (1-1), it will be the most significant test of the Broncos' hypothesis that this is a better team “on paper’’ than the one that lost this past February.

Some things to keep an eye on:
  • Against the Seahawks’ defense, the San Diego Chargers found room to work with a patient approach in terms of down-and-distance and by getting the ball out of Philip Rivers’ hand quickly. The Chargers' running backs and tight end Antonio Gates had 16 of the team’s 28 receptions combined in San Diego’s 31-20 win this past Sunday. Gates had all three of the team’s touchdowns. The Seahawks figure to adjust some, but the Broncos still have some matchups they can win with tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme to go with running back Montee Ball in the pattern.
  • The Seahawks were ruthlessly effective using their “rover’’ defensive back to limit the Broncos’ success with their bread-and-butter crossing routes in the Super Bowl. They also disrupted the Broncos’ timing on offense by manhandling the Broncos’ receivers in the 5-yard contact zone, preventing them from getting into their routes. It’s why the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, because of Sanders’ ability to get into the pattern and the difficulty defensive backs have had in jamming him in his career. The Broncos haven’t yet shown they can consistently run the ball this season, so the Broncos need to possess the ball and may have to lean on a short- and intermediate-passing game to do it. To make that work the Broncos' receivers have to win the one-on-ones.
  • Of all the things that happened in the Super Bowl that the Broncos didn’t like -- and the list was long -- perhaps the one that troubled the team most was their failure to respond to some bad things that happened early in the game. It went bad and stayed bad. The Broncos need their marquee players, from quarterback Peyton Manning on down, to find that line between focused and way too tight. The team, particularly the offense, was way too tight in the title game.
  • Left tackle Ryan Clady makes a difference for the Broncos and it should be clear in this one. Clady allows the Broncos to move the help elsewhere across the offensive front. The Seahawks sacked Rivers just once this past Sunday. Rivers did run the ball 11 times to escape pressure, which Manning will not do that often, and Seattle got to Aaron Rodgers for three sacks in their opener. Clady gives the Broncos options that they’ll need because the Seahawks figure to press the issue a bit against right tackle Chris Clark and the Broncos will have to adjust.
  • Broncos head coach John Fox has consistently said the Broncos were prepared for what Percy Harvin can do in the Seahawks’ offense and on special teams, but that “it might not have looked like it.’’ Marshawn Lynch makes the Seahawks' offense go, but Harvin is the guy the Seahawks use to swing momentum. His plays often involve misdirection and flow; the backside defenders have to be disciplined and can't miss tackles for the Broncos.

Broncos set to have Welker for Seahawks

September, 17, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Perhaps it took a little longer than the Denver Broncos had hoped, but the team is poised to get wide receiver Wes Welker back on the roster this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the NFL had begun to inform players who would be reinstated once representatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association had signed a term sheet on the new drug policy.

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AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos could have Wes Welker back from his league suspension as early as Wednesday.
The Broncos have kept a roster spot open for Welker for over a week. The team, with the negotiations on a new drug policy seemingly nearing a conclusion, cut wide receiver Nathan Palmer on Sept. 9 and remained at 52 players since.

Welker, who suffered a concussion in the Broncos’ Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans, has been cleared medically, so he would take part in practice as soon as he is formally moved from reserve/suspended to the active roster.

Following Broncos practice last Friday, coach John Fox said the team was ready to welcome Welker back whenever an agreement was in place. But earlier this week, Fox wasn't prepared to publicly say when he thought that would be.

"I know we get Wes back for sure after four games," Fox said Monday. "Anything other than that, that’s somebody else’s decisions.”

Welker was originally suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and already has served the first two games of the suspension, missing the Broncos’ wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. However, Broncos officials and players have believed that a new policy would change the criteria of Welker's suspension and allow for the reinstatement of Welker and several others players around the league.

Welker had been limited in practice at the time of his league-mandated punishment because of the concussion he suffered against the Texans. The concussion was Welker's third in a 10-month span.

Welker has taken part in just one practice -- he was limited in the team’s Labor Day workout -- since the injury.

Welker's chance at reinstatement came because, under the new policy, Welker's positive test for amphetamines would now fall under the league's policy for substance abuse because it occurred during the offseason. Under the guidelines of the substance abuse policy, a player enters the treatment program with the first positive test, a program that includes meeting with counselors. The player is also subject to increased testing each month.

It takes multiple positive tests under the substance abuse policy before the suspension phase is reached. Welker's positive test had fallen under the PED policy, which put players into the suspension phase with the first positive test.

Under his original suspension, Welker would not have been eligible to return to the team until Monday, Oct. 6, and then would have played for the first time in the Oct. 12 game against the New York Jets.

In Welker's absence, the Broncos have run far more plays out of a two-tight end set than they did down the stretch last season or in the playoffs. Of quarterback Peyton Manning's league-leading six touchdown passes, five have gone to tight ends: four to Julius Thomas and one to Jacob Tamme.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- An examination of what the Denver Broncos must to after their win over the Indianapolis Colts:

When a game gets a little frayed around the edges before it eventually ends a victory, quarterback Peyton Manning will often quote his first NFL head coach -- Jim Mora.

"(Mora) used to say 'don't take winning for granted,'" Manning said after a game got a little frayed around the edges as the Broncos still came away with a 31-24 victory over the Colts in their season opener. "And sometimes people do it, we'll learn from it."

Some things to consider:
  • Too many drops: Routinely "it's the opener," is often the response for some things that aren't quite as they should be in the opener. But by the time the Broncos had finished three quarters of play Sunday night, Demaryius Thomas had three drops, Andre Caldwell had two (one a tough call, but he would say he should have reeled it in) and Emmanuel Sanders had one. This isn't new. Even in the never-before-seen 606-point season the Broncos put up in 2013, they Broncos simply dropped too many passes. Last season, the top three wideouts -- Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker all dropped at least five passes with Welker's team-leading nine, including two three-drop games. The Broncos escaped, but with the schedule they have, those are potential first downs/big plays they don't want to leave on the table.
  • Not happy: It's certain the Broncos will send the video clip to the league office for a review, but the team's coaches and players were not happy about how special teams captain David Bruton Jr. suffered a left shoulder injury on what was a touchback on a Broncos' kickoff late in the second quarter. Some used the words "cheap shot." Broncos coach John Fox reacted angrily on the sideline following the hit on Bruton Jr. by Indianapolis safety Colt Anderson on what was clearly going to be a touchback with the kicked ball out of play from the moment Brandon McManus launched the kick. Bruton Jr. is expected to miss some time and his would be a big loss on the team's specialty units. Tight end Jacob Tamme would be asked to lead a little more, do a little more if Bruton Jr. is sidelined.
  • Work in progress: The Broncos' run game, which the team hopes will be more efficient this season than last, especially, let's say, when trying to protect a big lead against a team with a clutch playmaker at quarterback. Oh, like the Colts. The Broncos had a good thing going in the first half with 75 yards rushing on their 18 carries. Simple, efficient, just what they are looking for. But in the second half, the Broncos rushed 14 times for 27 yards, and in the fourth quarter when they couldn't slam the door until the Colts' final possession, they ran for all of nine yards on nine carries. That is still too one dimensional.
  • Work them in: The recoveries of Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. from ACL surgeries in January and February respectively, have been remarkable. But the Broncos are going to be careful with the two starters and the defense should get more consistent as the two regain their conditioning as they continue to work into the lineup. But the Colts' comeback was indeed rooted in Andrew Luck's immense ability under pressure, but also in the fact the Broncos were rotating Harris Jr., Miller and DeMarcus Ware (he had elbow surgery in the offseason and leg injuries last year) in and out of the lineup. When all was said and done Harris Jr. played 39 of the defense's 74 snaps, Miller played 56 and Ware played 50. The Broncos will continue to play it safe and they do like their depth, but that play time should increase as they go, especially Harris Jr.'s.

Suspensions ruin Broncos' quiet summer

September, 2, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the second time in less than a week, the Denver Broncos have a starter facing league discipline to open the season. A team that had coveted a quiet summer has had anything but that as the regular-season opener approaches.

Tuesday, it was revealed Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker is facing a four-game suspension for violation of the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy, according to my sources and sources for ESPN's Adam Schefter. Last week Broncos kicker Matt Prater was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Unlike the substance abuse policy, which requires multiple tests to reach the level of a four-game suspension, the league's policy on PEDs goes immediately to the four-game suspension on the first positive test if the player's appeal is not successful.

Welker's appeal was heard by league officials Aug. 20-21 when Welker was excused from practice for what the team publicly described as "personal reasons." The Broncos were practicing against the Houston Texans on both of those days and Welker suffered a concussion in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Texans. But for a team that wanted what cornerback Chris Harris Jr. called "the no-news approach" preseason after the DUI arrests of two front-office executives and linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy overwhelmed the conversation a year ago, the team is now back to dealing-with-adversity swirl it thought it had escaped.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP Photo/Jack DempseyWes Welker, who caught 73 passes for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, is facing a four-game suspension.
On the field, the Broncos had been optimistic Welker, who has had three concussions in the past 10 months, would be available for at least partial duty in Sunday night's regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Welker returned to practice, on a limited basis, Monday for the first time since his injury and the Broncos were hoping he would clear enough benchmarks in the league's concussion protocol to be cleared for full participation by the end of the week.

The Broncos were preparing for the Colts with the possibility Welker would be in the lineup. Welker's suspension means the Broncos will implement the plan they had been developing had he been sidelined because of the concussion.

And, now a team that has touted its single-minded focus of getting back to the Super Bowl -- to as John Elway said, "win that last game of the year and get that world championship" -- has had two veteran starters disciplined by the league in a week's time.

To that end, they can go a little bigger and line up in a two-tight end look where Jacob Tamme is essentially a slot receiver. In Manning's first season with the Broncos, the year before Welker was signed, Tamme was the third-most targeted receiver on the team (85 targets), behind only Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

Given Emmanuel Sanders' ability to line up in the slot, as well as tight end Julius Thomas', they can create matchup issues in the middle of the field, even if they surrendered some speed overall.

They can also maintain their proclivity to keep things three wide as they did almost 75 percent of the time last season, a total that hovered near 90 percent of the time in the postseason.

And that's why Sanders was signed, why Cody Latimer was selected in the second round of the draft and why Andre Caldwell was the first player the team re-signed, just before free agency opened this past March.

Against the Colts, the Broncos could mix and match more with this group of receivers than they would have last season when Welker missed the final three games of the regular season. In those three games, Decker was targeted 27 times, Demaryius Thomas was targeted 24 times, Julius Thomas was targeted 21 times and Caldwell 10 times.

In the three games Welker missed, Tamme played nine, 52 and 49 snaps (two of the three games he played more than 30 snaps all season), but was targeted by Manning two, three and four times.

In the end, a team Elway has said is built to face "the bumps in the road that will come our way, and you're always going to have bumps in the road" will now have to prove it once again.

Broncos Rewind: Preseason Game 3

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

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

But after a look at the game video from the 18-17 loss to the Texans, here are some items of note:
  • With just three tight ends in uniform due to injuries, offensive coordinator Adam Gase still went to work some in a two-tight-end look with mixed results. With the starters in the game, the Broncos used it for nine snaps before halftime with Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas in the formation, including all seven snaps on a second-quarter possession that ended with a Peyton Manning interception. The Broncos had five called runs in the look and Manning was sacked once. The Broncos will consistently work the three-wide-receiver look as their base formation much of the time this season -- 35 snaps in all for the starters Saturday, including penalty snaps. But unless something unexpected happens when the roster gets cut to 53 players next week, the Broncos will most likely have three tight ends on the roster during the season, so Saturday was a rather tidy dress rehearsal for that. Green's return will allow them to muscle up a bit more when they're in it and some additional game-planning should help. But it has to be an effective option for them against some of the sturdier defensive fronts they'll face.
  • One of the more effective looks for the Broncos defense last season was their dime (six defensive backs) and it should be an even more reliable option this season with the addition of safety T.J. Ward to go with some additional depth at the position. The Broncos didn’t play cornerback Chris Harris or cornerback Kayvon Webster in the game, but still fared well in the look against the Texans’ starters. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 2-of-4 passing against the Broncos’ dime package with Ward, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter, Omar Bolden, Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby in the lineup. The completions went for 12 and 5 yards on the Texans' first scoring drive. The Texans eventually converted a fourth-and-1 on a 4-yard run by Alfred Blue, also against the dime look. The Broncos will mostly use the formation in passing situations, but their ability to stay in it could depend on how they do when offenses try to run on it because it's a lighter look in terms of personnel. Ward helps, with his ability to drop down to the weak-ide linebacker spot as he can play along the line of scrimmage in a run fit or drop into coverage.
  • Some of the most difficult roster decisions for the Broncos will come in the defensive line, especially if they keep just eight at a deep position. In a scenario where they keep eight, they are going to lose more than one defensive lineman who could play elsewhere. Saturday night Kevin Vickerson, who was on injured reserve during the second half of last season with a hip injury, got his first action of the preseason. Vickerson carries a $2.266 million salary-cap figure for the upcoming season and given the Broncos’ current cap situation contracts are going to be a bigger consideration in cuts than in the previous three seasons. They would take a $500,000 hit for “dead’’ money if Vickerson is released, so ultimately the Broncos would see a $1.766 million cap savings. It's not huge but perhaps necessary. Vickerson played 24 snaps with the second-team defense in the game.
  • For the optimism surrounding a still-high-powered offense and a revamped defense, the Broncos' special teams didn’t have the kind of night you would expect in the third preseason outing. Matt Prater, now facing a four-game suspension to open the season, missed a field goal and took a chunk of sod out of the ground even as he made his other attempt in the game. Britton Colquitt shanked a punt in the first half -- a 27-yarder with plenty of field to work with -- and rookie Mitch Ewald missed a 36-yard field goal attempt. Couple that with the up-and-down work they’ve had in the return game throughout the preseason and there’s plenty of work to be done.
  • The snap leaders for the night on offense were Manning and the starting offensive line, with 43 plays in the game (all in the first half). On defense Bolden led the way with 39 snaps in a variety of packages with linebackers Corey Nelson and Lerentee McCray checking in at 37 plays each.