AFC West: John Elway

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The plans for the Denver Broncos' defense spent a great deal of time on the drawing board, iPad, desktop monitor or anywhere else plans are constructed these days.

How it would look, who would fill out the depth chart, was at the forefront of what the team's top football decision-maker, John Elway, wanted to get done. And Sunday, when the Broncos face the Arizona Cardinals, the Broncos are expected to have the defense they built on the field for the first time this season.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesAqib Talib and the Broncos' defense are allowing 390.7 yards per game so far this season.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia in an Aug. 12 training camp practice, is on track to return to the lineup against the Cardinals. His return will give the Broncos, for the first time this season, the personnel groupings in the game they hoped to have after their offseason makeover.

"When the season started we had guys coming back (from injuries) like me, Von (Miller), Chris (Harris Jr.), we had some new guys," said safety Rahim Moore. "We've played well, we want to be better, but we've shown what we can do. When we get more consistent in all situations I think people will see what we're about."

Before the season began, Broncos players and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said they believed the team could field a top-five defense before all was said and done this season. Then Trevathan was injured while linebacker Miller and cornerback Harris Jr., who are both coming off ACL surgeries, were on a pitch-count of sorts in the early going.

The Broncos also faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson in their first three games. As a result, the Broncos returned from their bye some distance from the league's top five.

The Broncos are 27th in yards allowed per game -- what the NFL uses to statistically rank its defenses -- at 390.7 yards per game while Denver is tied for 13th in points allowed per game, allowing 22.3 per game.

"I think when you have as many new starts as we have it's going to take a little time to build that in-game chemistry it takes," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Monday's practice. "I thought in the first two games, you know, the situations at the end of the game were good learning experiences and character building type of situations, game is on the line. We didn't fare quite as well in Seattle in that same type of situation, in overtime, but I saw growth and I saw us get better."

Rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocked away a Luck pass on fourth down to close out the Broncos' season-opening win against the Colts while defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knocked down a fourth-down pass attempt by Smith in Week 2 to preserve the win against the Chiefs.

The Broncos, after a hearty defensive effort against the Seahawks, couldn't close the deal in overtime, so while they still have liked much of what they've seen, the team's defense has not been the lock-down group all involved hope it will be.

In Trevathan's absence Brandon Marshall, a third-year player, played in the weak-side linebacker spot. Marshall is tied for the team lead in tackles (29) after three games. And the Broncos, in the loss to the Seahawks, also used their two rookies at the position -- Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson -- in some situational work on defense.

"I thought Brandon Marshall stepped in and did a real good job," Fox said. "We've got some youth at that position, there were errors made, but all in all, just like our record, I think, two of the situations better than the third. We'll welcome back Danny because he was one of one of our better players and it's good to have him back."

Trevathan, though he was the team's leading tackler last season, hasn't played in a game since the Broncos' loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. He has said he thinks he will "be ready to go, 100 percent, when I get back out there," but the Broncos may work him back up to his usual snap counts as they have with some of the other players returning from injuries. Broncos middle linebacker Nate Irving said Trevathan's return is something "we've all been waiting for."

"He's got tremendous speed and explosion, and those things all ring pretty well when you're getting more experience as he is as a young player," Fox said. "I've just seen him progress every season, really every game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Cody Latimer arrived in Colorado following this past May's NFL draft with big dreams and high hopes. But he has not yet played a snap in a regular-season game as part of the Denver Broncos' offense, so the rookie wide receiver already understands what life is like for first-year players on a team that was good enough and deep enough to have played in the Super Bowl this past February.

"This is a good team, I watched what they did all last season when I was in school," Latimer said. "They went to the Super Bowl, so you’re coming into a place where they are winning games, having success. For me, I feel like you get ready to play, prepare hard and when they think you can help them, they’ll put you in."

When the Broncos made the cut to 53 players they kept seven rookies -- five draft picks and two undrafted rookies. A fairly high total for a team coming off back-to-back 13-win seasons and poised for another one of that ilk if things go as planned.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Cody Latimer
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesDenver rookie receiver Cody Latimer hasn't seen much action since the preseason, but knows he must stay ready in case he's needed.
But no matter what the play-time numbers say at the moment, the Broncos believe they will need all of their rookies at some point. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently talked about the importance of "having that youth on your roster, so you’re getting guys ready to play in your system, your organization, get them used to do things the way we do them."

In the season's early going, the playing time has varied. A second-round pick in the this past May’s draft, Latimer hasn’t appeared on offense, has played 10 special teams snaps in the season opener, and has been inactive on game day twice.

Long term, the Broncos see Latimer as a potential starter, and he showed enough in training camp and the preseason that the team’s decision-makers believe he will have some impact in the offense at some point this season. But in this year’s early going Isaiah Burse, an undrafted rookie who is the Broncos’ punt returner, has played more.

Tackle Michael Schofield, a third-round pick, has been inactive in all three games this season.

"They don’t allow us to suit everybody up, we’ve got to make a decision every week," said Broncos head coach John Fox. " ... Good news is those are tough decisions."

The Broncos’ offseason makeover was far bigger on defense this offseason, and that is reflected in how much playing time the team’s rookies have received. On the defensive side, the team’s first-year players have all been in the mix.

Cornerback Bradley Roby, the team’s first-round pick, is essentially a starter given he’s in the team’s nickel package (five defensive backs). Denver has played more in the nickel than any other personnel grouping thus far -- 58.2 percent of the defensive snaps thus far.

The Broncos have felt good enough about Roby’s progress to use him in a variety of roles, matching him up against front-line receivers in both the slot and on the outside. The confidence Roby has earned is telling, because he didn’t play in the slot at Ohio State.

"Never, really," Roby said. "That’s kind of new, but I just want to help us win. I don’t want to be a reason we lose, I want to be one of the reasons we win."

Linebackers Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, the team’s fifth- and seventh-round picks, respectively, appeared on defense -- 11 snaps for Barrow, two for Nelson -- in last Sunday’s overtime loss to Seattle. Both have also carved out regular work on special teams.

The Broncos have had some injuries at linebacker, with Danny Trevathan being injured in training camp and Lerentee McCray’s knee injury against Kansas City Chiefs, so there has been a little more room for the first-year linebackers to find their way onto the field.

Overall the message has been the same to all of the rookies -- be ready, because when the Broncos return from their bye, they will face an arduous stretch where they could play games on 15 of 16 weeks from their Oct. 5 game on if they again make it to the Super Bowl.

Or as Fox put it; "I know this, I don’t know when, but we’ll lean on all those guys at some point in the season."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As they approach a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle that isn’t really a second chance at a Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos find themselves trying to find the right balance between past and present.

Between remembering the sting and embarrassment of a 35-point loss on the league’s biggest stage, and simply moving on to try to create another opportunity to make it right.

“Yeah, you don’t forget what happened and also, you set the standard by playing against the Super Bowl (winners)," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “They’ve earned the right to talk how they talk and we’ll just speak with our pads and show up on Sunday. Obviously we still have a bad taste in our mouths from the Super Bowl, but it’s a new season and we want to get back to that point and obviously win it. But playing against the team that won the Super Bowl and actually having a chance at a rematch really will show how far we came as a team and if we improved or not."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg"I think naturally you're motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year," Peyton Manning said. "But being motivated, or being mad doesn't mean anything if you don't go out there and execute and do your job."
Sunday will be the Broncos’ first regular-season trip to Seattle, a former division foe from 1978-2001. Everybody knows the numbers: The Seahawks have gone 18-1 in their last 19 regular-season home games and the last time these two teams met in a game that counted, the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points.

And in the social media world, a team that loses the Super Bowl by 35 points somehow doesn’t finish second. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said “people don’t see you as a team that was a runner-up because of what happened."

The Broncos have lived with being called soft, intimidated and unable to play to the moment in the title game. That’s all fodder to wind a team up.

Asked if he had ever been more excited to play in a regular-season game, Knighton said; “No. No I haven’t been this excited … Saturday, when we get on that plane, a lot of guys’ adrenaline will start boosting. It’ll be a hostile environment and that’s just the way we like it -- with our back against the walls."

But it’s also, for both the Broncos Seahawks, Week 3 of a season with plenty of miles to go before another shot at the postseason. In that vein Broncos head coach John Fox has tried to emphasize, at least publicly, Sunday’s game is indeed the kind of stage any Super Bowl hopeful would want to be on, but not the end-all, be-all of the new season.

Quarterback Peyton Manning even took a far simpler approach.

“Yeah, I think naturally you’re motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year,’’ Manning said. “But being motivated, or being mad doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out there and execute and do your job … so I still think you have to try to simplify it in some ways and try to find a way to protect the ball, score some touchdowns in the red zone and stay out of a lot of third-and-longs. I think if you don’t do those things, it’s tough to be a good football team."

So, whatever errors the Broncos made this past February, the opportunity that was lost, it's all a part of history’s stew. Almost half of the players currently on the Broncos' roster weren't with the team in MetLife Stadium, and the team will likely start at least seven players on defense Sunday who didn’t even play in the Super Bowl, so how it all turns out this time around will depend on how the current Broncos seize the day.

“I think we’ve got to caution ourselves from trying to make this a revenge for the Super Bowl game,’’ said tight end Julius Thomas. “This is the 2014 season, but we’re still playing a very tough opponent -- probably what a lot of people consider one of the better teams in this league. When you’re going up against a playoff team three weeks in a row, you’ve got to keep on making a statement to everybody else in the league about what type of team we’re going to be this year."

“You’ve got to stay in your (playbook) and just work on your fundamentals and get better each week and watch your opponent as much as possible without getting riled up and feeding into all the talk -- you know, the bulletin board stuff, all the quotes they got,’’ Knighton said. “But we just keep it simple."

Broncos vs. Chiefs preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET

The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs don't have to wait long to open up AFC West play as they jump into a Week 2 matchup. The Broncos had one glorious half before they had to hang on in their season-opening 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Chiefs struggled in a 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium and will be without two regulars in defensive tackle Mike DeVito and linebacker Derrick Johnson, who both suffered season-ending Achilles injuries in the loss.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Adam, every training camp for every team ends with such high hopes and plenty of optimism. What is the Chiefs' mindset after such a tough opening week?

Teicher: There's not a lot for the Chiefs to be optimistic about right now. Since their 9-0 start last season they've gone 2-7, including their collapse in the playoffs against Indianapolis. Their offensive line is in tatters, quarterback Alex Smith is throwing interceptions in uncharacteristically high numbers, running back Jamaal Charles didn’t get the ball much against Tennessee, some of their best young players aren't contributing much, they lost two of their best defensive players for the season with injuries last week and their defense got pushed around by Jake Locker and the Titans. Then there's the upcoming schedule, which has the Chiefs playing road games against the Broncos, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and a home game against the New England Patriots in the next five weeks. Otherwise, all is good with the Chiefs.

What about the Broncos in this regard? The losing team in the Super Bowl often has a season-long hangover afterward, but the Broncos don't seem to be affected.

Legwold: When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he wanted not only Manning's play on the field, but also a player "who raises all boats." Manning and the other Broncos veterans attacked the offseason and a fairly young team overall has taken its cues from those hard-driving older players. When they brought in veteran players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, those guys saw this as a chance at a Super Bowl, so they have been no nonsense as they've gone about their business. That has kept things on the tracks. The suspensions handed down to wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater ended what had been a quiet summer for the team. But, overall, it's a locked-in group that needs to avoid injuries to key players to be in the title mix again.

In terms of offseason work, the Chiefs locked up Smith with a contract extension. What was the organization's plan and is there even more pressure on Smith now to lift them into the postseason?

Teicher: The plan with Smith all along, from the time they acquired him in the trade with the 49ers, was to lock him up for the long term. At no time did they consider him a stopgap or the bridge to the next quarterback. Those plans could have changed had they not been satisfied with Smith's play last season. But Smith last season was the guy the Chiefs thought they were getting. This new contract certainly increases the pressure on Smith to deliver. The Chiefs have committed to him in a big way, and he will be consuming a significant portion of the team's salary cap. Smith is by no means solely responsible for last Sunday's loss, but he didn't play well. He threw three interceptions, and two were bad decisions on his part, the kind of choices he doesn't usually make. The Chiefs are paying him a lot of money to make better decisions.

You mentioned Denver's offseason signings of defensive players in Ware, Talib and Ward. How has their presence changed the complexion of the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Elway spends a lot of time talking about "the mindset" and "the mentality to win a world championship," and when he was waving the team's checkbook around in free agency, he went looking for players with the mindset to remake the defense. There are just six players on the roster who started on defense in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos players voted Ware a captain and his straightforward, no-nonsense approach has made him an almost instant team leader. He also had 1.5 sacks in the opener, and while some in the league had labeled Ware a declining player in his 10th season, the Broncos think they can manage his snaps to get the most out of him. Ward and Talib bring an edge the Broncos wanted, and both were all over the field this past Sunday night. Toss in the first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby, and the Broncos will play with more aggressiveness and a bigger variety in personnel groupings than they did in last season's two games against the Chiefs.

Defensively, how will the Chiefs adjust to the injuries to DeVito and Johnson? Will it alter their approach dramatically, especially given what Johnson means to the group?

Teicher: I don't think the Chiefs will change their approach dramatically, but there's no question they will feel the loss of both players. Johnson will be replaced by James-Michael Johnson. The Chiefs went out in free agency and signed veteran Joe Mays, a former Broncos player, to fill one of their inside linebacker spots, an indication they didn't think Johnson was ready to be a full-time player. He got a long look in passing situations during the preseason, and the Chiefs are more comfortable with him playing in coverage than against the run. That said, he's no Derrick Johnson, who is superb against the run and versatile against the pass. DeVito was one of the Chiefs' better run defenders and was improving as a pass-rusher. His main replacement will be Jaye Howard, who had a promising preseason. Former Oakland Raider Vance Walker, and even the newly signed Kevin Vickerson, could get some playing time as well.

The Chiefs tried to sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency before he joined the Broncos. He looked like a good fit for the Broncos in the opener against Indianapolis. What are their expectations for him? And give us a little scouting report on Vickerson, a former Bronco.

Legwold: In terms of players on offense who were available in free agency, Sanders was the team's top target. The Broncos' offensive coaches, particularly offensive coordinator Adam Gase, like Sanders' versatility in that he can line up in the outside spots and in the slot to go with the fact he has quality short-area quickness to beat press coverage off the snap and top-end speed to run away from defenders in the open. Manning has worked extensively with him -- the two stayed after practice, often with rookie receiver Cody Latimer -- every day of offseason workouts, as well as in training camp. The work helped, and Sanders projects to a big season in this offense. Vickerson was likely the 54th player on this roster when the Broncos cut to 53. The Broncos liked his work on run downs and the physicality and ability take on double-teams. They did have some long-term concern about his hip -- Vickerson was kept on a limited schedule throughout much of training camp -- but they needed a little cap space and kept only eight defensive linemen, so Vickerson got caught in the squeeze.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In what has been the Summer of Construction, it can be easy to miss everything that has been added to the Denver Broncos complex in recent weeks and months.

Thomas
 But there are three newly-minted signs in the players’ parking lot that will make it easy to see how things have gone in the game that was just played each week. It was quarterback Peyton Manning who pointed out the primo front-row parking real estate this week, one spot each for the team’s offensive, defensive and special teams player of the week, and the fact tight end Julius Thomas had parked his car in one of them.

“You get a parking spot by the way, player of the week, don’t know if y’all noticed that,’’ Manning said. “ … Right there the first three spots … if you get Broncos player of the week.’’

And with three touchdown receptions in the Broncos’ regular-season opener, Thomas certainly earned not only the team’s player-of-the-week honor, but he was the league’s AFC Player of the Week. But what Thomas may also be is another shining example of why draft classes can’t, and shouldn’t, always be judged quickly and why a player’s makeup will often be as important as the scouting trinity of height, weight and speed.

Because after two NFL seasons, Thomas, a guy who is now one of the league's most difficult matchups for any defensive coordinator, had all of one catch, a five-yarder against Cincinnati on Sept. 18, 2011 when he suffered an ankle injury. And for the remainder of that season and the season that followed Thomas was a fourth-round draft with potential the Broncos simply hoped to eventually see healthy.

Then they saw last year’s 65-catch, 12-touchdown season. Then they saw Sunday night’s opener when Thomas had three touchdowns in the season's first 30 minutes.

“I think he’ll be a better player this year than he was last year,’’ Manning said.

And beyond Thomas’ obvious physical attributes for his job -- the ex-Portland State basketball player is fluid in is movements, has soft hands and top-tier body control to go with rare speed for a player his size -- it was his approach during his one-catch period that always caught the eye on the Broncos’ decision-makers.

And that includes Manning after he signed in 2012. Because of the collective bargaining agreement, Manning wanted to gather some of the offensive players before the Broncos’ official offseason workouts began. Thomas was one of the team's few first- or second-year players to find his way to, and faithfully attend those workouts.

“But Julius was one of the guys, he and [Eric] Decker, that I was throwing with,’’ Manning said. “And I remember … 6-4 tight end, those guys just don’t come around very often, that can really run, just seems like next, you know, he had a previous injury that kind of flared up again … [I] definitely had a great early appreciation of his talent and his ability.’’

Thomas never lost confidence in himself. “I always believed, had the confidence, if I kept working through it, good things would happen. My approach has always been to be as good as I can be over my career, not just one year here, one year there, so always looking down the road to make sure I’m doing things that keep me successful in the long haul.’’

Thomas is in the last year of his original rookie deal, and the Broncos have had discussions about a new one for him, as well as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. And the price goes up a bit every time Julius Thomas befuddles another linebacker or safety for another touchdown.

But it will be easy for executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway to see how it’s all going. He can simply count the touchdown on gameday and then, after Elways pull into his spot the next morning, he can see where Julius Thomas is parked as well.

DENVER -- After the Denver Broncos swept up the pieces of a 35-point Super Bowl loss, after they picked at the football scabs and said all of the uncomfortable things behind closed doors that needed to be said, John Elway took the team's checkbook into free agency in search of players.

At the top of the list he said he wanted "the right mentality" on defense, he wanted a defense to "develop its own personality, something to grab onto like we have on offense."

One game in for the Broncos, and it was money well spent. Because while it was quarterback Peyton Manning who took the knee in the victory formation to close out a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts with another three touchdown passes on his resume, it was the Broncos' defensive work in the third quarter that kept this game in the win column.

"That's it right there, if we don't get those, we would have lost," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. "That was a great job. … Communication was fantastic. Anything bad happened, we fixed it. That's what it's all about. But those goal-line stands were crucial."

After exploding from the gate for a 24-0 lead by the time the two-minute warning arrived in the first half, the Broncos suddenly saw the Colts pick away. Andrew Luck drove the Colts 80 yards in eight plays just before halftime to make it 24-7.

And then Luck took the Colts to the Broncos' 8-yard line in just four plays in Indianapolis' first possession of the second half. With a first-and-goal from the 8, the Colts pushed the ball to the 1, where, on fourth-and-goal, Colts coach Chuck Pagano tried to seize momentum with both hands.

Luck tried to sneak into the middle of the Broncos' defensive line but was stuffed by linebacker Brandon Marshall.

"Andrew Luck, you knew he was going to try to sneak the ball," Moore said. "But those guys in the middle, they're like vending machines, you can't move them. … Just clog the holes up front and everybody else comes swarming."

On their next possession, the Colts moved to the Broncos' 4-yard line in eight plays. Then Marshall tackled Reggie Wayne for a 2-yard loss, Chris Harris Jr. knocked a pass away for tight end Coby Fleener and DeMarcus Ware sacked Luck. The Colts came away with a 25-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri.

In all, the Colts ran eight plays inside the Broncos' 10-yard line on those two possessions and came away with just a field goal.

And with Marshall playing for the injured Danny Trevathan (fracture at top of tibia in training camp) and with Harris and linebacker Von Miller on a pitch count of sorts as they come back from ACL surgeries, the Broncos simply showed the depth on defense they didn't have last season.

New arrivals Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib had the desired impact with 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed and nine tackles combined. One of Talib's tipped passes turned into one of the Broncos' two interceptions.

And Denver felt good enough about rookie Bradley Roby, the team's first-round pick this past May, to lock him up on Wayne throughout the night. Roby would finish with seven solo tackles and three passes defensed, including the game-clincher in the final minutes. And it had been Roby and safety Quinton Carter, who had not played in almost two full seasons before Sunday because of knee injuries, who stopped Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks at the 1-yard line on the play before Luck was stuffed.

"The defense just came up with some big stops when we needed them," Manning said. "I thought it was a good, overall team win. The offense did some good things and then we were in a little bit of a rut [before] our defense picked it up for us."

New faces that, for one opening night, gave the Broncos just the kind of return on investment they had hoped for.

"We're a force to be reckoned with," Marshall said. "That's what all defenses want. We have a long way to go, we'll keep getting better. We'll be a great defense, definitely."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
11:45
PM ET
DENVER -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 31-24 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

What it means: The Broncos tapped the microphone and got everybody’s attention Sunday night. Certainly, the Colts had some injury issues and defensive end Robert Mathis’ suspension, and the Broncos did lose a little steam as the night wore on. However, overall the Broncos reasserted themselves as an AFC powerbroker. Their new defense showed plenty of teeth and held the Colts to a field goal in back-to-back first-and-goal situations in the third quarter. Denver's offense, with a tweak here and a tweak there, showed it can still stack the touchdowns as the Broncos scored at least 27 points for the 14th time in their past 15 home games.

Stock watch: Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said he wants to sign tight end Julius Thomas to a long-term deal. But the price for Thomas, who is in the final year of his rookie deal, could rise as the Broncos work through their schedule. Thomas had 104 yards receiving with three touchdowns Sunday night. Always a matchup problem, Thomas sprinted past Colts linebackers Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson on his first two touchdowns of the night and then ran past safety LaRon Landry for the third score.

New-look defense: Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller, each coming off ACL surgery, were on a bit of a pitch count on the night. The Broncos worked rookie Bradley Roby into the secondary rotation, and Lerentee McCray moved into Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot at times. But overall, the Broncos showed they’ll have more options in the pass rush this season. DeMarcus Ware had a sack and a half in the game, and cornerback Aqib Talib tipped a ball the Broncos turned into an interception.

Game ball: Another three-touchdown night for Manning is what many in the seats came to see, but Julius Thomas was the matchup the Broncos exploited early and often. Thomas had a significant bobble when he didn't come up with an onside kick with just under eight minutes to play. But Bradley Roby poked the ball away from Reggie Wayne on the Colts' final drive to preserve the win.

What’s next: The Kansas City Chiefs surrendered 266 yards passing and two touchdowns to Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker on Sunday. They’ll come to Denver next Sunday without linebacker Derrick Johnson or defensive lineman Mike DeVito in the defense, as both players suffered season-ending Achilles tendon injuries in the loss to the Titans. Manning threw six touchdown passes in two meetings against the Chiefs this past season.

Broncos vs. Colts preview

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:00
PM ET

The last time the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos faced each other, the Broncos were rolling along with a 6-0 record, having scored at least 41 points in four of those games and 50 in two. But on Oct. 20, they couldn’t block Indianapolis' Robert Mathis (two sacks and a forced fumble), quarterback Peyton Manning aggravated his ankle injuries, and the Broncos limped away from a 39-33 loss.

This time, the Colts will see a newly minted defense -- just five players remain from the Super Bowl XLVIII roster -- and the Broncos will see a Colts team that has battled injuries throughout the preseason and is without Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday night’s game.

Wells: Not that Manning needs any motivation to get better year to year, but how much did the embarrassing Super Bowl loss fuel him during the offseason and in training camp, especially because the clock is ticking on his career?

Legwold: Mike, as folks in Indianapolis saw for quite some time, Manning is a study in focus, and he simply attacked the offseason. He said once he decided he was all-in for the coming season, and his annual exam on his neck came back with a medical thumbs-up, he went about the business of taking last season apart -- league-record 606 points, Super Bowl blowout and all -- pass by pass. He looked at his incompletions, interceptions, touchdowns, plays that should have been touchdowns and plays that should have been interceptions. He essentially took his game back to the foundation. Coach John Fox says Manning looks stronger physically than in his previous two seasons in Denver, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas says Manning has shown more arm strength in workouts. Put it all together and it’s pretty clear Manning is locked in on getting another shot at the trophy.

Keeping with the quarterbacks, where do the Colts believe quarterback Andrew Luck is on his developmental curve? This is decidedly his team, correct?

Wells: I’d say it became Luck’s team once they selected him No. 1 overall in 2012. That is not a bad thing when you take into account Luck has led the Colts to 22 wins, two playoff appearances and an AFC South title in his first two seasons. Did I mention that he is only 24? Not that Luck needs any pats on the back, but you could tell how he is perceived by others when our ESPN.com colleague Mike Sando talked to executives around the league and they said he is a top-five NFL quarterback. There is nothing wrong with being voted behind Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Those are four future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Colts have a chance to beat any team, including the Broncos, as long as No. 12 is taking the snaps for them.

The Colts' issue is whether the defense can play on the same level as Luck and the offense. The Broncos went out and added some substantial pieces to their defense. Can the defense be as good as Manning and the offense?

Legwold: If it isn’t, it won’t be because the Broncos didn’t make the effort. They made an almost unprecedented dive into free agency for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance, adding defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib. They also used their first-round pick in the May draft on cornerback Bradley Roby. All four players will get significant snaps against the Colts on Sunday night. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway wanted more speed on defense and more attitude. The Broncos, who had five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they got to the Super Bowl, also have a healthy Von Miller back at linebacker and Chris Harris at cornerback. They have not shown much in the preseason, so the Colts will get the first real look at this unit. But Miller and Ware give Denver the kind of one-two pairing in the pass rush it had with Miller and Elvis Dumervil in 2012, when this was a top-five defense.

Defensively, Mathis is suspended for the first four games of the season. The previous time these teams played, Mathis was the most disruptive defensive player on the field. What is the Colts’ plan to get to Manning this time around?

Wells: How about we say: What do the Colts hope to do without Mathis? As you pointed out, Mathis was the difference-maker in the game last year. His strip-sack of Manning was a momentum changer because it led to a safety and started a string of 23 straight points for Indy. Bjoern Werner is starting at outside linebacker in place of Mathis. But let’s be real, there is no replacing Mathis' 19.5 sacks from last season. The Colts will attempt to do it by committee. The starting defense accounted for only two sacks in the preseason. That is pretty scary to think about. Manning is the master of picking apart defenses.

I was going to ask you about Wes Welker and his concussion issues. Now the Colts don’t have worry about facing him because he has been suspended for the first four games of the season. How do the Broncos go about replacing Welker in the lineup?

Legwold: Welker’s suspension is the reason the Broncos will have to adjust their rotation at wide receiver Sunday night, but they had put plans in motion long before because of Welker’s concussions. He had two last season and suffered a third in an Aug. 23 preseason game. The Broncos made Emmanuel Sanders a primary target in free agency and used a second-round draft pick on Cody Latimer in May. Sanders, who has shown in the preseason just how big a year he could have in this offense, will get plenty of work in the slot; he played there during most of his tenure with the Steelers. Tight end Jacob Tamme, who played in the slot a great deal in Manning’s first year in Denver (2012), will also get plenty of snaps. The Broncos will move the pass-catchers all over in search of the matchups they like. They have a versatile group of receivers and tight ends that should allow them to overcome four games without Welker.

A different kind of injury issue to be sure, and you have written about it plenty, but how will the Colts adjust things on the offensive line to line up against a revamped Broncos defense?

Wells: The offensive line has been an issue for the Colts going back to when Manning was there. Luck has his best group of offensive weapons to work with since entering the league, but none of that matters if the line can’t do its job. Luck has been sacked 73 times in his first two seasons. The Colts have a rookie -- Jack Mewhort -- starting at one guard, a second-year player -- Hugh Thornton -- at the other guard, and center is up the air. Khaled Holmes, the projected starter, missed four weeks with a sprained ankle, and A.Q. Shipley was claimed off waivers from Baltimore last weekend. Ware and the rest of the Denver defense should be excited about the opportunity to get after Luck.

Broncos planned for Welker's absence

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
11:55
PM ET

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Though the revelation of Wes Welker's suspension closed out a headline-filled day in the NFL -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended, Michael Sam planned to visit the Dallas Cowboys and J.J. Watt discussed his $100 million contract -- it's clear now the Denver Broncos have been preparing for Welker's four-game absence for some time.

After he suffered two concussions last season, on Nov. 17 and Dec. 8, the Broncos were in a position to consider what they would do if Welker missed time in the future. So the suspension was simply another issue for the Broncos to consider with regards to Welker's availability.

Early on in their offseason planning, the threat of another Welker concussion was a big enough issue, coupled with Eric Decker's departure in free agency, that the Broncos considered Emmanuel Sanders their top target offensive free agent target. Executive vice president and general manager John Elway called Sanders "our No. 1 guy at the position we wanted to bring in. He fits what we do and what we wanted."

The Broncos then used a second-round draft pick on wide receiver Cody Latimer because they considered him a tough, fast, physical receiver, who could play immediately in the team's red zone packages, and steadily earn more playing time as he grew into the offense. Latimer then sped his development with extra sessions with quarterback Peyton Manning. Latimer was already poised for premium snaps before Tuesday's Welker announcement.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsJohn Elway has called Emmanuel Sanders "our No. 1 guy at the position we wanted to bring in. He fits what we do and what we wanted."
As they moved through their offseason work and Welker's flagged test in the performance-enhancing drug policy became an issue, the Broncos made plans. They knew he could miss time. Whether that missed time would be caused by a concussion, which Welker suffered Aug. 23 against the Houston Texans, or the threat of a suspension remained to be seen.

So when they cut the roster to 53, a team that wanted to keep five wide receivers kept six.

Granted, rookie Isaiah Burse was kept largely for his potential as a returner. The coaches said all along any player kept as a returner would have to show enough to contribute at another position. And just after the Broncos made the cuts, Elway said of Burse: "He's a bright kid. He's a kid that can play all positions, too. When it comes to that, he's a guy that can come in and help us on the offensive side, too."

The Broncos also kept two more wide receivers on the practice squad -- Bennie Fowler and Nathan Palmer -- who had been through training camp and know the offense. Palmer also spent time on the Broncos' practice squad during the 2013 season.

The Broncos had also worked a heavy rotation in training camp, giving a variety of receivers at least some snaps with the first- and second-team offenses.

Welker was excused from practice Aug. 20-21 for his appeal hearing, and that offers a glimpse into the timetable the team had as it prepared for the suspension. When a player is notified of a suspension -- a written "notice of discipline" -- he has five days to request an appeal hearing, according to the league policy on PEDs.

That appeal hearing is to take place within 20 days of the request, excluding extenuating circumstances for either league officials or the player. Within two days of the scheduled hearing, the two sides exchange documents and/or any evidence that will be presented.

The policy states a decision on the appeal will then be rendered within "five calendar days" of the hearing. It is likely the Broncos and Welker were well aware of the suspension as players reported for training camp July 23.

When asked about Welker's absence from practice last month, Broncos coach John Fox said, "We need to get him back and see what state of mind he's in and where he is in our game plan and just go from there."

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.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Things could still change if the Denver Broncos look at the hundreds of players who were sent into the open market in recent days and see a name or two they like.

But when the clock struck the 4 p.m. ET roster deadline on Saturday, the roster in place wasn’t exactly the one some folks might have thought it would be.

First off, after their substantial plunge into free agency last March -- almost unprecedented for a Super Bowl team -- the Broncos have routinely been tabbed as “all in" or “win now."

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway, Peyton Manning
AP Photo/ Eric BakkePeyton Manning is the oldest player on the roster assembled by John Elway and the Broncos' front office. But the team as a whole has plenty of youth.
The career clock for quarterback Peyton Manning, at 38 years old, is certainly ticking, and they make no secret of their Super-Bowl-or-bust intentions. But the current Broncos roster has 13 players who are 23 years old or younger (24.5 percent) and seven rookies made a team in the Super Bowl conversation, including five members of a six-player draft class and two undrafted rookies.

Overall, there are 39 players entering their fifth NFL season or younger on this roster (73.6 percent). The Broncos will have three high-profile players start the season-opener next Sunday night -- Manning, DeMarcus Ware and center Manny Ramirez -- who are older than 30 and possibly a fourth if Wes Welker, who suffered a concussion in the preseason game against the Houston Texans, is in the lineup.

Some of the team's moves were motivated by the salary cap, to be sure. The Broncos have been nudged up against it since the free agency binge. But general manager John Elway has consistently maintained, even with the checkbook in hand at times, that he has more of a long-term approach than many believe he does. In fact, if you'd like to see the Hall of Fame quarterback get his hackles up, just ask him about a win-now approach.

“We were happy with the draft when we went through it in May and then they just proceeded to work hard and get better so, especially when you get deeper into this, as active as we were in free agency, to be able to keep our draft picks is something we want to do and continue to have that be our base," Elway said when discussing this year’s cuts. “We’re excited with the guys and they are, at this point in time, everything we hoped they would be.”

Among that youth is what is likely one of the youngest position groups in the league at running back. The four Broncos running backs include a rookie (Juwan Thompson), two players entering their second seasons (Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson) and a player entering his third season (Ronnie Hillman).

“I like them. I’ve said that all along," Elway said. “We feel good where we are at the running back position -- good, young guys that we feel are going to continue to get better."

Some other roster nuggets:

  • Of all the football-playing colleges and universities in the country, Kansas, Tennessee and Texas Tech lead the way on the Broncos' roster with three players each.
  • Manning is the oldest current Broncos player at 38. rookie receiver Cody Laitmer is the youngest, at 21. Hillman, at 22 and starting his third season, is the same age as four of the Broncos’ rookies and younger than two of the Broncos rookies. Michael Schofield and Lamin Barrow, who are both 23.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After a whirlwind arrival to the Denver Broncos, which saw Brandon McManus kicking field goals for the team just two days after being acquired by the team, the Broncos have decided to keep McManus around for a bit.

The Broncos worked out another kicker Saturday -- former Washington State kicker Andrew Furney -- but when the initial cut to 53 players was made, McManus was still the kicker tabbed to fill in for Matt Prater. Prater is suspended for the first four games of the season for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway was asked Saturday evening if he was still confident in McManus, who was 2-of-4 in the Broncos' preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys Thursday night with misses from 52 and 54 yards -- both kicks were wide right -- to go with field goals from 20 and 40 yards.

“I am now," Elway said. “He’s going to be our guy now. He got in here late last week, he’s got a tremendously strong leg and he’s got a lot of upside. I’ve got a lot of confidence once he gets working with the center and [holder Brandon] Colquitt, get used to that, he’ll be much better off. I think Brandon will be fine for us."

The Broncos sent a conditional seventh-round draft pick to the New York Giants on Tuesday, brought McManus on the trip to Texas on Wednesday, and he kicked Thursday night in AT&T Stadium. The Broncos like McManus’ overall leg strength, and he had touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs against the Cowboys.

The Broncos will face the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals during Prater’s suspension. Because of a Week 4 bye for the Broncos, Prater will not be eligible to return to practice until Oct. 6 and cannot be reinstated to play in a game until the Broncos’ Week 6 game against the New York Jets on Oct. 12.

McManus was 2-of-2 in field goal attempts for the Giants in the preseason.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The stories are almost football tall tales. They're like the one about walking uphill both ways to school while the snow was piled high. It will be told and retold, perhaps getting a little more far-fetched and drastic each time.

[+] EnlargeManning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning has achieved what many consider unprecedented work -- returning to the game and succeeding at it following several surgeries.
The ones where Peyton Manning couldn't throw a football.

Seems almost funny now, a little odd, really. The Denver Broncos quarterback has thrown 92 touchdown passes in two seasons on the Front Range, he's won his fifth MVP award, been behind center for 26 regular-season wins and helped power the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII. And heading into his 17th season -- and his third with the Broncos -- he's No. 3 in our 2014 #NFLRank survey, up two spots from No. 5 a year ago.

All after he couldn't throw a football.

"It's been a lot of work, I will say that," Manning said. "A lot of time with help from an awful lot of people to get where things are. But I've had to make some adjustments, I think, in how I do things. The goal has always been to help your team win games, to be reliable for your teammates. People always kind of ask me did I think I could come all the way back. I don't always know how to answer that, I knew I wanted to play if I could get to the point where I could compete at the level you need to compete."

Consider it done. It may be appreciated far more when Manning's career is over, when he's thrown his last competitive pass and the league's record book has his name next to the most significant passing records.

But coming back from four neck surgeries, the fourth being a spinal fusion surgery, as a professional football player who had already left his 35th birthday in the rear-view mirror, to where he is now is rare in his vocation, perhaps unprecedented.

"I don't know how many people could have done it," Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "It just shows what kind of guy Peyton is, how much work he's willing to put in to get to this point. And we feel like he's got a lot of good football in him and we're certainly glad he's here."

The post-surgery Manning has made his "adjustments" to be sure. Sometimes he wears a glove on his throwing hand in practice, sometimes in games, sometimes in any weather, wet or dry, hot or cold. But the nerves affected by the herniated disc in his neck that was repaired were in his right arm, which also happens to be his throwing arm.

They affected his triceps as well as his grip on the ball. Those nerves, in the early stages of healing were also the reason Manning bounced the first passes of his recovery, thrown in private, to trusted friends and family that included former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton and Manning's father, Archie.

Put video of his throwing motion now next to some early in his career and his current motion is a little more lower body driven, his stride a little longer, all to generate the power he needs to throw to NFL receivers in his post-fusion career.

Technology has helped him some as well. He doesn't have to divide his day into study and treatment. He can now take his iPad, with all of the game video he wishes to watch, wherever he happens to be in the Broncos' complex, whether it be the cold tub or with the trainers. It takes longer for him to get ready to play, longer to get ready for practice, but he continues to progress, to show more.

"All I know is it seems like his arm keeps getting strong," Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "I think this year he's stronger than last year and last year he was stronger than the first year. He's Peyton, he just does what he does."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used over seven dozen voters from the network’s many NFL platforms as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus to rank the league’s Top 100 players on offense and Top 100 players on defense.

In the rankings, 85 voters turned in ballots on defense, 90 on offense.

  Today, players ranked No. 20 down to 11 are featured. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas comes in at No. 17, a spot certainly worthy of his status as the unquestioned No. 1 target on the highest-scoring offense in league history. It may even be an undersell of what he really does on the field and where he's headed in Denver's points factory.

And he is also part of a quirky football fact in these pass-happy times. The one where two of the biggest, most athletic, game-busting pass catchers the NFL has to offer – Thomas and Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson – both emerged from the run-based option offense of Georgia Tech.

The Broncos made Thomas the 22nd pick of the 2010 draft while the Lions selected Johnson with the second pick of the 2007 draft.

“I don’t know why that happened,’’ Thomas said. “We felt like we had good players who could compete … We just played in a different kind of offense from some other guys.’’

Thomas has had back-to-back 90-catch, 1,400-yard seasons since being unleashed in earnest in the transition from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning. And in what figures to again be one of the league’s most high-powered offenses, Thomas is poised for another mark-it-down season.

He’s also poised for a rather tidy payday. Thomas is in the final year of his rookie deal -- he has a $3.275 million base salary this season, a $4.7 million cap charge for the Broncos -- and the two sides haven’t yet hammered out the extension they had hoped to before the season starts.

John Elway has said he “most certainly’’ wants to get Thomas dialed in on a new deal. Thomas has been named to two Pro Bowls, and if he remains healthy, he will pile on some more before his career is done.

The Broncos will certainly have to pay for the privilege to keep him.

“We know what we have here as receivers,’’ Thomas said. “We have Peyton at quarterback with a scheme that allows us to make plays if we get ourseleves to the right spot. I’m just worried about this season and doing what I can to help us do what we want to do and get where we want to go. We want to win the last game of the year.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In those opening weeks of training camp, which coincidentally were the opening weeks of Bradley Roby's first NFL summer, Roby learned quickly, somewhat painfully, that things were going to be different.

“I'm not going to lie; it opened my eyes,” Roby said. “But I knew I was going to have struggles early, you have to kind of accept that. It's all about fixing your mistakes. It's all about once you mess up, ‘OK, what happened?' Deciding what you can do to fix it and repping it so you don't do it again. Then you're good, eventually your game will show it, but at first you get a look at how far you have to go.”

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoAfter a rough start to training camp, Bradley Roby has earned a spot in the defensive back rotation.
And there's a good reason for that. It is the age-old math of play calling: Next-level quarterback plus aggressive offensive coordinator equals problems for the rookie cornerback across the line of scrimmage. So, Mr. Roby, meet Mr. Manning.

“And early on, we were probably picking on him a bit to let him know -- a ‘welcome-to-the-NFL'- type deal,” Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “He's done a good job, and he's really matched up well against our older guys. It seemed like last week, he did a really good job.”

When the Broncos did their pre-draft due diligence on Roby and checked out off-the-field issues and maturity questions, they came away with their profile. And their assessment was that, like a lot of gifted college players, Roby had been coddled some, needed to grow up some and that he was well worth the 31st pick of the first round.

The Broncos took him there because they saw what John Elway has called “maybe the best cover corner in the draft” and saw a player with the physical capabilities to play right now in a defense that could use players with Roby's size, speed and physicality.

But a fresh start in the NFL isn't always what a newly minted rookie expects. And the Broncos' clean slate for Roby came with some opening remarks from defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

“Right away, first day,” Del Rio said. “First day I met with him, I let him know that I don't want you to be frustrated come November or October if you spend the first part of the season not playing much, because that could happen because we've got a good group. So if you want to play, earn your way. You're going to have to come out here and fight every day; you're behind because these guys have been here and they know what it takes. But I don't think he was fazed by it; I think he appreciated that and he went about his work and continues to go about his work. My message to him is you still have a long way to go, so keep grinding.”

Not exactly hugging it out, but it's why as the Broncos prepare to close out the preseason Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys, Roby has earned his way into the rotation in the secondary. Roby, especially over the past two weeks, has shown aggressiveness in coverage and the athleticism to maintain his footwork and play the ball.
With Chris Harris on schedule to start the Sept. 7 opener against the Indianapolis Colts to go with Aqib Talib, Kayvon Webster and Roby, Del Rio has the ability to play a dime package (six defensive backs) that has four cornerbacks physical enough to play along the line of scrimmage if needed and athletic enough to play in coverage.

That's not always been the case over the past two seasons, when the Broncos at times have used a dime look that included three safeties and three cornerbacks. But Roby's presence overall gives Del Rio more options and the ability to have size/speed players on the outside, with Talib, when Harris moves inside to work in the slot.

And while some scouts questioned Roby's maturity and effort, especially in his final season at Ohio State, the Broncos have seen, at least so far, what Champ Bailey has always said separates the ability of some young cornerbacks to make it from the ones who don't. And that's the ability to show some vocational backbone and bounce back from the inevitable tough play in these pass-happy times.

“Being a rookie at this position, in this league, going against these players, you've got to expect you're kind of going to have a little rough beginning, and I'm not going to say it's not going to be rough sometime later on. I just want to make sure when something happens I learn from it,” Roby said. “I don't see it as me messing up, you know ‘OK, that sucks,' and maybe in college I would have beat myself up about it. I'm realizing one play is one play, you have to bounce back from that and make another one. Just win a lot more plays that you lose, and hopefully that gets me a role with this team where when we win, they feel like I helped in some way.”

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