AFC West: John Fox

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Emmanuel Sanders’ first training camp with the Denver Broncos hasn’t exactly gone the way he hoped it would.

The wide receiver, one of the marquee signings the team made in free agency, has had an on-again, off-again type of camp schedule because of a thigh injury he suffered in an Aug. 4 practice. He has missed several practices since, including just before and just after playing 20 plays on offense in the preseason opener, and his status is still questionable for Saturday’s preseason game against the Houston Texans.

Thursday, the third of three practices against the Houston Texans this week, was Sanders’ first day back on the practice field since Aug. 14.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsEmmanuel Sanders is hoping to get some more work with Peyton Manning in a preseason game setting.
“The quad injury feels good,’’ Sanders said. “Felt really good (Thursday). I didn’t have a problem with it, so I’m extremely happy about that, of course. Good to be out here with my guys practicing, just getting better, and gaining chemistry with Peyton (Manning). It’s looking good right now. Hopefully I’ll be playing on Saturday, but I’m not going to give it 100 percent right now. I’m going to go talk to the trainers and we’re going to take it day by day.’’

Whether or not Sanders plays Saturday will be decided at a Friday night staff meeting. Sanders’ status, as well as all of the playing-time decisions, will be outlined at that meeting.

Broncos head coach John Fox said the work this week against the Texans, because of the intensity, will have an impact on how much the starters play Saturday night. Starters typically play into the third quarter of the third preseason game, but Fox has said he might adjust that, given all of the competitive snaps the two teams had this week in team drills.

Saturday's game will also represent the last preseason playing time for most of the regulars, as they are routinely held out of the last preseason game. On Sanders, Fox said the Broncos liked what they saw Thursday, and despite Sanders’ hope that he will play, the decision won’t be made until Friday evening.

“Yeah we will … evaluate him (Friday),’’ Fox said. “We just have a short workout in the morning and we will meet (Friday) night and determine whether he goes or not.’’

The Broncos will take into account the fact that Sanders played in those 20 plays against the Seattle Seahawks and then missed practice time the following week.

“It’s been frustrating, but at the same time, it’s not anything major,’’ Sanders said. “I’m blessed to play this game and I had a minor setback. … What I’ve been talking to (Manning) about is -- and he’s been talking to me about it -- is that the starters usually don’t play in the fourth preseason game and this is important because I haven’t caught a pass in a game from him. We don’t want to go into the regular season with me not catching a pass from him in a game. So this game is extremely pivotal, and hopefully I’ll be out there playing.’’

For the Broncos, keeping Sanders on the field for practice in the next two weeks, as they gear up for the regular season, will be more important than sending him out for a smattering of plays Saturday night. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said this week that Sanders’ work in the offseason, including a trip with Manning and the other front-line Broncos pass catchers to Duke for workouts, should keep the timing between Sanders and Manning where it needs to be.

Sanders said Manning did text him Wednesday night to say “he would like me to be out here practicing.’’

“At the end of the day, if I feel good, I’m going to play,’’ Sanders said. “ … Right now I don’t feel like I’m putting myself at any kind of risk of any kind of injury. It feels really good and I’m optimistic that I’ll be playing Saturday.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe it’s a good thing that Thursday was the last day the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans practiced together this week.

Already a bit of an experiment with the two teams electing to go against each other so deep in the preseason, the squads have tried to keep a lid on their emotions through the week as to avoid any injury risk.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDespite a few tussles with the Houston Texans, Ryan Clady and the Broncos say they benefited from this week's joint practices.
But after a rather uneventful first day of work on Tuesday, a smattering of push-and-shove things broke out in Wednesday’s practice. And Thursday it all boiled over a bit with a two-team sized scrum that included some wild punches thrown in the middle of the last extended skirmish.

"I wasn’t looking at punches or anything," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It just gets that way because they are all very competitive people."

"I don’t really know what happened to be honest with you," Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme said. "I kind of ran down there late to try and help our guys out. Everything kind of got calmed down relatively quickly, so I don’t even know what happened. That stuff is going to happen every once in a while when you have two good, competitive teams."

Initially, in a team drill it was Broncos left guard Orlando Franklin and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt who had some words to go with a push or two. A bit later several Broncos players said it was the Texans' D.J. Swearinger in the middle of things as Broncos running back Montee Ball also reacted harshly after getting pushed in the crowd.

Players from both sidelines then ran to the group and there were some wild swings at that point. After some initial difficulty in getting the teams separated, the coaches were eventually able to move on with practice, but not without a smaller flare up.

As it had been Wednesday, the emotions seemed highest when the Broncos' offense and the Texans' defense were matched up.

Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady said some of the Broncos' younger players had asked what it would be like to practice against another team.

"People ask me -- because a lot of guys have never practiced against other teams – [if] there are going to be fights," Clady said. "It’s kind of the nature of the game. When it’s not your actual teammate, you’re going to want to lash out and fight. It’s one of those things that you have to prepare for it, and hopefully it’s not too bad that you have to end practice or something."

Fox said, in general, he believed the work had been beneficial and that he would do it again. It was the first time Fox’s team has practiced against another team in training camp since he has been a head coach -- a nine-year tenure in Carolina and now in his fourth year in Denver.

"I enjoyed it -- right now my feeling is yes," Fox said. "Whether or not that comes to fruition, who knows."

It will be easier in the future for the Broncos to have another team practice at their complex. The current $35 million construction project at the team’s facility includes an indoor practice complex that will have its own full locker room and full training room facilities for another team to use beyond what the Broncos have for their own team.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos' depth at wide receiver has been tested thus far in the preseason.

Emmanuel Sanders was back in practice Thursday after being held out of both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s workout. He has missed several days of practice since suffering a thigh injury shortly after training camp opened.

Jordan Norwood suffered a season-ending knee injury in Wednesday’s practice, and Wes Welker was excused, for personal reasons, Thursday, which was also the third and last day of the Broncos’ combined practices with the Houston Texans. It meant Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell and rookie Cody Latimer got plenty of work with the starters.

And depending on how many snaps the Broncos elect to give Thomas and Sanders in Saturday’s preseason game with the Texans, Caldwell and Latimer could get some premium playing time.

“We’ll meet [Friday] night. … We’ve already talked about coming into this week, it’s more reps, more intense reps this week might affect a little less playing time with the starters,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said.

The Broncos will have to consider some additional options at the position as well because of Norwood’s injury. Norwood, who tore his left ACL in Wednesday’s practice and will miss the season, had positioned himself to make the final 53 as the team’s sixth receiver as well as a punt returner.

The fifth-year pro, who has started just four career games, was also poised to get a smattering of snaps with one of the league 's most high-powered offense, or as he said earlier in camp “everything you could ask for as a receiver.’’

The Broncos are expected to move him to injured reserve in the coming days, but had not yet done so as of Thursday afternoon. It also means the team is still on the hunt for a punt returner where Norwood had distanced himself from most of the others who have auditioned for the job.

“Very disappointed for him, very disappointed for us selfishly," Fox said. "Jordan has worked very hard, had a very good opportunity to make our football team, make us better. So, I know he’s very disappointed, as we are.’’

As far as Saturday’s game, the Broncos might tread lightly with Sanders. After missing some practice time before the team’s preseason opener, Sanders played 20 snaps against the Seattle Seahawks only to miss practice time the following week as well as the preseason game in San Francisco last weekend. Thursday marked the first time he has been on the practice field this week, and the Broncos will have a light practice Friday morning.

Welker, too, is expected to be back with the team this weekend, but he might he held out as well.

“Get [Welker] back, see what state of mind he’s in, see where he’s at in the gameplan and go from there,’’ Fox said.

Broncos, Texans heat up practice

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans gathered on the two sidelines for the last period of Wednesday’s practice, they had played nice up until that point.

There had been very little back-and-forth with any real edge to it in almost two full practices, almost no pushing and no skirmishes. Then the final period of Wednesday's workout dissolved into plenty of pushing, a lot of jawing and after the final play of practice it had all escalated far enough both teams had gathered in one mass, poised for more.

Coaches for both teams finally got the two sides separated, no punches were thrown and things cooled down quickly. Several players chatted after practice and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning went over to introduce himself to Texans rookie quarterback Tom Savage.

"Just a little jawing, that was typical," Broncos head coach John Fox said.

With the regular season just three weeks away, Fox has talked about the importance of players handling themselves and their emotions during the practices with the Texans this week. It isn’t common for two teams to work together this late in the preseason and neither side wants to risk an injury in a practice-field fight.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was particularly heated after a run-play scrum that ended with Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and Texans running back Arian Foster exchanging words with some bonus finger pointing.

Shortly after the practice, Broncos safety T.J. Ward took to Twitter to offer:

"The heat goin up at practice. I love the competition! Let's get it!"

The two teams will have three practices in all against each other this week, but Wednesday’s was scheduled to be only one in full pads. Things were tense early as well when, in one-on-one drills Texans defensive end J.J. Watt powered around Broncos tackle Chris Clark and Clark shoved Watt’s helmet off at the end of the play.

Watt took exception and said as much, and Clark gave Watt a shove. To which Watt, after a long stare, jogged away offering, "Don’t get mad when you get beat."

All in all, however, players from both sides seemed happy to be practicing against another team rather than simply another week of pushing on each other.

"It’s competitive, it’s great," Talib said. "We’re all here to work, we know that. Things get intense, they’re going hard, we’re going hard. But we’re all here to work."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who was making a significant push to make the roster as a sixth wide receiver, suffered a knee injury in Wednesday’s practice and will miss the remainder of the season.

Norwood was taken for an MRI exam early Wednesday afternoon and the results confirmed the Broncos’ preliminary exams -- that Norwood had torn his left ACL. Norwood had four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos' two preseason games combined.

He had received a smattering of snaps with the starters on offense in practice of late and had been one of the team's primary punt returners. Norwood, who has made four starts over his previous four NFL seasons, had positioned himself to be in the mix when the Broncos make their roster cuts to get to 53 players following their final preseason game.

"They'll be tests run. We'll kind of play it by ear until we know something meaningful," said Broncos head coach John Fox.

Norwood was injured in a red zone drill when he battled Houston Texans cornerback Brandon Harris for the ball in the back left corner of the end zone. The two players jumped for the pass and Norwood landed somewhat awkwardly.

The Broncos and Texans were in the second of three days' worth of practices together before the two teams play Saturday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Also Wednesday the Broncos again held wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders out of practice with a thigh injury. Sanders has not practiced since last Thursday and did not play this past weekend against the San Francisco 49ers.

Sanders did do so some work with strength and conditioning coaches off to the side.

"We're just getting that quad back to 100 percent," Fox said.

Running back Montee Ball, who returned to practice Tuesday, did more in Wednesday's workout, taking part in individual drills as well as some work in 7-on-7 with the starters.

The Broncos also held cornerback Kayvon Webster (ankle), tight end Virgil Green (calf), tight end Gerell Robinson (knee, ankle) and linebacker Jamar Chaney (hamstring) out of practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- What the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans are doing this week is rare and, in the end, took at least some risk-reward analysis before the two teams agreed to do it.

No, it's not rare that they'll have three days' worth of practices against each other before they play a preseason game Saturday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Teams have done it plenty through the years, the Texans are the sixth team the Broncos have practiced against since 1996.

But the Broncos and Texans are doing this in the days leading up to the third preseason game for both teams and just three weeks before the regular-season opener. And that takes at least some thought as the two teams try to balance the benefits of getting the work in they want without exposing everyone involved to unnecessary injury risk.

"I think we did a pretty good job -- both teams -- of respecting each other, but still having an intense practice and getting after it," said Broncos tight end Julius Thomas following Tuesday's practice. "So I expect more of the same (Wednesday).”

The two teams will practice together again Wednesday and Thursday. Originally the plan had been for the two teams to practice in full gear both Tuesday and Wednesday, but after the Broncos had played on Sunday afternoon with the Texans having played on Saturday an adjustment was made.

The players worked in shells, helmets and shorts Tuesday and are now expected to work in full pads in Wednesday's practice.

"We decided to go shorts today because we were a day behind them as far as the recovery," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "I thought it went well. ... I think it's a good look, new faces for the players. There are new schemes both offensively and defensively and even in the kicking game. All in all, I think it was a good first day."

It was also a departure of sorts for Fox, who did not practice against another team in training camp at any point in his nine-season tenure as the Carolina Panthers head coach. Fox said Tuesday the last time he had worked against another team in camp was in 2001, when he was the New York Giants defensive coordinator.

Fox believes the proximity of the work, on the calendar, to the opener could also help his team and that the Broncos, despite having finished their two-a-day practice schedule of the preseason, still have a training camp mindset going.

"Camp is camp, late or early," Fox said. "These guys will tell you they get paid to practice and they would play the games for nothing. I think they did good work. I think it's a good time actually because you've been banging on the same guys for three weeks -- besides the preseason games -- but I think getting someone different is good."

For their part the players behaved Tuesday. Though some words were exchanged at times, especially in a late two-minute drill, there were no major scuffles in the two-hour workout and the teams will not tackle players to the ground in any of the workouts.

Fox and Texans head coach Bill O'Brien had discussed how the practices would be conducted and both expressed confidence the work could get done without any unnecessary conflicts. That, in the end, the benefits simply outweighed any potential downside.

"I know it is great work ... especially when we put on the pads (Wednesday) to get more of a real look in person as far as with the pads," said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. "Receivers benefit from going against different corners every day. I think there's a benefit.”

"It's the same thing we do every day," Fox said. "We are going to take the approach that we are going to treat the Houston Texans just like we treat our own team and we expect the same from them. I don't foresee any problems."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos mulled what to do following Danny Trevathan’s leg injury, they could have taken one of two routes.

They could have taken a mix-and-match approach. They could have used a guy here, a guy there to fill in for the do-it-all Trevathan, the team’s leading tackler last season who will miss six to eight weeks with a fracture at the top of his tibia.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP PhotoBrandon Marshall will be filling in for the injured Danny Trevathan, the Broncos' top tackler in 2013.
Or they could have put one guy in and see how it goes. That’s what the Broncos did this past week after Trevathan suffered his injury in practice, as Brandon Marshall moved into Trevathan’s weak-side linebacker spot in the base defense and worked in the team’s other packages as well.

Sunday’s 34-0 victory over the San Francisco 49ers was the first gameday test, and by all accounts, Marshall fared just fine. Marshall played 28 snaps on defense in the game, which eventually turned into just the eighth preseason shutout the Broncos have pitched in franchise history.

“I had a little pregame jitters," Marshall said following the game. “But after the first snap, I was ready to go.’’

Marshall made five solo tackles in those 28 snaps, so that is certainly efficient play at the position and also tied him for the team lead in the game.

“You know, he’s a young man that was with us a year ago, mostly practice squad, but was acting a little bit towards the end, you know a guy that’s, his teammates like him, the coaching staff likes him and then, you know the Danny Trevathan injury. We’re always talking about the next man up, and it is an opportunity for another young man," Broncos head coach John Fox said following Sunday’s win. “And Brandon I think got a chance to show what he’s capable of."

To play Trevathan’s spot in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s scheme, a player needs enough backbone in his game to play along the line of scrimmage in the run game and enough athleticism to play in the open spaces in pass defense as well.

Trevathan is really the only linebacker who does that consistently in the team’s scheme since Von Miller, also an every-down player at the position, essentially moves to defensive end when the Broncos move into some of their pass-rush looks. But it is Miller who has taken a little walk down memory lane when describing why Marshall is the right player for the job.

“If you just think back to a couple years ago, when (former Broncos linebacker) D.J. Williams was going through what he was going through, Wesley Woodyard came in and had a great season," Miller said. “When Wesley had a little bit of an injury, Danny came in and had a great season. So we’re expecting Brandon Marshall to come in and do great things for us until Danny gets back."

A review of the game video shows Marshall played with good instincts to the ball, with aggressiveness and moved with the kind of agility the Broncos want at the position. The Broncos also got to see the 238-pounder plenty in the base defense as the 49ers stayed in their traditional heavy looks on offense much of the time the starters were on the field for both teams.

The Broncos were in their heavier looks on defense for 13 of the first 16 snaps in Sunday’s game, including some 3-4 looks with Lerentee McCray in as a fourth linebacker when the 49ers still had Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.

“I thought we excelled in the trenches," Marshall said. “They popped a couple of runs, but that’s not us being physical. It was just some assignments that need a little cleaning up. Other than that, I thought we did an outstanding job."

After the game, Marshall added he would have to take the team’s defensive linemen “out for shrimp or steaks or whatever" for their part in keeping the 49ers blockers off him.

The Broncos will get some additional looks at Marshall this week in some situations that will be a little more intense than the usual practices. The Broncos will work against the Houston Texans for three days this week leading up to the two teams’ preseason game Saturday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

“I just think here you’re in the best situation to get ready to play defense in a game," Marshall said. “We go against our offense every day in practice, and that’s probably the biggest challenge anywhere to go against Peyton (Manning) and all of the guys we have on offense. If you can hold your own there and make the right calls, you’re going to be ready to do that in a game, and I think that’s the case for me if I just keep working."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- While the Denver Broncos hoped for the best, the revelation that linebacker Danny Trevathan has a fracture just below his left knee rather than ligament damage still has to be considered good news and leaves open the possibility Trevathan could return before the Broncos are a quarter of the way through their regular-season schedule.

Or, as head coach John Fox put it following Tuesday night’s practice: “We were hoping it was a bruise, that would have been the best news. Obviously that’s better than ligament damage, those are the out-for-the-season types of things."

Trevathan suffered medial tibial impaction fracture during Tuesday’s morning practice and Fox said Trevathan had “a crack ... high on the tibia."

The Broncos have put Trevathan’s timetable for recovery at “four to eight weeks," while Trevathan has said he’s hoping for a slightly quicker return at four to six weeks. Either way the key, according to Stephania Bell, ESPN’s injury analyst and a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist, will be the care Trevathan and the Broncos take early on with the injury.

Trevathan must keep weight off of his left leg initially in his recovery to prevent the fracture from becoming any larger or creating any other issues in the knee. Depending on how the fracture heals the Broncos can, according to Bell, have Trevathan put weight on the leg on a graduated basis.

Once Trevathan has progressed to the point where he can move the knee, the Broncos can use several methods for him to maintain his conditioning until he returns to the field. He can do work in a pool to keep weight off of his leg or the Broncos can use an AlterG, a type of treadmill that would allow the Broncos to control the amount of weight Trevathan can put on the leg while also simulating the action of running.

But all of those things would not begin until the fracture has healed enough to allow it. The Broncos say Trevathan will not need surgery to repair any cartilage or ligament damage around the fracture and believe the linebacker could return to the lineup following a Week 4 bye.

That timetable would mean Trevathan would miss three regular-season games. The Broncos, who have an early-season bye in Week 4, face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5 and the New York Jets in Week 6.

The third-year linebacker, who was the team’s leading tackler last season with 124, and is one of the most versatile players in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s scheme. Trevathan, who plays on the weak side in the base defense, is a three-down player at the position with enough strength to fill gaps in the run defense and enough speed and athleticism to work downfield in pass coverage.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 20

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • When the Broncos starting offense opened team drills in Tuesday’s first practice, it was undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson at running back as the group went though some situational work. It was a product of two running backs currently being sidelined, as Montee Ball recovers from an appendectomy and C.J. Anderson from a concussion, but also a sign of Thompson’s progress since training camp opened. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said Tuesday he was familiar with the Duke running back’s work long before Thompson was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in May. Manning and the Broncos' pass catchers have spent parts of the last two offseasons working at Duke. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is also a trusted Manning confidante and his former offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Thompson has earned raves from the Broncos for his ability to adjust on the fly and get the play right when Manning or backup Brock Osweiler make changes before the snap. Ronnie Hillman is still working at Ball’s primary backup, but Thompson, who is also the biggest back on the roster, is making a serious case to be among the final 53.
  • Tight end Jacob Tamme was back at practice Tuesday. He was excused for Monday’s practice as well as the team’s second practice this past Saturday night, as his wife just gave birth to the couple’s second child last week. Tamme, who has consistently made impact plays thus far in camp, created space to get the ball time and time again Tuesday, including a long completion from Osweiler toward the end of the workout. He will get plenty of snaps in some of the team’s two-tight end looks when the Broncos pair him with Julius Thomas. But Tamme's play has been top tier, starting with his one-handed touchdown reception in the team's first stadium scrimmage.
  • One overriding theme in this training camp as compared to last year's is the ability of the team’s defense to make life more difficult for the offense in team drills. In one team period Tuesday, had defensive players been allowed to hit the quarterback, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller would have each had sacks when it was starters against starters. Ware beat left tackle Ryan Clady to the corner one play, and Miller then beat right tackle Chris Clark later in the same drill.
  • The Broncos will have combined practices with the Houston Texans next week as both team prepare for an Aug. 23 preseason game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. However, it won’t be full-go in practice with the regular season being two weeks away. Broncos head coach John Fox said the two teams will practice at “thud" tempo, which means defenders and offensive players will make impact on plays but will not tackle to the ground.
  • In addition to Ball and Anderson, defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee) and defensive end Greg Latta (right hip) were again held out of practice. Ball and Anderson did take part in the team’s walk-through Tuesday evening. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had been held out of three straight practices because of a thigh injury -- though he did play 20 snaps in the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night -- returned to practice. When the Broncos starters lined up in a two-tight end set with two wide receivers in the formation, it was most often Sanders and Demaryius Thomas at wideout.
  • Odds and ends: Wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who caught a touchdown pass from Osweiler in the preseason opener and continues to push for a roster spot, got some work with Manning and some other starters in a 7-on-7 period Tuesday ... An end-of-game, end-of-half practice period featured a couple penalties, with defensive tackle Marvin Austin jumping offside on a third-down play that gave the offense a first down. The offense later had a false start penalty in the same period.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos know the flags are coming. They got the memo, they get it.

The NFL has sent their officials to each training camp, Broncos' included, to remind the players that defensive holding and illegal contact by defenders on receivers are both "points of emphasis" this season and will be called to the letter of the rules. The Broncos got their first taste of that tightened enforcement during a 25-penalty preseason opener with the Seattle Seahawks.

It's safe to say a team that went out of its way to get more physical in the secondary this past offseason, is now trying to figure out where the line will be drawn by the officials once the regular season begins.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"We can adjust, everybody can adjust," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. of stricter rules in the secondary. "The big thing is consistency, you just want to know what it's going to look like week-to-week."
"We can adjust, everybody can adjust," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "The big thing is consistency, you just want to know what it's going to look like week-to-week. It's when there such a big difference between what one crew calls and the what another one calls the next week. No matter how tight it is, if you know what to expect, you can adjust."

It does matter to the Broncos since they spent plenty of money from the team's coffers to sign cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in free agency as well as use a first-round draft pick on cornerback Bradley Roby. All three payers are well-versed in man coverage, all three play with a physical edge and all three were what Broncos' football boss John Elway was looking for to help a team that surrendered far too many big plays through the air last season.

The Broncos surrendered 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards last season after giving up just 39 pass plays of at least 20 yards in 2012. They want to affect the ability of opposing receivers to get into their routes, they want to reduce the number of free releases those opposing pass catchers get at the line of scrimmage.

Which means they are going to have to figure out what works and what doesn't and they're going to have to figure it out quickly. The Broncos face Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady among their first eight games of the season.

"We know it's coming," Talib said. "We've seen the video from the league, we've had (the officials) in practice."

Thursday night Ward, Talib and backup safety Duke Ihenacho were each flagged for defensive holding, linebacker Nate Irving was flagged for illegal contact and linebacker Danny Trevathan was flagged in the end zone for pass interference. And while Trevathan's penalty may be worthy of an argument -- it looked equal parts offensive pass interference or a potential no-call -- it was the kind of outing the Broncos had planned to see.

"We knew there was going to be an emphasis, we practiced hard against it," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "It was some good, some bad, not getting into detail, but pretty much how I thought it would go and some things we can definitely correct.”

It's why the Broncos have beefed up the pass rush as well. Because while the flags are expected to fly in the secondary, the Broncos see their best option for easing the pressure on the secondary as adding heat on the quarterback so he is unable to find a receiver in the first place.

The Broncos see getting to the quarterback as a loophole of sorts, with DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and Quanterus Smith swirling in rush situations as the Broncos line up with five, six or seven defensive backs.

"No question," Ware said. "We can make things easier on our DBs if we consistently get to the quarterback. We can keep the ball from getting out, or force the quarterback to have to throw it away, then those calls aren't an issue."

"We feel like we can play it however it needs to be played," Harris Jr. "If it's called tight, it's called tight. On defense you know the league is always looking for more points and more passing and more excitement. So it's not a surprise or anything like that. I just hope it's the same week-to-week, game-to-game, so we know what to expect."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In their first significant tackle-for-real effort of the 2014 preseason the Denver Broncos scooped out plenty of vanilla on defense, but it was clear they’re going to be able to rush the passer when they get down to business.

And beyond any reckless preseason sack prediction that are often are tossed out in the August sun, the Broncos have a variety in personnel and a defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio who is apt to rotate, switch out and use as many players as he can.

“Our guys know, and I say this to them and to you, if you have a uniform on game day and you’ve shown us you have something to offer, you’re going to play,’’ Del Rio said.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe Broncos got to Russell Wilson twice in Thursday night's preseason opener.
And then Del Rio added, with his best ex-linebacker half smile; “What that means specifically will have to wait. We’ll wait and see. We’ll wait and see until it all shakes out and we’re game-planning for our opponents. But I think we like our possibilities.’’

So, while the Broncos sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks three times Thursday night -- Russell Wilson twice in his 24 snaps, Tarvaris Jackson once -- and they will likely sack the quarterbacks to come here and there over the next three preseason games. But how it’s all going to look and if it really is better than what the Broncos had to offer last season, that will remain under wraps for the most part.

At least until the Colts and Andrew Luck shows up Sept. 7 for the regular-season opener.

“It is still training camp to where you can throw everything out there, you throw the kitchen sink out there,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “And then at the end once you’re done with training camp we have the tool box ready for the season. Now that is what this game is about, that is what each preseason game is about ... to get better each week.”

However it turns out it will be a convergence of returning players, including those who missed out on the Super Bowl because they were on injured reserve, players such as linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end Derek Wolfe and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson to go with those they’ve added. And they added three players -- Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward -- who have all been named to the Pro Bowl in their careers, including seven for Ware.

Former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has always said the defenses that make life the most miserable for quarterbacks essentially have three elements. They have more than one player who can consistently create pressure off the edge, they have a secondary good enough to make the quarterback hold the ball that little bit extra so the front can get there, and they can send players from all over the formation.

Again, while preseason optimism is a rite of summer to be sure, the Broncos would appear to have all three of those elements, even if Miller isn’t yet full speed.

“You don’t really get that chemistry until it’s like third-and-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and you’re down like three points, or you’re up by three points and you need a sack or a big play,’’ Miller said. “You don’t really get that chemistry until you’re in those types of situations. You develop that in those types of scenarios. When we get to that point, I’m confident that we’ll be able to perform to the best of our abilities, and I’m looking forward to getting in those situations.’’

Other than the injuries that eroded the defense as it dropped from fourth-best in points allowed per game in 2012 to 22nd last season, the loss of Elvis Dumervil in the fax fiasco rippled through the defense. Though the Broncos hit on free-agency bingo when late signee Shaun Phillips ended up leading the team with 10 sacks, Dumervil’s presence off the edge was not replaced.

Toss in Miller’s suspension and that even he admits he wasn’t quite himself when he returned, heavier by design.

“We never sort of replaced Elvis … I think we’re closer now to what we want to do on defense,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “ … I always say we’ll get what we earn, but we like where we are.’’

Where they will go will depends plenty on Ware’s health -- he battled elbow and leg injuries last season as he missed the first three games of his career -- and Miller’s ability to bounce back to something close to his 2012 form when he finished with 18.5 sacks. The Broncos have the kind of options Del Rio likes in the team’s specialty rush packages, which at times feature a swirl of players moving all over the formation, often with just one or two in a three-point stance.

It also creates competition to get snaps. Del Rio will use as many players as are in uniform on most game days, but the battle for playing time figures to be spirited. A group that will include the high-profile guys like Miller and Ware as well as Quanterus Smith, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, Malik Jackson and Ward having moved down from safety to linebacker in some of those looks.

“At the end of the day, everybody knows their job,’’ Vickerson said. “At the end of the day, everybody knows what their responsibilities are and where they’re supposed to be at on each call. With everybody doing their job and playing fast and physical and violent and doing the things on this side of the defense … that’s when you get done what you need to get done.’’

Broncos Camp Report: Day 17

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Linebacker Lerentee McCray, who has worked at Von Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot as the Broncos weave Miller into practice on a graduated basis after Miller’s ACL surgery, continues to flash in practice. In Saturday morning’s workout, McCray returned a Peyton Manning pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage for a touchdown. “It was a pretty good feeling to get my hands on the ball and go the other way.’’ McCray, Brandon Marshall and rookie Lamin Barrow are poised to be the fourth, fifth and sixth linebackers who will make the roster behind the starters when cuts come. The Broncos could have room for one more if they keep seven – they did in 2011 and 2012. The Broncos kept six last season.
  • Emmanuel Sanders, who played 20 plays in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks after being held out of practice Tuesday, was again held out of Saturday morning’s full practice – he took part in the Saturday evening walk-through. The Broncos lined up Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell with the starting offense in the two outside spots. At one point in team drills, Manning tried to power a ball up the right sideline to Caldwell, but cornerback Aqib Talib closed the gap and knocked the ball away.
  • Much like Thursday’s effort when backup quarterback Brock Osweiler rebounded from an interception to throw a touchdown pass, the third-year passer rebounded from a rough set of drills to far better work later in practice. Osweiler had a tipped pass intercepted by Omar Bolden and had another pass intercepted deep down the field in the same drill by John Boyett. But Osweiler recovered quickly and later hooked up for a touchdown with Cody Latimer. On Osweiler’s progress overall, Broncos coach John Fox said Saturday; “He’s just gotten better … how he functions under pressure, I think, continues to improve and I think he took a big step Thursday night,’’
  • With Montee Ball coming off an appendectomy and C.J. Anderson recovering from a concussion, undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson continues to make his presence felt. Thompson got some snaps with the first-team offense Saturday. With the second-team offense later, he broke off the biggest run of the day, out-running safety Duke Ihenacho the final 25 yards or so to close the deal. Thompson, who played for David Cutcliffe at Duke, is well-versed in pass protection and has shown consistent hands. But in the run game he has shown quality decisiveness -- he squares his shoulders and hits the hole -- and more top-end speed than perhaps the Broncos' believed he had.
  • Odds and ends: Rookie Michael Schofield was the right tackle with the second-team offense in Saturday’s practice. Schofield did not play on offense in the preseason opener, but did play six snaps on special teams … Will Montgomery took a smattering of snaps at center with first-team offense … Cornerback Kayvon Webster was doing extra sprints after practice, running a hill adjacent to the team’s fields.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball wouldn’t exactly say he’s happy he had appendicitis.

But he is happy he had it in August.

"[It’s] great that we caught it now, obviously it’s great that it happened now than in September," Ball said. "Very unfortunate situation for me, but right now I’m looking up. Feeling great and getting to some running next week. I’m excited."

Ball, who had an appendectomy Monday, was back at the Broncos’ suburban complex Saturday. He won’t be ready to start doing some light running for another week or so, but he attended practice, jersey on, as the Broncos had their first on-field work since Thursday night’s 21-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in their preseason opener.

In Ball’s place, Ronnie Hillman has taken most of the snaps with the starting offense. There is a chance, in a small never-say-never sort of way, Ball could participate in the Broncos’ third preseason game -- Aug. 23 against the Houston Texans -- but at the moment Ball is not expected to play in any of the three remaining preseason games.

"Of course I want to play," Ball said. "I want to play against San Francisco in, what, a couple days or whatever. But obviously that’s not going to happen. But like I said, it’s just gradually going along, listening to my body and listening to our great training staff in there. They’re doing a great job bringing me along."

When Broncos head coach John Fox was asked after Saturday’s practice about Ball’s status for preseason games, Fox laid the groundwork for Ball’s next game being Sept. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season opener.

"We’ll just play it by ear," Fox said. "I think we saw plenty of him a year ago, we saw plenty of him in the offseason."

Ball, who has been the team’s top back all through the offseason and into training camp, said Saturday he was awakened with stomach pain on Monday and contacted Broncos head trainer Steve Antonopulos. He had surgery Monday afternoon and Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis and running backs coach Eric Studesville were among those to visit Ball at the hospital.

Because of Ball’s injury, as well as C.J. Anderson’s concussion in Thursday night’s game, the Broncos have some of their youngest players getting plenty of work in the practice rotation. Juwan Thompson, an undrafted rookie who led the team in rushing with 59 yards on six carries against the Seahawks, even got some snaps with the starting offense in Saturday’s practice.

"It’s an unfortunate situation for me," Ball said. "But the running backs are looking good right now. Looking great. The competition is most definitely there. They’re most definitely making me work for that spot. They’re working for it and doing a great job. I’m excited to see them play."

Ball will be the workhorse in the run game for the Broncos this season. Studesville, Fox and quarterback Peyton Manning have all said the second-year back is ready for the job and big things are expected from Ball in the offense.

The Broncos have not had a running back top 250 carries since Reuben Droughns had 275 carries in 2004.

"I’m listening to the training staff, and obviously we’re going to do some tests to see if I’m capable of coming back, which I’m sure I will be," Ball said. "I’ll be even stronger and ready to go."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos held wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (thigh) out of Saturday morning’s practice and backup running back C.J. Anderson is being treated under the guidelines of the NFL’s concussion protocol, so he also was kept out of practice.

Sanders did not practice on Tuesday because of his injury, but was on the field for 20 plays Thursday night in the Broncos’ preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks.

Anderson, who has been working as the No. 3 running back, was sent home from the Broncos’ complex because of concussion symptoms, “little headaches’’ as head coach John Fox put it. Anderson suffered his injury in the 21-16 victory over the Seahawks.

Under the protocol Anderson cannot even return to light running until he is symptom free.

Running back Montee Ball, who had an appendectomy Monday, attended Saturday's practice but is not yet ready for a return to the field. Ball is not expected to play in the remainder of the preseason -- the Broncos starters do not usually play in the fourth preseason game -- but said after practice he could begin doing some running “in about a week.’’

“Medical people wanted … to make sure surgery heals, but I know he was excited to get back and be with the guys,’’ Fox said. “The procedure went fine, everything looked good, his reaction has been good. Right now he’s on schedule to get involved as soon as the actual surgery heals.’’

Asked if Ball would play in the preseason, Fox said: “We’ll just play it by ear. I think we saw plenty of him a year ago, we saw plenty of him in the offseason.’’

Defensive end Malik Jackson was excused from practice for personal reasons.

Defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee), defensive end Greg Latta (right hip) and cornerback Louis Young (groin) were held out of practice.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The bottom line in any NFL season will always be what happens in the season's final game.

The champs are the champs and everybody else is not. Or as Denver Broncos coach John Fox has put it: "There's only one happy team at the end of every season. Everybody else is mad they weren't that team, living with that bitter taste and thinking about how good an opportunity they gave themselves to be that team."

[+] Enlarge Peyton Manning
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyPeyton Manning threw 10 completions for 78 yards in the Broncos' 21-16 preseason win Thursday night.
So, what happened in Super Bowl XLVIII will always be what happened for the Broncos. And what happens in any of their four preseason games in the new season can't wash that away, no matter how much August optimism is wrapped around it all.

Still, for a team that watched its title hopes swept away in back-to-back seasons in that final game, the Broncos are going to take a little solace when they show bounce-back ability at any time, even in a preseason game like Thursday night's.

"We are just trying to have a different mentality this year," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "Running the ball, defense, be physical to go with everything else this team can do."

The high-flying Broncos at times have wrestled with the "finesse" label since quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in 2012, but scoring a single-season record 606 points will do that in the second of back-to-back 13-3 seasons. Especially when most of those touchdowns came out of a three-wide-receiver formation with Manning in the shotgun and the Broncos working at warp speed.

But against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason opener, the Broncos showed a little get-up-off-the-mat personality.

They rolled the dice a bit, using a preseason game for what a preseason game is for -- to work on stuff -- when they opened their first possession on offense in power looks. They got one first down, but didn't move past their own 37 before their first punt.

They came back on their next possession, using their favorite look on offense -- three wide receivers -- for a 14-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that took 9 minutes, 9 seconds off the clock. That touchdown drive was longer in elapsed time than any such drive the Broncos had in all of 2013.

The Broncos also had four penalties on the drive to go with a bad snap on a second-and-goal from the Seahawks' 2.

"I've never had an 18-play drive in the preseason, I've never had anything like that," Manning said. "I know the coaches will probably be pleased that it's a lot of plays to learn from on the film. All I can say is that it's good we overcame some things. The flags were out tonight. I think that was clear. The fact that we were able to overcome some penalties and still get a touchdown drive -- I always talk about getting situations to occur in the preseason -- that's something that you want to be able to overcome in the regular season. You get a penalty, 'Hey, it's bad, but let's try to find a way to overcome it.' "

Backup Brock Osweiler ended the third quarter with a wish-he-could-have-it-back interception, but rebounded to throw a 34-yard touchdown on the team's next possession.

Early in the third quarter, the Broncos also overcame a sequence of penalties on four consecutive plays, a feat that would have been far more difficult, facing a first-and-35 situation, had they not been bailed out by a pass interference penalty on Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane in the fifth play of the sequence.

"We know the season is where we'll show what we can do, but still you always want to be a team that can overcome things, in any game, starters and backups," Knighton said. "That's always going to help you. Things are going to happen, football is one of those games, it's not always going to be pretty. The good teams overcome the things that happen to it in a game. Just line up and play the next play."

Said Osweiler: "You've got to erase. You've got to move forward."