AFC West: Juwan Thompson

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.

Denver Broncos cut-down analysis

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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Most significant move: There were not many roster spots to be had when the Denver Broncos opened training camp, but right from the start it was clear their depth on the defensive line was far better than it was in 2013 and that a player who was previously a starter could certainly get caught in the squeeze. That player was Kevin Vickerson, who started 11 games last season for the Broncos and 41 games in his four seasons with the team. But the Broncos had at least some salary-cap concerns this time around and Vickerson’s $2.266 million cap figure to go with the play of Mitch Unrein, Marvin Austin and youngster Quanterus Smith cost Vickerson his spot. Unrein also played some at defensive end in the preseason, showing a little more versatility and the Broncos will save about $1.766 million against the cap with Vickerson’s release. The Broncos also had at least some long-term concerns about Vickerson’s hip, which he injured last Nov. 24 before going to injured reserve.

Undrafted not unwanted: Running back Juwan Thompson made it 11 years in a row the Broncos have had an undrafted rookie make the cut to 53 players. Thompson, part of a platoon system at Duke, consistently showed the well-rounded game the Broncos want from their backs throughout offseason workouts and training camp. At 225 pounds, he is the team’s biggest back, has lined up at both fullback and running back, shown good instincts in pass protection and catches the ball. He's just the kind of guy the Broncos want at the position, and he gives them quality special teams ability as well.

Stick to it: Ben Garland, after two years on the Broncos’ practice squad, a two-year active duty stint in the Air Force and a position switch from defensive tackle to the offensive line this past offseason, made the Broncos’ initial cut to 53. Garland is always the first volunteer for off-the-field community appearances and routinely has lined up on both sides of the ball for the scout team. He steadily worked his way up the depth chart to second-team guard by the end of the preseason. He played every offensive snap in the Broncos’ preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

What’s next: Because of their Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos sit at No. 31 in the waiver claim order. It means, save for a cursory look at a returner or a kicker -- they worked out Andrew Furney on Satuday -- they will likely go with what they have.

Broncos moves: K Matt Prater placed on reserve/suspended. DE Kenny Anunike placed on injured reserve. LB Shaquil Barrett, RB Kapri Bibbs, S John Boyett, QB Zac Dysert, LB L.J. Fort, WR Bennie Fowler, DT Sione Fua, S Duke Ihenacho, TE Jameson Konz, G Ryan Miller, TE Cameron Morrah, CB Jerome Murphy, T Vinston Painter, WR Nathan Palmer, C Matt Paradis, TE Gerell Robinson, DE Brian Sanford, DB Jordan Sullen, DT Vickerson and CB Lou Young were waived or released, depending on their experience level.

Denver Broncos cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Most significant move: There may be no more difficult place on the roster for a young player to earn the trust of the coaching staff than on the offensive line. So much so that Orlando Franklin is the last Broncos' offensive linemen to start as a rookie, and he did it in 2011 -- John Fox's first season as the team's coach. But rookie Michael Schofield, a third-round pick in the May draft, and Paul Cornick, who spent the 2013 season on the team's practice squad, have shown enough to convince the Broncos to part ways with Winston Justice in the first round of cuts. Justice went through much of the early work in offseason workouts as Ryan Clady's backup at left tackle and got plenty of snaps in an audition as the starting right tackle as well. But the Broncos chose youth, and Justice, who is headed into his ninth season, was sent on his way.

Wild card: Often when the Broncos make this first round of roster cuts, there are actually players they want to bring back for the practice squad on the list. But to do that, the players must clear waivers, so sometimes the thinking is with rosters still at 75 around the league, teams may be less inclined to claim one of those players on waivers. Running back Brennan Clay, wide receiver Greg Wilson, wide receiver Greg Hardin and defensive tackle Will Pericak certainly fit that profile. Clay's play tapered off slightly as camp wore on, but during offseason work there were some with the Broncos who believed he had the best hands as a pass-catcher of anyone at the position. But he wasn't always assignment sound in recent days and wasn't going to get past fellow undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson on the depth chart.

Broncos' cuts: LB Jamar Chaney (moved to injured reserve), RB Brennan Clay, WR Greg Hardin, LB Jerrell Harris, T Winston Justice, defensive tackle Cody Larsen, S Charles Mitchell, WR Jordan Norwood, DT Will Pericak, quarterback Bryn Renner, DE Chase Vaughn (waived injured), RB Jerodis Williams and WR Greg Wilson. Norwood was a good bet to make the roster as a sixth receiver and punt returner until he tore his left ACL last week.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 23

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
8:05
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:

  • The Broncos "broke" camp after their walk-through late Friday afternoon, though things will look largely the same for players Tuesday when they return to the practice field. Because of construction at their complex, including that of a new indoor practice facility, fans have not been able to attend training camp practices that have routinely been open to the public in previous years. As a result Friday's two practices had much the same setting as Tuesday's will. That's when the Broncos begin three days of work against the Houston Texans. As of Friday, however, the Broncos' veterans no longer have to stay at the nearby hotel and can commute from home the rest of the way. "Camp's over, but we're still in camp mode because we're not in the regular season yet," safety T.J. Ward said. "We get to get out of the hotel and it's not as long of a day, but we're still preparing in that mindset. I'm just glad I get to go home and sleep in my own bed."
  • Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was held out of Friday's morning practice with a thigh injury that has limited him over the last two weeks. Sanders had practiced Tuesday and Thursday but was also held out of Monday's practice. He did participate in the evening walk-through, which forced the Broncos to adjust things with the starting offense earlier in the day as they went through red-zone work and end-of-game scenarios. The biggest beneficiary was Jordan Norwood, who got a selection of snaps with the regulars, including back-to-back receptions from Peyton Manning in a two-minute drill. Norwood, who is also getting a long look as the team's punt returner, would solidify his ability to gain a roster spot if he can consistently show he can give the team something at receiver. The fifth-year player has just four career starts -- all in 2011 with the Cleveland Browns.
  • Rookie running back Juwan Thompson got additional work with the starting offense and also continues to show he's up to the mental challenge. "You just want to be prepared at any given time when Peyton throws anything at you. At the end of the day, I can just ask him, so that I can feel 100 percent guaranteed about what I'm doing out there." Thompson figures to get plenty of work Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers since Montee Ball won't play (appendectomy) and C.J. Anderson just returned to practice Thursday after suffering a concussion. The Broncos believe Ball will return to practice on at least a limited basis next week, possibly as early as Tuesday's practice.
  • Von Miller's mother, Gloria, has been a regular visitor to training camp practices. After Friday's morning workout, Von took defensive end DeMarcus Ware over the meet her. "That's the first time she's met DeMarcus," Miller said. "DeMarcus is her second favorite player in the league, and she wanted to meet him ... She's a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, too." As Miller does more and more in practices in his return from ACL surgery, he and Ware have shown more of their potential in the pass rush. Friday, with Manning under center on one play, Miller launched himself around right tackle Chris Clark and got to Manning before Manning had even finished his dropback.
  • Odd and ends: Aqib Talib intercepted Manning in the end zone in a red-zone drill, a pass intended for Andre Caldwell ... Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler had a difficult sequence in end-of-game work against the second-team defense with what would have been a sack/fumble if defenders were allowed to hit the quarterbacks, to go with an interception by rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow on the next snap.

 

Broncos Camp Report: Day 22

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
7:35
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • C.J. Anderson, who had suffered a concussion in the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks, was back on the practice field Thursday morning, a week after leaving the Broncos' 21-16 victory. The Broncos will steadily work him back in, but Anderson did take a smattering of snaps with the starting offense while sporting a new type of helmet, similar to what Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker wears. With Montee Ball still working back from an appendectomy, Ronnie Hillman took most of the work with the starters. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson also got snaps as well. Asked how he felt Thursday, Anderson said he was sluggish. "I mean, I've been off as far as conditioning. Headache and all that, all that's done. I've got a new helmet. It's brand new, so I'm trying to break it in. Kind of tight at times, but I feel fine and you don't miss a beat."
  • The Broncos haven't been able to allow fans to watch their training camp practices this year because of construction in and around their complex, but folks would have enjoyed a highly entertaining set of 1-on-1s Thursday between the wide receivers/tight ends and the defensive backs in the red zone. Quarterback Peyton Manning was at his best, consistently throwing the ball into the tightest of windows with the defensive backs doing quality work of their own to try to prevent it. In one quality battle after another, Manning dropped scoring passes worthy of GPS, especially those into back corners of the end zone, to Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Andre Caldwell. Cornerback Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby had interceptions in the drill and Chris Harris Jr. knocked away a pass.
  • As expected, Brandon Marshall lined up at Danny Trevathan's weak-side linebacker spot in the base defense. Marshall, who spent most of the 2013 season on the team's practice squad before being signed to the active roster last December, showed he was prepared. He practiced with decisiveness in his movements in both the base defense as well as the specialty packages. "He is athletic," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I am excited to get a chance to really evaluate him in a more prominent role." Trevathan is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a fracture at the top of his left tibia.
  • Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer showed his ability to snare passes in traffic -- one of the things the Broncos' evaluators liked best about him before the team selected him in the second round of the draft -- when he leaped between cornerback Tony Carter and safety Duke Ihenacho up the left sideline to reel in a pass from Brock Osweiler. With Demaryius and Julius Thomas as well, the Broncos will have plenty of potential size to put in red-zone formations with the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Latimer as well.
  • With the second preseason game looming Sunday, the Broncos are still not consistently fielding punts as well as they're going to need to once the regular season begins. Wide receiver Jordan Norwood has looked the most consistent so far. Isaiah Burse bobbled a punt in a special teams period. The Broncos have been spotty at times in kickoff return work as well so far in camp. Both return jobs are open and could be an avenue for a player to make an established roster where there may not be room for him at a position alone.
  • Odds and ends: Rookie tackle Michael Schofield has worked at right tackle with the second-team offense of late ... Safety John Boyett, who is trying to carve out a spot in a crowded secondary, had two interceptions in Thursday's practice -- one on backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, the other on No. 3 quarterback Zac Dysert in a 7-on-7 drill.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 20

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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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 continue to grind through their preseason work, and as they get set to roll through their third week with Monday morning's practice, here’s are some things to consider:
  • Nate Irving has shown the coaches he intends to be the team’s middle linebacker, and it would take some unexpected events at this point for Irving not to be the guy in the middle of the base defense. Now, that is certainly a specialty package of sorts given that the Broncos line up in the nickel more than twice as often as they do in base, but Irving has done everything the team wants him to do. And more importantly, he has improved his game since the last time they tried him in the middle before eventually moving him out of the job. So far he has been consistent in his run fits, quick to the ball and reliable in finishing tackles.
  • The Broncos are a deep team, one that’s finished 13-3 in back-to-back seasons and retained a fairly youthful roster. With that said, there aren’t all that many roster spots in play. Still, two players who arrived a bit under the mainstream radar are making pushes to star. Rookie running back Juwan Thompson, if he maintains his current momentum, is a viable option to get snaps in the offense with the proficiency he’s shown in pass protection and the athleticism running the ball. Toss in his special-teams abilities and he should make it. The tougher question will be fifth-year wide receiver Jordan Norwood. Norwood, who has started four games in his previous four NFL seasons combined, has shown he fits the offense and could contribute as a receiver -- there are several rosters in the league he could make -- so if he can win the punt returner job, the Broncos will have to make room.
  • Rookie tackle Michael Schofield didn’t get a snap on offense in the preseason opener -- he did play six snaps on special teams -- but in looking at practice it’s clear the kid still deserves a chance at the right tackle spot. Sure, he’s going to make a mistake or two, but he looks to have the goods and will bear watching in next Sunday’s preseason game in San Francisco.
  • One of the best things the Broncos did in the preseason opener was to give backup quarterback Brock Osweiler a chance to rebound from an interception. He’s in his third season of one of the more odd apprenticeships the league has to offer. He knows the playbook, but he still needs to play. And if that means he gets more snaps than the usual No. 2 in a preseason, so be it. But the fact the Broncos let him play through three quarters last Thursday night is time well invested. Osweiler rebounded from his mistake to later make a touchdown throw -- a 34-yard rocket to Norwood down the hash -- that showed why he clearly has starter potential. Plenty of surviving as a quarterback in the league is bouncing back from a mistake to play with confidence. The Broncos need to know Osweiler can do that, and the only way to find out is to give him preseason snaps.
  • It will be a surprise if the Broncos don’t consistently create pressure on opposing passers. Their specialty packages -- nickel and dime -- will be intriguing once they unveil what they will do in the regular season. But having Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Quanterus Smith and Malik Jackson all in some kind of a front-seven mix gives defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio plenty of options.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 17

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
7:30
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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' annual summer scrimmage is a good time to gauge where things are with the team’s depth chart. The first of four preseason games is closing in on the horizon and choices will soon be made.

The Broncos, however, didn’t have many available spots on the depth chart when training camp began. Like many teams with the pieces in place to be in the postseason conversation, their personnel folks could have likely quickly listed 46 or 47 names of what will eventually be a 53-player roster even as camp opened.

So, this isn’t some scrape-it-to-the-foundation effort. This is a team that’s gone 26-6 in the last two regular seasons, with a Super Bowl appearance. The Broncos don’t have what-to-do questions in tow. They have is-it-enough questions. And after their first real live tackling effort this weekend, there are a few things for them to consider.
  • Running back is one of the few places where multiple spots on the depth chart are still in play. C.J. Anderson, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last summer, was on the shakiest of ground when OTAs and minicamp ended and his weight was up over 230 pounds. He was sluggish and lacked the spark he had shown in his 2013 training camp. The team’s decision-makers loaded up on undrafted rookies at the position and Anderson had been moved from good-depth-player status to may-not-make-it status. But after he lost almost 20 pounds before camp, he has shown a little more pop and has consistently worked as the No. 3 back so far behind Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. He needs some quality preseason work to keep that spot. Juwan Thompson has clawed his way to the front of the line among the undrafted rookie runners. But other than Ball and Hillman, things are still undecided there, especially if the Broncos see a name on the waiver wire that intrigues them in the coming weeks.
  • Somebody in the return game is going to have to catch the ball with some consistency -- rookie Isaiah Burse mishandled a punt in Saturday’s scrimmage, and overall the team has bobbled far too many kicks and punts so far. The Broncos have fallback options at kickoff returner and punt returner, most of which involve using a starter like Emmanuel Sanders or Wes Welker in some way. Omar Bolden and Andre Caldwell could offer workable options as a kickoff returner, but the Broncos need a player to latch on to the punt return role. Otherwise, the Broncos project to pile up fair catches as they reluctantly accept whatever field position comes with them.
  • It is to be expected, at least some, given how training camp and offseason workouts are structured now, but the Broncos' tackling in many of the 43 plays (including penalties) they ran in Saturday’s scrimmage was choppy at times. Now, nobody should advocate a return to football cave painting and put teams in full pads for six hours every day. Those days are done and aren’t coming back. But several defensive players acknowledged things need to be better in the coming weeks -- an honest assessment about something that needs attention. Or as safety Rahim Moore put it, “We’re holding each other accountable. We understand our system, too, and what Coach (Jack) Del Rio preaches and where we fit in the run, where we are in the pass, how we challenge the throws. Our defense can be very special, but you don’t play defense on paper. You’ve got to go out there and make plays on the field."
  • They’re working at crowded spots, but among the team’s undrafted rookies, Thompson, defensive end Kenny Anunike and linebacker Shaquil Barrett have made the most of their time with the team. All three are getting quality snaps and are just the kind of players to keep an eye on through the preseason games to keep the Broncos' streak of an undrafted rookie making the roster alive.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 10

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
6:25
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DENVER -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:


  • The Broncos went through 43 plays -- penalties included -- in the scrimmage portion of Saturday’s work at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Though the defense, as is training camp norm, has been a little ahead of the offense in practices over the past week or so, Saturday was solidly a day for the offense. The three quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert -- were a combined 17-of-21 passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns. Manning, against the team’s No. 2 defense, was 7-of-10 for 107 yards and a touchdown. Both sides kept things pretty vanilla throughout, but in terms of tempo, the first-, second- and third-team offenses worked efficiently out of the no-huddle look.
  • With the progression of Julius Thomas from two injury-marred seasons to Pro Bowl tight end this past season, Jacob Tamme saw his snap count on offense take a significant dip last season. After a 52-catch season in 2012 when Thomas played in just four games and did not have a catch, Tamme had 264 snaps on offense last season -- 21.9 percent of the team’s snaps. But Saturday Tamme once again showed his value in that break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency sort of way. With Thomas having been given the day off because of a thigh bruise, Tamme worked at tight end with the starters and finished out the first drive with a diving one-handed catch for a 17-yard touchdown. Tamme, who is also one of the best special teams players on the roster, came within inches of another touchdown catch on the second drive. "Jacob is always there when you need him," Manning said.
  • Manning and the offensive starters worked against the Broncos’ No. 2 defense, so that left Osweiler to have at it against the Broncos' starting defense. Though linebacker Von Miller, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson were held out of the scrimmage, Osweiler faced more pressure in the pass rush than the other two quarterbacks did -- Danny Trevathan had what was called a sack (quarterbacks were not hit) and the second-team offense had five called runs in its 11 plays of work to go with two Osweiler scrambles. However Osweiler was 3-of-3 for 33 yards and a touchdown. Osweiler had a 22-yard completion to former Arizona State teammate Gerell Robinson on a third-and-2 and later had a 2-yard shovel pass to Robinson for a score. "Brock’s had a good camp," Manning said. "He’s just improved every single year that he’s been here and I thought he had a really good day as well."
  • The running back rotation Saturday showed where things are as the first preseason game approaches, Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman worked with the No. 1 offense, C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson worked with the second-team offense, and Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay split the carries with the third-team offense. Thompson’s size (225 pounds) and his ability in pass protection and as a receiver have pushed him up the depth chart. Anderson continues to show that dropping almost 20 pounds between minicamp and the start of training camp was a wise move that likely saved him a quality shot at a roster spot, because he was on wobbly ground with the team's decision-makers after the June minicamp.
  • In what was the most extensive live tackling the Broncos have done so far in camp, there were some signs of rust. Hillman broke a tackle on a 10-yard catch-and-run on the team's first drive, rookie wide receiver Bennie Fowler later broke a tackle on a 9-yard gain and the starting defense surrendered a 16-yard run to Anderson and the second-team offense. Defensive end Derek Wolfe said; "obviously we need to work on out tackling." And defensive tackle Terrance Knightson said "We're going against the best offense in the game, so we'll be ready for anybody."
  • Odds and ends: The Broncos' kickers kicked extra-point attempts from the 15-yard line, an experiment in place league-wide for the Hall of Fame game and the first two weeks of the preseason ... Julius Thomas was held out of the scrimmage with a thigh bruise suffered in Friday’s practice, but the injury wasn’t considered serious and following the workout Thomas said; "I’m good." ... There were 38,620 fans on hand for the scrimmage. With the 9,207 who turned out Wednesday in a downpour and 21,993 for a practice last Sunday, 69,820 people turned out for the team’s three stadium practices combined. Fans could not attend practices at the Broncos’ complex during this training camp because of construction at the facility.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 9

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler will get a rather tidy training camp exam Saturday morning. The Broncos will hold their annual practice/summer scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And after some of their usual drills to open the workout they will send the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense for 12 plays of live tackling. And that means Osweiler and the No. 2 offense will try its hand against the No. 1 defense. "Brock is really going to have to be smart and moving the ball well against the 1s," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. The combination to keep an eye on, at least if the last few days of practice are any indication, is Osweiler and undrafted rookie Bennie Fowler. The two have connected on several big plays, including touchdown throws Thursday and Friday. Fowler has worked with the second-team offense lately and if he's on the field Osweiler will look his way.
  • The running back rotation in the scrimmage will bear watching, especially how things go with the second and third units. Montee Ball figures to get most, or all, of the carries with the starters with Ronnie Hillman working as his backup right now. C.J. Anderson is expected to run with the second team while Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay will likely mix and match with the third-team offense. Thompson, however, has taken second-team snaps in camp in short-yardage work.
  • Following Friday's practice, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had high praise for cornerback Chris Harris Jr.'s work in coming back from ACL surgery in February. Harris was cleared to return to practice this week, less than six months following his surgery. "I've been around guys that have rehabbed and come back from injury, but I don't know if I've ever seen a guy more determined every day with great energy attacking it the way he did," Del Rio said. "He's really stayed engaged mentally in the meetings. He's worked extremely hard and been very diligent, and it's gone well -- no setbacks or anything."
  • Linebacker Jamar Chaney, who started 23 games for the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in his career and had a three-interception season in 2011, had a leaping pick on a Zac Dysert pass in Friday's red-zone drills. Chaney leaped high to tip the ball up and then caught the tipped ball. Chaney, who has worked with the third-team defense the majority of the time, faces a tight battle at linebacker for the last few spots. The team kept seven linebackers in the cut to 53 players in 2011 and 2012 to go with six at the position last season.
  • The Broncos' practice/scrimmage at 11 a.m. at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be their only practice Saturday.
  • Odds and ends: Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who left Thursday's practice with stiffness in his lower back, was back on the field Friday ... Safety Quinton Carter, who is on track to make the roster after two missed seasons with knee troubles, finished his work in a team drill at one point in Friday's practice and jumped on a stationary bike to ride for a few minutes. He then returned to practice ... Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders reached high for a scoring grab in the back of the end zone in team drills, getting his feet down just before crossing the end line ... Hillman got a few carries with the starting offense in run-game work.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When former Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno had scratched and clawed his way out of the depth chart doghouse to post his best season as a professional in 2013 (1,038 yards rushing and 60 receptions), running backs coach Eric Studesville said this:

Hillman
"I hope guys, young guys, older guys, anybody, look at what Knowshon did for himself, how he worked, how he carried himself to go from where he was to do what he did, and see that's exactly how you handle football adversity."

Well, consider the point taken. In a meeting room where no running back has played more than two seasons worth of games in the NFL, Ronnie Hillman was apparently paying attention.

While Montee Ball is this team's starter and the guy who will lug the rock much of the time, Hillman has the most potential to be a home-run hitter in the run game. Hillman's potential, though, has far outweighed his accomplishments.

Last year he was handed the first crack at the starting job in offseason workouts, but by the time the Broncos rolled into the regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens Hillman had just four carries in that game. By the eighth game of the season, Hillman was a game day inactive and eventually did not play in any of the Broncos' postseason games.

So it could be easy to be jaded about any uptick the Broncos say they see in Hillman's play because last season is still fresh in many people's minds. They've heard about potential before, heard what he could give to the offense.

"But I love what Ronnie has done," Studesville said. "From when we started this spring in April forward, he has been unbelievable. He's a completely different guy in the best possible way and I'm just excited about what he's doing, how he's approaching it, how he's making plays on the field. It's been great. It's been there the whole time, but we're finally seeing the maximum side of it. ... I didn't do a good job of bringing it out, but now we are, he's bringing it out."

During offseason workouts, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said the depth chart behind Ball was "wide open." Since the start of training camp, however, Hillman has been solidly No. 2 in the rotation. C.J. Anderson has nudged himself back into the No. 3 spot, for now, after losing about 20 pounds and rebounding from a sluggish performance in OTAs and minicamp. Rookies Juwan Thompson, Brennan Clay and Kapri Bibbs have also gotten some select carries in the No. 3 spot, while Thompson has had a few with the No. 2 offense in short-yardage work.

But it is an odd twist of fate and roster building that Hillman, who is entering his third season in the league after being a third-round pick by the Broncos in 2012, is the most experienced back on the team. Hillman has flashed his speed to the corner in the run game, the acceleration with a screen pass in his hands and far more willingness to dig in and take on a rusher in pass protection.

"Give a lot of credit to him," Studesville said. "For ... sitting back and looking at two years in the NFL, a talented guy who should be here, who's demonstrated he's got the ability to be here and wasn't playing for whatever reason. And he found a way to turn that around and turn our eyes around ... and we love what we're seeing."

Asked what he's learned along the way and Hillman has been quick to say "that you have to be accountable ... that I probably relaxed a little bit last year when maybe I shouldn't have. It won't happen again ... I come in here every day with a chip on my shoulder."

Hillman has also been savvy enough to add "you have to show it in how you practice and what you do in games. I want to make plays in games that help us do good things."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos haven’t had the usual throngs of their faithful waiting for them when they arrive at the practice field.

They've had no roars of approval for long passes completed or the customary oohs and aahs for interceptions, forced fumbles and Peyton Manning being Manning.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesMontee Ball seems to have Denver's starting tailback job wrapped up, but who will back him up?
As Manning put it, “It’s kind of going to be on us to keep ourselves going."

The Broncos, who will hold the second of three open-to-the-public practices at Sports Authority Field at Mile High as the $35 million makeover continues at their complex, are a deep team with very few roster spots truly in play. Still, after the first week of training camp, there are some questions they still need to answer in the coming weeks, including:

Depth chart at running back: Montee Ball was handed the starting job in the offseason, much like Ronnie Hillman was a year ago. Hillman didn’t keep the job, but Ball clearly will.

He’s shown vision in the run game, decisiveness in his cuts and consistent, quality work in the passing game. He’s poised for a big season and perhaps even the first 250-carry season for the Broncos since Reuben Droughns had 275 carries in 2004. Knowshon Moreno had 247 in 2009 and 241 last season, while Willis McGahee had 249 in 2011.

Hillman has also responded after a listless 2013. He’s been a little grittier in pass protection and seems to have learned the sometimes painful lesson that he has to stay on his toes to have a chance to stay in the lineup.

C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and Brennan Clay will hash it out for the other spots. Anderson was sluggish in OTAs and minicamp at 234 pounds. After his performance in those offseason workouts, there were plenty of folks with the team who were not confident he would keep a roster spot at that weight.

He’s now about 215 pounds in camp and looks more like the guy who made the roster last season as an undrafted rookie. But all three of those backs should be camped out at special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers’ door because the No. 3 running back got all of 55 carries a year ago and might not get anywhere close to that this time around.

Right tackle: Chris Clark has worked with the starters thus far, but the decision hasn’t been made. He has struggled at times with some of the power moves from the Broncos’ defensive linemen in pass-rush drills and hasn't always gotten his hands in the right spots on initial contact. He played well in place of an injured Ryan Clady at left tackle last season, but the strong side is a different deal, and he hasn't yet slammed the door on the competition for the job.

The Broncos can help the right tackle with a tight end if they need to but would prefer not to have to. So, consider auditions still open, and the position will bear watching in preseason games.

Returner(s): There are some candidates who have flashed some explosiveness such as Hillman, rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer, undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse, Omar Bolden and Andre Caldwell, among others. But none of them has consistently caught the ball well enough in practice so far to be considered the front-runner.

At least one of them has to step forward in the coming weeks in the return game and handle the ball consistently. Otherwise the Broncos will be faced with eschewing the idea of an impact returner in lieu of simply fielding the ball without a bobble.

That would be an awful lot of field position left unsecured before the Broncos' offense takes the field.

Broncos offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Denver Broncos' offseason moves.

Ware
Best move: The Broncos dove into free agency with purpose and handled their draft board with discipline, but the best move was a Canton repeat of sorts for football boss John Elway. When Elway signed quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012, he said: “I like to get Hall of Fame players with a chip on their shoulders."

Elway repeated that phrase this past March, when the team signed defensive end DeMarcus Ware. The former Cowboy, set to enter his 10th season, is coming off an injury-marred year in which he finished with a career-low six sacks.

But this is a 100-sack player over his career who has missed just three games in the past nine years. The Broncos' defense -- in addition to their locker room -- is far better with him in it.

Riskiest move: First, the Broncos let their leading rusher, Knowshon Moreno, test the market. Frankly, any offer Moreno would get from another team was going to be more than anything the Broncos would have considered.

Ball
Then, Denver let seven rounds of the draft pass without selecting a running back. And while the Broncos still have Manning at quarterback, their running back depth chart has a significant dropoff after Montee Ball. Especially if Ronnie Hillman can’t regain his momentum -- at least at the moment -- as the team's primary backup. It’s also why running backs Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson -- both undrafted rookies -- have a legit chance to make the roster.

Most surprising move: The Broncos had worked toward getting an agreement with free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the offseason got underway. Proposals and counter-proposals were made, and at one point the Broncos put forth an offer they thought was as high as they were willing to go -- $54 million over six years. The deal was really more like three years, $24 million, with Rodgers-Cromartie unlikely to see the final $30 million unless he was on the roster.

Talib
Talib
Rodgers-Cromartie balked and the Broncos moved on. The team moved so quickly that in the space of roughly four hours, Aqib Talib went from not hearing from the Broncos to agreeing to terms on a six-year deal with the team.

Get ready: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was the last of the top-tier free agents to sign with the Broncos in the initial wave of spending in March.

But Sanders, who can play on the outside or in the slot and is explosive after the catch, projects for a career year in this offense. Already in workouts, Manning has commented on Sanders' explosiveness and how the Broncos will be creative to get their newest wideout the ball.

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