AFC West: Louis Vasquez

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Perhaps it all boils down to the difference between more and better.

Because any rational person would have a difficult time saying the Denver Broncos' offense could do more in the coming season than it did in the last one. At least when it comes to touchdowns, league records and whoa-look-at-that explosiveness that were all in the Broncos’ jet wash last season.

The Broncos became the league’s first-ever 600-point team in 2013, had five different players score at least 10 touchdowns -- no other team in history had more than three -- and quarterback Peyton Manning set single-season records for touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477). So to say more is in the offing in ’14, even with all the Broncos have done in the offseason, is borderline nuts.

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos are hoping that Orlando Franklin's move to left guard will help improve the team's run game.
But better? Now that’s another matter.

"Oh yeah, we can be better. We can do some things better, we can make better calls, I can make better calls, I can get us in better situations," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "There are some things we’ve got our eyes on."

And one of those is a simple matter of physics. That when the defense gets smaller to defend the Broncos’ high-wire passing game, the Broncos have to find a way to pound away better, more efficiently, in the run game.

No, the Broncos aren't moving toward some outdated idea, at least in these pass-happy times, that balance on offense means some kind of 50-50 split between run and pass. The Broncos were about at a 58-42 split in pass plays to runs last season, and with Gase a 60-40 split will likely be the starting point to any discussion about "balance."

But the Broncos do want, when the opportunity presents itself, to run the ball better against the vast array of smaller defensive personnel groupings in front of them. It’s not complicated -- the Broncos play out of a three-wide receiver set much of the time, about three-quarters of the time this past regular season, closer to 90 percent in the postseason.

That means they face defenses' specialty packages, with primarily with five or six defensive backs, most of the time. Formations that also include smaller, quicker defensive fronts as well.

So much so that last season when the Broncos handed the ball to their No. 1 back, Knowshon Moreno, he was running against six or fewer players in the box on 80 percent of his carries. Moreno finished the year with his first 1,000-yard campaign, but at 4.3 yards per carry against those lighter defensive groupings, the Broncos saw room for improvement as the team's yards-per-carry average overall was 4.1.

And that’s why when it came time to make decisions, the Broncos didn’t offer Moreno a deal in free agency -- he signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins and will miss the next month or so after arthroscopic surgery. Instead they moved Montee Ball into the starting role and shifted Orlando Franklin to left guard, a move that gives Denver perhaps the biggest guard tandem in the league.

Even when they were thinking about their passing game, like when they used a second-round pick on wide receiver Cody Latimer, as the Broncos lauded Latimer’s combination of size and speed, they still had some visions of the run game dancing in their heads, as John Elway also called Latimer the "best blocking wide receiver in the draft."

A big part of the foundation of Manning’s play in an offense has always been the play-action passing game, but the run game must be a threat for that to work as defenses must believe the ball will actually end up with the running back. And when Gase talks about the touchdowns the Broncos left unscored last season, it’s often because they couldn’t find a way to get the ball into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line.

For example, Broncos kicker Matt Prater made three 19-yard field goals in 2013 -- two in the regular season, one in the AFC Championship Game. In all three cases the Broncos had failed to convert third-and-goal plays from their opponents’ 1-yard line, and in all three cases the field goal followed an incomplete pass.

The Broncos don’t want to be anything close to a run-first team, but they want to be a run-when-they-need-to team to close out games and to help keep the offense’s biggest asset -- Manning -- out of harm’s way by slowing down opposing pass-rushers.

"Any time an offense is balanced, it means they’re running the ball pretty well," guard Louis Vasquez said. "And that’s a focus for us this year."

"We’re always going to try to get the best look, to do the best thing in each situation for the offense to be successful," Gase said. "The more things we can do, the more options we have. We want to be able to execute the plays we want in those situations. If that’s throwing, that’s throwing the ball, if it’s running, then we want that available, too."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos grind their way through their offseason work as a team in the oh-so-early Super Bowl conversations, they have unfinished business.

There is the depth chart at running back, some uncertainty at middle linebacker and making sure the players they signed in their free-agency binge enter the fold smoothly. Oh, there is also a little one-in-a-million shot they need to come through.

Not the Wes Welker make-it-rain-at-the-Kentucky Derby one-in-a-million shot, but an important choice about what might be the most important number when it comes to what the Broncos’ offense does for an encore after its record-setting, 606-point season in 2013. Their magic number is five, as in the five starting offensive linemen charged with protecting quarterback Peyton Manning: the five guys charged with protecting the franchise’s fortunes.

"We feel good about our options," Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "We feel like we have the guys on the roster to do what we need to do."

Broncos coach John Fox wants to address lineup options about as much as he wants to talk about injuries. So on more than one occasion, Fox, in his eternal quest to move on to the next question, has said the Broncos will try "a million" combinations on the offensive line through OTAs, this week’s minicamp and training camp.

So far they are a little short of a million, but they have tried some things here and there. And it really boils down to two, perhaps three, combinations.

Orlando Franklin's move from right tackle to left guard was made to maximize Franklin’s abilities; many scouts in the league believed that Franklin would be a better guard than tackle when the Broncos selected him in the 2011 draft. The move also helps Denver adjust to life without guard Zane Beadles, who signed with Jacksonville after the Broncos didn't offer him a chance to stay.

Franklin also gives the Broncos more bulk on the interior, more power, more options in dispersing the inside rush that any defense will believe is key to getting to Manning. So far in team workouts, that move looks to be one that will stick.

The Broncos, even in non-contact work, have flashed some power looks on the interior and will potentially have a better inside run game at their disposal. Although running the ball more efficiently has a spot fairly high on the team’s offseason agenda, the bottom line up front in a Manning-centered offense will always be keeping the man with four neck surgeries in his medical history out of harm’s way.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe return of starting left tackle Ryan Clady should improve Denver's pass protection.
And the Broncos prefer to do that by blocking five-on-whatever much of the time. Last season the team played out of the three-wide-receiver set at just over 70 percent of its snaps in the regular season, and that total hovered closer to 90 percent in its three playoff games.

Much of that time was spent with a catch-first tight end in Julius Thomas in the formation as well. So their own Five Guys franchise has to get it done.

Franklin’s move inside, with All-Pro Louis Vasquez already working on the right side, gives the Broncos one of the bigger, perhaps biggest, guard tandems in the league. The Broncos would be comfortable with either Manny Ramirez, who started at center last season, or free-agent addition Will Montgomery in the middle of things. Ryan Clady, as he returns from last season’s foot injury, appears ready to reclaim his spot as one of the league’s best at left tackle.

So that leaves right tackle, a position that defenses repeatedly attacked with the pass rush last season, especially down the stretch into the playoffs. Chris Clark, who's more proficient as a pass-blocker than he is in the run game, has spent most of the time with the starters in the offseason workouts.

Clark filled in for Clady after Week 2 last season and got the job done for the most part. Rookie Michael Schofield, a third-round pick, should get a look as well, but given that Franklin is the last rookie this coaching staff has started up front on offense, Schofield would need to not just be as good as Clark but win the job handily in camp.

Veteran Winston Justice has taken a spin or two on the right side as well, but at the moment it looks like Clark or Schofield. Either way, defensive coordinators see what the Broncos have done in free agency and the draft, adding receivers, adding speed, and they saw what the Seattle Seahawks did to the Broncos' offensive line in the Super Bowl.

Plenty of those defensive coaches say although it’s scary to aggressively come after Manning with the rush, they might do it more in an effort to disrupt Denver's timing.

"We’re going to look at a lot of things," Fox said. "We’ve got some time, and that’s what the offseason is for. We’re going to use the time we have and make the decisions we think are best."

Manning is Manning, which is to say he won’t get sacked much no matter who is in front of him. He has been sacked fewer than 20 times in nine of his seasons as a starter, and last season he was sacked 18 times in 659 pass attempts -- or just once for every 27.3 attempts.

But for the Broncos and Manning the question isn’t sacks -- it’s damage and getting him through one week into the next. The Broncos have to limit the hits on their 38-year-old quarterback, who has had a spinal fusion. Two low hits in particular in a four-sack game by Robert Mathis last season almost derailed the Broncos' plans and put Manning in an ankle brace for the rest of the season.

So as folks crunch all the numbers to sum up the Broncos’ potential in the coming season, one still stands out as they prepare to adjourn until training camp.

It’s five. As in the right five.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It would seem anybody as big as Denver Broncos guard Louis Vasquez -- "he's huge," 290-pound defensive end and teammate Derek Wolfe said -- would have a difficult time squeezing anywhere under the radar.

Sure, when Vasquez signed with the Broncos a little more than a year ago, he had been their top target in free agency. Of all the players they reeled in that offseason, he got the longest deal (four years) and the most money ($23.5 million). Yet in all of the chatter around the league about who signed for what that March, it was barely a ripple in the pond.

But Vasquez is a 6-foot-5, 335-pound shining example of how free agency is supposed to work, for the team and for the player.

[+] EnlargeLouis Vasquez
AP Photo/ Eric BakkeLouis Vasquez was the only unrestricted free agent in 2013 who changed teams and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
"We like the way that has worked out," Broncos executive vice president/general manager John Elway said. "We always want them to work out like that."

In theory, if you play well, you get to the open market and you get paid. If you play really well, you get paid really well.

Ideally, you play even better than what you did to draw interest in the first place. And right there is the rub, because the trouble with free agency from a business standpoint is a player who gets signed for big money rarely plays better than he did before he signed the contract.

Think about it. It’s a short list, just a handful of names, of unrestricted free agents who played better after the new deal. Not the same as before. Better.

Take former Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker. The New York Jets didn’t shower a $30-something million deal on him to get the Broncos’ No. 2 receiver. No, they want better. They want a No. 1 receiver.

Vasquez has been better, a win-win for the Broncos. He was the only unrestricted free agent in 2013 who changed teams and was selected to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. He was the first Broncos guard to be named first-team All-Pro since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

In short, the Broncos scouted a player who fit what they wanted and also had the makeup to improve once he arrived. He was young enough to have room on the developmental curve to grow, and the ability to flourish with an expanded role in a more diverse offense than what he was in before he arrived.

Vasquez, who played his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, got a top-tier contract for a team in the Super Bowl conversation. Everybody was, and still is, happy.

Asked this week if he believes he truly played better with the opportunity to play in a high-flying, record-setting offense, or if folks simply noticed him more as the Broncos roared toward 606 points, Vasquez was understated, as usual.

"That’s kind of hard for me to say," Vasquez said. "I feel I learn something new every year. I pick up something to add to my game. So every year I like to think I’ve built on the previous year before."

"We were having trouble with teams getting stunts on us, teams were getting penetration, then the loopers were getting to us," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "When we watched him on tape in those situations before he got here, he was just snatching those guys and shutting it down right there, and then he could pass a guy off and take over the next guy. Then we saw him in the run game, so powerful. We knew he was going to bring a different element."

Vasquez also holds a rather remarkable distinction of having been flagged just five times in 70 regular-season games, and only four of those penalties were assessed. He was flagged three times last season -- two false starts and a holding penalty -- but none was after Week 7. Before he arrived, he had been flagged just twice -- a false-start penalty on a field goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots, and a holding call in Week 6 of his rookie season that was declined.

"Just [having] great technique, that’s my biggest focus, is playing with technique, every play, every down," Vasquez said. “The results show for themselves. My only concern is to play with good technique and everything else will follow."

Said Gase: "He’s a hard guy to get around, he does a good job of moving his feet, and when he gets his hands on you, he’s able to keep himself out of trouble. That’s where you get holding calls or just penalties in general, when a guy gets an edge on you and you have to react to recover and drag people down.

"He’s a really good athlete. And I just didn’t realize how big he was. Some guys are listed big, made themselves big, [Vasquez] is just big, physical, he looks the part. Well, really, he's everything you want in the part."

No compensatory pick for Broncos

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Denver Broncos had held out a small hope to get at least one compensatory pick for the annual selection weekend, but the league did not agree with that math.

The NFL released its list of compensatory draft picks Monday -- 13 teams were awarded 32 picks in all -- and the Broncos didn’t make the complicated mathematical cut. This year’s compensatory picks were awarded based on signings and losses in free agency before the 2013 season.

Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were among the players signed by the Broncos a year ago with Vasquez having been named an All-Pro this past season and all five going on to be starters. Cornerback Tracy Porter, who went on to be a 16-game starter for the Oakland Raiders, and safety Jim Leonhard were among the team’s biggest free agency losses.

The team's biggest departure was defensive end Elvis Dumervil, but since he was under contract when he was released by the Broncos following the well-publicized fax fiasco, he does not count as a loss in free agency. Players whose contracts have expired are considered in the math.

At the moment the Broncos have seven draft picks, one in each of the seven rounds.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Elway said "everything in my power," he meant everything.

Everything as in Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen’s checkbook and incessant desire to win. Everything as in Elway’s legacy as a Hall of Fame player. Everything as in a presumptive Hall of Famer currently at quarterback, and everything as in one of the most favorable salary-cap positions among the 2013 playoff teams.

Yes, the Broncos, still bruised in many ways from a 35-point Super Bowl loss last month, have rampaged through the opening hours of free agency with some specific goals in mind. They wanted to get nasty, wanted to have the elusive Plan "B" for when their next-level offense doesn’t have the kind of day it’s used to.

And the result has been a 24-hour defensive binge that now includes defensive end DeMarcus Ware (three years, $30 million, $20 million guaranteed); cornerback Aqib Talib (six years, $57 million, $26 million guaranteed); and safety T.J. Ward (four years, $23 million, $14 million guaranteed).

"That’s why me, Talib and Ware were brought in, three physical players. ... It’s going to help this defense, it’s going to help this team," Ward said in his first appearance at the Broncos' complex.

But Elway made Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning a promise as he recruited him in the days that followed his release from the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. When Manning arrived at the Broncos’ complex for a visit, he was still stunned the Colts had actually released him, still reeling with all of the uncertainty in front of him.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAqib Talib said that signing with the Broncos gives him the best shot at reaching the top of the NFL.
"I wasn’t sure what the future was going to look like. There wasn’t a map for me to follow," Manning had said.

But at that time, Elway’s pitch was a promise that Elway, as Bowlen’s chief football decision-maker, would "do everything in my power" to make sure Manning retired from the NFL as Elway did, with Super Bowl titles in those final seasons.

The Broncos made history on the way to last season’s 13-3 finish, set scoring records and raced into Super Bowl XLVIII using the fastest of fast lanes. Then the Seattle Seahawks pushed Denver down, and the Broncos simply never got up in one of the worst title-game losses of the Super Bowl era.

Manning didn’t play well, the receivers didn’t play well, the linemen didn’t block well and a defense that was the biggest question mark heading into the Super Bowl actually answered the bell until the game got out of hand.

But Elway has since talked of creating "the mindset" to win a championship, has talked of being more physical on both sides of the ball and has talked about if they saw the opportunity to sign any player the team believed could be better than the ones they had, the Broncos would do it.

They also had managed their salary cap well enough to have $28.7 million or so of cap space last Thursday morning. They then released cornerback Champ Bailey that day and guard Chris Kuper retired Monday. With those two events the Broncos gained roughly another $14 million in cap space, and with that cap space and the bulk of a roster good enough to have finished 13-3 in back-to-back seasons, the Broncos went to work.

Ware, who will turn 32 in July, is now in the fold, but the Broncos can still project a potential starting lineup with 15 players 28 years old or younger, and seven players 25 years or younger. The team isn’t really in as big an “all-in" mode as their monetary festivus would seem to indicate.

Certainly, Manning is still the centerpiece of all this -- so much so that when Talib was asked Wednesday why he chose Denver, he quickly pointed to the 37-year-old quarterback.

"We just kind of looked at the best package," Talib said. "I do have a family, I have kids, I have a wife that I got to take care of and it was Peyton Manning, you know? It was just the total package. Denver was the best place."

Elway has been a no-nonsense, grassroots executive right from the start. He grinds the video on draft prospects, he goes to the Senior Bowl, he has made the pro day rounds and he makes decisions based on the long term "because my job is to be two steps ahead."

But after three trips through the opening of free agency, he has to be considered one of the league’s best closers as well, and closers get the coffee and former Pro Bowl selections, it seems -- Manning, Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Talib, Ward and now Ware.

So it seems the Broncos really didn’t just go all-in this year. They’ve just kind of had that mindset all along.

Dropping $57 million in somebody’s lap means never having to say you're sorry.

So while New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick may have thought receiver Wes Welker's collision with cornerback Aqib Talib in the Denver Broncos win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last January was “one of the worst plays I've seen," apparently, with a couple months to think about it, Talib had no such hard feelings.

But a blockbuster, perhaps THE blockbuster, deal as the first day of NFL free agency drew to a close will provide a rather tidy balm. Talib was the Broncos’ big catch Tuesday with a six-year, $57 million deal that had folks raising eyebrows all over the league.

Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway once again flashed a little of his wild side, the side that could gain 98 yards with a playoff game on the line as a quarterback, that rears its head from time to time in Elway the executive. Talib just turned 28 last month, so he fits the age profile Elway likes in free agency.

But the general consensus late last night among the folks with the checkbooks in hand around the league is any player you sign on free agency’s first day is getting overpaid. Talib got more from the Broncos than many in the league expected he would from any team.

To put that into perspective in 2011 the Broncos signed Champ Bailey to a four-year, $42.5 million deal when Bailey already had been named to 11 Pro Bowls. Certainly times change and so do salary caps, but the Broncos were aggressive with this one as they gave their secondary a major makeover before free agency was even 12 hours old.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesSafety T.J. Ward got a four-year deal worth $23 million ($14 million guaranteed) with the Broncos.
Safety T.J. Ward also signed in Denver for four years, $23 million, with $14 million guaranteed. Add in Talib’s $26 million guaranteed and the Broncos dropped some serious coin on a position in which the depth chart was wafer thin when the day began.

The Broncos had six defensive backs from last year’s roster who were either unrestricted or restricted free agents and then they released Bailey last week. Ward is the physical, versatile safety the Broncos wanted, tough enough to play down toward the line of scrimmage in the run game with the athleticism to play in space as well.

Ward is also just 27 and won’t turn 28 until December, so he too fits the age profile Elway has tried to keep in free agency in his tenure.

To make potential reality, to turn risk into reward, the Broncos need Ward and Talib to stay healthy and to be on the field. That is always the crux of the high-priced opening week of free agency, it's always the difference between the deal gone bad and one that gives an equal return for the investment.

The Broncos did better on Ward’s contract than many in the league said his asking price was when free agency opened. Talib’s deal, however, has almost as much guaranteed money as the total deal for Alterraun Verner ($26.5 million), who was also one of the top cornerbacks on the market and is heading to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Talib has not started 16 games in any season. He had 13 starts in 2013 for New England and nine games combined for the Patriots and Buccaneers in 2012. The closest he has come to a 16-game season was 2009 when the started 15 games in his second season in the league.

Last month, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was asked during a radio appearance why Talib wasn’t slated to get a big contract from the Patriots. Kraft said “he wasn’t on the field a lot of the time since he’s been with us." Ward, too, has had some injuries. He missed the last two games of the 2012 season because of a bone bruise on his knee and missed the last games of the 2011 season with a foot injury.

But Ward is coming off a 112-tackle season in 2013 to go with an interception for a touchdown. And that’s the kind of presence the Broncos are paying for right now.

Still, when Elway took the job with the Broncos, two of the league’s general managers he consulted were Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers and Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens. Both have built Super Bowl winners by emphasizing the draft and largely sitting out free agency, especially Thompson. And Elway, too, has consistently declared the draft the most important part of building the Broncos’ depth chart, but it seems he likes to throw long ball in his executive role as well.

He dove in to the tune of $96 million on an MRI and prayer for Peyton Manning in 2012 and that resulted in back-to-back division titles to go with a Super Bowl trip. Last year he went early in free agency for Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker and Terrance Knighton.

Vasquez went onto an All-Pro season, Welker had a career-best 10 touchdowns and Knighton was the Broncos’ best defensive lineman down the stretch.

So, if Elway is right on Ward and Talib, the Broncos are in the hunt once again. If not, the salary cap pinch will follow at some point.

But with DeMarcus Ware, owner of 117 career sacks, now scheduled to visit the Broncos in the coming days, Elway likely has enough cap room -- they opened free agency with just less than $32 million to spend after Chris Kuper's retirement -- to sell Ware on a chance at a Super Bowl. And Elway will have to be at his closing best to do that for the soon-to-be 32-year-old Ware.

Elway, the guy who once consistently showed he knew the art of the comeback, is getting it done with the art of the deal as well. When he said earlier this year “if we can find somebody better than we have, we have to find them, and if they’re out there then we’ll sign them" he meant it.
During the league's scouting combine this past week, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway gave a clear, unvarnished opinion of how the team will approach its own group of soon-to-be free agents.

That is, the team won't approach them. At least not out of the gate. At least not before those players can see if the bank accounts are greener on the other side of the fence.

"I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those," Elway said. "Especially where you look where we are and what we have coming up."

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos may turn to Orlando Franklin if left guard Zane Beadles leaves in free agency.
The Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Von Miller also poised for free agency following the 2014 season, so that will impact how the Broncos divvy up the checks this time around as well. It also means the Broncos aren't interested in starting the bidding for guys like wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno and guard Zane Beadles. And it means, unless the three don't draw much interest in the open market the Broncos have given some consideration to what they would do if they move on.

Beadles' departure would force changes in the offensive line that the Broncos are expected to take on in house. With so many needs on defense, any significant dollars spent in free agency will address issues there. The coming draft class is expected to have a heavy defensive flavor as well.

Up front Beadles has started the last 62 regular season games for the Broncos and has played in every game -- 64 in the regular season as well as six playoff games -- of his career. If he leaves as expected, the Broncos would be inclined to take another look at Orlando Franklin at guard.

While Franklin has spent his time with the Broncos at right tackle, many teams believed he would be a better guard in the NFL when he was drafted in 2011. The Broncos have worked him occasionally on the inside during practice with the idea a move would be in his future.

Franklin is a power player and with Louis Vasquez at right guard, a move to the left guard spot for Franklin would give the Broncos the kind of bulk on the inside they want in front of quarterback Peyton Manning. If the Broncos are going to play as much in three-wide receiver sets as they have in Manning's two seasons behind center they have to be able to stone-wall defenses in the middle of the field.

Manning's post-surgery throwing motion is very pronounced in the lower body and he needs a well-constructed pocket to get the ball away with his best available velocity on the throw.

Any move to guard for Franklin would mean the Broncos would also need a right tackle to replace him. And they believe that, too, can be done with the players already in their locker room. Especially with left tackle Ryan Clady on schedule to be full speed by training camp -- he recently had the pins and screws removed from his surgically-repaired foot -- the Broncos will have their best lineman back in his customary spot.

"Ryan's doing well," Elway said. "We feel very good about where he is."

Clady's return alone is the balm the Broncos need to address much of the pass protection issues they had at times. This was especially true against the more physical four-man fronts they faced this past seaosn, including in their loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. Clady's return would free them to move Chris Clark, who started for Clady after he was lost for the year in Week 2, to right tackle. The Broncos also feel optimistic enough about Vinston Painter's development to have projected him as a potential starter at right tackle in the future.

Painter, who has spent plenty of post-practice time working with offensive line consultant Alex Gibbs, was a sixth-round pick in last April's draft. The Broncos had to promote him from their own practice squad to the 53-man roster in January when the San Francisco 49ers were set to sign him.

So, the Broncos will still take a look at some guards in the draft, perhaps even a right tackle, but overall with Beadles expected to get his best offer elsewhere, they will be set to quickly respond to that departure with players already on the roster.
With the NFL's scouting combine opening Wednesday and free agency to follow on March 11, today marks the fifth installment of a position-a-day look at where the Denver Broncos stand at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitments and where their needs are greatest.

Today: Offensive line

Wednesday: Defensive line

The Broncos find themselves in a quirky place at this position. On one hand, quarterback Peyton Manning was the least-sacked passer in the league with at least 181 pass attempts this past season.

Manning was sacked just 18 times and threw the ball a league-leading 659 times, winning a fifth MVP award to go with several single-season passing records. Oh, and the Broncos scored more points (606) than any team in history.

So, none of that can be accomplished without an offensive line that's playing at a high level.

On the other hand, the Broncos' front was overwhelmed by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. And when the Broncos tried to run out of a three-wide-receiver set, they couldn't always block the way they needed to.

Certainly most teams on the Broncos' schedule can't line up and play the way the Seattle Seahawks do on defense, but the Seahawks certainly showed what a physical front -- the kind the Broncos would have to handle, say, in most any playoff game -- can do to the Broncos' offense. Especially if that front consistently gets to Manning.

The Alpha: Left tackle Ryan Clady is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who played just two games this past season because of a foot injury suffered in the team's Week 2 win against the New York Giants. And certainly the Broncos would have had more versatility to do some things up front had he played the entire season. Personnel executives around the league consider Clady one of the Broncos' best and while last season was the first time he had missed any games in his career, he has now had major knee, shoulder and foot surgeries over a five-year span. The Broncos do like his progress from the foot surgery, and he is expected to be in his usual spot in 2014.

Salary cap: The Broncos have four of their five projected starters under contract for 2014. On the heels of his five-year, $52.5 million deal he signed last summer, Clady leads the way with an $8.6 million salary-cap figure for '14, third highest on the team. His $8 million base salary is also guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year, March 15. Guard Louis Vasquez, one of the Broncos' top priorities in free agency last March, is next with a $7.25 million cap figure for '14 -- fifth highest on the team -- while Manny Ramirez has a $2.42 million cap figure and right tackle Orlando Franklin is at $1.386 million.

Chris Kuper, who played in just four games this past season with one start, continues to struggle from his surgically repaired ankle. Kuper, who the team asked to take a pay cut this past season, also carries a $5.92 million cap figure for '14, seventh highest on the team.

[+] EnlargeZane Beadles
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsZane Beadles is the only one of the Broncos' starting five offensive lineman who's slated to be a free agent this offseason.
Pending free agents: The Broncos signed Ramirez and backup tackle Chris Clark to two-year extensions this past season. Vasquez and Clady signed long-term deals this past year and Franklin is still on his rookie deal. That leaves left guard Zane Beadles as the only starter from this past season pointed toward unrestricted free agency in the coming weeks. Reserve tackle Winston Justice, signed when Clady went to injured reserve, and reserve center Steve Vallos are unrestricted free agents.

Who could stay: Other than Beadles, the Broncos expect to have the other four starters on the roster for the 2014 season. Franklin will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season and there is still a scenario where the Broncos take another look at him inside at guard.

Who could go: Beadles has been a fixture at left guard since the initial attempt to play him at tackle didn't go so well after he arrived in the 2010 draft. He's played in 64 regular-season games, starting 62. But the Broncos may be looking to get more physical up front just as they were trying to do when they signed Vasquez last year. Opposing defensive coaches believe they can push Beadles off the spot in pass protection.

What they like/want: If the Broncos are going to continue to do things the way they have with Manning behind center the past two seasons, they need disciplined, smart and physical players who can meet the demands of a fast-paced, complex attack and the physical challenges that come with blocking in a three-wide-receiver set much of the time.

Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): 4

They'll have most of their starters back, but the depth chart needs attention with guys who were the main backups this year -- Kuper, Justice and Vallos -- facing the possibility of moving on.

Despite tackle Vinston Painter's progress as a '13 draft pick who the Broncos promoted from the practice squad to the active roster when the San Francisco 49ers were hoping to sign him, they'll still have to give a long look in the draft.

And if the right player at guard or right tackle comes along in free agency, they would have to consider making that investment.

Denver Broncos season wrap-up

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
video Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 2
Preseason Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.

Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.

Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.

Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In his time as the Denver Broncos' chief football decision-maker, John Elway has routinely offered what he believed the first step was to get from the 4-12 team he joined in January of 2011 and the one that will play in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

As a player, Elway spent over two decades in locker rooms, either at Stanford or with the Broncos, and he didn't like the one he saw a floor below when he moved into his office three seasons ago.

"I think, No. 1, we had to clean up the locker room," Elway said. "We had to get the locker room right … and get the right mentality in that locker room because that is really life bread of what the organization is all about. How that locker room fits is the most important thing. If that doesn't fit -- what we're all doing really is not that important because you can't make it work."

[+] EnlargeBroncos
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyWhile the Broncos made some high-profile additions via free agency, most of their playmakers were drafted by the team, like Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.
The foundation principle, Elway says, is to "stack those drafts, get the guys, right from the start, we want as Denver Broncos, to build our mentality, our culture, from within." During a sitdown with several folks Thursday Elway added, "I've always said if we can find somebody better than we have, we have to find them. And if they're out there then we'll sign them."

And that is the story, in particular, of the Broncos' record-setting offense. Start with Peyton Manning, not just a signing in free agency, but the signing of the free-agency era. By anyone.

He has been every bit the raise-all-boats guy, a future Hall of Famer who changed everything the minute he walked through the door at the Broncos' suburban complex.

Add in Wes Welker and right guard Louis Vasquez, who signed as free agents last March. They have been everything the Broncos had hoped they would be. Vasquez (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) signaled a transition in personnel philosophy up front; he's 60 pounds heavier than some of the Broncos' linemen were a decade ago. He helped lock down the middle of the Broncos' offensive line.

But the rest of the Broncos' 606-point touchdown factory is largely a homegrown affair. And that's likely the only way it could happen.

"I enjoyed coaching this group," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "They come to work, they're accountable and they care about each other … and you can get some things done like that."

A team couldn't buy five players in free agency who were good enough to finish with at least 10 touchdowns each. A team couldn't buy five players to have at least 60 receptions, no matter who the quarterback is. And the Broncos didn't.

Demaryius Thomas (2010), Eric Decker (2010), Julius Thomas (2011) and Knowshon Moreno (2009) are all Broncos draft picks. Ryan Clady, the Broncos' Pro Bowl left tackle on injured reserve, was Mike Shanahan's last first-rounder in 2008. Orlando Franklin (2011) and Zane Beadles (2010) are Broncos' draft picks as is Montee Ball (2013).

Center Manny Ramirez was signed to a futures contract in 2011 -- the NFL's version of an NBA 10-day deal -- and signed an extension this season after becoming a starter. And Chris Clark, who has filled in for Clady, was claimed off waivers by the Broncos in 2010.

"People say it's about win now, it's about now on," Elway said. " … Then you get a guy like Peyton Manning. Now it's about trying to find all the pieces together and obviously I said now on, but we're not just trying to find young guys. We're going to find guys that fit, young and old guys, that fit together."

Whatever becomes of this season, whether the Broncos move on to the Super Bowl or not, they will face some decisions in the coming weeks about some of those home-grown players. Decker, Beadles and Moreno are all pending free agents this year with Demaryius Thomas set to be up after the 2014 season. But those are all topics for other days.

In the end the Broncos didn't get what they wanted on the field until they shored up the team off of it.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since he stepped into the mess that was the Broncos' football operations in early 2011 as the team's newly minted executive vice president, John Elway has always said the draft has to be the cornerstone of team-building to be good over the long haul.

But he's also said he wants to be open to the right free agent along the way. Maybe some will sign for the long term, maybe most will sign one-year deals, maybe some will raise an eyebrow or two elsewhere along the way.

Either way, Elway has said, the player has to fit on the field and in the locker room. "They don't have to be high on everybody's list, but they will be high on ours," Elway said.

[+] EnlargeLouis Vasquez
AP Photo/ Eric BakkeLouis Vasquez has been an integral part of an offensive line that has yielded just 18 sacks all season.
And other than the franchise-shaping move that was signing quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012, guard Louis Vasquez continues to be the next best foray into free agency in Elway's tenure.

The Broncos jumped out early last March to snag Vasquez. They dropped the longest deal (four years) and the biggest money ($23.5 million, $13 million guaranteed, split over the first two years) of anybody in last year's free-agency class.

The Broncos' pro personnel department liked what Vasquez had done in his four years in San Diego, but they thought there was room for vocational growth in a big, powerful player who filled an immediate need in the Broncos' front, a notion Vasquez agreed with when he called signing in Denver "kind of a no-brainer."

Turned out everybody was right.

In a season in which the Broncos scored a league-record 606 points as Manning threw for a league-record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns and was sacked a league-low 18 times, Vasquez was one of two Broncos to be named first-team All-Pro.

Manning was the other, a unanimous choice at that, but Vasquez' choice was a testament to his play, how quickly the Broncos got him acclimated to their offense, his teammates and a quality projection. He is the first Broncos guard to be named first-team All-Pro since at least the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

"Peyton just makes you want to elevate your game," Vasquez said. "Again, it's humbling, can't thank my teammates enough … I kind of knew what I was getting into right from the get-go, as soon as I got here it was like a whole different world. Just how Peyton works."

And while teammates and opposing coaches will often talk of the 6-foot-5, 335-pounder's power or ability to lock on with his hands and not let the defensive lineman escape, Vasquez' technique is sound. So sound he rarely draw flags.

In one of the more remarkable runs by an offensive lineman in the league Vasquez has been flagged just five times in his entire career -- now 70 games and counting -- and only four of those penalties have been assessed.

He has been flagged for three penalties this year-- two false starts and a holding penalty -- but none since Week 7. He has been flagged just twice before this season -- a false-start penalty on a field goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots to go with a holding call in Week 6 of his rookie season that was declined.

All-AFC West: Denver Broncos

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Stack records and touchdowns like the Denver Broncos did this season and people notice.

The Broncos finished with a single-season record for points scored -- 606 –- as quarterback Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes, also a single-season league record. The Broncos also became the first team in league history to have five players score at least 10 touchdowns; no other team in league history has had more than three.

As a result, there are plenty of Broncos' names dotting the All-AFC West team's offense, selected by the division’s NFL Nation reporters. Manning was selected along with wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, guards Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez and right tackle Orlando Franklin. Manning was the least sacked starting quarterback in the league of those who threw at least 320 passes -- 18 times.

“We always say with team success comes personal rewards,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said.

Running back Knowshon Moreno deserved a look as well with 1,038 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs to go with 60 receptions, but Jamaal Charles did even a little more in the Chiefs’ offense with 1,287 rushing yards to go with 70 catches.

San Diego Chargers rookie Keenan Allen beat out Wes Welker for the third wide receiver slot. Welker, who missed three games because of a concussion, finished with 73 catches, 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Center Manny Ramirez, in his first year at the position, has consistently drawn praise from Manning throughout the season, and some personnel executives have said he deserves consideration as an All-Pro. But Chargers veteran Nick Hardwick was the choice in the middle of the line.

Defensively, the Broncos have had their struggles, but the NFL Nation reporters acknowledged some of their best -- especially cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who is the team’s most versatile player at the position. The Broncos moved Harris all over the formation with a variety of duties, and while Harris was inexplicably passed over by his peers in the league as even a Pro Bowl alternate, he was an All-AFC West pick here.

Defensive end Shaun Phillips, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Danny Trevathan also got the nod.

Where the Broncos took a hit came on special teams. Matt Prater, despite an NFL-record 64-yarder this season to go with a 25-of-26 showing on field goals, including 6-of-7 from at least 50 yards, did not make the cut. Prater also set an NFL record for touchbacks on kickoffs this season.

And Britton Colquitt, with 44.5 gross and 38.5 net averages this season, lost out to his brother, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt. Dustin Colquitt has a gross average of 46.0 and a net average of 40.2 and punted 22 more times than Britton did this season.

Pro Bowl selections: Denver Broncos

December, 27, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Touchdowns have their privileges.

In a historical season that has seen Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning build on records here and set new records there, another Pro Bowl selection was added to the list Friday with several of his offensive teammates in tow.

Manning was named to his 13th Pro Bowl team, increasing the record for quarterbacks he already held as of last season, when he was named to his 12th. The 37-year-old was joined by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas and guard Louis Vasquez, teammates from the league’s highest-scoring offense, as well as kicker Matt Prater, who booted an NFL record 64-yard field goal this season. The Broncos offense needs just 18 points Sunday in the regular-season finale to set the NFL single-season scoring record.

Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews holds the record with 14 career Pro Bowl selections

Manning leads the NFL with 51 touchdowns and 5,211 passing yards after 15 games. Manning has had at least 300 yards passing in 12 games this season and at least 400 yards passing in four. Manning has also had at least four touchdown passes in eight games.

Head coach John Fox, who said following Denver practice Friday he looked forward to seeing which Broncos made the Pro Bowl cut, was then asked if Manning had a chance.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Fox said, “I’d say he’s a strong candidate.’’

Demaryius Thomas was named to last year’s Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. It was Julius Thomas’ first Pro Bowl selection, as it was for Vasquez.

Vasquez's selection was a testament to the Broncos’ personnel department, which made him one of the team’s first targets in free agency this past offseason. Indeed, Denver thought so highly of Vasquez it signed him for four years, the longest deal offered to this year’s crop of free agents.

The Broncos made Julius Thomas a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 despite the fact he had played just one season of football at Portland State after concluding his basketball career. Thomas’ first two NFL seasons were largely derailed by an ankle injury he suffered on his first career catch in 2011 and the surgery he had following his rookie season.

Friday's announcement is a bit of a snub for wide receiver Eric Decker, who has 83 catches to Demaryius Thomas’ 86 and 1,261 yards to Thomas’ 1,317. But receiver is routinely one of the most competitive positions in the voting -- and some 19 currently have at least 1,000 yards receiving, with seven more players with at least 900 heading into the regular season’s final week.

Decker, guard Zane Beadles, running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Wes Welker, center Manny Ramirez, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, linebacker Von Miller and special-teams captain David Bruton are all alternates at varying levels.

Welker would have likely earned more consideration had he not been held out of the past two games. Teams conducted their Pro Bowl voting among the players and coaches this past week, Broncos included.

Of course, the Broncos would rather have to beg off the Jan. 26 all-star game, given that players headed to the Super Bowl the following weekend will not be in Hawaii.

No players from the Broncos defense got the Pro Bowl nod, which means cornerback Champ Bailey, who has been named 12 times previously in his career, didn’t make the cut for the first time since 2008, when he missed seven games because of a groin injury.

Bailey has played in just four games this season -- Sunday in Oakland will be his fifth -- because of a left-foot injury he suffered in the preseason.

Miller, who suffered a season-ending right knee injury this past Sunday in Houston, had been selected to the past two Pro Bowls. But after starting the season with a six-game suspension, Miller had five sacks in his nine games.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

A full look at half a Broncos season

November, 1, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos reached the halfway mark of their season 7-1, happy with what they’ve done for the most part and still hoping there’s plenty more on the way.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesQB Peyton Manning has undoubtedly been the Broncos' most valuable player through eight weeks.
"We’ve got to just to keep plugging away and keep finding ways to win games," Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker said.

But with eight games down and eight to go, the Broncos have already had some moments to remember, some they’d like to forget in all that’s been good, bad and in between.

The rundown:

First half MVP: Quarterback Peyton Manning, who is on pace to not just break most single-season passing records, but push the new marks into the places many believed they couldn't, or wouldn't, go.

Manning is either tied or leads the league in completions (237), yards passing (2,919), yards per attempt (8.8), passing touchdowns (29), total touchdowns (30) and passer rating (119.4). His touchdown total is just one off the record at a season’s halfway point -- Tom Brady’s 30 after eight games in 2007 -- and his yardage total is the highest ever after eight games.

Consider the 3,000-yard passing season was only born in 1960 -- Johnny Unitas threw for 3,099 yards in the NFL that year, the Broncos’ Frank Tripucka threw for 3,038 yards in the AFL’s inaugural season -- the fact Manning almost hit the milestone after eight games is staggering. He also sat out an entire quarter against the Eagles.

Best new addition, draft edition: The Broncos, if they really want to be good over the long haul rather than some all-in, one-and-done salary cap disaster, are always going to have to walk the line between trying to keep the roster young and the siren song of bringing in veteran players as one-year rentals.

The Broncos are still waiting for the impact they expected when they led their draft class with first-round pick Sylvester Williams and second-round pick Montee Ball, but cornerback Kayvon Webster has quickly risen to the head of April’s group.

Webster played more press coverage than most college defensive backs during his career at South Florida. And that has certainly helped his transition to the NFL game. He's shown speed, the willingness to play physical in the run game and is already a front-line special teams player. In all, he’s played 34 percent of the snaps on defense this season, with games like Dallas and Indianapolis where he played 85 and 72 percent of the snaps on defense, respectively.

"I’m not surprised," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "You knew right away he had that confidence, that he felt like he belonged, but that he also has done the work. He studied, he’s learned and that’s the difference."

Best new addition, free-agency edition: This is likely a tie between Welker and guard Louis Vasquez. Welker has already tied a single-season career-best with his nine touchdown catches over the first eight games and is already a Manning favorite when things get tight.

[+] EnlargeKayvon Webster
AP Photo/Eric BakkeCornerback Kayvon Webster, a third-round pick out of South Florida, has emerged as one of the most reliable rookies for the Broncos.
And as defensive backs have increasingly played the Broncos receivers with more of a physical edge, Welker has been the most proficient of the group in freeing himself to play the ball.

For his part, Broncos coach John Fox said Vasquez has played at a Pro Bowl level and there are plenty of personnel folks around the league who agree. He was the Broncos’ first target in free agency last March and he has shown why thus far, even moving to tackle when needed. Albeit he had somewhat mixed results on the outside, but his willingness to make the move and battle got the Broncos through a rough spot.

Best quote, Broncos edition: "That’s Madden. That’s Madden football." Broncos tight end Julius Thomas on Manning’s seven-touchdown game against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

Best quote, opponents’ edition: "No, probably (Jim) Plunkett is probably the best. Go with that." Colts quarterback Andrew Luck when told his answer to the question if he was the best Stanford quarterback would be forwarded to John Elway, another former Stanford quarterback.

Best play: When a team has scored a league-leading 44 touchdowns overall, 40 of those on offense, there are plenty of highlights to be found. But comb through all of them and the surprise element is worth a look. Manning’s 1-yard touchdown run against the Cowboys -- he ran a bootleg after not telling anyone on the offense he planned to do it -- is the choice. It was Manning’s first rushing touchdown in five years or as he put it; "If you do it every five years, it’s a good tendency breaker."

Two biggest reasons to hang on to the worry beads: Start with the ability to protect Manning, especially in the team’s preferred three-wide set. Manning took far too much punishment in the three games before the bye and the best pass-rush teams the Broncos will face this season still remain on the schedule. Defensively, whether it be injuries or other reasons, the Broncos have only sporadically reached playoff level so far this season. Many folks in and around the league also believe linebacker Von Miller’s weight gain has not helped his play in his first two games back, that the added upper-body bulk has robbed him of some of the fast-twitch quickness off the ball and flexibility to bend that has made him a special pass-rusher in his first two seasons. The Broncos need that guy.

Two biggest reasons to believe: The offense has shown it can score on anybody, anywhere at any time. The Broncos are on pace to be the league’s first 600-point team, a pace they aren’t expected to hold, but add in their ability to score on special teams and you have a team whose lowest output this season was 33 points. Defensively, they have yet to play the 11 starters they expected to have in any game this season, whether it be because of injuries or Miller’s off-the-field troubles. The Broncos flashed their defensive potential against the Redskins just before the bye, and if they get that kind of effort in the games that really count in the coming weeks, they would be a significant title threat.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The jury is still out on the Broncos offensive line, but they’re hoping right tackle Orlando Franklin continues to progress to be in the lineup against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Franklin (ankle) did practice on a limited basis Friday and the Broncos formally listed him as questionable for the game. But the Broncos do have at least some additional optimism about Franklin's status, more than they did earlier in the week. Their hope, given the punishment quarterback Peyton Manning has taken over the past two games, being they can get their starting five up front back on the field and protect Manning better.

“Definitely, [Franklin] has gotten from not sure to questionable,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “He’ll be a game-time decision, but he did practice on a limited basis and looked good.’’

Manning took several hard hits against the Jaguars after Franklin left the game and Manning was then sacked four times in last Sunday night’s loss to Indianapolis -- he fumbled after a hit and threw an interception after his arm was hit -- with Franklin out of the lineup. Manning, who was then held out of Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury, had been sacked just five times in the six previous games combined.

If Franklin were able to play, the Broncos would move Louis Vasquez back to his right guard position and have their preferred lineup in the game.

Guard Chris Kuper (ankle), who had filled in at right guard when Vasquez went to right tackle, did practice at least some Friday after being held out of both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices. Kuper was listed as questionable.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) was the only Broncos player held out of Friday’s practice and will be a game-day inactive against the Redskins because of the injury.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring), defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin), linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), wide receiver Eric Decker (toe) and defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) all participated fully Friday and all are expected to play against the Redskins.