AFC West: Marcus Thomas

Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said standout cornerback Brandon Flowers is consulting physicians because his bruised foot injury is lingering. Flowers hasn't practiced since July 31. Initially, Crennel said he didn’t think the injury was serious.

Crennel said despite the fact that the injury is taking time to heal, it doesn’t “necessarily” mean the injury is worse than expected.

“He’s still working to try to get better,” Crennel said. “I saw him this morning, and he’s doing all that he can. We’re sending him to the doctors and we’re trying different things to try and get it better. He’s getting better slowly, not fast enough, but all we can do is kind of hang on and see what happens … It’s just one of those things that they haven’t been able to pin point exactly why he’s not getting better as fast as we want him to get better.”

In other AFC West news:
  • The Chiefs break training camp in St. Joseph, Mo. on Thursday afternoon.
  • Oakland signed the nephew of former Seattle linebacker Brian Bosworth, Korey Bosworth. The UCLA product was with the Broncos in camp two years ago. He has an uphill battle to make the team. There is some irony here, of course. The bombastic Bosworth is most remembered for being run over by former Raiders’ running back Bo Jackson in a game 25 years ago.
  • The Broncos set a new team record for training camp attendance. The team said 84,380 people attended camp practices this year. It nearly doubled the previous total set last year. It’s another sign that Manning-mania is actually bigger than Tebow-mania in Denver.
  • ESPN’s Josina Anderson reports former Denver defensive tackle Marcus Thomas is signing with the Giants.
  • His teammates are raving about San Diego first-round pick, pass-rusher Melvin Ingram. They should be. Ingram was stunning in the preseason opener last week.
  • The NFL suspended San Diego defensive lineman Garrett Brown for four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. He was a long shot to make the 53-man roster.
  • Oakland coach Dennis Allen has excused starting safety Michael Huff from Friday’s preseason game at Arizona so he can attend to the birth of his first child.
Here are some highlights from our AFC West chat, which was held earlier Thursday:

Denver

Jamal from Hawaii: What happened to Marcus Thomas DT in Denver?

Bill Williamson: I guess he could come back but they have seemed to move on. DT depth isn't as big of a problem as it was a few months ago.

Kansas City

Taylor from Texas: Which AFC West team is most likely to have a championship caliber defense this season (for me, a championship defense, above all else, is great at rushing the passer and consistently forcing turnovers)?

BW: I think KC has the best defense in the division, particularly in the back eight. If Poe at the nose can be an instant difference maker, watch out.

Oakland

THE Famous Darth from Classy Philly: At this point right now, who would you take: Rod Streater or Louis Murphy?

BW: Tough one, Dude. I mean for 2012, it's Murphy. But if Streater is good in the preseason, there has to be a spot for him. I could see Murphy being shopped -- a la Patrick Crayton -- on cut-down weekend. That is not a report, just a hunch.

San Diego

Tony from Richmond, CA.: Who will be the AFC West ROY?

BW: I'm a big Melvin Ingram guy. I expect big things right away.
A lot has been made of Terrelle Pryor telling Sports Illustrated that he questioned whether he wanted to keep playing football last season and that he is now re-energized by the clean slate in Oakland.

What Pryor, who was taken in the third round of last year's supplemental draft by the late Al Davis, has to realize is, this new regime didn’t draft him. They are not attached to Pryor like they are to the young players they brought in this year.

Pryor will be given a chance to succeed just like every other player on the roster. But it’s up to him. He has to make strides. I just don’t see the new Oakland regime giving him a super long leash. He’ll get his time, but Pryor is like every other player on the roster from the Davis regime -- he has to prove to GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen that he belongs.

In other AFC West news:

The Chargers and Cowboys will hold joint practices in San Diego this August. Last summer, the Chargers visited Dallas in training camp.

The Denver Post believes the Broncos could make a run at free agent defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

It appears the Broncos are moving on without defensive tackle Marcus Thomas.
MillerRon Chenoy/US PresswireSure, the Broncos have Peyton Manning, but their success may rest on Von Miller and the defense.

Barring a setback from the neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, Peyton Manning has the Denver Broncos’ offense covered. That side of the ball will be fine and will be in playoff form.

But what about the defense?

That side of the ball will be a key to Denver's season. If the 2012 Denver defense can make the strides it did in 2011, the Broncos have a chance to be a serious contender.

Bill Polian, who knows Manning well, has said he thinks the potential of the Broncos' defense is one of the reasons Manning chose to play in Denver. Polian, the Colts’ former general manager who brought Manning to Indianapolis and who is now an ESPN analyst, said last week he thinks the Denver defense could be a spark for the Manning-led offense.

“John Fox is going to coach up that defense and it has a chance to play great defense,” Polian said. “That will only help Peyton.”

However, I believe the Broncos have work to do before they can start playing great defense.

Tracy Porter
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireTracy Porter joins the Denver secondary and will pair with Champ Bailey.
This unit is a work in progress. It went from No. 32 in 2010 prior to Fox’s arrival to No. 20 in 2011 under the guidance of Fox and coordinator Dennis Allen, who is now the head coach in Oakland. The 2011 Denver Broncos will be remembered for the wild days of Tim Tebow, but it was the defense that rose up and solidified the team. With Manning running the offense and former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio running the defense, the team has a chance to go to the next level.

The defense in Denver starts with pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The pair combined for 21 sacks last season and they should be one of the most dynamic pass-rush duos in the NFL for years to come. Polian called the pair special and an anchor for the defense.

Denver upgraded at cornerback by signing Tracy Porter of New Orleans. He is a solid No. 2 cornerback and will make a strong pairing with the aging, but still dominant Champ Bailey. Porter, who has had challenges staying healthy, is an upgrade from Andre Goodman. Underrated safety Mike Adams was signed from Cleveland. He will pair with second-year player Quinton Carter, who made strides as the season went on. The team will give 2011 No. 2 pick Rahim Moore a chance to rebound from a rookie season in which he regressed. But Adams and Carter should be a serviceable pairing.

There are some problems, though. Outside linebacker D.J. Williams, one of the better defenders on the team, is facing a six-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance. He is fighting it in the form of a lawsuit. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley signed with New Orleans. Bunkley was a tone-setter, and even though he played only 43 percent of the snaps, he will be missed.

Denver has a major void at defensive tackle and it probably will take advantage of a strong draft class at the position and use the No. 25 pick on a player such as Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, Penn State’s Devon Still or LSU’s Michael Brockers. They also want to re-sign Marcus Thomas and hope 2011 free-agent signee Ty Warren is healthy after missing the past two seasons.

There is no doubt this is still a building project and that concerns Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

“I was very worried about this defense, but now I feel a little better about it after it signed Porter, who is a very solid No. 2 behind Bailey,” Williamson said. “But I still have my worries about the defense up the middle. Losing Bunkley hurts quite a bit, but maybe Ty Warren can help out this year. The safety position worries me. But they can sure rush the passer. The question is will be they be able to handle a physical offense.”

After being the bright spot of a surprise team in 2011, the Denver defense must take the next step in a year when, suddenly, much is expected from this team.
It will be lost in the specter of Peyton Manning’s arrival and Tim Tebow’s departure, the loss of Brodrick Bunkley is significant in Denver.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Bunkley has signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Saints with $9 million in guaranteed money. It is a pricey deal, but he’s a valuable player.

Many scouts thought Bunkley was a key to Denver’s defensive success last year. An underrated player, he was a major cog in the middle.

This is a blow for a defense that must continue to get better. The Broncos needed to add to the position even if they brought back Bunkley. Now, they need several additions to the spot. They need to bring back Marcus Thomas and make other additions. Among the free-agent defensive tackles available are Antonio Garay, Aubrayo Franklin, Trevor Laws and Pat Sims.

Expect Denver to take a defensive tackle (it’s a strong class) with the No. 25 pick. The last time Denver took a defensive tackle in the first round was in 1997 when they took Trevor Pryce. Meanwhile, the Broncos, who are in talks with several defensive free agents, need to continue to get the overall unit better.

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 7, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Denver Broncos

Key free agents: K Matt Prater (franchised), DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brady Quinn, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, P Britton Colquitt (restricted).

Where they stand: The Broncos will have plenty of salary-cap room. For a team that went from 4-12 with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to winning the AFC West and a playoff game in John Fox’s first season as coach, the Broncos are in position to improve through free agency. With Prater franchised, the team’s only priority unrestricted free agent is Bunkley.

What to expect: Don’t expect a huge spending spree. The Broncos are cash conscious and I think the franchise is still recovering from some undisciplined spending during the Mike Shanahan era that ended in 2008. We will see the Broncos try to add several pieces at lower prices. Denver could address needs at safety, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and quarterback. Keep an eye on players such as Washington safety LaRon Landry, Seattle tight end John Carlson, quarterbacks Chad Henne (Miami), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) or Josh Johnson (Tampa), running backs Michael Bush (Oakland) and Mike Tolbert (San Diego), and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene Cincinnati.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key free agents: WR Dwayne Bowe (franchised), CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, LB Jovan Belcher, S Jon McGraw, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Thomas Jones, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Kelly Gregg

Where they stand: The Chiefs are in great shape on cap space even after signing cornerback Stanford Routt and franchising Bowe. They have already done a nice job in free agency with these two moves and have a good, young roster. Kansas City can become a serious playoff contender with the right moves. It is likely Carr will leave in free agency, but the Chiefs should be able to re-sign most of their other free agents if they wish.

What to expect: I’m not sure we will see the Chiefs break the bank for any of the super-hot free agents, but I expect them to do some significant shopping. I think we could see Kansas City look for help at nose tackle, linebacker, safety, tackle, running back and quarterback. Of course, the intrigue could start if the team gets in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. But they could also look at several other quarterbacks, including Orton, Henne, Jason Campbell (Oakland) or even Quinn. They could also be in the mix for Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai, Saints guard Carl Nicks and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), Bush and Tolbert.

Oakland Raiders

Key free agents: S Tyvon Branch (franchised), RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Quentin Groves, C Samson Satele, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, FB Marcel Reece (restricted).

Where they stand: The Raiders are one of the few teams that must get under the salary cap. Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently acknowledged the team has work to do. The Raiders have some contracts that can be easily restructured, but they also may have to cut some players, particularly on defense. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson are among the top candidates.

What to expect: The Raiders likely face some limitations once they get under the cap, but they can add two or three starting-quality players under the right circumstances. Their primary needs are on defense, starting at cornerback and linebacker. The offensive line could be upgraded as well. I think they can be in on the second wave of cornerbacks. A player to watch is New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who previously played for Allen. There are some solid second-tier cornerbacks Oakland could be interested in other than Porter. There will be some good players available on both sides of the ball after the initial wave of free agency for short-term deals. Expect the Raiders to do some bargain picking during that time. I think Oakland will be interested in signing several of its free agents, but I expect Bush and Campbell will leave.

San Diego Chargers

Key free agents: WR Vincent Jackson, C Nick Hardwick, RB Tolbert, DT Antonio Garay, OT Jared Gaither, FB Jacob Hester.

Where they stand: The Chargers will be in decent shape and they are getting even better after cutting Luis Castillo, the retirement of guard Kris Dielman and the expected release of tackle Marcus McNeill. But San Diego still has a lot of work to do. They have the most priority free agents of any team in the division. Signing Jackson, Hardwick, Gaither, Tolbert and Garay will be a challenge.

What to expect: The Chargers will likely stick to their usual plan and concentrate first on their own free agents. But they also have other needs and they will likely spend more in free agency than they have done before under general manager A.J. Smith. I get the sense from some agents that the Chargers may spend wildy in an attempt to win back the fan base’s trust after the unpopular contract extensions for Smith and coach Norv Turner. The pair were brought back even after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. I also get the sense from inside the organization, however, that the Chargers will not act out of desperation. Look for the team to consider pass-rushers, nose tackles, safeties and offensive linemen if Hardwick and Gaither aren’t brought back. A receiver will also become a major need if Jackson goes. The Colts' Reggie Wayne could be an option in that case. A running back such as Cadillac Williams (St. Louis) reportedly will be in the mix if Tolbert walks. Soliai could interest the team as well. Chicago special teams ace Corey Graham may also be a target. If the Chargers want to make a huge splash, they could try to get in on Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams, who is widely considered the best player on the market.

Jack Del Rio discusses Denver job

January, 30, 2012
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Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio addressed the media to discuss his new role. Let’s look at some key parts of the transcript, courtesy of the Denver public relations staff.

On his relationship with Denver head coach John Fox:

“It’s good to be back with him. He’s a good man. He’s a good coach, and I know the types of things he is looking for with this staff and what my responsibilities would be. I’m very comfortable with that.”

My take: This opportunity was clearly appealing to Del Rio. He coached for Fox in 2002 and their familiarity will help everyone involved.

On if he would like to be a head coach again:

“Right now, I’m excited to be here. I had nine good years in Jacksonville, and maybe someday. But that’s really not in the forefront of my thinking. First and foremost for me is to get settled in here and get to work in terms of evaluating the tape and the season and getting ready for the offseason, personnel and all those things -- system adjustments -- and getting my family settled. We’re excited about this opportunity and help this fine organization get started.”

My take: That is a good answer. Denver is on its seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons. The Broncos desperately want some stability on its staff. Still, after seeing Dennis Allen go from this staff to Oakland in a year, Del Rio has to know this is solid stepping stone if he performs well.

On the defensive tackle position:

“I know we have a lot to evaluate, and certainly that position will be part of it. Defensive line play is important. It really begins in the trenches. I believe that we have to take a good look at who we have here and make those decisions. We haven’t begun that process yet, and we’ll get started here shortly. When I was in Baltimore, we played outstanding defense. We had a couple really good tackles. If you’re going to play that four-man front, having two guys in the middle really allows you to do things, and that carried over in Carolina when I was there the one year with John. It carried over into Jacksonville when we were really good on defense early in my time there, and then this past year we were very good, Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, were two forces in the middle. That definitely helps when you’re playing a 4-3.”

My take: This will be a key position to watch this offseason. Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas are free agents and Denver will likely add to the spot even if they re-sign both.

Denver Broncos: Moving on

January, 16, 2012
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With the Denver Broncos' season over after a 9-9 season, let’s look at five keys for the Broncos as they move forward:

The quarterback: It is expected to be Tim Tebow’s job next season. He will need to improve in the offseason. The Broncos will want to see his footwork improve and they will want to see him become a more consistent passer. Tebow’s improvement will be a key in the offseason.

Secondary help: Denver could be looking for a lot of help in this area. Right cornerback Andre Goodman had a tough night at New England and he was picked on at times. I could see Denver looking to draft a cornerback early. Also, safety Brian Dawkins may retire and the Broncos have some unproven youth at safety. I could see that position being an area in which Denver adds a veteran.

Running back help: The Broncos ran the ball great in 2011. They were the NFL’s top-ranked running team. But Willis McGahee, 30, got nicked up a lot and he will need some help. Knowshon Moreno is coming off an ACL injury and he may be best suited as a third-down back next season. Watch for Denver to pursue a running back either in free agency or early in the draft.

Defensive line: Every year Denver is expected to add a stout defensive tackle in the draft and they don’t. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas played well this season. They are both free agents and Denver will want to bring them back, especially Bunkley. Ty Warren will also be back next season after missing all of this season. Still, Denver may add some reinforcements.

Receiver help: Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are a nice starting point, but Denver will need another reliable option, perhaps a veteran possession player. It may be a long shot that free agent Eddie Royal comes back.

Broncos without key players

September, 18, 2011
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The Denver Broncos are without four key players Sunday against Cincinnati.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring), defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), running back Knowshon Moreno and receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin) are all out. Lloyd was limited in practice Friday while the other three players missed all week of practice.

The Broncos are also without the following defensive starters: linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (shoulder). The Broncos are trying to avoid starting the season 0-2.

Meanwhile, San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton is out with an ankle injury. He was probable to play. He missed last week’s game.

There were no other surprises on the Chargers' inactive list in New England.
I arrived from my travels to see both the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos licking their wounds from a physical game in Denver on Monday night.

Let’s take a look at each team’s injury situation Wednesday.

DENVER: The Broncos have some serious health questions going into Sunday’s game against visiting Cincinnati. Cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring), defensive end Elvis Dumervil (Shoulder), receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin) and running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) all didn’t practice Wednesday.

At this point, it is unknown if any of the four players will play Sunday. Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (shoulder) and linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow), both remained out. They didn’t play Monday night.

Oakland: The good news is that tight end Kevin Boss came back to practice in limited role. He had missed three-plus weeks with a knee injury. There is a chance Boss will play at Buffalo on Sunday. Not all was great for Oakland on the injury front.

Safety Michael Huff, receiver Jacoby Ford and defensive end Richard Seymour didn’t practice Wednesday. Running back Darren McFadden was among the Oakland players who were limited in practice Wednesday.

The team won’t provide updates until later in the week. Just guessing, but I think the injuries to be most concerned with are the one’s suffered by Huff and Ford. Each player did not finish the Denver game.

No stunners on MNF injury report

September, 10, 2011
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There are no surprises on the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos injury reports.

As expected, Oakland will be without receiver Louis Murphy (groin), tight end Kevin Boss (knee) and safety Mike Mitchell (knee). These players have all be out for an extended period and none of them have been expected to play Monday. Boss was brought in to replace Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller, who bolted to Seattle as a free agent. But we’ll have to wait to see how Boss impacts Oakland’s offense. He will be replaced by Brandon Myers in the starting lineup.

Cornerback Chris Johnson, receivers Chaz Schilens and Derek Hagan and rookie running back Taiwan Joins are among the probable players for Oakland. Expected to see them all play Monday night barring a setback.

Denver didn’t have any surprises, either. Defensive starters Ty Warren (triceps), D.J. Williams (elbow) and Marcus Thomas (shoulder) all will not play. They’ve all been out awhile. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and guard Chris Kuper are among the players Denver listed as probable. They both should play. One interesting note is receiver Demaryius Thomas had a finger injury kept him out of practice Friday. That, in the long term, is good news. Thomas started practicing this week after a suffering ruptured Achilles in February.

Meanwhile, Kansas City cut seventh-round pick Shane Bannon from the practice squad. The Chiefs replaced him with offensive lineman Lucas Patterson.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 18, 2011
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ESPN has announced that Brad Nessler and Trent Dilfer will call the Raiders-Broncos’ game to open the season on Sept. 12. It’s the second game of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Kickoff is set for 10:15 p.m. ET. They worked together a year ago to call the Chargers-Chiefs season opener.
  • The Chargers signed tight end Charles Davis. He was with the team in the summer of 2009.
  • The Broncos have begun the process of trying to fill the holes at defensive tackle created by injuries to Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas. Warren will miss several weeks with a triceps injury. Thomas is out for the rest of the preseason with a biceps injury. They were hurt five minutes apart Monday. Expect Denver to continue to look for help at the spot.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2011
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For a franchise that was accused of turning stale a few years ago, the Denver Broncos have become pros at taking fresh approaches.

For the second time in three training camps, Denver has a new head coach. John Fox takes over after the disastrous 23-month Josh McDaniels regime. From 1995 to 2008, the Broncos were the picture of coaching constancy. It was the Mike Shanahan show. Everyone knew it.

But the Broncos have been in flux and have gone from one of the better-run organizations in the NFL to a team that is grasping for an identity. Denver hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005 season. It hasn’t had a winning record since 2006.

In comes Fox, who is experiencing a rebirth himself after spending the past nine seasons in Carolina. Fox’s biggest task in Denver is to restore normalcy after the rocky McDaniels era and rebuild a winner.

“There has been instability here, good, bad or indifferent, that’s just the way it has been,” said Fox, whose team will be on its sixth defensive coordinator (former New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen) in six seasons.

“We have to build our program here. But I think it can be done. There are good pieces here.”

Many Denver players have raved about Fox. They appreciate his professionalism, his structure and his attention to detail. They believe there is a plan in place, and they trust Fox’s experience. The players also seem to appreciate the fact that Fox is simply in Denver to coach. The front office is run by legendary Denver quarterback John Elway and general manager Brian Xanders. Both Shanahan and McDaniels made personnel decisions.

“I get a great feel for Coach Fox,” star cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’s one of the better coaches I’ve been around ... I like it that he is focused on coaching us on the field. That’s where he wants to be.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRookie Von Miller will need to play well right away if Denver's defense is going to improve this season.
1. Fix the defense. While the Tim Tebow-Kyle Orton competition has garnered much attention, the real key issue in Denver’s camp has been the defense. This unit was ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season and was generally awful in every major statistical category. Fox and his defensive staff have taken a hands-on approach to improve this group, which is a mix of veterans and youngsters.

If the reconstructed defensive front plays well and rookie linebacker Von Miller makes an instant impact, this group has a chance to improve quickly. It seems to be working early. Denver’s defense has been capable in camp and it looked solid against Dallas in the preseason opener Thursday. Injuries to defensive tackles Ty Warren (who signed to a two-year, $8 million deal) and Marcus Thomas create more uncertainty at a key spot for Denver. It needs to get help there by Kevin Vickerson, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Jarmon and Derrick Harvey in the rest of the preseason. Warren could be out for a long period and Thomas will miss the rest of the preseason.

2. Clarity at quarterback: The Broncos’ camp has been about getting the first-team ready to go with Orton. There is no question Orton is the starter now. If the team struggles, Tebow could enter the picture, but players love playing with Orton and the team thinks he currently gives them the best chance to win now.

Of course, the lack of clarity was team-induced. It spent the immediate days after the lockout trying to trade Orton to Miami. After that fell through, Orton took control of the offense quickly and has given Denver no choice but to make him the starter, TebowMania be dammed.

3. Establish a ground game: Although Fox is a defensive-minded coach, he has a strict philosophy on offense. He believes in stuffing the ball down an opponent’s throat and killing the clock. Denver struggled to run the ball under McDaniels, and Fox said adding a veteran tailback was paramount.

The Broncos jumped on Willis McGahee when he was cut by the Ravens. Expect McGahee and third-year player Knowshon Moreno to combine for plenty of carries. They have worked well in camp, and they combined for 40 yards on six carries in the preseason opener at Dallas. This camp has been spent getting these two involved in the offense as much as possible.

ELVIS IS BACK IN THE BUILDING

The Broncos are raving about the play of Elvis Dumervil. After leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and getting a contract worthy of that performance, Dumervil tore a pectoral muscle in early August last year and missed the entire 2010 season.

There was concern that his rust and a move back to the 4-3 under Fox could hamper the smallish Dumervil. He flourished in McDaniels’ 3-4 system after being a solid player in Shanahan’s 4-3 defense. Dumervil beefed up to more than 260 pounds, and he‘s been impressive under Fox.

The Broncos expect Dumervil and Miller to become one of the better pass-rush tandems in the league.

RELYING ON THE ROOKIES

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Broncos will also be looking to rookie Rahim Moore to shore up Denver's secondary.
One of the most exciting aspects of this camp for Denver has been the play of its rookies. The Broncos thought they drafted well in April, and after three weeks, they are thrilled with what they see.

“I think we had an excellent draft,” Fox said.

Added Dumervil: “This is the best group of rookies I’ve seen here in awhile.”

Leading the way is Miller, who was the No. 2 overall draft pick. The Texas A&M product has been as advertised. Teammates rave about his speed, explosiveness and his ability to make plays. They expect instant success.

Second-round pick Rahim Moore is vying for a starting spot with Kyle McCarthy at safety and has shown he is ready for NFL play. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, middle linebacker Nate Irving, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Quentin Carter are all expected to be major contributors. This is exactly what this 4-12 team needed -- a solid group of youngsters to build around after a couple of shaky years of drafting by McDaniels.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Safety Brian Dawkins may be turning 38 this year, but the Broncos are still getting a lot out of him. He works well with Fox’s staff, and his leadership has been uncanny during camp.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has been getting chances to break out in camp, but he has been slow to show progress. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
  • Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been slowed by swelling in his knee. Still, the team expects him to contribute. Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010 -- 77 catches for 1,448 yards.
  • The second-round draft class of 2009 has been a bust. Tight end Richard Quinn is hurt and could be the odd man out. Safety Darcel McBath has yet to develop, and cornerback Alphonso Smith (who Denver traded its 20101 first-round pick for) was shipped out to Detroit last year. This was supposed to be the nucleus of future success, and Denver hasn’t seen results.
  • The Broncos’ passing game struggled in red-zone and third-down situations. That has been a point of emphasis during this camp.
  • Veterans Joe Mays and Mario Haggan are competing to hold off Irving at middle linebacker.
  • Franklin has struggled in pass projection. Still, the team is committed to him.
  • Denver is excited about second-year receiver Eric Decker. Expect Decker to get a chance to contribute a lot.
  • The Broncos like what they have in new tight end Daniel Fells. He is solid as a receiver and as a blocker. He should help in both phases of the game.
  • Right cornerback Andre' Goodman has been steady, and the team is confident he can play well in 2011.
  • Second-year center J.D. Walton continues to improve, and he has shown strong leadership for a young player.
Heading into the NFL draft, defensive tackle was the Denver Broncos’ biggest question mark.

Now, four months later, it remains Denver’s biggest area of concern.

The Broncos’ situation at the vital position is again up in the air after top free-agent pickup Ty Warren suffered a partially torn triceps. Denver doesn’t know exactly how long he will be out or if he will need surgery. But he is expected to miss several weeks and could even miss the season. Denver signed the former New England standout to a two-year, $8 million deal this month.

He was supposed to bring stability and veteran leadership to Denver’s weakest area. He was hurt Monday. To make matters worse, Denver’s other starting defensive tackle, Marcus Thomas, suffered a pectoral injury Monday and he will be out for the rest of the preseason.

Newly acquired Brodrick Bunkley and holdover Kevin Vickerson will step in for the Broncos. They also have newcomers Derrick Harvey and Jeremy Jarmon. Expect Denver -- which didn’t address the position in the draft -- to scour the list of remaining free agents and scout the waiver wire in the next month in search of more help at defensive tackle.

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