AFC West: Montee Ball

Broncos, Ball struggle in run game

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
12:05
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SEATTLE -- The search for some semblance of balance has the Denver Broncos' offense a bit out of whack.

Three games into the season and the Broncos are averaging just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, they have just one rushing touchdown and in three games they have not had a run play go longer than 23 yards against defenses primarily constructed to stop the Broncos from doing something else.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsThe Seahawks shut down Montee Ball and the Broncos running game, with Denver gaining just 36 yards on the ground Sunday.
“We all just have to get better,’’ said Broncos running back Montee Ball following the 26-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. “It all starts up front, but then us as running backs have got to do a better job. Personally I have to hold on to the ball. I have to get that corrected.’’

The Broncos are not looking for some sort of 50-50 split between run and pass. But they are looking for what they tab as “efficient’’ runs, those rushing plays that secure first downs, no matter the down and distance, or runs that go for at least four yards.

Well, in Sunday’s loss the Broncos converted just one first down on a run play and just six of their 20 rushing attempts in the game went for at least four yards. It was a particularly grueling day for Ball.

The player the Broncos believe is ready for the lead role in their run game fumbled the ball away on the team’s first offensive play from scrimmage against the Seahawks. By halftime he had just 19 yards rushing on 10 carries and finished the day with 38 yards on his 14 carries.

Also Sunday Ronnie Hillman rushed for 2 yards on his two carries combined and C.J. Anderson rushed for minus-3 yards on his two carries. All in all it has taken at least some edge off the Broncos' play-action passing game because opposing defenses aren't having to commit additional players to the line of scrimmage to slow Denver's running game.

Asked following the game how he would grade himself, Ball was honest and quick to the point.

“Right now, not too good at all,’’ Ball said. “It’s early on and we are getting better, making improvements. We are going to make things happen in the backfield, change some things up probably and get this thing rolling. We’re most definitely committing to it. It’s just some things are not going well for us. We knew this was going to be an ugly game, two great teams playing. I think this is going to make us better.

On the game-opening fumble, Ball added: "I can’t blame anyone else on that. I let a lot of people down right there."

The Broncos had particular difficulty handling the interior of the Seahawks’ defensive line. Seattle defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Kevin Williams finished with a combined three tackles for loss in the game.

“We play disciplined, team football,’’ said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

Denver Broncos rewind: Offense

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
4:55
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- They’re fourth in the league in scoring, tied for sixth in yards per play and the Denver Broncos are 2-0.

Yet the feeling around the team, and certainly among the team's faithful, is they’ve left some points on the table and the second-half lull in each of the first two games will need some attention.

After a long look at the video, here are some thoughts on the team’s offense:
  • Welker
    With wide receiver Wes Welker's time in suspension limbo expected to end this week -- he would join the Broncos roster as soon as the league’s new drug policy is formally agreed to by both the NFL and NFLPA -- it will be intriguing to watch if the offense drifts away from what it’s done well in the early going. Five of Peyton Manning's six touchdown passes have gone to the team’s tight ends so far -- four to Julius Thomas and one to Jacob Tamme. And four of those scoring plays have come in the two-tight-end set with Welker out of the lineup. The Broncos have also spent far more time in the two-tight-end set, including all but one snap this past Sunday. And they are consistently creating matchup problems with it all over the field. If Welker isn’t ready for full duty -- he’s only practiced once, on a limited basis, since Aug. 23 -- or the Broncos want to limit his snaps since he has had three concussions in 10 months, it’s clear they have a viable option that’s more than a change of pace. Last season they used a variety of offensive sets early, but down the stretch they were almost exclusively in three wide.
  • The Broncos went into the offseason to try and squeeze more out of the team’s running game without losing their throw-first edge. And the Broncos have flashed some potential -- like Montee Ball's 23-yard run on a third-and-24 in the third quarter Sunday -- but they have spent almost 90 snaps in the first two games in a two-tight-end formation and have more runs by running backs or wide receivers for no gain or negative yardage than they did in last season's first two games, when they played out out of largely three-wide-receiver sets. They’re leaving gaps on the interior, both in the zone run game and when they pull one of the interior linemen to cross the formation. But overall they’ve had nine carries already for no gain or negative yardage (other than kneel-downs), and seven of those have come on first down. No surprise the Chiefs were involved in that already, though; last season the Chiefs stopped Broncos ball carriers for 15 runs of no gain or negative yards, with 11 of those in the Broncos’ Dec. 12 win. But add in the fact the Broncos have had seven additional carries for 1 yard each, and 34.8 percent of the rushing attempts the Broncos have had from plays other than Manning kneel-downs have gone for 1 or fewer yards.
  • Can’t say Ball isn’t willing to stick his nose into the action in pass protection. Tamba Hali did have the Chiefs’ only sack Sunday, and he did overpower Ball to get it. But Ball threw himself at the much bigger outside linebacker for what was perhaps the biggest collision in the game.
  • Many years ago Ron Erhardt, a longtime NFL assistant to go with a brief stint as Patriots head coach, said “throw to score, run to win." That was long before receivers were set free down the field by the rules makers and quarterbacks were more accurate overall than they’ve ever been. But the Broncos are living the throw-to-score mantra. They have touchdown passes of 3, 5, 4 and 4 yards already this season.
  • Of the Broncos pass catchers, Emmanuel Sanders played 48 of the team’s 49 snaps Sunday, while Julius Thomas played 46 and Demaryius Thomas 45. Tamme, who was in the formation for all three Broncos touchdowns, finished with 37 snaps.
DENVER -- Two halves don’t add up to the whole story right now for the Denver Broncos. At least not the story their offense wants to tell.

In two games, both wins, the Broncos' high-powered offense has had the ball for nine possessions in the first halves of their two games combined, excluding one kneel-down play for quarterback Peyton Manning to close out the opening half against the Indianapolis Colts.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Jack DempseyPeyton Manning and the Broncos are 2-0 despite their second-half woes on offense.
On those nine possessions the Broncos have scored six touchdowns, a field goal and had two punts. The Broncos also have scored on their opening drive in each game.

"It feels good to go down and score on the opening drive," Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "It gives everyone confidence that we can seriously do it over and over and over again."

But in back-to-back games the Broncos have left the offensive mojo in the locker room. In eight second-half possessions that haven’t included Manning taking a knee to end both games, the Broncos have scored just one touchdown and one field goal to go with six punts with offensive coordinator Adam Gase working out of the same playbook.

Broncos head coach John Fox, sitting at 2-0 after Sunday's 24-17 win over Kansas City, bristled at least some following the game with questions about discipline and offensive flow.

"We’re not going to beat everybody 58-to-nothing," Fox said.

For his part, Manning took a bit of a big-picture look following Sunday’s win.

"We’re playing a lot of good football teams," Manning said. "We played two really good teams, two playoff teams off the bat. Feel fortunate to win those games; have another tough game next week as well. So it’s still kind of the goals that you set on the offensive philosophies that you have, if you can achieve those goals those usually can lead to positive results. So we’re hitting some of those goals and some things we can do a little better job of."

Yes, Manning did finish his day with the NFL lead in touchdown passes, with six in two games. He has been particularly willing to find the best matchup in the scoring zone with four of those scoring passes having gone to tight ends Julius Thomas (three) and Jacob Tamme (one).

But the second-half numbers are troubling given the Broncos have been forced to hang on in each game, having to make a fourth-down play on defense in the game’s closing moments to preserve the win in each of the first two weeks.

Against the Colts, the Broncos didn’t make the most of their chances -- three three-and-outs in the second half -- while the Broncos simply didn’t get many chances against the Chiefs.

"If the other team has it, we can’t score," running back Montee Ball said.

The Broncos had just two possessions, other than Manning’s kneel down to end the game, in the second half against Kansas City. They turned one into a field goal, but were penalized for almost as many yards (17) as they netted on the drive (27).

The Chiefs opened up the first 10 minutes of the third quarter with a 19-play drive (23 plays with penalties included). They did not score after all that work when Cairo Santos missed a 37-yard field goal, but they got the next best thing by keeping Manning & Co. on the sideline for most of the third quarter.

"That’s ball-possession defense, all 10 minutes with no points," Fox said with tongue in cheek. "In all seriousness, that team struggled last week on third down. I’d say it’s fair to say, like any very competitive people, they worked very hard at it. Hat's off to them."

But the Broncos exited their 2-0 start knowing the team next on the docket is the one that derailed their offense in the Super Bowl just over seven months ago -- the Seattle Seahawks -- and that status quo won't be enough.

"We’ve got some work to do," Ball said. "We’re getting better every week. … It’s part of the game. The tide is going to turn, momentum is going to swing. Once we get momentum, we want to keep the momentum."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In the end, the goal is likely somewhere between better and much better.

The Denver Broncos aren’t on a quest to take what was the league’s highest scoring offense in history and remake it into something it’s not. In these pass-happy times, the Broncos can chuck it around with the best of them.

Even after the Broncos scored 31 points in a season-opening victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the team has spent a lot of the past week discussing missed opportunities, dropped passes – they had five – and lost touchdowns – they said there were a few. And the Broncos also still want to run the ball better.

They don’t want to be a running team, but a passing team that runs it better when they want to.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Elsa/Getty ImagesMontee Ball rushed for 67 yards on 23 carries in the Broncos' season-opening victory over the Colts.
“The run game is a focus for us," said tight end Julius Thomas. “We have to run the ball efficiently, but if you’re running the ball well on third-and-short, it’s going to extend drives, so we’ll take that. But we’ll keep working."

After the Broncos cleared away the debris from a 35-point Super Bowl loss, they went into the offseason with adjustments to their run-game scheme/personnel on their minds. Knowshon Moreno was allowed to leave in free agency, Montee Ball was named the starter at running back, they moved one of their most physical linemen, Orlando Franklin, from right tackle to left guard and they tweaked some things they were doing on handoffs.

In Sunday’s opening act of the new season, Manning threw for three touchdowns, all in the first half. At times, the Broncos' passing attack looked every bit as dominant as last season, with Thomas having taken the next step as a player and Emmanuel Sanders fitting in quite nicely.

But as the Broncos now consistently talk about “efficiency" in the run game, they weren’t always able to reach their desired output. On first down, they had eight of their 18 carries gain one or fewer yards – four for no gain, one of 1 yard and one for minus-1 yard, all by Ball.

As a result of those runs and the down-and-distance situations they created, the Broncos then had just five second-down carries in the game and just three third-down carries. They did convert all three of those third-down carries for first downs, but all but eight of their rushing attempts in the game came on first down, and from a defensive standpoint, there is some predictability there.

“You have to focus on the plays that didn’t go so well," Ball said. “We’re going to carry the good plays to the next game. But from an individual standpoint, you want to focus on the bad plays where if you made a mistake, you can correct it and become better for the next team. For me, there are some holes out there that I missed. I’m looking forward to correcting them and getting better."

Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said Ball is “being a little hard on himself. He did a pretty job hitting them … A lot of times he’s doing what the scheme allows him to do."

It all presents an odd sort of riddle. The Broncos want to run better, but they score plenty already. The Broncos have scored at least 31 points in 24 of Manning’s 33 regular-season starts with the team.

They’ve also been committed enough to the running game to have run the ball at least 25 times in 23 of those games, including Sunday.

So they don’t necessarily want more, as in more carries; they still want, and need, better carries. They want it because they’re thinking big-picture, that they’re going to need it to get another shot at the title, to slam the door against a physical opponent, to win on a bad-weather day without surrendering who they believe they are.

“I think our history speaks for itself as far as we’re not one to pull off [the accelerator]," Gase said. “Are we working on some things, trying to run the ball a little bit? Yeah. We were still trying to throw it [Sunday]. We figured if we finished a few of those plays a little differently -- we had a third-and-3, had a drop. The guy falls down -- we catch that, that might be a 30-yard gain. So some things that didn’t go our way in that second half, but in no means will we ever pull off the gas. We’re going to try to score as many points until the clock is at zero."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos count down the days to the regular-season opener as healthy as they’ve been at any time since opening training camp.

The only players held out of Wednesday’s work because of injury were guard Ben Garland (ankle) and linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia early in training camp. Wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater were not on the field because each has been suspended for the first four games of the season, Welker for a violation of the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs and Prater for a violation of the substance abuse policy.

Running back Montee Ball, who played in just one offensive possession in the preseason -- four carries and four receptions against the Houston Texans -- after having an appendectomy, was a full participant as expected.

Ball has consistently said he would be ready for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller, who both suffered ACL injuries last season, also continue to be on track for the opener.

Harris did not play in any of the team’s four preseason games and Miller played just nine snaps – all against the Texans in what was the Broncos’ third preseason game – so Sunday night’s game will be their most significant game action since their respective injuries.

Two players, guard Louis Vasquez (back) and wide receiver Isaiah Burse (heat related), left Wednesday’s practice and did not return. Broncos head coach John Fox said Vasquez’s injury didn’t appear to be serious.

"We’ll see … they’re treating him," Fox said after practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Things could still change if the Denver Broncos look at the hundreds of players who were sent into the open market in recent days and see a name or two they like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other roster nuggets:

  • Of all the football-playing colleges and universities in the country, Kansas, Tennessee and Texas Tech lead the way on the Broncos' roster with three players each.
  • Manning is the oldest current Broncos player at 38. rookie receiver Cody Laitmer is the youngest, at 21. Hillman, at 22 and starting his third season, is the same age as four of the Broncos’ rookies and younger than two of the Broncos rookies. Michael Schofield and Lamin Barrow, who are both 23.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos wrapped up their preseason Thursday night with the same major revelation they opened it with – that there isn’t much room on the depth chart for surprises and the land of opportunity is actually just a sliver of ground with room for a new backup or two to go with some special-teams players.

The Broncos are likely deeper than the team that lost Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points as well as, front to back, top to bottom, more athletic as well.

Whether or not that translates into another shot at the title remains to be seen, but here are some final takeaways from the Broncos' summer work:

  • [+] EnlargeBradley Roby
    Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoThe Broncos threw a lot at rookie cornerback Bradley Roby, and his mental toughness showed in training camp.
    It’s often difficult for rookie to carve out meaningful snaps on a team like the Broncos, but if the preseason is an indication the Broncos are going to get quality time from cornerback Bradley Roby (first round), wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round) and linebacker Lamin Barrow (fifth round) while Michael Schofield (third round) nudged his way into a backup tackle spot. Roby will get plenty of work in the team’s specialty packages and perhaps his best attribute beyond his obvious height/weight/speed numbers has been when the Broncos offense picked on him in practice, he kept his head, kept lining up and battling. The fruits of those labors will be in his playing time, because he showed the kind of mental toughness some had openly wondered he had before the draft. And Latimer will, and should, get some premium work in the offense. His routes still need some polish, but put him in a contested situation, as in the red zone, and he fights for the ball with tenacity. Barrow’s athleticism will get him on the field in some of the Broncos’ specialty work, especially until Danny Trevathan returns from a fracture at the top of his tibia.
  • No shock, but the Broncos are going to put up the points. The starting offense scored on six of 10 possessions in the preseason and against the Houston Texans, the group put up two touchdowns in the span of 62 seconds. It is unreasonable to believe they’ll reach the 600-point mark again – after all, the 2013 Broncos are the only team to reach that milestone in the league’s history – but early returns say they’ll have a few surprises, especially in the run game, that they haven’t shown in a game just yet. They showed some heavy formations – three- and four-tight-end looks – and in the preseason finale, even trotted out backup guard Ryan Miller, at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds. In the passing game, new additions Emmanuel Sanders and Latimer give the Broncos the ability to create more difficult matchups in more places in the formation. They can run more players out of slot positions in the formations, out of a bunch look, and it will make it more difficult for defensive backs to disrupt their routes.
  • When the Broncos held plenty of folks out of Thursday night’s game, some of those “DNPs’’ are worth noting simply because it was an indication of their standing on this roster. Ronnie Hillman, who has clawed his way back into good graces after last season’s trek from starter to game-day inactive, did not play and is solidly in the No. 2 running back spot behind Montee Ball. Roby was also held out, as was cornerback Kayvon Webster, so your top four corners will be Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Roby and Webster, which is how the team has practiced in recent weeks since Harris returned to full participation. Also worth noting, in what has been the tightest position battle on the roster, the Broncos played defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson 39 snaps and Mitch Unrein 30 snaps in the fourth preseason game. Both players often worked with the starting defense last season.

Observation Deck: Denver Broncos

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
12:07
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DENVER -- After a testy week with the Houston Texans when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning went as far as to say the Broncos’ offense “stunk," the Broncos starters rebounded enough by Saturday night to show their expected quick-strike explosiveness on offense in a 18-17 preseason loss in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Manning threw for 243 yards in a half of work as the Broncos regulars scored their two touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the first half. Manning threw both of his scoring passes to Emmanuel Sanders, who finished with 128 yards receiving on five catches.

All in all the Broncos starters have scored on six of their 10 possessions in the preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the Broncos’ third preseason game of the season:
  • Not sure if these two teams will be looking to hook up for preseason practice any time soon. After two days worth of pushing, shoving, and even a few punches in practice, things got testy in the game as well. Texans safety D.J. Swearinger knocked Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker out of the game with a hit to Welker’s helmet late in the first half. On the next play Manning hit Sanders for a 29-yard touchdown. After making the throw, Manning ran all the way down the field into the end zone to confront Swearinger and the quarterback was flagged for possibly his first career taunting penalty.
  • Welker left the game under his own power following Swearinger’s hit. However, he was taken immediately to the locker room and did not play for the rest of the evening. The starters likely wouldn’t have played into the second half anyway, but it’s a concern any time Welker takes any impact to his helmet. Welker, who dealt with concussions during his time with the New England Patriots, suffered two last season and missed the Broncos’ last three games of the regular season before returning to play in all three playoff games. At minimum Welker will certainly miss some practice time in the coming days. Welker’s concussion history did play at least a part in the Broncos using a second-round draft pick on Cody Latimer in this past May’s draft.
  • Anyone curious what kind of impact Sanders would have in this offense should wonder no more. Sanders had been a limited participant in practice and over the course of the first two preseason games because of a thigh injury. He did not play against the San Francisco 49ers last week and didn’t practice this past Tuesday or Wednesday. Manning said he hoped Sanders would be ready to go Saturday night -- Sanders said Manning texted him at one point last week with the hope he would be back in practice by Thursday -- and Sanders showed he was. Sanders notched his first five catches of the preseason, and his two scoring catches came just 62 seconds apart. Given Sanders has the versatility to line up on either side of the formation and in the slot, this may have been a small preview of the kind of production he could have in this offense.
  • As expected the Broncos, after three days’ worth of practice with the Texans, dialed back the usual work for the starters. Usually the Broncos will play their starters well into the third quarter of the third preseason game. However, the Broncos’ starters called it a night at halftime. Given that they won’t play Thursday night in Dallas, the regulars are done until the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Running back Montee Ball, who had an appendectomy Aug. 4, got his first preseason work in the Broncos’ opening series. The Broncos wanted to get Ball some work in the game and get him out quickly. Ball had eight touches -- four rushes and four receptions -- in the Broncos’ 13 plays from scrimmage. Ball was then removed from the game. Ball looked ready to go, and it’s clear he’s going to have a role in the passing game as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who was making a significant push to make the roster as a sixth wide receiver, suffered a knee injury in Wednesday’s practice and will miss the remainder of the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broncos also held cornerback Kayvon Webster (ankle), tight end Virgil Green (calf), tight end Gerell Robinson (knee, ankle) and linebacker Jamar Chaney (hamstring) out of practice.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 23

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

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

 
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning gets asked a lot about a lot of things.

He gets asked about his arm strength – he won’t go there, really -- but folks ask anyway. He gets asked about his neck, wobbly passes, touchdowns, all-time records, legacy, guys on his team, guys who used to be on his team, guys on other teams, guys who used to be on other teams, his brother(s), his dad, his family, New Orleans and if he considers himself a rapper.

And he’s asked about chemistry a lot. Not so much the carbon and life kind, but football. So when folks wonder where the Broncos can go on offense from the single-season record of 606 point the team set last year. The answer for Manning, at least in part, is in chemistry.

[+] EnlargeManning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning is working on developing chemistry with the Broncos' new receivers in training camp.
“I think there is two kinds," Manning said. “I think there is after-the-snap chemistry where you’re understanding where (tight end) Julius (Thomas) is going to be on a certain route, and then there is before the snap, being sure that everybody knows the signals, knows the code words and all the pre-snap changes that we constantly make."

Those who know him say this is why people have never really heard Manning publicly bemoan practice, criticize the time spent in an offseason workout or rarely fail to stay after practices in this, his 17th NFL season. Because his deal, as the Broncos continue to plow through training camp with Manning having thrown in every practice, is chemistry.

“You want to be able to make adjustments as quickly as you can, have everybody be on the same page, because your main advantage on offense is you know where you’re going," Manning said. “So, it’s always going to be better if everybody knows where they’re going … I tell the story, but with Marvin (Harrison) we got to a point where we could change something when he came by me in motion and we could run it the way we had practiced it. That’s the chemistry that makes you productive because the goal is to score touchdowns and win games."

So while many personnel executives in the league look at a Broncos offense that could be more explosive, with Montee Ball at running back and Emmanuel Sanders to go with rookie Cody Latimer in the rotation at wide receiver, Manning sees chemistry as what will make the difference.

It’s why Latimer and Sanders have spent so much time with the quarterback after training camp practices, when most of the other players have already gone to the locker room. It’s why at times Ball will find himself standing next to Manning during practice and Manning will be diagramming some part of a play with his hands slicing through the air.

The Broncos work fast on offense, don’t huddle all that much and Manning has complete freedom to change plays, or parts of plays, as often as the play clock allows before the snap, often with a simple code word.

“That’s the part you adjust to," Ball said. “The football part -- running, catching -- you can do that. But with Peyton, in this offense, you have to be ready to adjust and you have to be where you’re supposed to be to make it work."

It’s also why, at times, folks on the outside might look at who’s playing and who isn’t and wonder why if the football trinity of height, weight and speed are the only considerations.

“It is not an easy offense to learn if you’re a receiver and for a young player or a veteran free agent, like Emmanuel here," Manning said. “ … It is not easy to learn, so the more we can rep it out here in practice, I think the better it gives them chances to see … let’s face it, the cerebral part of the game, to me, is just as important as the physical part of the game. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it is hard to put you in there.”

Last season Knowshon Moreno went from shaky roster spot to starting running back in a matter of weeks because he knew what he was doing more consistently than the other guys. When Ball showed he too could consistently make the adjustments and be where he was supposed to be down the stretch last season, the Broncos promoted him to the starter in offseason workouts and did not attempt to sign Moreno in free agency.

When the Broncos scouted receivers for this past May’s draft, they wanted size, speed and the ability to make a contested catch, but they also needed a receiver who could handle being a receiver in their offense, a player who could handle what Manning and the offense throw at him. The Broncos believe Latimer was that guy, so they took him in the second round.

“I know there is a time when their heads are swimming, I mean, mine was swimming right after I signed when I got the playbook," Manning said. “Nobody really wants to keep hearing it, but it takes time and repetition, and the payoff is having success in games. You get to see the work you did pay off and if it you didn’t put in the work, put in the time, you see that, too."

Or as former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley put it; “It’s not always the fastest, the strongest, or whatever -- it’s the guys who get themselves in the right place. You have to be athletic enough to play in the league, but to be everything you can be with Peyton, you have to be in the right spot every time. You do that and you’ll get the ball and do things everybody in this league wants to do."

Broncos Camp Report: Day 20

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
9:35
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • When the Broncos starting offense opened team drills in Tuesday’s first practice, it was undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson at running back as the group went though some situational work. It was a product of two running backs currently being sidelined, as Montee Ball recovers from an appendectomy and C.J. Anderson from a concussion, but also a sign of Thompson’s progress since training camp opened. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said Tuesday he was familiar with the Duke running back’s work long before Thompson was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in May. Manning and the Broncos' pass catchers have spent parts of the last two offseasons working at Duke. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is also a trusted Manning confidante and his former offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Thompson has earned raves from the Broncos for his ability to adjust on the fly and get the play right when Manning or backup Brock Osweiler make changes before the snap. Ronnie Hillman is still working at Ball’s primary backup, but Thompson, who is also the biggest back on the roster, is making a serious case to be among the final 53.
  • Tight end Jacob Tamme was back at practice Tuesday. He was excused for Monday’s practice as well as the team’s second practice this past Saturday night, as his wife just gave birth to the couple’s second child last week. Tamme, who has consistently made impact plays thus far in camp, created space to get the ball time and time again Tuesday, including a long completion from Osweiler toward the end of the workout. He will get plenty of snaps in some of the team’s two-tight end looks when the Broncos pair him with Julius Thomas. But Tamme's play has been top tier, starting with his one-handed touchdown reception in the team's first stadium scrimmage.
  • One overriding theme in this training camp as compared to last year's is the ability of the team’s defense to make life more difficult for the offense in team drills. In one team period Tuesday, had defensive players been allowed to hit the quarterback, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller would have each had sacks when it was starters against starters. Ware beat left tackle Ryan Clady to the corner one play, and Miller then beat right tackle Chris Clark later in the same drill.
  • The Broncos will have combined practices with the Houston Texans next week as both team prepare for an Aug. 23 preseason game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. However, it won’t be full-go in practice with the regular season being two weeks away. Broncos head coach John Fox said the two teams will practice at “thud" tempo, which means defenders and offensive players will make impact on plays but will not tackle to the ground.
  • In addition to Ball and Anderson, defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee) and defensive end Greg Latta (right hip) were again held out of practice. Ball and Anderson did take part in the team’s walk-through Tuesday evening. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had been held out of three straight practices because of a thigh injury -- though he did play 20 snaps in the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night -- returned to practice. When the Broncos starters lined up in a two-tight end set with two wide receivers in the formation, it was most often Sanders and Demaryius Thomas at wideout.
  • Odds and ends: Wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who caught a touchdown pass from Osweiler in the preseason opener and continues to push for a roster spot, got some work with Manning and some other starters in a 7-on-7 period Tuesday ... An end-of-game, end-of-half practice period featured a couple penalties, with defensive tackle Marvin Austin jumping offside on a third-down play that gave the offense a first down. The offense later had a false start penalty in the same period.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 19

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
6:20
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Linebacker Von Miller, who tore his ACL in the Broncos’ Week 16 win over the Houston Texans last December, continues to progress toward his full return. When training camp opened Miller was essentially limited to individual drills to go with some additional work in seven-on-seven drills. But he has steadily added more in team drills with each passing practice, including Monday when the Broncos were in full pads. It means Miller is likely on track to participate in team drills when the Broncos have the Houston Texans in town next week for three days of practices before the two teams play Aug. 23 in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It also means that Texans game should be the first look at what the defense looks like with Miller and DeMarcus Ware in the same formation.
  • A seven-on-seven drill is routinely built to favor the offense with no pass rush and plenty of space for the receivers to work, but backup quarterback Brock Osweiler still had a particularly fruitful session worth noting in the practice, tossing two touchdown passes to Nathan Palmer, who spent some time on the Broncos' practice squad last season, as well as a scoring pass to undrafted rookie Bennie Fowler -- all three came in red zone work. On Osweiler’s first scoring pass to Palmer, he dropped it into the right back corner of the end zone over the outstretched arm of cornerback Tony Carter. Again those drills are usually tipped toward the offense, but the throws were accurate and on time.
  • The Broncos’ pass-catchers also had some bobbles on the day as Palmer fumbled in one drill while Isaiah Burse and Fowler dropped catchable passes in one-on-one drills. Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas and Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas also dropped passes on plays they usually make. Demaryius Thomas' drop came after a spectacular release to shake cornerback Jerome Murphy at the line of scrimmage, but he couldn't hang on to Peyton Manning's pass.
  • Running back Montee Ball said it would be “about a week’’ before he could do some light running as he returns from an appendectomy. And his prediction was right on as a week to the day from Ball’s surgery, he was allowed to do some light running Monday. While there is still a chance he would play in the team’s third preseason game -- against the Texans -- it still appears the schedule will be to hold him out of the preseason games and he would start the Sept. 7 opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Odds and ends: With wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders getting the day off because of a thigh injury -- he played 20 snaps in the preseason opener last Thursday night -- Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell lined up as the two outside receivers with the starters. … Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer once again showed the size-speed combination the Broncos wanted when they picked him in the second round of May’s draft. Manning hit him down the seam in one-on-ones as Latimer outran rookie cornerback Bradley Roby. … Defensive end Malik Jackson first deflected a pass and then intercepted it in team drills, … Former Broncos Brian Dawkins and Jason Elam were at Monday’s practice.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 17

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
7:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Linebacker Lerentee McCray, who has worked at Von Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot as the Broncos weave Miller into practice on a graduated basis after Miller’s ACL surgery, continues to flash in practice. In Saturday morning’s workout, McCray returned a Peyton Manning pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage for a touchdown. “It was a pretty good feeling to get my hands on the ball and go the other way.’’ McCray, Brandon Marshall and rookie Lamin Barrow are poised to be the fourth, fifth and sixth linebackers who will make the roster behind the starters when cuts come. The Broncos could have room for one more if they keep seven – they did in 2011 and 2012. The Broncos kept six last season.
  • Emmanuel Sanders, who played 20 plays in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks after being held out of practice Tuesday, was again held out of Saturday morning’s full practice – he took part in the Saturday evening walk-through. The Broncos lined up Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell with the starting offense in the two outside spots. At one point in team drills, Manning tried to power a ball up the right sideline to Caldwell, but cornerback Aqib Talib closed the gap and knocked the ball away.
  • Much like Thursday’s effort when backup quarterback Brock Osweiler rebounded from an interception to throw a touchdown pass, the third-year passer rebounded from a rough set of drills to far better work later in practice. Osweiler had a tipped pass intercepted by Omar Bolden and had another pass intercepted deep down the field in the same drill by John Boyett. But Osweiler recovered quickly and later hooked up for a touchdown with Cody Latimer. On Osweiler’s progress overall, Broncos coach John Fox said Saturday; “He’s just gotten better … how he functions under pressure, I think, continues to improve and I think he took a big step Thursday night,’’
  • With Montee Ball coming off an appendectomy and C.J. Anderson recovering from a concussion, undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson continues to make his presence felt. Thompson got some snaps with the first-team offense Saturday. With the second-team offense later, he broke off the biggest run of the day, out-running safety Duke Ihenacho the final 25 yards or so to close the deal. Thompson, who played for David Cutcliffe at Duke, is well-versed in pass protection and has shown consistent hands. But in the run game he has shown quality decisiveness -- he squares his shoulders and hits the hole -- and more top-end speed than perhaps the Broncos' believed he had.
  • Odds and ends: Rookie Michael Schofield was the right tackle with the second-team offense in Saturday’s practice. Schofield did not play on offense in the preseason opener, but did play six snaps on special teams … Will Montgomery took a smattering of snaps at center with first-team offense … Cornerback Kayvon Webster was doing extra sprints after practice, running a hill adjacent to the team’s fields.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball wouldn’t exactly say he’s happy he had appendicitis.

But he is happy he had it in August.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I’m listening to the training staff, and obviously we’re going to do some tests to see if I’m capable of coming back, which I’m sure I will be," Ball said. "I’ll be even stronger and ready to go."

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