AFC West: Peyton Manning

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The stories are almost football tall tales. They're like the one about walking uphill both ways to school while the snow was piled high. It will be told and retold, perhaps getting a little more far-fetched and drastic each time.

[+] EnlargeManning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning has achieved what many consider unprecedented work -- returning to the game and succeeding at it following several surgeries.
The ones where Peyton Manning couldn't throw a football.

Seems almost funny now, a little odd, really. The Denver Broncos quarterback has thrown 92 touchdown passes in two seasons on the Front Range, he's won his fifth MVP award, been behind center for 26 regular-season wins and helped power the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII. And heading into his 17th season -- and his third with the Broncos -- he's No. 3 in our 2014 #NFLRank survey, up two spots from No. 5 a year ago.

All after he couldn't throw a football.

"It's been a lot of work, I will say that," Manning said. "A lot of time with help from an awful lot of people to get where things are. But I've had to make some adjustments, I think, in how I do things. The goal has always been to help your team win games, to be reliable for your teammates. People always kind of ask me did I think I could come all the way back. I don't always know how to answer that, I knew I wanted to play if I could get to the point where I could compete at the level you need to compete."

Consider it done. It may be appreciated far more when Manning's career is over, when he's thrown his last competitive pass and the league's record book has his name next to the most significant passing records.

But coming back from four neck surgeries, the fourth being a spinal fusion surgery, as a professional football player who had already left his 35th birthday in the rear-view mirror, to where he is now is rare in his vocation, perhaps unprecedented.

"I don't know how many people could have done it," Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "It just shows what kind of guy Peyton is, how much work he's willing to put in to get to this point. And we feel like he's got a lot of good football in him and we're certainly glad he's here."

The post-surgery Manning has made his "adjustments" to be sure. Sometimes he wears a glove on his throwing hand in practice, sometimes in games, sometimes in any weather, wet or dry, hot or cold. But the nerves affected by the herniated disc in his neck that was repaired were in his right arm, which also happens to be his throwing arm.

They affected his triceps as well as his grip on the ball. Those nerves, in the early stages of healing were also the reason Manning bounced the first passes of his recovery, thrown in private, to trusted friends and family that included former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton and Manning's father, Archie.

Put video of his throwing motion now next to some early in his career and his current motion is a little more lower body driven, his stride a little longer, all to generate the power he needs to throw to NFL receivers in his post-fusion career.

Technology has helped him some as well. He doesn't have to divide his day into study and treatment. He can now take his iPad, with all of the game video he wishes to watch, wherever he happens to be in the Broncos' complex, whether it be the cold tub or with the trainers. It takes longer for him to get ready to play, longer to get ready for practice, but he continues to progress, to show more.

"All I know is it seems like his arm keeps getting strong," Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "I think this year he's stronger than last year and last year he was stronger than the first year. He's Peyton, he just does what he does."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used over seven dozen voters from the network’s many NFL platforms as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus to rank the league’s Top 100 players on offense and Top 100 players on defense.

In the rankings, 85 voters turned in ballots on defense, 90 on offense.

  Today, players ranked No. 20 down to 11 are featured. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas comes in at No. 17, a spot certainly worthy of his status as the unquestioned No. 1 target on the highest-scoring offense in league history. It may even be an undersell of what he really does on the field and where he's headed in Denver's points factory.

And he is also part of a quirky football fact in these pass-happy times. The one where two of the biggest, most athletic, game-busting pass catchers the NFL has to offer – Thomas and Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson – both emerged from the run-based option offense of Georgia Tech.

The Broncos made Thomas the 22nd pick of the 2010 draft while the Lions selected Johnson with the second pick of the 2007 draft.

“I don’t know why that happened,’’ Thomas said. “We felt like we had good players who could compete … We just played in a different kind of offense from some other guys.’’

Thomas has had back-to-back 90-catch, 1,400-yard seasons since being unleashed in earnest in the transition from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning. And in what figures to again be one of the league’s most high-powered offenses, Thomas is poised for another mark-it-down season.

He’s also poised for a rather tidy payday. Thomas is in the final year of his rookie deal -- he has a $3.275 million base salary this season, a $4.7 million cap charge for the Broncos -- and the two sides haven’t yet hammered out the extension they had hoped to before the season starts.

John Elway has said he “most certainly’’ wants to get Thomas dialed in on a new deal. Thomas has been named to two Pro Bowls, and if he remains healthy, he will pile on some more before his career is done.

The Broncos will certainly have to pay for the privilege to keep him.

“We know what we have here as receivers,’’ Thomas said. “We have Peyton at quarterback with a scheme that allows us to make plays if we get ourseleves to the right spot. I’m just worried about this season and doing what I can to help us do what we want to do and get where we want to go. We want to win the last game of the year.’’
Wes Welker, D.J. Swearinger, Jeff TarpinianAP Photo/Jack DempseyWes Welker suffered yet another concussion after taking this hit from D.J. Swearinger.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For most of Emmanuel Sanders' NFL career, he has done his business as a wide receiver in that high-impact, high-traffic area where slot receivers roam.

So he knows what Wes Welker goes through in the Denver Broncos' high-powered offense and knows what it will take to adjust if Welker misses time in the regular season because of a concussion suffered just before halftime in this past Saturday's preseason loss to the Houston Texans.

"It's different," Sanders said. "I've played slot every year that I've played football except last year was my first year on the outside. It's a different game. On the outside, you just have to beat one man, really, and that's because they play man-to-man. Whereas in the slot, it's more zone. You have to avoid linebackers, you have to avoid safeties, you have to sit down in the zone and that's where the big hits can come from. Whereas on the outside, they'll come, but they're not going to come as much as in the slot."

Welker, who also suffered concussions Nov. 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans last season, is currently under the guidelines of the league's concussion protocol. The Broncos don't have a timetable for his return, but under those guidelines to return to full participation in a practice by next Friday -- two days before the Sept. 7 regular-season opener -- Welker would have to be symptom free by Monday.

Welker would also have to be cleared for a return to the field by an independent physician, designated by both the NFL and NFL Players Association.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesWes Welker had 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Broncos last season.
"He's doing fantastic in the process," said Broncos head coach John Fox, following Tuesday's practice. "We'll take it one day (at a time), and another positive day today."

In their offense, much like how the Indianapolis Colts' offense looked with Peyton Manning behind center, the Broncos' bread-and-butter plays are the crossing routes, both shallow and deeper down the field, to go with the big-play shots that come down the seam.

With Welker having suffered three concussions in 10 months in the Broncos' offense, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said he would look at how the team is using its slot receivers to see if they are being put in harm's way more often. But Gase also said he didn't believe that to be the case on the play when Welker was injured.

"I think we'll take a look at our route concepts and see what we need to tinker with and maybe why something like that happened," Gase said. "If we have to make an adjustment, we will. If he came to me and said something about a certain route he didn't feel comfortable (with), we would make an adjustment. For right now, I feel like our scheme is pretty good. What happened, like Coach Fox said, it's a football play, and those things happen sometimes."

In their three-wide receiver set, their base formation, they'll line various receivers in the inside slot positions on either side of the formation. But players such as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Sanders and tight end Julius Thomas will line up plenty on the outside, as well.

By contrast Welker will line up on a smattering of snaps on the outside, but he works almost exclusively from the slot. Last season, for example, seven of Welker's 10 scoring receptions came on plays in which he started in the slot. And a look at the game video shows just over 50 of Welker's 73 receptions last season as well as almost 700 of his 778 receiving yards came on plays in which he was lined up in the slot. So, if Welker misses any significant time, it will take some adjustment in the team's offense.

"We're able to move pieces around and still do a lot of the same things that we've done," Gase said. "We don't really teach by position, so everybody can move in and out."

Sanders would certainly get more work as a slot receiver, as would tight end Jacob Tamme, but at varying points in training camp the Broncos have given all of their receivers some routes from the slot. Tamme gives the Broncos the option of sticking to a three-wide concept with a little more size in the formation. It's a formation that, at times, forces defenses to go a little bigger because the Broncos are in a two-tight end look.

The Broncos will also use rookie Cody Latimer, especially in some of their red zone packages, because of Latimer's size and ability to win the ball in contested situations -- "I felt like that was a strength of mine in college and want it to be in the NFL," he said. Whatever the personnel, the Broncos won't dial back how much, or where, they throw the ball. They'd certainly like to have Welker in the lineup, but believe they have insurance for the loss if they don't.

"If he's not there Week 1, then guess what? Other guys have to come in and step up," Sanders said. "Guys like myself, Demaryius Thomas, everyone has to come together and make this team better and it really doesn't matter who's on the field. ... We work our butt off and we have Peyton Manning as our quarterback, so everything is looking really good. Wes will be back and strong."

Clady, Thomas appear in #NFLRank

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
11:45
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used 85 voters from the network’s many NFL platforms as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus to rank the league’s top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense.

Players ranked No. 40 to 31 are featured on Tuesday. And for the Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas checked in at No. 38 as an ascending player while left tackle Ryan Clady came in at No. 35.

Thomas
Clady
Thomas, who had one career catch in his first two seasons with the Broncos because of first, an ankle injury and then eventually ankle surgery. Thomas had 65 receptions last season to go with 12 touchdowns in the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The Broncos see potential for more and are poised to pay for it as well as Thomas enters into the last year of his original contract. He has Peyton Manning’s trust and that always means the opportunities for catches and touchdowns will follow.

“I don’t want to have just one good year,’’ Thomas said. “I want to make a career.’’

For Clady’s part, he is still working his way back from foot surgery last season that kept him out of all but two games. Other than Manning, no player in the team’s offensive huddle has been to more than Clady’s three Pro Bowls.

Should Clady play as expected, and he hasn’t missed any practice time in the preseason, he is likely to add a fourth Pro Bowl to his resume.

“I don’t think I’m quite there, but I’m getting there, it’s close,’’ Clady said of his recovery. “It’s just something you have to work into. It’s the National Football League with the best athletes in the world. You can’t just jump in off an injury and expect to be great. It takes some work, and I still have a little bit of time. I think I’m definitely improving. It’s definitely feeling better. Soreness is at a minimum right now, so that’s a good thing.’’

Broncos Rewind: Preseason Game 3

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
5:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the end the Denver Broncos played their starters until halftime Saturday night, or just about what they had planned to do against the Houston Texans after three days’ worth of work against the Texans leading up to the game.

That will also do it for virtually all of the regulars since they will not play in Thursday night's preseason finale in Dallas.

But after a look at the game video from the 18-17 loss to the Texans, here are some items of note:
  • With just three tight ends in uniform due to injuries, offensive coordinator Adam Gase still went to work some in a two-tight-end look with mixed results. With the starters in the game, the Broncos used it for nine snaps before halftime with Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas in the formation, including all seven snaps on a second-quarter possession that ended with a Peyton Manning interception. The Broncos had five called runs in the look and Manning was sacked once. The Broncos will consistently work the three-wide-receiver look as their base formation much of the time this season -- 35 snaps in all for the starters Saturday, including penalty snaps. But unless something unexpected happens when the roster gets cut to 53 players next week, the Broncos will most likely have three tight ends on the roster during the season, so Saturday was a rather tidy dress rehearsal for that. Green's return will allow them to muscle up a bit more when they're in it and some additional game-planning should help. But it has to be an effective option for them against some of the sturdier defensive fronts they'll face.
  • One of the more effective looks for the Broncos defense last season was their dime (six defensive backs) and it should be an even more reliable option this season with the addition of safety T.J. Ward to go with some additional depth at the position. The Broncos didn’t play cornerback Chris Harris or cornerback Kayvon Webster in the game, but still fared well in the look against the Texans’ starters. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 2-of-4 passing against the Broncos’ dime package with Ward, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter, Omar Bolden, Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby in the lineup. The completions went for 12 and 5 yards on the Texans' first scoring drive. The Texans eventually converted a fourth-and-1 on a 4-yard run by Alfred Blue, also against the dime look. The Broncos will mostly use the formation in passing situations, but their ability to stay in it could depend on how they do when offenses try to run on it because it's a lighter look in terms of personnel. Ward helps, with his ability to drop down to the weak-ide linebacker spot as he can play along the line of scrimmage in a run fit or drop into coverage.
  • Some of the most difficult roster decisions for the Broncos will come in the defensive line, especially if they keep just eight at a deep position. In a scenario where they keep eight, they are going to lose more than one defensive lineman who could play elsewhere. Saturday night Kevin Vickerson, who was on injured reserve during the second half of last season with a hip injury, got his first action of the preseason. Vickerson carries a $2.266 million salary-cap figure for the upcoming season and given the Broncos’ current cap situation contracts are going to be a bigger consideration in cuts than in the previous three seasons. They would take a $500,000 hit for “dead’’ money if Vickerson is released, so ultimately the Broncos would see a $1.766 million cap savings. It's not huge but perhaps necessary. Vickerson played 24 snaps with the second-team defense in the game.
  • For the optimism surrounding a still-high-powered offense and a revamped defense, the Broncos' special teams didn’t have the kind of night you would expect in the third preseason outing. Matt Prater, now facing a four-game suspension to open the season, missed a field goal and took a chunk of sod out of the ground even as he made his other attempt in the game. Britton Colquitt shanked a punt in the first half -- a 27-yarder with plenty of field to work with -- and rookie Mitch Ewald missed a 36-yard field goal attempt. Couple that with the up-and-down work they’ve had in the return game throughout the preseason and there’s plenty of work to be done.
  • The snap leaders for the night on offense were Manning and the starting offensive line, with 43 plays in the game (all in the first half). On defense Bolden led the way with 39 snaps in a variety of packages with linebackers Corey Nelson and Lerentee McCray checking in at 37 plays each.
DENVER -- Just a week ago the Denver Broncos looked at their depth chart and were considering the idea they could keep six wide receivers when they cut the roster to 53 players.

Now they have some question marks. Wes Welker suffered a concussion in Saturday night’s preseason game, and the timeline for his availability for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener and beyond is now in the hands of the Broncos’ medical staff.

Wes Welker, D.J. Swearinger
Jack Dempsey/Associated PressD.J. Swearinger's hit on Wes Welker late in the first half Saturday knocked Welker out of the game with a concussion.
This past week the Broncos also lost Jordan Norwood for the season after Norwood, who was on track to make the roster as a depth player at wide receiver as well as a punt returner, tore his left ACL in Tuesday’s practice with the Houston Texans. Welker, because of his concussion history, will bear watching in the coming days and weeks.

He left the game with 9 seconds remaining in the first half after taking a blow to the helmet from Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. Welker got up and walked, next to a member of the Broncos' training staff, off the field and straight into the locker room.

Asked following the game about Welker’s potential recovery time, Broncos head coach John Fox said: “We’ll leave that to the medical people and he won’t come back until he’s ready to come back."

The injury occurred on a first-and-10 from the Broncos’ 47-yard line. Peyton Manning hit Welker again in the middle of the field and Swearinger hit Welker in the head as Welker lunged forward. Replays appeared to show Welker’s head dropping as he began to slide, and Swearinger hit him with a combination of forearm and shoulder. Welker got up on his own, but immediately waved to the Broncos trainers to come on to the field.

Swearinger was assessed a personal foul on the play for a blow to the head. Manning was bothered enough by the hit that, following a touchdown throw to Emmanuel Sanders on the following play, Manning ran all the way into the end zone to confront Swearinger.

“Obviously concerned about Wes," Manning said. “I just didn’t like seeing him come out of the game, a potential blow to the head, that kept out a while last year, so obviously concerned about him."

“Definitely it made me mad," Sanders said. “The fact that Peyton was addressing the situation, that means it was a bad situation. [Swearinger is] a competitor all week in practice he’s been getting into it sometimes, he lets attitude get the [best] of him."

Manning was assessed a taunting penalty after confronting Swearinger.

“Fifteen yards with five seconds left in the half doesn’t hurt you that much, I think if you’re going to get one that’s a good time to get one," Manning said.

Then asked if he could repeat what he said to Swearinger and what Swearinger said back to him, Manning said:

"I can’t. He said, 'Thanks, appreciate it, good luck to you as well.'"

Welker’s concussion in Saturday's game is the third time he has been under the league’s protocol since November. He suffered two concussions last season four games apart, and missed the last three games of the regular season.

Welker did return to play in the Broncos’ three postseason games, including Super Bowl XLVIII, wearing a helmet with extra padding. Welker has continued to wear the helmet this season as well.

According to the league's concussion protocol, even if a player is symptom-free the day following his concussion, he can return only to light exercise three days after the hit and only in non-contact portions of practice four days after the hit. The quickest a player, who is symptom-free the day after suffering the concussion, can return to a full contact practice is five days after the hit and the player has to show no symptoms compared to his base-line testing the day after the hit to even be on that timetable.

Also per the policy, once a team doctor has signed off on a player's return to the field, a doctor unaffiliated with the team and approved by both the NFL and NFL Players Association must also clear the player to return. One of the factors considered, in addition to the cognitive tests, is a player's concussion history.

Welker left the Broncos' Nov. 17 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs last season with a concussion but played the following week at New England. He suffered another concussion when he went low for a pass Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans.

Observation Deck: Denver Broncos

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
12:07
AM ET

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. -- It's easy to forget at times, lost somewhere in the record 606 points the Denver Broncos piled on the NFL last season.

Lost in quarterback Peyton Manning's 55 touchdown passes, the team's 13 wins and a Super Bowl trip. The fact that one of the team's elite players -- a "blue" as some longtime personnel executives refer to those at the top of any list -- played in only two games.

"That's an important part of our offense," Manning said. "We had guys, Chris Clark, step in and do a great job, but that's an important position and Ryan Clady is a great player."

[+] EnlargeClady
AP Photo/Ric Tapia"I always felt like if you knew the back side wasn't going to be a problem, as a quarterback you could have more confidence about your ability to get some things done back there," John Elway said. "Ryan gives us that kind of player."
That he is. And in plenty of conversations about where the Broncos can go from last season's remember-when performance on offense, Manning's precision in the preseason, Emmanuel Sanders' signing, the potential of rookie Cody Latimer, the development of tight end Julius Thomas and even the move of Orlando Franklin to left guard are all on the list things that will impact it all.

Clady's return from a foot injury suffered in Week 2 last season is the most significant difference between how the Broncos will line up on offense in the opener and how they lined up in the Super Bowl.

It's a big enough difference that the Broncos' football boss, John Elway, will routinely end a rundown about the changes on offense with "and we get Ryan Clady back."

"I think I definitely can make a difference," Clady said. "That's why I'm here -- to help the team out and make this a better team than we were last year."

Other than Manning's otherworldly 13 Pro Bowl selections, no other player in the Broncos offense has been named to more than Clady's three. In 2012, the left tackle was simply one of the league's best, surrendering just one sack all season as the Broncos made the transition from their read-option look in '11 to Manning's first season with the team.

The Broncos then signed Clady to a five-year, $52.5 million deal before the 2013 season, a deal worthy of the cornerstone player he is in the team's plans, only to see him play just two games. And while Clark filled in admirably, the Broncos' choices in terms of protections and their ability to send help elsewhere in the formation increase with Clady's ability to go solo against the league's best rushers.

When Elway has been asked about "foundation players" in roster building, quarterback and left tackle are still often the first two on the list.

"I always felt like if you knew the back side wasn't going to be a problem, as a quarterback you could have more confidence about your ability to get some things done back there," Elway said. "Ryan gives us that kind of player."

And much like Clady's practice battles with Elvis Dumervil were often highlights -- Dumervil has often credited Clady "with getting me to the Pro Bowl, working with him every day" -- Clady's battles with DeMarcus Ware have been good for both players.

As Mike Shanahan's final No. 1 pick in his Broncos tenure -- Clady was the 12th pick of the '08 draft -- Clady was in the Broncos lineup the last time the team practiced against another team in training camp. The Dallas Cowboys came to Denver with Ware, who was on the doorstep of what would be the third of his seven Pro Bowl seasons in Dallas, often lined up across from the then-rookie.

"It was kind of a wake-up call for me because I was like, ‘I don't know how long I'm going to last in the league going against guys like this every week.' It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”

Clady said his surgically repaired foot continues to feel better each week and he has not missed any practice time in the preseason.

"I don't think I'm quite there, but I'm getting there," Clady said. "It's close. It's just something you have to work into. It's the National Football League with the best athletes in the world. You can't just jump in off an injury and expect to be great. It takes some work, and I still have a little bit of time."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Emmanuel Sanders’ first training camp with the Denver Broncos hasn’t exactly gone the way he hoped it would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At the end of the day, if I feel good, I’m going to play,’’ Sanders said. “ … Right now I don’t feel like I’m putting myself at any kind of risk of any kind of injury. It feels really good and I’m optimistic that I’ll be playing Saturday.’’

Broncos, Texans heat up practice

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
4:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans gathered on the two sidelines for the last period of Wednesday’s practice, they had played nice up until that point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It’s competitive, it’s great," Talib said. "We’re all here to work, we know that. Things get intense, they’re going hard, we’re going hard. But we’re all here to work."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- What the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans are doing this week is rare and, in the end, took at least some risk-reward analysis before the two teams agreed to do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's the same thing we do every day," Fox said. "We are going to take the approach that we are going to treat the Houston Texans just like we treat our own team and we expect the same from them. I don't foresee any problems."
video
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Less than 48 hours after a 34-0 preseason victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning brought a little verbal rain after the team’s first of three practices with the Houston Texans.

The Broncos and Texans will practice together for three days this week at the Broncos’ complex before the two teams play Saturday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And with a familiar face calling the shots in the Texans' defense in Romeo Crennel, Manning came away from Tuesday’s workout, shall we say, less than enthused about what he had seen.

“I thought our offense stunk today,’’ Manning said following practice. “Their defense totally kicked our butt. ... We’ll learn from the film, hopefully there is some good things to see, hopefully we come out and do a better job tomorrow from a player standpoint.’’

Crennel, after his time as the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator as well as Kansas City Chiefs' head coach, is a familiar adversary through the years. Crennel is in his first season as Texans defensive coordinator, joining the team after another former Patriots assistant, Bill O’Brien, was named head coach.

“Romeo Crennel is one of the best coaches out there, overall it will be a good week for us,’’ Manning said. “... But we’ve got to do better than we did today on offense.’’

Asked what the main issue happened to be, Manning simply said, “Were you watching?’’

“They executed better than we did,’’ Manning added. “... They just did their job a lot better than we did.’’

In reality, Manning and the Broncos' offense, while not at their best following a day off Monday, made their share of plays in both 7-on-7 and team drills. But the group also had some choppy moments against the Texans' regulars.

Manning may have had some other motives as well. The Broncos' starters on offense have played on four drives in two preseason games and the team has scored on three of those drives.

Manning is 22 of 27 passing for 180 yards and a touchdown in those two games and there has been at least some sentiment in and around the Front Range the Broncos' offense is ready to start the season. And that’s an idea Manning seemed to want to poke a hole in Monday.

“I think today that story ought to die,’’ Manning said. “Today’s performance out there on whatever field that is, field 2 ... I kind of call it like I see it. When you have a pretty below-average practice, you’ve got to call it a below-average practice. I think this team does a pretty good job staying pretty even keel. I don’t think anybody is overly excited about beating a San Francisco team that didn’t have Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, didn’t blitz us one time, kind of a pretty vanilla scheme. They will be a different animal when we play those guys in the regular season.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There's a learning curve and then there is the twisting, turning, work-fast riddle that is the Denver Broncos' offensive playbook.

And that is what receiver Cody Latimer must navigate to go from draft pick with piles of potential to draft pick with a productive place in a fast-paced touchdown factory.

"Our code words have code words, our signals have signals," said Broncos wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. "To be able to put that together, to know what's the real deal. Is it an audible? Is it a dummy call? It takes a while to get all that running smoothly. ... And that's the major hurdle for any young guy in our offense, just to know all there is to know as fast as we need you to know it.''

[+] EnlargeDenver's Cody Latimer
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesCody Latimer hauls in a 33-yard touchdown catch against the 49ers.
And then Tolbert added with a smile: "but I'd venture to say he's picking it up fairly well ... for a rookie."

A rookie that is looking more and more like he can be, despite the Broncos' obvious firepower and depth on offense, a contributor when the Broncos close in on the end zone. Sunday, in the Broncos' 34-0 preseason win over the San Francisco 49ers, Latimer caught his first scoring pass in a game for the Broncos.

He showed his top-tier speed up the right sideline and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler tossed a 33-yard scoring pass that he dove to catch.

"I just saw a one-on-one matchup there," Osweiler said following the game. " ... Cody just did a tremendous job by running by the corner and making a great catch in the end zone."

The starting jobs in the Broncos' three-wide receiver look are largely spoken for with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders set to get the bulk of the plays. But when the May draft rolled around, the Broncos were still on the hunt for a little more size at the position, and when the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Latimer was still on the board when their second-round pick rolled around they grabbed him.

Latimer had fractured his foot in a pre-draft workout so the Broncos knew he would initially be limited in their offseason work. But just as Latimer showed the initiative to seek out special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers to see if he could return kickoffs, Latimer has also been a willing post-practice student with quarterback Peyton Manning, sweating the details along the way.

"You just want to learn as much as possible," Latimer said. "You have to know where you need to be all the time. You have to know the plays, the variations, just all of things that need to be done."

Latimer also fits another job description the team was looking to fill when they sifted through the rubble that was Super Bowl XLVIII. The defenses that did give the Broncos' record-setting offense at least some trouble last season, including the Seattle Seahawks' D in the title game, often did so by re-routing the Broncos receivers off the line of scrimmage, preventing them from getting a free release and disrupting the timing of an offense that lives on timing.

So when the Broncos looked at Latimer, in almost everything he did at Indiana, they saw a pass-catcher who was also one of the most physically aggressive receivers on the board.

"Absolutely, that was one thing that stood out, his aggressive play in general, not necessarily just to the ball," Tolbert said. "In the run game, he was a rusher on the punt team, on the kickoff team he would run down there and make tackles. Just a tough guy all the way around, rare for a receiver of his caliber to play special teams in the non-traditional roles of a wide receiver."

And when the ball was in the air, Tolbert said, "he was a guy who would get the ball and go win the ball."

All of that, when the Broncos crank things up for real, figures to put Latimer in some kind of rotation when the Broncos move into the red zone. That is if he can master the right-place, right-time technicalities of the team's offense.

"You want to be a guy Peyton Manning can trust," Latimer said. "He knows where (Thomas), Wes and Emmanuel are going to be. I just want to keep working so he always feels like he knows where I'll be and that I'll fight for that ball if it comes my way."

Broncos Camp Report: Day 23

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

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

 

Broncos Camp Report: Day 22

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

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider