AFC West: Peyton Manning

W2W4: Broncos Week 3

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:30
AM ET
video
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- New day, new year, new team. That has been the theme, all week, as the Denver Broncos have prepared to face the Seattle Seahawks.

And why not? This game is a rematch in name, but not really in depth charts. When the Broncos line up on defense Sunday in CenturyLink Field, they will start at least seven players on defense who did not play in the 35-point Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks. And defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams will be the only two defensive players still playing in the same spots as they did in that game.

“The guys who didn’t play in the Super Bowl, were hurt, or weren’t here yet, you’re always going to hope you would have made a difference,’’ said safety Rahim Moore.

And as the Broncos prepare for a Week 3 trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks (1-1), it will be the most significant test of the Broncos' hypothesis that this is a better team “on paper’’ than the one that lost this past February.

Some things to keep an eye on:
  • Against the Seahawks’ defense, the San Diego Chargers found room to work with a patient approach in terms of down-and-distance and by getting the ball out of Philip Rivers’ hand quickly. The Chargers' running backs and tight end Antonio Gates had 16 of the team’s 28 receptions combined in San Diego’s 31-20 win this past Sunday. Gates had all three of the team’s touchdowns. The Seahawks figure to adjust some, but the Broncos still have some matchups they can win with tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme to go with running back Montee Ball in the pattern.
  • The Seahawks were ruthlessly effective using their “rover’’ defensive back to limit the Broncos’ success with their bread-and-butter crossing routes in the Super Bowl. They also disrupted the Broncos’ timing on offense by manhandling the Broncos’ receivers in the 5-yard contact zone, preventing them from getting into their routes. It’s why the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, because of Sanders’ ability to get into the pattern and the difficulty defensive backs have had in jamming him in his career. The Broncos haven’t yet shown they can consistently run the ball this season, so the Broncos need to possess the ball and may have to lean on a short- and intermediate-passing game to do it. To make that work the Broncos' receivers have to win the one-on-ones.
  • Of all the things that happened in the Super Bowl that the Broncos didn’t like -- and the list was long -- perhaps the one that troubled the team most was their failure to respond to some bad things that happened early in the game. It went bad and stayed bad. The Broncos need their marquee players, from quarterback Peyton Manning on down, to find that line between focused and way too tight. The team, particularly the offense, was way too tight in the title game.
  • Left tackle Ryan Clady makes a difference for the Broncos and it should be clear in this one. Clady allows the Broncos to move the help elsewhere across the offensive front. The Seahawks sacked Rivers just once this past Sunday. Rivers did run the ball 11 times to escape pressure, which Manning will not do that often, and Seattle got to Aaron Rodgers for three sacks in their opener. Clady gives the Broncos options that they’ll need because the Seahawks figure to press the issue a bit against right tackle Chris Clark and the Broncos will have to adjust.
  • Broncos head coach John Fox has consistently said the Broncos were prepared for what Percy Harvin can do in the Seahawks’ offense and on special teams, but that “it might not have looked like it.’’ Marshawn Lynch makes the Seahawks' offense go, but Harvin is the guy the Seahawks use to swing momentum. His plays often involve misdirection and flow; the backside defenders have to be disciplined and can't miss tackles for the Broncos.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As they approach a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle that isn’t really a second chance at a Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos find themselves trying to find the right balance between past and present.

Between remembering the sting and embarrassment of a 35-point loss on the league’s biggest stage, and simply moving on to try to create another opportunity to make it right.

“Yeah, you don’t forget what happened and also, you set the standard by playing against the Super Bowl (winners)," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “They’ve earned the right to talk how they talk and we’ll just speak with our pads and show up on Sunday. Obviously we still have a bad taste in our mouths from the Super Bowl, but it’s a new season and we want to get back to that point and obviously win it. But playing against the team that won the Super Bowl and actually having a chance at a rematch really will show how far we came as a team and if we improved or not."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg"I think naturally you're motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year," Peyton Manning said. "But being motivated, or being mad doesn't mean anything if you don't go out there and execute and do your job."
Sunday will be the Broncos’ first regular-season trip to Seattle, a former division foe from 1978-2001. Everybody knows the numbers: The Seahawks have gone 18-1 in their last 19 regular-season home games and the last time these two teams met in a game that counted, the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points.

And in the social media world, a team that loses the Super Bowl by 35 points somehow doesn’t finish second. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said “people don’t see you as a team that was a runner-up because of what happened."

The Broncos have lived with being called soft, intimidated and unable to play to the moment in the title game. That’s all fodder to wind a team up.

Asked if he had ever been more excited to play in a regular-season game, Knighton said; “No. No I haven’t been this excited … Saturday, when we get on that plane, a lot of guys’ adrenaline will start boosting. It’ll be a hostile environment and that’s just the way we like it -- with our back against the walls."

But it’s also, for both the Broncos Seahawks, Week 3 of a season with plenty of miles to go before another shot at the postseason. In that vein Broncos head coach John Fox has tried to emphasize, at least publicly, Sunday’s game is indeed the kind of stage any Super Bowl hopeful would want to be on, but not the end-all, be-all of the new season.

Quarterback Peyton Manning even took a far simpler approach.

“Yeah, I think naturally you’re motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year,’’ Manning said. “But being motivated, or being mad doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out there and execute and do your job … so I still think you have to try to simplify it in some ways and try to find a way to protect the ball, score some touchdowns in the red zone and stay out of a lot of third-and-longs. I think if you don’t do those things, it’s tough to be a good football team."

So, whatever errors the Broncos made this past February, the opportunity that was lost, it's all a part of history’s stew. Almost half of the players currently on the Broncos' roster weren't with the team in MetLife Stadium, and the team will likely start at least seven players on defense Sunday who didn’t even play in the Super Bowl, so how it all turns out this time around will depend on how the current Broncos seize the day.

“I think we’ve got to caution ourselves from trying to make this a revenge for the Super Bowl game,’’ said tight end Julius Thomas. “This is the 2014 season, but we’re still playing a very tough opponent -- probably what a lot of people consider one of the better teams in this league. When you’re going up against a playoff team three weeks in a row, you’ve got to keep on making a statement to everybody else in the league about what type of team we’re going to be this year."

“You’ve got to stay in your (playbook) and just work on your fundamentals and get better each week and watch your opponent as much as possible without getting riled up and feeding into all the talk -- you know, the bulletin board stuff, all the quotes they got,’’ Knighton said. “But we just keep it simple."
video
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Perhaps it took a little longer than the Denver Broncos had hoped, but the team is poised to get wide receiver Wes Welker back on the roster this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the NFL had begun to inform players who would be reinstated once representatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association had signed a term sheet on the new drug policy.

[+] EnlargeWelker
AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos could have Wes Welker back from his league suspension as early as Wednesday.
The Broncos have kept a roster spot open for Welker for over a week. The team, with the negotiations on a new drug policy seemingly nearing a conclusion, cut wide receiver Nathan Palmer on Sept. 9 and remained at 52 players since.

Welker, who suffered a concussion in the Broncos’ Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans, has been cleared medically, so he would take part in practice as soon as he is formally moved from reserve/suspended to the active roster.

Following Broncos practice last Friday, coach John Fox said the team was ready to welcome Welker back whenever an agreement was in place. But earlier this week, Fox wasn't prepared to publicly say when he thought that would be.

"I know we get Wes back for sure after four games," Fox said Monday. "Anything other than that, that’s somebody else’s decisions.”

Welker was originally suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and already has served the first two games of the suspension, missing the Broncos’ wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. However, Broncos officials and players have believed that a new policy would change the criteria of Welker's suspension and allow for the reinstatement of Welker and several others players around the league.

Welker had been limited in practice at the time of his league-mandated punishment because of the concussion he suffered against the Texans. The concussion was Welker's third in a 10-month span.

Welker has taken part in just one practice -- he was limited in the team’s Labor Day workout -- since the injury.

Welker's chance at reinstatement came because, under the new policy, Welker's positive test for amphetamines would now fall under the league's policy for substance abuse because it occurred during the offseason. Under the guidelines of the substance abuse policy, a player enters the treatment program with the first positive test, a program that includes meeting with counselors. The player is also subject to increased testing each month.

It takes multiple positive tests under the substance abuse policy before the suspension phase is reached. Welker's positive test had fallen under the PED policy, which put players into the suspension phase with the first positive test.

Under his original suspension, Welker would not have been eligible to return to the team until Monday, Oct. 6, and then would have played for the first time in the Oct. 12 game against the New York Jets.

In Welker's absence, the Broncos have run far more plays out of a two-tight end set than they did down the stretch last season or in the playoffs. Of quarterback Peyton Manning's league-leading six touchdown passes, five have gone to tight ends: four to Julius Thomas and one to Jacob Tamme.

Denver Broncos rewind: Offense

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
4:55
PM ET
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."

W2W4: Broncos Week 2

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
7:30
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Cornerback Chris Harris is just seven months removed from ACL surgery, so the team's Week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts had a work-in-progress feel for him.

"I know in the first game I wasn’t quite where I want to be with my stamina and things like that, but my knee feels great, when I was in there I felt like I showed I can play the game how I want to play it," said Harris. "But I wasn't all the way where I want to be, but I'll get there. We got the win, that’s all we’re concerned about. We’ll fix what we need to fix after wins, that’s what we want."

That is true for the Broncos as a whole. They weren’t quite where they want to be in the victory over Colts, but they won.

And as they head to a Week 2 game against the Kansas City Chiefs (0-1) Sunday, here are some things to keep an eye on:

  • [+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
    Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesExpect to see Demaryius Thomas get more opportunities against the Chiefs than he got in Week 1.
    Demaryius Thomas had just four receptions for 48 yards in the season opener, but those numbers figure to go up this week, especially if Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton sticks to what he did last season against Thomas. Sutton didn’t match a cornerback on Thomas, so when the Broncos moved Thomas around in the formation, they could usually get the matchup they wanted, often getting Thomas on Marcus Cooper in last season’s two meetings. As a result Thomas had two 100-yard games against the Chiefs and averaged 28.5 yards per catch in those two games. Cooper, who missed last week’s game with an injury, is expected back in the lineup Sunday.
  • Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles had just 11 touches in the opener, including just seven carries. The Broncos should, and do, expect Charles to get many more opportunities Sunday. There was a time, during his tenure in Philadelphia, when Chiefs head coach Andy Reid took some heat for leaving the run game behind in his play calling. Things got away from the Chiefs offense a bit in the loss to the Titans Sunday -- the Titans led 10-3 at half, 20-3 just before the end of the third quarter -- but the Chiefs ran the ball just 17 times in the game. The Chiefs had just two running plays in the third quarter. "We know Jamaal Charles is one of the best," Harris said. "We know they want to get him the ball."
  • The Chiefs have just one offensive lineman -- center Rodney Hudson -- who is starting in the same position for the team that he played last season. And the group looked out of sorts at times in the opening-week loss to the Titans. As a result the Broncos figure to get a steady diet of quick-hit plays as the Chiefs try to adjust. Reid has an extensive screen game in the offense and the Chiefs run many of those screens, to either side of the field, to a variety of players, when they all look the same at the start of the play. The Broncos' linebackers will have to be disciplined in their pursuit.
  • Sutton will offer plenty of unorthodox looks in the pass rush, often dropping safety Eric Berry into the mix with a delayed rush in the middle of the formation. The Colts had some success sending a rusher from off the ball late into the middle of the formation. The Broncos were slow to adjust at times and there were times Colts defenders got a free run at quarterback Peyton Manning.
  • The Broncos figure to test the Chiefs defense on the inside, particularly in the run game. Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive tackle Mike DeVito will miss the remainder of the season with Achilles tendon injuries and that is a significant amount of production out of the team’s defense, particularly on early downs when Johnson was the keystone of the team’s run fits and DeVito was in the rotation. The Broncos figure to pound away a bit to see how the Chiefs respond, both out of their two-tight-end or three-wide-receiver looks.

Broncos vs. Chiefs preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET

The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs don't have to wait long to open up AFC West play as they jump into a Week 2 matchup. The Broncos had one glorious half before they had to hang on in their season-opening 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Chiefs struggled in a 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium and will be without two regulars in defensive tackle Mike DeVito and linebacker Derrick Johnson, who both suffered season-ending Achilles injuries in the loss.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Adam, every training camp for every team ends with such high hopes and plenty of optimism. What is the Chiefs' mindset after such a tough opening week?

Teicher: There's not a lot for the Chiefs to be optimistic about right now. Since their 9-0 start last season they've gone 2-7, including their collapse in the playoffs against Indianapolis. Their offensive line is in tatters, quarterback Alex Smith is throwing interceptions in uncharacteristically high numbers, running back Jamaal Charles didn’t get the ball much against Tennessee, some of their best young players aren't contributing much, they lost two of their best defensive players for the season with injuries last week and their defense got pushed around by Jake Locker and the Titans. Then there's the upcoming schedule, which has the Chiefs playing road games against the Broncos, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and a home game against the New England Patriots in the next five weeks. Otherwise, all is good with the Chiefs.

What about the Broncos in this regard? The losing team in the Super Bowl often has a season-long hangover afterward, but the Broncos don't seem to be affected.

Legwold: When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he wanted not only Manning's play on the field, but also a player "who raises all boats." Manning and the other Broncos veterans attacked the offseason and a fairly young team overall has taken its cues from those hard-driving older players. When they brought in veteran players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, those guys saw this as a chance at a Super Bowl, so they have been no nonsense as they've gone about their business. That has kept things on the tracks. The suspensions handed down to wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater ended what had been a quiet summer for the team. But, overall, it's a locked-in group that needs to avoid injuries to key players to be in the title mix again.

In terms of offseason work, the Chiefs locked up Smith with a contract extension. What was the organization's plan and is there even more pressure on Smith now to lift them into the postseason?

Teicher: The plan with Smith all along, from the time they acquired him in the trade with the 49ers, was to lock him up for the long term. At no time did they consider him a stopgap or the bridge to the next quarterback. Those plans could have changed had they not been satisfied with Smith's play last season. But Smith last season was the guy the Chiefs thought they were getting. This new contract certainly increases the pressure on Smith to deliver. The Chiefs have committed to him in a big way, and he will be consuming a significant portion of the team's salary cap. Smith is by no means solely responsible for last Sunday's loss, but he didn't play well. He threw three interceptions, and two were bad decisions on his part, the kind of choices he doesn't usually make. The Chiefs are paying him a lot of money to make better decisions.

You mentioned Denver's offseason signings of defensive players in Ware, Talib and Ward. How has their presence changed the complexion of the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Elway spends a lot of time talking about "the mindset" and "the mentality to win a world championship," and when he was waving the team's checkbook around in free agency, he went looking for players with the mindset to remake the defense. There are just six players on the roster who started on defense in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos players voted Ware a captain and his straightforward, no-nonsense approach has made him an almost instant team leader. He also had 1.5 sacks in the opener, and while some in the league had labeled Ware a declining player in his 10th season, the Broncos think they can manage his snaps to get the most out of him. Ward and Talib bring an edge the Broncos wanted, and both were all over the field this past Sunday night. Toss in the first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby, and the Broncos will play with more aggressiveness and a bigger variety in personnel groupings than they did in last season's two games against the Chiefs.

Defensively, how will the Chiefs adjust to the injuries to DeVito and Johnson? Will it alter their approach dramatically, especially given what Johnson means to the group?

Teicher: I don't think the Chiefs will change their approach dramatically, but there's no question they will feel the loss of both players. Johnson will be replaced by James-Michael Johnson. The Chiefs went out in free agency and signed veteran Joe Mays, a former Broncos player, to fill one of their inside linebacker spots, an indication they didn't think Johnson was ready to be a full-time player. He got a long look in passing situations during the preseason, and the Chiefs are more comfortable with him playing in coverage than against the run. That said, he's no Derrick Johnson, who is superb against the run and versatile against the pass. DeVito was one of the Chiefs' better run defenders and was improving as a pass-rusher. His main replacement will be Jaye Howard, who had a promising preseason. Former Oakland Raider Vance Walker, and even the newly signed Kevin Vickerson, could get some playing time as well.

The Chiefs tried to sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency before he joined the Broncos. He looked like a good fit for the Broncos in the opener against Indianapolis. What are their expectations for him? And give us a little scouting report on Vickerson, a former Bronco.

Legwold: In terms of players on offense who were available in free agency, Sanders was the team's top target. The Broncos' offensive coaches, particularly offensive coordinator Adam Gase, like Sanders' versatility in that he can line up in the outside spots and in the slot to go with the fact he has quality short-area quickness to beat press coverage off the snap and top-end speed to run away from defenders in the open. Manning has worked extensively with him -- the two stayed after practice, often with rookie receiver Cody Latimer -- every day of offseason workouts, as well as in training camp. The work helped, and Sanders projects to a big season in this offense. Vickerson was likely the 54th player on this roster when the Broncos cut to 53. The Broncos liked his work on run downs and the physicality and ability take on double-teams. They did have some long-term concern about his hip -- Vickerson was kept on a limited schedule throughout much of training camp -- but they needed a little cap space and kept only eight defensive linemen, so Vickerson got caught in the squeeze.
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. -- In what has been the Summer of Construction, it can be easy to miss everything that has been added to the Denver Broncos complex in recent weeks and months.

Thomas
 But there are three newly-minted signs in the players’ parking lot that will make it easy to see how things have gone in the game that was just played each week. It was quarterback Peyton Manning who pointed out the primo front-row parking real estate this week, one spot each for the team’s offensive, defensive and special teams player of the week, and the fact tight end Julius Thomas had parked his car in one of them.

“You get a parking spot by the way, player of the week, don’t know if y’all noticed that,’’ Manning said. “ … Right there the first three spots … if you get Broncos player of the week.’’

And with three touchdown receptions in the Broncos’ regular-season opener, Thomas certainly earned not only the team’s player-of-the-week honor, but he was the league’s AFC Player of the Week. But what Thomas may also be is another shining example of why draft classes can’t, and shouldn’t, always be judged quickly and why a player’s makeup will often be as important as the scouting trinity of height, weight and speed.

Because after two NFL seasons, Thomas, a guy who is now one of the league's most difficult matchups for any defensive coordinator, had all of one catch, a five-yarder against Cincinnati on Sept. 18, 2011 when he suffered an ankle injury. And for the remainder of that season and the season that followed Thomas was a fourth-round draft with potential the Broncos simply hoped to eventually see healthy.

Then they saw last year’s 65-catch, 12-touchdown season. Then they saw Sunday night’s opener when Thomas had three touchdowns in the season's first 30 minutes.

“I think he’ll be a better player this year than he was last year,’’ Manning said.

And beyond Thomas’ obvious physical attributes for his job -- the ex-Portland State basketball player is fluid in is movements, has soft hands and top-tier body control to go with rare speed for a player his size -- it was his approach during his one-catch period that always caught the eye on the Broncos’ decision-makers.

And that includes Manning after he signed in 2012. Because of the collective bargaining agreement, Manning wanted to gather some of the offensive players before the Broncos’ official offseason workouts began. Thomas was one of the team's few first- or second-year players to find his way to, and faithfully attend those workouts.

“But Julius was one of the guys, he and [Eric] Decker, that I was throwing with,’’ Manning said. “And I remember … 6-4 tight end, those guys just don’t come around very often, that can really run, just seems like next, you know, he had a previous injury that kind of flared up again … [I] definitely had a great early appreciation of his talent and his ability.’’

Thomas never lost confidence in himself. “I always believed, had the confidence, if I kept working through it, good things would happen. My approach has always been to be as good as I can be over my career, not just one year here, one year there, so always looking down the road to make sure I’m doing things that keep me successful in the long haul.’’

Thomas is in the last year of his original rookie deal, and the Broncos have had discussions about a new one for him, as well as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. And the price goes up a bit every time Julius Thomas befuddles another linebacker or safety for another touchdown.

But it will be easy for executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway to see how it’s all going. He can simply count the touchdown on gameday and then, after Elways pull into his spot the next morning, he can see where Julius Thomas is parked as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos showed how their offense would operate without wide receiver Wes Welker in the win over the Indianapolis Colts.

And while the Broncos continue to be optimistic about the chances of getting Welker back before Week 6 if a new drug policy is put in place -- so much so they cleared a roster spot and are carrying 52 players -- their work against the Colts is worth a look for what it all means with, or without, Welker in the lineup.

First, if anyone doubted the Broncos could simply put Emmanuel Sanders into the offense in place of Eric Decker and roll on, they should put those doubts aside. Decker was second on the team in targets (137), catches (87) and receiving touchdowns (11) last season -- a productive, proven quality option.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Emmanuel Sanders
Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders caught six passes for 77 yards, including this one for 40 against the Colts.
But Sanders, with his ability to play on the outside and in the slot, will squarely be in the No. 2 role behind Demaryius Thomas. It’s what the Broncos signed him to be and what he showed he will be in his first regular-season outing. His ability to stretch the field from anywhere in the formation will create big plays for him and room for others to work.

"I thought it was a good start for him," quarterback Peyton Manning said.

With no Welker, the Broncos played their two-tight end set one snap more than they did their three-wide receiver set. While some said Andre Caldwell would start against the Colts in place of Welker, the Broncos actually opened the game in a two tight end look with Demaryius Thomas and Sanders as the wide receivers.

Virgil Green played 42 snaps as the second tight end and Caldwell played 40 snaps as the third wide receiver. Those numbers figure to shift whenever Welker returns and by what the Broncos believe the opposing defense has to offer week to week.

But their work in camp as well as the opener shows the two tight end look will likely be a bigger part of things than in 2013, when the Broncos had five games when they played out of a three-wide look for at least 69 snaps -- including penalty plays.

And then there’s the matter of how Julius Thomas fits moving forward. The Broncos saw, and enjoyed, his breakout year in 2013, but start charting how things could go in this offense and the most likely scenario is where Thomas is the third target rather than the third wide receiver.

He figures to get more attention moving forward, especially after what he did to the Colts linebackers and safeties. Sunday he was targeted eight times by Manning, just below Demaryius Thomas’ 11 targets and Sanders’ nine.

"When you’re on defense you have to pick your poison," Broncos coach John Fox said. "You can’t double everybody or you’d run out of numbers. I think part of what makes our offense successful is we do have those weapons and we have the trigger guy (in Manning). He can decipher exactly what is taking place in an instant and feed the ball to the guy the defense might be light on."

Rookie Cody Latimer also figures to enter the picture at some point. The Broncos have Latimer, as they do all of their receivers, learning all of the receiver spots in their scheme.

In their offense that means not only knowing all of the assignments at all of the outside spots and in the slot positions, it means being able to handle Manning checking out of a play into another play the team has either run in a game or practiced at any point since offseason workouts began.

When Latimer, who admits his head "is spinning sometimes, but you work," has a handle on those audibles, his size and speed will be too much to keep on the bench.

All in all, it means options against a schedule full of defenses that figure to dot the league’s top 10 when all is said and done.

DENVER -- After the Denver Broncos swept up the pieces of a 35-point Super Bowl loss, after they picked at the football scabs and said all of the uncomfortable things behind closed doors that needed to be said, John Elway took the team's checkbook into free agency in search of players.

At the top of the list he said he wanted "the right mentality" on defense, he wanted a defense to "develop its own personality, something to grab onto like we have on offense."

One game in for the Broncos, and it was money well spent. Because while it was quarterback Peyton Manning who took the knee in the victory formation to close out a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts with another three touchdown passes on his resume, it was the Broncos' defensive work in the third quarter that kept this game in the win column.

"That's it right there, if we don't get those, we would have lost," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. "That was a great job. … Communication was fantastic. Anything bad happened, we fixed it. That's what it's all about. But those goal-line stands were crucial."

After exploding from the gate for a 24-0 lead by the time the two-minute warning arrived in the first half, the Broncos suddenly saw the Colts pick away. Andrew Luck drove the Colts 80 yards in eight plays just before halftime to make it 24-7.

And then Luck took the Colts to the Broncos' 8-yard line in just four plays in Indianapolis' first possession of the second half. With a first-and-goal from the 8, the Colts pushed the ball to the 1, where, on fourth-and-goal, Colts coach Chuck Pagano tried to seize momentum with both hands.

Luck tried to sneak into the middle of the Broncos' defensive line but was stuffed by linebacker Brandon Marshall.

"Andrew Luck, you knew he was going to try to sneak the ball," Moore said. "But those guys in the middle, they're like vending machines, you can't move them. … Just clog the holes up front and everybody else comes swarming."

On their next possession, the Colts moved to the Broncos' 4-yard line in eight plays. Then Marshall tackled Reggie Wayne for a 2-yard loss, Chris Harris Jr. knocked a pass away for tight end Coby Fleener and DeMarcus Ware sacked Luck. The Colts came away with a 25-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri.

In all, the Colts ran eight plays inside the Broncos' 10-yard line on those two possessions and came away with just a field goal.

And with Marshall playing for the injured Danny Trevathan (fracture at top of tibia in training camp) and with Harris and linebacker Von Miller on a pitch count of sorts as they come back from ACL surgeries, the Broncos simply showed the depth on defense they didn't have last season.

New arrivals Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib had the desired impact with 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed and nine tackles combined. One of Talib's tipped passes turned into one of the Broncos' two interceptions.

And Denver felt good enough about rookie Bradley Roby, the team's first-round pick this past May, to lock him up on Wayne throughout the night. Roby would finish with seven solo tackles and three passes defensed, including the game-clincher in the final minutes. And it had been Roby and safety Quinton Carter, who had not played in almost two full seasons before Sunday because of knee injuries, who stopped Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks at the 1-yard line on the play before Luck was stuffed.

"The defense just came up with some big stops when we needed them," Manning said. "I thought it was a good, overall team win. The offense did some good things and then we were in a little bit of a rut [before] our defense picked it up for us."

New faces that, for one opening night, gave the Broncos just the kind of return on investment they had hoped for.

"We're a force to be reckoned with," Marshall said. "That's what all defenses want. We have a long way to go, we'll keep getting better. We'll be a great defense, definitely."
DENVER -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after the team hung on Sunday night for a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts:
  • Safety David Bruton's was the most significant injury for the Broncos. The special teams captain suffered a left shoulder injury covering a second-quarter kickoff. Bruton suffered the injury on what was a touchback. He received treatment following the game and will undergo an MRI on Monday. Just before he left the locker room, Bruton said he still held out hope he wouldn't miss much time. Linebacker Nate Irving left the game in the third quarter with a lower right leg injury, but he did re-enter the game in the fourth quarter. Irving will be examined again Monday.
    Carter
  • Broncos safety Quinton Carter waited almost two seasons, after multiple knee surgeries, including a microfracture procedure, to play in another regular-season game. Carter finished with five tackles on defense to go with two more on special teams and forced a fumble. "It was very emotional, truly blessed to be back out there," he said, "... but you know you look hard at it, a little disappointed too, left a couple plays out there, dropped a pick for sure. But definitely some gratification to be back out there. There were plenty of days I wasn't sure if I would ever play again."
  • With cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller having had ACL surgeries in February and January, respectively, the Broncos played it safe at times in the players' first full game since their injuries. Miller played just nine snaps in the preseason; Harris not at all. The Broncos used rookie Bradley Roby and Tony Carter to spell Harris at times while Lerentee McCray got plenty of work in Miller's strongside linebacker spot. "I'll be all right," Harris said. "I just need to get my wind back." For his part, Miller said, "I was more thinking about breathing. The knee wasn't an issue, it was more conditioning. I haven't played a full game in I don't know how long."
  • Broncos tight end Julius Thomas had his first three-touchdown game Sunday night, but there may have been more out there for him. "On Wednesday you're always saying 'Man, look at this game plan, there's five touchdowns'," Thomas said. The Colts tried to cover Thomas with a linebacker early in the game and then tried safety LaRon Landry as well. When all was said and done, Thomas had seven receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns, with five of those catches for 90 yards and all three touchdowns in the first half. Colts coach Chuck Pagano called him "a monster."
  • And this from quarterback Peyton Manning on becoming just the second quarterback to defeat all 32 teams in the league as a starter -- Brett Favre is the other; "I think it means you have to be old. You have to be 38 years old probably, at least, to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I will have that one up on my mantel or anything like that -- put it that way."

Broncos vs. Colts preview

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:00
PM ET
video
The last time the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos faced each other, the Broncos were rolling along with a 6-0 record, having scored at least 41 points in four of those games and 50 in two. But on Oct. 20, they couldn’t block Indianapolis' Robert Mathis (two sacks and a forced fumble), quarterback Peyton Manning aggravated his ankle injuries, and the Broncos limped away from a 39-33 loss.

This time, the Colts will see a newly minted defense -- just five players remain from the Super Bowl XLVIII roster -- and the Broncos will see a Colts team that has battled injuries throughout the preseason and is without Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday night’s game.

Wells: Not that Manning needs any motivation to get better year to year, but how much did the embarrassing Super Bowl loss fuel him during the offseason and in training camp, especially because the clock is ticking on his career?

Legwold: Mike, as folks in Indianapolis saw for quite some time, Manning is a study in focus, and he simply attacked the offseason. He said once he decided he was all-in for the coming season, and his annual exam on his neck came back with a medical thumbs-up, he went about the business of taking last season apart -- league-record 606 points, Super Bowl blowout and all -- pass by pass. He looked at his incompletions, interceptions, touchdowns, plays that should have been touchdowns and plays that should have been interceptions. He essentially took his game back to the foundation. Coach John Fox says Manning looks stronger physically than in his previous two seasons in Denver, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas says Manning has shown more arm strength in workouts. Put it all together and it’s pretty clear Manning is locked in on getting another shot at the trophy.

Keeping with the quarterbacks, where do the Colts believe quarterback Andrew Luck is on his developmental curve? This is decidedly his team, correct?

Wells: I’d say it became Luck’s team once they selected him No. 1 overall in 2012. That is not a bad thing when you take into account Luck has led the Colts to 22 wins, two playoff appearances and an AFC South title in his first two seasons. Did I mention that he is only 24? Not that Luck needs any pats on the back, but you could tell how he is perceived by others when our ESPN.com colleague Mike Sando talked to executives around the league and they said he is a top-five NFL quarterback. There is nothing wrong with being voted behind Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Those are four future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Colts have a chance to beat any team, including the Broncos, as long as No. 12 is taking the snaps for them.

The Colts' issue is whether the defense can play on the same level as Luck and the offense. The Broncos went out and added some substantial pieces to their defense. Can the defense be as good as Manning and the offense?

Legwold: If it isn’t, it won’t be because the Broncos didn’t make the effort. They made an almost unprecedented dive into free agency for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance, adding defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib. They also used their first-round pick in the May draft on cornerback Bradley Roby. All four players will get significant snaps against the Colts on Sunday night. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway wanted more speed on defense and more attitude. The Broncos, who had five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they got to the Super Bowl, also have a healthy Von Miller back at linebacker and Chris Harris at cornerback. They have not shown much in the preseason, so the Colts will get the first real look at this unit. But Miller and Ware give Denver the kind of one-two pairing in the pass rush it had with Miller and Elvis Dumervil in 2012, when this was a top-five defense.

Defensively, Mathis is suspended for the first four games of the season. The previous time these teams played, Mathis was the most disruptive defensive player on the field. What is the Colts’ plan to get to Manning this time around?

Wells: How about we say: What do the Colts hope to do without Mathis? As you pointed out, Mathis was the difference-maker in the game last year. His strip-sack of Manning was a momentum changer because it led to a safety and started a string of 23 straight points for Indy. Bjoern Werner is starting at outside linebacker in place of Mathis. But let’s be real, there is no replacing Mathis' 19.5 sacks from last season. The Colts will attempt to do it by committee. The starting defense accounted for only two sacks in the preseason. That is pretty scary to think about. Manning is the master of picking apart defenses.

I was going to ask you about Wes Welker and his concussion issues. Now the Colts don’t have worry about facing him because he has been suspended for the first four games of the season. How do the Broncos go about replacing Welker in the lineup?

Legwold: Welker’s suspension is the reason the Broncos will have to adjust their rotation at wide receiver Sunday night, but they had put plans in motion long before because of Welker’s concussions. He had two last season and suffered a third in an Aug. 23 preseason game. The Broncos made Emmanuel Sanders a primary target in free agency and used a second-round draft pick on Cody Latimer in May. Sanders, who has shown in the preseason just how big a year he could have in this offense, will get plenty of work in the slot; he played there during most of his tenure with the Steelers. Tight end Jacob Tamme, who played in the slot a great deal in Manning’s first year in Denver (2012), will also get plenty of snaps. The Broncos will move the pass-catchers all over in search of the matchups they like. They have a versatile group of receivers and tight ends that should allow them to overcome four games without Welker.

A different kind of injury issue to be sure, and you have written about it plenty, but how will the Colts adjust things on the offensive line to line up against a revamped Broncos defense?

Wells: The offensive line has been an issue for the Colts going back to when Manning was there. Luck has his best group of offensive weapons to work with since entering the league, but none of that matters if the line can’t do its job. Luck has been sacked 73 times in his first two seasons. The Colts have a rookie -- Jack Mewhort -- starting at one guard, a second-year player -- Hugh Thornton -- at the other guard, and center is up the air. Khaled Holmes, the projected starter, missed four weeks with a sprained ankle, and A.Q. Shipley was claimed off waivers from Baltimore last weekend. Ware and the rest of the Denver defense should be excited about the opportunity to get after Luck.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the second time in less than a week, the Denver Broncos have a starter facing league discipline to open the season. A team that had coveted a quiet summer has had anything but that as the regular-season opener approaches.

Tuesday, it was revealed Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker is facing a four-game suspension for violation of the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy, according to my sources and sources for ESPN's Adam Schefter. Last week Broncos kicker Matt Prater was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Unlike the substance abuse policy, which requires multiple tests to reach the level of a four-game suspension, the league's policy on PEDs goes immediately to the four-game suspension on the first positive test if the player's appeal is not successful.

Welker's appeal was heard by league officials Aug. 20-21 when Welker was excused from practice for what the team publicly described as "personal reasons." The Broncos were practicing against the Houston Texans on both of those days and Welker suffered a concussion in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Texans. But for a team that wanted what cornerback Chris Harris Jr. called "the no-news approach" preseason after the DUI arrests of two front-office executives and linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy overwhelmed the conversation a year ago, the team is now back to dealing-with-adversity swirl it thought it had escaped.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP Photo/Jack DempseyWes Welker, who caught 73 passes for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, is facing a four-game suspension.
On the field, the Broncos had been optimistic Welker, who has had three concussions in the past 10 months, would be available for at least partial duty in Sunday night's regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Welker returned to practice, on a limited basis, Monday for the first time since his injury and the Broncos were hoping he would clear enough benchmarks in the league's concussion protocol to be cleared for full participation by the end of the week.

The Broncos were preparing for the Colts with the possibility Welker would be in the lineup. Welker's suspension means the Broncos will implement the plan they had been developing had he been sidelined because of the concussion.

And, now a team that has touted its single-minded focus of getting back to the Super Bowl -- to as John Elway said, "win that last game of the year and get that world championship" -- has had two veteran starters disciplined by the league in a week's time.

To that end, they can go a little bigger and line up in a two-tight end look where Jacob Tamme is essentially a slot receiver. In Manning's first season with the Broncos, the year before Welker was signed, Tamme was the third-most targeted receiver on the team (85 targets), behind only Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

Given Emmanuel Sanders' ability to line up in the slot, as well as tight end Julius Thomas', they can create matchup issues in the middle of the field, even if they surrendered some speed overall.

They can also maintain their proclivity to keep things three wide as they did almost 75 percent of the time last season, a total that hovered near 90 percent of the time in the postseason.

And that's why Sanders was signed, why Cody Latimer was selected in the second round of the draft and why Andre Caldwell was the first player the team re-signed, just before free agency opened this past March.

Against the Colts, the Broncos could mix and match more with this group of receivers than they would have last season when Welker missed the final three games of the regular season. In those three games, Decker was targeted 27 times, Demaryius Thomas was targeted 24 times, Julius Thomas was targeted 21 times and Caldwell 10 times.

In the three games Welker missed, Tamme played nine, 52 and 49 snaps (two of the three games he played more than 30 snaps all season), but was targeted by Manning two, three and four times.

In the end, a team Elway has said is built to face "the bumps in the road that will come our way, and you're always going to have bumps in the road" will now have to prove it once again.
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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider