AFC West: Quincy McDuffie

Broncos' day plays out on Twitter

August, 30, 2013
The Denver Broncos' top football executive, John Elway, has consistently preached the benefits of youth, homegrown players and in the era of the seven-round draft the importance of finding an undrafted rookie or two along the way who can help his team.

And as the Broncos made moves on the way to trimming their roster to 53 players, there was a little of each of those tenets.

The Broncos did not officially file most of their Friday moves to the NFL’s personnel department by the end of the day, meaning none of them are tabulated in their roster total until they do. (The only transaction they filed was an injury settlement with rookie wide receiver Quincy McDuffie.) But they did inform a small group of players that they were no longer with the team. Veteran running back Lance Ball was one of them, and he took to Twitter after getting the news:

Ball was always an "a-little-of-this, a-little-of-that" player for the Broncos over the last three seasons, a solid pro who played in 41 games for the team, including 15 last season and 16 in 2011. But as a vested player heading into his fifth season, Ball’s $1.323 million salary would be guaranteed if he is on the roster for the season opener. And with this move the Broncos appear to have cleared a spot on the running back depth chart for undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson.

At least that’s what Anderson believes, given that he took to Twitter to say "I'm a bronco." An hour or so, later Anderson followed with "Lets get 2 work."

It would mean the Broncos have had at least one undrafted rookie make the opening 53-man roster in 10 consecutive seasons. It would also mean the Broncos think enough of Anderson to keep him even though he could be three weeks away from being game-ready because of a sprained MCL suffered in practice following the Broncos’ first preseason game.

In that game, against the 49ers, Anderson finished with 69 yards on 15 carries. At 225 pounds, he also gives the Broncos' offense some short-yardage power, something they team has not always shown with the top three backs -– Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno. If the Broncos also keep Jacob Hester (he is the only back who has lined up at fullback for the team), that makes five running backs on the depth chart, the same total the Broncos kept last season when they made the cut to 53. The Broncos kept just four backs when they exited camp in 2011.

Anderson also sent a tweet to Hester on Friday that read (in part), "keep helping and being that great vet."

Also released Friday, according to several team sources, were wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Lamaar Thomas, cornerback Aaron Hester and linebacker Damien Holmes -- though again, none of those moves were formally filed to the league, and the Broncos could reverse field on Saturday. Of the four, Robinson would be the best candidate to land on the practice squad (that's where he was last season).

The Broncos can sign eight players to the practice squad beginning on Sunday.

The Broncos will have to make 17 more roster moves by 4 p.m. MT Saturday afternoon. They are expected to have made all of them by the time Elway is scheduled for a media gathering at 2 p.m.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos wrapped up the public portion of training camp Thursday morning and quarterback Peyton Manning finished his day on the field by tossing a pass or two to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

In all the Broncos set an attendance record at their practice complex with 41,925 fans over the 15 open workouts held at their Dove Valley complex. The total surpassed the previous record of 41,304 over the 15 open workouts in last summer’s training camp, which was also Manning’s first year in Denver.

The Broncos do not have bleachers next to the main practice fields, so fans simply sit on a grassy hillside to view the action. The Broncos also drew a crowd of 44,439 to a rain-soaked scrimmage Aug. 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

“[The fans] are unbelievable,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “The epitome of that was our practice down at the stadium when it poured rain and they stuck around to see us play.’’

[+] EnlargeC.J. Anderson
AP Photo/Eric BakkeC.J. Anderson, who has had an impressive training camp, could now be out for as much as six weeks.
• Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, an undrafted rookie who led the team with 69 yards rushing in the preseason opener in San Francisco last week, severely sprained his right MCL during Thursday morning’s practice.

Anderson, who was taking snaps with the second-team offense because Knowshon Moreno is currently sidelined with a bruised right knee, was helped to the locker room with just more than 20 minutes remaining in the workout.

Depending on swelling and how Anderson’s rehab goes in the coming days he could miss as much as six weeks in all. The Broncos must cut to 75 players on Aug. 27 and to 53 players on Aug. 31.

"It's awful, just awful," Manning said. “ … It surely did not look good. You could hear him out there grimacing, which is not a sound any player likes to hear."

“He’s having such a great camp,’’ said cornerback Champ Bailey. “ … I just hope he can bounce back faster than normal.’’

With Moreno not expected to play in Saturday’s preseason game in Seattle after being held out of practices Wednesday and Thursday, Lance Ball figures to get plenty of work in the second half of the game against the Seahawks.

Anderson has made a significant jump on the depth chart with his work thus far in camp. At 224 pounds he is also the team’s biggest back and has looked like a potential fit for one of the reserve spots when the roster choices get made.

Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have split work with the starters all the way through camp -- Hillman has been the No. 1 -- with Moreno working as the No. 3 and Jacob Hester the No. 4. Hester can play at running back when needed and at fullback when the team uses a two-back set. He is also one of the team’s most consistent pass protectors at the position and has a full docket of special teams work.

MCL sprains as severe as Anderson’s routinely take a minimum of four weeks to heal and players, particularly skill position players, usually are not ready for a full return until six weeks have passed.

The Broncos will likely have to consider Anderson’s progress when they make their roster decisions.

• Linebacker Von Miller was excused from practice for personal reasons -- he was in Washinton D.C. meeting with officials from the NFL Players Association -- so the Broncos offered a glimpse of how the defense would look to open the regular season if the All-Pro selection does not win his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

As they have shown in recent days, Stewart Bradley would play the middle in the base defense while Nate Irving, who was the starting middle linebacker through all of the offseason program, lined up on the strong side. When the Broncos went to some of their specialty packages in passing down work, times when Miller moves to defensive end or another rush position, Shaun Phillips played in Miller’s usual spots.

“Shaun Phillips was in there playing linebacker and playing defensive end some on third downs and you had Nate Irving in there as well with Stewart Bradley,’’ Manning said. “Any time you have a player injured or a player that is not able to go, somebody else has to step up and that’s what teams have to be able to do.”

Miller is expected to start and play in Saturday’s game in Seattle.

• Broncos director of pro personnel Tom Heckert, who had been suspended without pay for a month in the wake of a drunk driving arrest in June, returned to the team Thursday. Heckert will travel to Seattle with the team Friday and has resumed his normal duties. He was arrested June 11 in Parker, Colo., just 36 days after he had been hired by the team.

“I walked by his office and he was all smiles,’’ Fox said. “It was good to see him back and we support him.’’

With Broncos’ director of player personnel Matt Russell also suspended indefinitely for a separate drunk driving arrest, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway had not elected to hire an outside consultant or former general manager to help with player evaluations during the suspensions. Instead the duties were divided among other members of the Broncos' personnel department such as Lenny McGill, the team’s assistant college scouting director, and assistant pro personnel director Anthony “Champ” Kelly.

• Odds and ends:

With just more than 2,000 fans on hand Thursday, the Broncos still used a speaker system to simulate crowd noise when the offense had the ball in team drills … The starters are expected to play most, or all, of the first half Saturday night against the Seahawks … Bailey intercepted Manning in the endzone during team drills. When asked if he will enjoy watching it later on the practice video, Bailey said; “Oh yeah, love watching that. When Peyton throws it, it’s even more meaningful.’’

• In addition to Moreno, running back Jeremiah Johnson (knee), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring), wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle), wide receiver Lamaar Thomas (concussion) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were held out of practice. None are expected to play against the Seahawks unless they show significant improvement in Friday’s short workout before the team leaves. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) is still expected to miss the preseason.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Quarterback Peyton Manning has often spoken about how the Broncos' defense, with its speed all over the formation, can make the team's offense better during training camp.

That the first-team against first-team work -- the kind that rarely, if ever, is done during the regular season as a team gets ready for an opponent each week -- can be revealing for a playoff hopeful.

"Because you've got a lot of talent over there [on defense] and they compete hard on every play, they don't give you anything,'' Manning said. "That's what you want.''

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Marc Piscotty/Icon SMICompeting against the likes of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker during camp has benefited Denver's defense, safety Rahim Moore said.
Safety Rahim Moore believes turnabout helps just as much. That a Broncos defense good enough to finish second in the league in points allowed last season, is getting as much, or more, from dealing with Manning every day.

"Wes Welker is a great receiver, I believe he will be a future Hall of Famer one day, [Demaryius Thomas] is a rising star, Eric Decker is a rising star and Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback to ever touch a football to me,'' Moore said. " ... You feel like you go against those guys every day, makes you ready for anything.''

It doesn't always go without the rough spots at times, however. Wednesday Moore and running back Ronnie Hillman got into a brief post-play scuffle in a particularly heated set of team drills.

"I look at it like if you're not really out there fighting, having some kind of controversy, you're not really playing,'' Moore said.

"It's like two brothers fighting ... you slap 'em on the side of the head and move on,'' coach John Fox said.

In other Broncos news:

  • Broncos rookie running back C.J. Anderson, who led the team in rushing in the preseason opener in San Francisco last week, believes he got an advance look at what an NFL no-huddle offense looks like in his last season at California.Anderson, who was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted rookie immediately following the draft, rushed for 790 yards in his senior season with the Bears. And in the summer before the 2012 season began, former Cal coach Jeff Tedford spent a week with the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.

    Tedford, at the time, said he was looking for some inspiration to use tight ends and running backs more ways out of a spread look.

    "I think it gave me a glimpse of what that kind of offense would like in the NFL,'' Anderson said. "It gave a feel for what it looks like on Sunday. ... I think it's helped me some here.''

    Anderson got a few additional plays in Wednesday's practice because Knowshon Moreno was out with a bruised right knee. It meant Anderson got to run a few plays with the second-team offense. The Broncos have liked Anderson's work with the ball in his hands, but want to see him far more consistent in his assignments and avoid the concentration lapses he's shown at times.
  • At times Manning takes practice to the next level when it comes to trying to cover every scenario in training camp. the Broncos will, despite the expected presence of a few thousand fans at the last open-to-the-public practice of camp Thursday morning, likely break out the jumbo speakers for the workout.The Broncos use the speakers to pump in crowd noise during the regular season -- when the offense has the ball in the days leading up to road games and when the first-team defense is working in the days leading up to home games. The Broncos want to give the offense a little taste of a road atmosphere before the team heads to Seattle Friday afternoon for Saturday night's preseason game.
  • In the bad is good department, Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman made a big play out of a botched one during team drills. Hillman fumbled the ball forward as he tried to turn the corner around the right end and the ball bounced twice before he scooped it up on a dead run. Hillman then outraced all of the defenders, including safety David Bruton, for what would have been a scoring run.
  • Rookie wide receiver Lamaar Thomas, who left Tuesday's practice after a blow to his helmet in a red zone drill, is being treated for a concussion. He was held out of Wednesday's practice. ... In addition to Moreno, safety Quinton Carter (knee), running back Jeremiah Johnson (toe), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring) and wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. ... Former Broncos coach Red Miller, who guided the team to its first Super Bowl appearance to close out the 1977 season, was at Tuesday's practice. ... NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch is expected to visit Thursday's practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With one preseason outing already in the books -- a 10-6 victory over San Francisco -- most of the Broncos rookies can expect a little less work this weekend in Seattle.

That's because the team's veterans figure to play far more against the Seahawks than they did against the 49ers, keeping many of the rookies on the sidelines for more of the game.

With that in mind, here’s the rookie report, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class is doing.

The draft class
DT Sylvester Williams
Williams got some work with the defensive regulars against the 49ers, but also stayed in the game with the second-team defense into the second quarter. He played 23 snaps on defense to go with one special teams play. He did not register a tackle against a physical 49ers front. But Williams did show he can push the pocket and he continues to track toward playing more, at least early on in the regular season as a pass-rusher in the 4-3.

[+] EnlargeKayvon Webster
AP Photo/Ben MargotRookie Kayvon Webster saw a lot of snaps and had an interception against the 49ers.
RB Montee Ball
Ball is still slightly behind Ronnie Hillman in the rotation. Quarterback Peyton Manning and most of the Broncos offensive skill position starters played just seven snaps against the 49ers. Ball entered the game on the Broncos' third possession of the game. On a night when the Broncos struggled to control the line of scrimmage for the most part, he finished with just five yards on nine carries (1.8 yards per carry) and played just 11 snaps on offense. He has continued to get some spot carries with the regulars through this week's practices and still sits at No. 2 on the depth chart.

CB Kayvon Webster
When the Broncos looked at Webster before the draft, one thing that caught their attention was his willingness to play in press coverage -- something you don't often see in college as most coordinators prefer to keep their cornerbacks off the ball, even in man coverage. For this part, Webster has continued to show that ability in practice. And against the 49ers, the Broncos pulled Champ Bailey and Chris Harris out of the game early -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not play because of an ankle injury -- so Webster was plenty busy. He finished with 43 snaps on defense -- 43 percent of the defensive plays in the game -- to go with 11 snaps on special teams and snared one of two Broncos interceptions in the game. He doesn't figure to get as much work against the Seahawks, but the Broncos liked what they saw from him.

DE Quanterus Smith
Smith has shown some difficulty in coming back from surgery to repair a torn ACL he suffered in the 10th game of the 2012 season at Western Kentucky. He was removed from one practice last week and hasn't quite practiced with the same explosion, at times, as he did early on in camp. He continues to say he feels fine, but he played just 15 snaps against the 49ers on a night when most of the team's younger players got more work than that. He also appeared on two special teams plays. It will bear watching over the next two or three weeks given the Broncos would like Smith for spot duty in the pass rush in the regular season, especially if Von Miller does not win his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

WR Tavarres King
King continues to show savvy beyond his years in the way he handles himself on the field. He also continues to push Andre Caldwell to be the No. 4 player, but Caldwell has lifted his game in practice in response to the challenge. King played 29 plays against the 49ers -- Caldwell finished with 21. King was targeted three times by backup quarterback Brock Osweiler and finished with two catches for 14 yards. He figures to get some playing time in the second half against the Seahawks.

T Vinston Painter
Painter played a team-high 55 offensive snaps -- 82 percent of the offensive plays the Broncos ran against San Francisco. He added two plays on special teams. But it was quality work for Painter, who played as the No. 2 right tackle, including plenty of time in the game blocking in front of Osweiler. Painter is on track to make the final 53 and any playing time he gets in the remainder of the preseason will benefit him greatly.

QB Zac Dysert
Dysert got to dip his toe in the NFL pond with 14 snaps as the No. 3 quarterback. He finished the night 3 of 3 passing for 16 yards, but also took a sack behind what was spotty protection for all of the quarterbacks. Dysert is still quick to pull the ball down and take off when he feels pressure coming from the edge. The Broncos want him to continue to stand in the pocket and show he can run the offense. He might not get much work against the Seahawks.

Undrafted rookies
Among the team's undrafted rookies, running back C.J. Anderson came away with the most momentum. And while through the years plenty of August heroes have not gone on to make an NFL roster in September, Anderson caught the Broncos' eye with his 69 yards on 15 carries (4.6 yards per carry). He was quick to the hole and decisive in his first cut to get up the field. He will, however, have to continue to try and improve his consistency in practice. He still has a concentration lapse from time to time and if the coaches don't trust you to do it right, they aren't going to let you carry the ball when the games count. At 224 pounds, Anderson is a big-back option, but he hasn't been able to move up the depth chart and would need the team to keep five backs or to make a surprise cut at this point to crack the final 53.

Linebacker Larentee McCray finished with a sack -- one of two the Broncos had in the game -- and two tackles in his 19 plays. McCray also turned in nine plays on special teams. And he has to carve out a niche on special teams to make the roster. But at 6-foot-3, 249 pounds he's still one of the biggest options at the position and the Broncos like the way he attacks the line of scrimmage.

Wide receiver/Kick returner Quincy McDuffie flashed some potential in camp's early going, but has been sidelined of late with an ill-timed hamstring injury. He missed the 49ers game and has not practiced this week. Wide receiver Lamaar Thomas made the most of his chances, with quality routes, as he finished with a catch for 14 yards and was targeted twice in his 32 plays.
It's been nine years now so one more makes an even decade. Nine years of playoff teams and the 4-12 crater that was 2010, a depth of franchise despair the Broncos still look to be clawing their way out of at times.

But in each of the last nine seasons the Broncos have had an undrafted rookie make the opening day roster.

Some no longer call the NFL home like Wesley Duke (a Broncos undrafted rookie in 2005) and Selvin Young (2007), some are starting elsewhere like Tyler Polumbus (2008) and Cassius Vaughn (2010) and some are starting for the Broncos like Chris Harris (2011) and Wesley Woodyard (2008).

It's testament to the constraints of the salary cap -- an undrafted rookie is, by nature, usually the most cap-friendly player on the league's landscape -- but also a willingness to hit the road and scout prospects who possess the holy trinity of attributes (height, weight, speed). It's a chance to find those edge-of-the-radar guys who fit what the Broncos do.

[+] EnlargeWesley Woodyard
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIUndrafted linebacker Wesley Woodyard became just the 12th player in the last three decades to finish a season with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions in the same season.
"Usually if a guy makes it as an undrafted rookie, it's an indication of his work ethic, that he put in the time, studied and didn't let the moment be too big for him,'' said Broncos executive vice president John Elway. "But they also have to fit what you do. You may like him for some things and other people wouldn't. I'm sure we like some players other people may not like as much, but the job isn't to find players for everybody else, it's is to find the best players to be Denver Broncos."

The Broncos current streak started with University of Washington cornerback Roc Alexander, who was kept by Mike Shanahan in September of 2004 and then rotisseried by current Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver's loss to Indianapolis in the wild-card round to close out that season. Three undrafted rookies made the 2008 roster -- Shanahan's last year with the team -- in Polumbus, Woodyard and punter Brett Kern.

Two -- long snapper Aaron Brewer and linebacker Steven Johnson -- made the Broncos last year (a team that finished 13-3) out of training camp.

The list of the league's best over the past nine years at finding those undrafted gems includes several perennial playoff teams. Indianapolis leads the way with 14 consecutive years with an undrafted rookie making the roster. Manning was behind center for most of the streak since it started in 1999 and the team has made the playoffs 12 times in that span.

Kansas City has had an undrafted rookie make the roster in 10 consecutive years, while Baltimore and New England are tied with the Broncos at nine consecutive years. That's some fairly heady company.

Sometimes it's simply a result of the seven-round draft. An undrafted player now would have been selected in the eighth, ninth or 10th rounds in years gone by.

Sometimes it's just a bit of a whiff. Woodyard led the SEC in tackles in his final season at Kentucky, and while personnel people around the league thought he may be undersized for a linebacker and too big to be a safety, the fact he led the nation's power college conference in tackles should have likely given him a more stout résumé than many players drafted ahead of him.

Last season Woodyard became just the 12th player in the last three decades to finish a season with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions in the same season. Oh, and he was somehow passed over by his peers, the league's coaches and in the fan voting as even a Pro Bowl alternate.

"I'm just trying to outlast every guy drafted before me, I'm just being honest with you," Woodyard said. "I think it's a combination of talent, confidence, work ethic, everything. You can't let yourself worry too much because you're not making the picks so you can't worry about that. Play every day like it's your last day, study, make some plays, you got a chance. Just give yourself a chance."

Harris, at 5-10, was simply declared too short by many scouts, but was also stuck on a struggling defense and moved to safety to close out his career at Kansas because the team needed him to.

He has since won over folks like Champ Bailey, who called the shot early on in Harris' first training camp in 2011 when Bailey said; "that kid has got it, he's making this team.''

Harris has since started 16 games, having played both outside and been the go-to guy in the slot when the team goes to the nickel package.

"When it happens you wonder how a whole draft could go by and they don't call your name," Harris said. "But after that, you just want to get somewhere and show them why they and everybody else made a mistake. When I first got here I really believed what the coaches all say that it doesn't matter where you're picked or whatever and I just wanted to produce."

But an undrafted rookie was often a tick slow on somebody's stopwatch, a little short on somebody's tape measure, a little light or perhaps and little too much of a problem wherever he was before someone in the league gave him a look.

This year's Broncos crop includes a player or two who could make it 10 years in a row for the team. Linebacker Lerentee McCray had a sack in the preseason opener Thursday night and at 6-foot-3, 249 pounds is one of the biggest linebackers on the Broncos roster. McCray is unpolished in some of his techniques, but is disruptive when chasing the ballcarrier.

Wide receiver/kick returner Quincy McDuffie has already flashed some special teams chops as well before a hamstring injury kept him out of the game against the 49ers Thursday night. Wide receiver Lamaar Thomas made the most of his time in the game against the 49ers with some quality work in the second half.

"In the end the young guys who make it, whether you draft them or not, make it because they compete every day, no matter what,'' Elway said. "The bounce back from mistakes and they don't make the same ones over and over. They study and they work. It's not all that magical or anything. They have some ability and they put in the work."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Despite the Broncos' recent run of 30-something signings -- offensive linemen Dan Koppen and Ryan Lilja to go with defensive back Quentin Jammer in late May -- the key to remaining a Super Bowl contender and managing some coming salary-cap dilemmas will be how well they draft and develop those draft picks.

Or as Tony Dungy often said during his coaching career; "you can't be afraid of young players."

After all this is a team with 33.4 percent of its cap space in 2013 devoted to three players (Peyton Manning with a $17.5 million cap figure, Ryan Clady at $12.6 million and Champ Bailey at $11 million).

In light of that, we will be doing a weekly check-in with how the team's first-year players are doing. Let's get to it:

Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. The Broncos' first-rounder was slowed early in camp with a knee injury that cost him a few days worth of practices, but it's clear the Broncos have plans for him in their pass-rush looks early on. Williams has most often lined up as Terrance Knighton's backup on the nose in the team's base 4-3 look. But when defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio goes to the specialty looks that feature a variety of fronts, Williams has been in the mix with the regulars. At least early on, he figures to play on longer-yardage situations most often.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsSecond-rounder Montee Ball, right, could be a red zone threat for the Broncos.
Running back Montee Ball. Ball has consistently said he "attacked'' the playbook before training camp as well as in his limited free time since the team began its preseason work. He is already at the top tier of the rotation in the run game -- a No. 1B to Ronnie Hillman's No. 1A status. Ball cannot match Hillman's speed or big-play ability. But Ball has good vision, quick feet and
has shown the team better hands in the passing game than some scouts believed he had. Ball is also bigger than Hillman -- Ball weighs about 214 pounds compared to Hillman's 195 -- so could appear in some scoring situations deep in the red zone. But Ball will have to continue to progress in pass protection to see work in longer-yardage situations.

Cornerback Kayvon Webster. Webster has shown good speed in practices thus far and a willingness to match up in both press coverage and play with awareness off the ball in zone. But he also finds himself at one of the more crowded spots on the depth chart. Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Tony Carter and Omar Bolden are ahead of him at the moment. Rodgers-Cromartie will miss some time with an ankle injury so Webster will get the benefit of some additional practice snaps in the coming weeks.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith. Smith is coming back from surgery to repair a torn ACL he suffered in the 10th game of the 2012 season at Western Kentucky. The Broncos worked him back slowly through the offseason program. Other than one practice he left early because of the knee, he has practiced fully throughout training camp. The Broncos believe -- and he has shown it in practice thus far -- that he can contribute immediately as an edge player in some of their nickel and dime packages. He has worked as the No. 3 right defensive end in most team drills behind Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips but has moved up the ladder when the team goes to its long-yardage groupings.

Wide receiver Tavarres King. On another team or in another situation, King would have the potential to be a rookie of notice league-wide. But he arrived to a team with plenty of veteran production at wideout in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. King, who played a school-record 56 games at Georgia, has shown a savvy about how to conduct himself in practice to go with upper-level ball skills, an understanding of a complicated offense and the ability to make plays in traffic. He was slowed during offseason workouts with a thigh injury, but has been healthy so far in camp and is making a legitimate push to be the No. 4 player at the position, especially if he can show some value on special teams in the preseason.

Tackle Vinston Painter. When the Broncos selected Painter in the sixth round this past April, they saw an athletic project with a pile of potential. What they got was a player who has steadily worked his way up the depth chart, some by necessity because of injuries and some because he has advanced slightly more quickly than expected. Painter has worked much of the time as the backup right tackle, just behind Orlando Franklin. But the coaching staff showed this past week it doesn't think he's quite ready for work with the starters yet. Rather than simply elevating Painter after Franklin was injured, the coaches jumbled things up front, moving Louis Vasquez to right tackle in one practice and Chris Clark there in another.

Quarterback Zac Dysert. There is no rush for Dysert, whose task right now is to show enough to force the Broncos to keep three quarterbacks among the final 53. He's shown mobility and the ability to improvise as things break down in front of him. But he'll need to be more accurate, especially throwing to his right as well as in the short and intermediate areas.

The Broncos have had at least one undrafted rookie make the roster for nine consecutive seasons. A number of undrafted rookies have stood out as candidates to keep the streak going.

Running back C.J. Anderson, at 224 pounds, has flashed some quality work with the ball in his hands, especially on runs between the guards. But his attention to detail wavers at times and he has made just the kind of assignment errors that get players ushered out. He needs a quality, no-nonsense showing in the first two preseason games, especially if he can make a play or two on special teams.

Linebacker Lerentee McCray is one of the biggest players, at 6-foot-3 and 249 pounds, the Broncos have at the position. He had just 25 tackles in 11 starts for the Florida Gators last season, but has shown the Broncos enough to have worked as the No. 3 strongside linebacker behind Von Miller and Phillips. If he can do some quality special-teams work in the coming weeks that could be the difference for him, especially if Miller loses his appeal of a four-game suspension to open the regular season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Wide receiver/Kick returner Quincy McDuffie has missed some time of late with a hamstring injury and will have a difficult time getting many quality snaps at wideout. But he has done good work in the return game and while he would not supplant Trindon Holliday as the team's top returner, he has certainly gotten the Broncos' attention.

Dive into Broncos depth chart

August, 4, 2013
Over the last decade or so the Broncos' first "official'' depth chart of the preseason has always been met with plenty of interest in the Rocky Mountain region and has also contained varying amounts of fiction, depending on the mood of the coaching staff on that particular summer day.

Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, for example, may have set an unofficial league record for the use of the word "or,'' thus negating the actual depth portion of the chart.

The most notable use of "or'' was before Tim Tebow's name when the first depth chart emerged from 2010's training camp.

But Sunday's 2013 model contained no double-take surprises and was representative, save for a couple instances, of how the team has practiced leading up to Saturday night's scrimmage.

But a few things of note were:
  • Ryan Lilja, just signed this week, was listed as the fourth-team center. That won't last long. (Quarterback Peyton Manning said as much following Saturday night's scrimmage.)
  • Quentin Saulsberry is listed as the second-team left guard. Saulsberry played in that role in Saturday night's scrimmage as well, but he is facing one game remaining on a four-game suspension in 2012 for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. So if the Broncos intend to keep him on the 53-man roster, they will have to move him to reserve/suspended for a week when the final cuts come and then make a move in Week 2 to add him to the roster. Saulsberry also had a DUI arrest this offseason the league may address as well.
  • Rookie wide receiver Tavarres King has caught the coaches' attention with his play-making and his approach to the game. But that's what you get from a draft prospect who played 56 games in the SEC. Also, rookie tackle Vinston Painter, a player who will be a contributor if his technique catches up to his athleticism, is listed as a second-team right tackle.
  • Shaun Phillips, who signed a one-year deal with the Broncos during the draft weekend, is listed as the backup at both strong-side linebacker and weak-side defensive end. The Broncos have played him far more at end to this point, but will need him to be an option at linebacker, especially if Von Miller doesn't win his appeal for a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
  • Duke Ihenacho has practiced of late as the starting strong safety in early-down situations for the base defense, but was listed at No. 2 Sunday. behind Mike Adams, The Broncos have treated him like the No. 1 on the practice field, but obviously want to see him keep pushing to keep the job.
  • Quentin Jammer, who was a late signee in the offseason, is going to need to rally when the preseason games begin. He has practiced later in rotations over the past week as the Broncos put him at third-team free safety. It's going to to be difficult for the Broncos to keep both Adams and Jammer, if neither is a starter or mainstay in any of the specialty packages.
  • Undrafted rookie Quincy McDuffie continues to be a special-teamer to watch, having checked in as the No. 2 kickoff returner. He's going to need to show he can contribute elsewhere to stick on the 53-man roster, but he's shown himself to be a quality find by the Broncos scouting department.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Terrell Davis, whose legs powered the Denver Broncos to their two Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, got his first up-close look of the season at the team's 2013 models, including rookie running back Montee Ball Friday.

Safe to say, Davis liked what he saw.

"He's a big back like me, he's also a lot quicker than I was,'' Davis said. "He's got great lateral movement, spin move, great power, nobody's going to bring him down on the first try."

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiBroncos legend Terrell Davis was impressed with Montee Ball (38), but the rookie running back faces competition from Ronnie Hillman (21) and others.
Then again, with Davis looking in on the workout, Ronnie Hillman showed why he still won't be easy to displace as the starter in the backfield. At one point, Hillman took a well-designed draw play through the starting defense for just the kind of long-distance impact scoring run the Broncos want to be a part of the offense.

"I don't know who I would pick right now, I don't have that coaches' hat on," Davis said, adding, "They both have shown what they can do with the ball."

In that light, fantasy football players should simply stock up on aspirin now for what will be a weekly headache solving the riddle as to who will get the carries. It's a riddle the Broncos don't much care about, however, because they are looking only at the bottom line.

"We want to be in a situation where anybody we put in can have an impact in the offense and do what we're supposed to do,'' said running backs coach Eric Studesville. "We have a guy in that room in Knowshon who has led this team in rushing."

Knowshon Moreno, who currently sits at No. 3 on the depth chart, did lead the Broncos in rushing in 2009 and 2010.

The Broncos are still looking for more consistency from Ball and Hillman in pass protection, and the player who gets that figured out soonest will get those snaps once the games count. Or as Studesville put it, "If you can't keep up with the quarterback, you can't be in there with him."

It's why Moreno and Jacob Hester, who are the most reliable in those situations at the moment, are still options in some of the specialty packages on offense.

"Most running backs can run, most running backs can catch, but blocking is the key," Davis said. "If you can block, you'll be in the game, you'll be the guy that's that complete back."

In other news:
  • Defensive end Derek Wolfe missed Friday's practice because of an illness, and could be a question mark for Saturday's scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Malik Jackson, who played sparingly on defense as a rookie in 2012 (113 snaps last season on D, or 7.1 per game), worked in Wolfe's spot at times Friday.

  • The Broncos like Jackson, who played some defensive end at the University of Tennessee, as an inside pass rusher. Wolfe often moves into the defensive tackle spot when the Broncos face longer-yardage situations, so they need some of their defensive ends to be able to hold up on the interior when the team goes into the nickel or dime.

  • In Saturday's scrimmage the Broncos will run 36 plays in full-team situations, with 12 plays of first-team offense against second-team defense, 12 plays of second-team offense against first-team defense and 12 plays of the third-team offense against the third-team defense.

  • It's still waaaaaaaay early, but the rotations to watch will be at safety and running back, where the competition for playing time is the tightest. Also, the receivers after the top three -- Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker -- have to start sorting themselves out as well.

    A special teamer to watch will be rookie wide receiver Quincy McDuffie. McDuffie has flashed some explosiveness in practice.

  • Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said Friday he will call plays from the field this season, with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp up in the press box. Gase believes the Broncos can save a precious few seconds before each snap by having Gase talking to the quarterback from the sideline instead of simply making the call from the booth that someone else has to send in to Peyton Manning.

  • "Instead of me sending it in to somebody else, there is a little bit of a delay when that happens,'' Gase said. "I've been on the other end, as far as having to send it in with somebody else calling it, it gets a little bit dicey when [the play clock] gets down to about 19 seconds and you have to send them in."

  • Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ankle), defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (knee) and tight end Jacob Tamme (thigh) were among the players held out of Friday's practice. Broncos coach John Fox said that Williams, who has not practiced since Monday, "is getting a lot closer."
  • Montee Ball on meeting Terrell Davis: "I've been thinking about this moment since I was 7 years old ... it's crazy right now for me."
  • Guard/center Ryan Lilja, who signed with the Broncos on Thursday, took part in his first full practice with the team Friday. Lilja had knee and toe surgeries earlier in the offseason. And on his first day in shoulder pads, he had some early bobbles on snaps to backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, as several hit the ground during individual drills.
  • Manny Ramirez worked at center with the starters Friday while C.J. Davis was in as center in the second-team offense.