AFC West: Vinston Painter

During the league's scouting combine this past week, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway gave a clear, unvarnished opinion of how the team will approach its own group of soon-to-be free agents.

That is, the team won't approach them. At least not out of the gate. At least not before those players can see if the bank accounts are greener on the other side of the fence.

"I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those," Elway said. "Especially where you look where we are and what we have coming up."

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos may turn to Orlando Franklin if left guard Zane Beadles leaves in free agency.
The Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Von Miller also poised for free agency following the 2014 season, so that will impact how the Broncos divvy up the checks this time around as well. It also means the Broncos aren't interested in starting the bidding for guys like wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno and guard Zane Beadles. And it means, unless the three don't draw much interest in the open market the Broncos have given some consideration to what they would do if they move on.

Beadles' departure would force changes in the offensive line that the Broncos are expected to take on in house. With so many needs on defense, any significant dollars spent in free agency will address issues there. The coming draft class is expected to have a heavy defensive flavor as well.

Up front Beadles has started the last 62 regular season games for the Broncos and has played in every game -- 64 in the regular season as well as six playoff games -- of his career. If he leaves as expected, the Broncos would be inclined to take another look at Orlando Franklin at guard.

While Franklin has spent his time with the Broncos at right tackle, many teams believed he would be a better guard in the NFL when he was drafted in 2011. The Broncos have worked him occasionally on the inside during practice with the idea a move would be in his future.

Franklin is a power player and with Louis Vasquez at right guard, a move to the left guard spot for Franklin would give the Broncos the kind of bulk on the inside they want in front of quarterback Peyton Manning. If the Broncos are going to play as much in three-wide receiver sets as they have in Manning's two seasons behind center they have to be able to stone-wall defenses in the middle of the field.

Manning's post-surgery throwing motion is very pronounced in the lower body and he needs a well-constructed pocket to get the ball away with his best available velocity on the throw.

Any move to guard for Franklin would mean the Broncos would also need a right tackle to replace him. And they believe that, too, can be done with the players already in their locker room. Especially with left tackle Ryan Clady on schedule to be full speed by training camp -- he recently had the pins and screws removed from his surgically-repaired foot -- the Broncos will have their best lineman back in his customary spot.

"Ryan's doing well," Elway said. "We feel very good about where he is."

Clady's return alone is the balm the Broncos need to address much of the pass protection issues they had at times. This was especially true against the more physical four-man fronts they faced this past seaosn, including in their loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. Clady's return would free them to move Chris Clark, who started for Clady after he was lost for the year in Week 2, to right tackle. The Broncos also feel optimistic enough about Vinston Painter's development to have projected him as a potential starter at right tackle in the future.

Painter, who has spent plenty of post-practice time working with offensive line consultant Alex Gibbs, was a sixth-round pick in last April's draft. The Broncos had to promote him from their own practice squad to the 53-man roster in January when the San Francisco 49ers were set to sign him.

So, the Broncos will still take a look at some guards in the draft, perhaps even a right tackle, but overall with Beadles expected to get his best offer elsewhere, they will be set to quickly respond to that departure with players already on the roster.

Denver Broncos Rookie Report

November, 14, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the season moves beyond the halfway mark the Denver Broncos' rookie class has had limited impact overall so far.

But with a division race still in play and the teeth of the Broncos' schedule staring the team in the pace with two games against the Chiefs to go with a trip to New England sandwiched in between, the Broncos want some of their younger players to step forward.

And with that in mind here is a weekly look at the Broncos' rookie class:

Running back Montee Ball: With reliability being the top priority, Knowshon Moreno got most of the work in the Broncos' 28-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday with 41 plays on offense. By contrast Ball played 19 snaps overall, a total the included five carries for 20 yards. Ball had a 12-yard run in the Broncos' first possession of the second half, tied for his second-longest run of the season. Ball did not get a carry in the first half, but when the Broncos opened the second half in a two tight end look, Ball got some work with that group. The Broncos would like to work him in a little more, but he has to be better in the passing game, including as a receiver and in pass protection.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert got some bonus work in practice this week when Peyton Manning sat out Wednesday's practice. Dysert got some of the snaps that Brock Osweiler would normally take, but Osweiler worked with the starters with Manning having taken the day off. The Broncos continue to like Dysert's progress in his work with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, especially the time the two put in several hours before each game.

Running back C.J. Anderson: Anderson was in uniform for Sunday's game, but did not get any snaps on offense. The Broncos ran the ball just 22 times, their second-lowest total of the season behind their 20 carries in the loss to the Colts, so after Moreno's and Ball's work in the rotation, there were no carries left for Anderson. Anderson played 12 snaps on special teams in the game.

Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams: Williams was a game day inactive for the third time in the last six games Sunday. The first-round pick has been caught in the squeeze by the Broncos' desire to have plenty of defensive backs in uniform – the Broncos had nine defensive backs in uniform against the Chargers and played them all on defense at some point in the game. Jack Del Rio is still confident Williams will find his way into the rotation up front as the Broncos move forward this season. But at the moment he finds himself behind Kevin Vickerson, Terrance Knighton and Mitch Unrein on the interior. As Del Rio put it this week; “He's going to help us, he's going to be a very good player I have no doubts about that.''

Cornerback Kayvon Webster: Webster continues to lead the way in playing time for the team's Class of '13. The Broncos used a variety of combinations in the secondary against the Chargers, including various nickel packages for 42 defensive snaps in the game. In all Webster played 45 snaps on defense in the win to go with 17 snaps on special teams. Defensively Webster finished with five tackles and knocked away one pass.

Practice squad: Tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, was waived in the final cutdown, and defensive end John Youboty, an undrafted free agent who spent training camp with the Broncos, continue to work toward keeping themselves in the plan moving forward. Painter has continued to work with Alex Gibbs, including some extra on-field time on Monday's with the other practice squad players, and projects to work his way into some kind of reserve role by next summer's training camp if he keeps improving at his current pace.

Denver Broncos Rookie Report

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the season moves beyond the halfway mark the Denver Broncos' rookie class has had limited impact overall so far.

But with a division race still in play and the teeth of the Broncos' schedule staring the team in the pace with two games against the Chiefs to go with a trip to New England sandwiched in between, the Broncos want some of their younger players to step forward.

And with that in mind here is a weekly look at the Broncos' rookie class:

Running back Montee Ball: With reliability being the top priority, Knowshon Moreno got most of the work in the Broncos' 28-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday with 41 plays on offense. By contrast Ball played 19 snaps overall, a total the included five carries for 20 yards. Ball had a 12-yard run in the Broncos' first possession of the second half, tied for his second-longest run of the season. Ball did not get a carry in the first half, but when the Broncos opened the second half in a two tight end look, Ball got some work with that group. The Broncos would like to work him in a little more, but he has to be better in the passing game, including as a receiver and in pass protection.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert got some bonus work in practice this week when Peyton Manning sat out Wednesday's practice. Dysert got some of the snaps that Brock Osweiler would normally take, but Osweiler worked with the starters with Manning having taken the day off. The Broncos continue to like Dysert's progress in his work with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, especially the time the two put in several hours before each game.

Running back C.J. Anderson: Anderson was in uniform for Sunday's game, but did not get any snaps on offense. The Broncos ran the ball just 22 times, their second-lowest total of the season behind their 20 carries in the loss to the Colts, so after Moreno's and Ball's work in the rotation, there were no carries left for Anderson. Anderson played 12 snaps on special teams in the game.

Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams: Williams was a game day inactive for the third time in the last six games Sunday. The first-round pick has been caught in the squeeze by the Broncos' desire to have plenty of defensive backs in uniform – the Broncos had nine defensive backs in uniform against the Chargers and played them all on defense at some point in the game. Jack Del Rio is still confident Williams will find his way into the rotation up front as the Broncos move forward this season. But at the moment he finds himself behind Kevin Vickerson, Terrance Knighton and Mitch Unrein on the interior. As Del Rio put it this week; “He's going to help us, he's going to be a very good player I have no doubts about that.''

Cornerback Kayvon Webster: Webster continues to lead the way in playing time for the team's Class of '13. The Broncos used a variety of combinations in the secondary against the Chargers, including various nickel packages for 42 defensive snaps in the game. In all Webster played 45 snaps on defense in the win to go with 17 snaps on special teams. Defensively Webster finished with five tackles and knocked away one pass.

Practice squad: Tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, was waived in the final cutdown, and defensive end John Youboty, an undrafted free agent who spent training camp with the Broncos, continue to work toward keeping themselves in the plan moving forward. Painter has continued to work with Alex Gibbs, including some extra on-field time on Monday's with the other practice squad players, and projects to work his way into some kind of reserve role by next summer's training camp if he keeps improving at his current pace.

Broncos Rookie Report: Offense

October, 16, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It took a little interest from Green Bay this week, but the Denver Broncos' rookie class got an addition to the 53-man roster when wide receiver Tavarres King was elevated from the Broncos’ practice squad Tuesday.

The Packers had expressed some interest, and King said he would prefer to stay in Denver after the Broncos informed him of the promotion.

So, with that in mind, here’s the rookie report, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class on offense is doing:

Running back Montee Ball: The Broncos have leaned more and more on Knowshon Moreno of late, and that has limited Ball’s carries. He had three carries for 15 yards against Jacksonville and played just seven snaps overall on offense to go with four in special teams. He was also targeted twice in the passing game, but dropped both passes, something that won’t exactly help his cause moving forward. The drop in the fourth quarter came on what should have been a routine catch-and-run. Moreno has performed well, so he will continue to eat up most of the carries in the offense unless the Broncos get into kill-the-clock mode in the coming weeks, but the mistakes limit both Ball’s and Ronnie Hillman’s carries at times.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert was the No. 3 quarterback against Jacksonville, and so ended up being one of the Broncos’ seven game-day inactives. He continues to show a quality arm and a willingness to put in the extra time after practice, as well as in the pregame hours on game day.

Running back C.J. Anderson: The structure of the Broncos’ current roster, especially with the team keeping, and using, four tight ends among the game-day roster, has limited Anderson’s chance to be in uniform. The Broncos are using four slots at tight end and have used as many as 10 roster spots at defensive back. As a result, they have not kept a fourth running back in the game-day lineup, so Anderson has been inactive each week, including this past Sunday against Jacksonville. At this point, he may need an injury to one of the top three running backs to find himself in the mix.

Wide receiver Tavarres King: He can thank the injury troubles at wide receiver in Green Bay for his promotion. The Packers, with Randall Cobb suffering a fractured lower leg this past Sunday, were on the hunt for help at wideout for at least the next six weeks. They contacted King’s agent – a player on a team’s practice squad can be signed to any team’s active roster – and made an offer. The player has the choice, however, and the Broncos sweetened the deal with a roster spot, and so King was signed. He’ll have to carve out a special-teams niche quickly if he wants to be on the game-day roster. There aren’t many snaps to go around at wide receiver. The team’s No. 4 wideout, Andre Caldwell, played all of seven snaps against the Jaguars.

Practice squad: Tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick who was waived in the final cuts, is now the lone rookie on offense on the practice squad. He continues to show plenty of athleticism in workouts and has a big upside.

Broncos Rookie Report: Offense

September, 26, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Some in the Denver Broncos' first-year class have found ways to contribute to the team's historic 3-0 start, which has the Broncos leading the league in scoring to this point.

With that in mind, here’s the rookie report, a weekly check-in with how Denver's youngsters on offense are doing:

Running back Montee Ball: The Broncos have shown they’d like Ball to be a closer, the guy they put in the backfield to help slam the door when they get the scoreboard the way they like it. But to do that, Ball is going to have to hang onto the football. He lost his second fumble in two games Monday against the Oakland Raiders -- during the four-minute drill, when the Broncos were trying to bleed the clock -- which could certainly affect his snap count in the near future. That's especially true since Ronnie Hillman had one of the best outings of his young career in the victory over the Oakland (66 yards rushing on 7.3 per carry). Ball finished with 17 snaps on offense -- 18 fewer than Knowshon Moreno and seven fewer than Hillman -- and gained 61 yards on his 11 carries (5.5 per).

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert was the No. 3 quarterback once again against the Raiders and thus one of the Broncos’ seven game-day inactives. Dysert continues to work extra, with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, after each practice as well as before games -- all with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp looking on. He has shown progress because of that, flashing a crisp release and more passes in frame with the receivers than he did at times in training camp, especially with intermediate routes.

Running back C.J. Anderson: Anderson continues to make progress in his recovery from a severe medial collateral ligament sprain suffered in the days following the preseason opener. He has been a full participant in practice this week, but the backfield is already very crowded and his chances of getting a game-day carry are still fairly slim. Coach John Fox was asked this week if Ball’s latest fumble could open the door for Anderson, and he said, “C.J. doesn’t even have a uniform yet. We’ve just got to see that as we go.’’

Practice squad: Wide receiver Tavarres King, a fifth-round pick, and tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, were waived in the final cutdown, and continue to work primarily as scout-team players. King has been one of the receivers running routes for Dysert in post-practice work and Painter has been among a small group of players, including Ben Garland and Winston Justice, who have worked with offensive-line consultant Alex Gibbs following practices.

Broncos Rookie Report: Offense

September, 17, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos first-year class is seeing just how tough it can be to carve out a role on one of the league’s heavyweights. The snaps are hard to come by and they have to be earned with consistency.

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

Running back Montee Ball: Ball is battling to be the Broncos’ grind-it-out option in the run game, especially in late-game, close-it-out scenarios, but he simply has to be more reliable with the ball -- he fumbled into the end zone on the Broncos' first possession this past weekend -- and consistently make a little more of the running room that’s available. Ball played 28 snaps Sunday – by comparison Knowshon Moreno played 44 and Ronnie Hillman had two – and Ball had 12 carries in the game. But of those 12 carries, eight went for 2 or fewer yards and that total included three 1-yard carries, two for no gain and one carry for minus-3 yards. For the year Ball is now averaging just 2 yards per carry and while he has just two fewer carries than Moreno – 20 to Moreno’s 22 – Ball has rushed for 81 fewer yards in two games.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert was the No. 3 quarterback once again, so ended up being one of the Broncos’ seven game day inactives against the Giants. Dysert looked smooth in an extended pre-game workout with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp. Knapp worked through a series of progressions with Dysert several hours before kickoff.

Running back C.J. Anderson: Anderson continues to make progress in his recovery from a severe MCL sprain he suffered during practice in the days following the preseason opener. He practiced on a limited basis last week before being declared as doubtful for the game last Friday. He was also one of the team’s seven game day inactives. It’s difficult to see just yet what role Anderson could have in the offense in the near future when Broncos coach John Fox said Monday the team was already having a difficult time even splitting the available carries up between Moreno, Ball and Hillman.

Practice squad: Wide receiver Tavarres King, a fifth-round pick, and tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, were waived in the final cutdown, and continue to work primarily as scout team players.

Broncos rookie report: Offense

September, 10, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos rookies made the transition last week, from simply young players trying to make an impression on their more experienced peers to young players who now carry the burden of day-to-day expectations about doing the job for a Super Bowl hopeful.

That’s a big jump in the few days between the roster cutdown and the Broncos’ season opener last Thursday night. With that in mind, here’s the rookie report, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class on offense is doing:

Ball
Ball
strong>Running back Montee Ball: Citizens of the fantasy football nation, don’t say you weren’t warned. The Broncos will almost certainly line up in a three-wide receiver set this season more than any other formation. So, the running the back who plays the most for this team will be the one who gets it done in that set. That means pass protection and handling the audibles are as high of priorities as actually running with the ball. And the guy who the Broncos believe handles that the best right now is Knowshon Moreno. That’s why Moreno played 37 snaps on offense against the Ravens and Ball played 18. Most of Ball’s work came out of the heavier two- and three-tight end looks. He did have an assignment bobble late in the win when he went to the wrong side of Manning to take a handoff. The play nearly resulted in a fumbled exchange, but Manning made a quick adjustment in his footwork and Ball wisely slowed up to take the ball. When Ball handles some of the non-running duties a little more cleanly, he’ll get to carry the ball more. But this is going to be a rotation much of the year, with plenty of ebb and flow all around between Moreno, Ball and Ronnie Hillman.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert was the No. 3 quarterback for the opener, so he ended up being one of the Broncos’ seven gameday inactives. He received good reviews in his work in practice last week as the Broncos prepared for the Ravens. That will be his role for much of the year as he will likely impersonate some of the league’s best quarterbacks on the scout team.

Running back C.J. Anderson: Anderson continues to make progress in his recovery from a severe MCL sprain he suffered during practice in the days following the preseason opener. Anderson has not used crutches for roughly 10 days -- “I felt like I didn’t need them the last week I used them, but I’m trying to listen to the trainers’’ -- and could return to practice, at least on a limited basis, at some point in the coming days. Because of the injury he was a gameday inactive for the Ravens, but it will be crowded choice at running back when he’s cleared to play. He may have to find a way into some special teams work to be on the gameday roster initially.

Practice squad: Wide receiver Tavarres King, a fifth-round pick, and tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, were waived and continue to work primarily as scout team players. Though Friday was a day off practice for the Broncos regulars, the practice squad players went through an on-field workout.

Broncos rookie report -- Offense

September, 2, 2013
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As much as everyone in the locker room hopes the roster is “set’’ when the cuts are made to get to 53, it is always a fluid situation when it comes to how things shake out over the course of a season.

But the Broncos’ first-year class fared OK as it exited the preseason and is poised for Thursday’s opener. With that in mind, here’s the rookie report, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class on offense is doing:

Running back Montee Ball: Ball figures to get the most work of any Denver Broncos first-year player as the season unfolds. At least that’s what he wants, and the Broncos have him squarely in the rotation. And it will be a rotation, uneven at times, with the carries being handed out with the ebb and flow of each game. Ball was held out of the preseason finale, so many have presumed since the starters were held out of that game, he is the starter. However, tread lightly there fantasy footballers, Knowshon Moreno was held out of the game as well, and Ronnie Hillman was given two carries simply because they wanted him to have a re-set after three fumbles -- two were recovered by the opponent and returned for touchdowns -- in the previous two preseason games combined. Ball will get the rock, but at least for now, so will Hillman, and Moreno is the most consistent pass-protector as the third-down down guy, and it will be tough to predict how the carries go for quite some time.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: All through training camp Dysert said he wanted to make it tough for the team not to keep him. He did just that, showing some good poise, mobility and chucked it around for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals to close out the preseason. With the number of players who were claimed on waivers this year after the cuts to 53 -- teams were claiming five, six and seven players -- it might have been difficult to get Dysert through waivers so the Broncos could bring him back to the practice squad. So, they elected to keep three quarterbacks for the second time in the three-year John Elway/John Fox tenure. As Fox put it; “I think it’s a key position in this league. Finding young ones to develop is not easy. Obviously, we felt (Dysert) was one of our 53 top guys. I don’t think you can ever have too many of those guys … He earned it.”

Running back C.J. Anderson: He was the only undrafted rookie the team kept on offense, but it was the 10th consecutive year an undrafted rookie has made the initial cut to 53 players. He’s still recovering from a severe MCL sprain suffered in practice following the preseason opener, but at 224 pounds, he gives the Broncos the big back they want and showed enough in one preseason game, and the practices leading up to it, that they kept him even though he isn’t ready to see the field right now.

Practice squad: Wide receiver Tavarres King, a fifth-round pick, and tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, were waived, cleared waivers and signed back to the practice squad. King’s talent puts him among the team's top 53 players, but his work habits were inconsistent enough for them to waive him. Painter is an athletic tackle prospect who just needs some time to develop.

Denver Broncos cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: It was a tough couple days for some of the Broncos' younger players. After retaining the bulk of their draft classes in the first two years on the job for John Elway and John Fox, the Broncos waived four former draft picks Saturday. Three were from the two Elway/Fox classes, when they trimmed the roster to 53 players.

Center/guard Philip Blake (fourth round in 2012), Jeremy Beal (seventh round in ’11), wide receiver Tavarres King (fifth round in ’13) and tackle Vinston Painter (sixth round in ’13) were all let go. King, who spent much of training camp and the preseason working with the second-team offense, likely lost his spot when the Broncos kept 11 defensive backs and three quarterbacks, including rookie Zac Dysert.

King and Painter are practice squad possibilities if they clear waivers.

“As you get better -- you never want to release anybody -- but as you get better, you have fewer slots,’’ Elway said. “That’s the situation that we’re running into.’’

Eleven's a crowd: In 2011, the first year of Elway’s tenure as the Broncos’ top football decision-maker, the Broncos kept nine defensive backs when they cut the roster to 53. Last year they kept 10 -- five cornerbacks, five safeties.

This year, with needs on special teams carrying the day, they kept 11 defensive backs, six cornerbacks and five safeties. The Broncos, like many teams in the league, have gone to more defensive backs on special teams, taking several jobs in coverage units that used to go to linebackers.

"You have to look at special teams too, what guys do on special teams," Elway said. "… So, those are the type things that a lot of people don’t think comes into the equation but what you do on fourth down is part of it."

As a result the Broncos are little light at wide receiver, with just five including returner Trindon Holliday. Holliday played just seven snaps on offense last season after joining the Broncos in October. They team will likely to expand his role slightly this season.

What's next: They are reasonably healthy after an offseason filled with drama, but it remains to be seen if they can consistently generate a pass rush without Miller and if they can consistently protect quarterback Peyton Manning when they play their preferred three-wide receiver look on offense.

But Elway likes the choices they made.

“The bottom line is we kept the best 53,’’ Elway said. “Everyone says you want to win now, and I say we want to win now on.’’

Broncos cuts/moves: RB Lance Ball, C/G C.J. Davis, RB Jeremiah Johnson, C/G Ryan Lilja, TE Jake O’Connell, DE Jeremy Beal, C/G Philip Blake, T Paul Cornick, DT Romney Fuga, DT Ben Garland, CB Aaron Hester, LB Damien Holmes, WR Tavarres King, T Vinston Painter, S Ross Rasner, WR Gerell Robinson, WR Lamaar Thomas, DE John Youboty. DE Quanterus Smith, LB Stewart Bradley, LB Lerentee McCray were placed on injured reserve. LB Von Miller was placed on reserve/suspended.
The Denver Broncos, like the rest of the league, will tie a bow on the preseason Thursday night. Most of the team’s regulars will get the night off against the visiting Arizona Cardinals, but decisions still need to be made at a few spots at the back end of the roster.

With that in mind, some things to keep an eye on:

One of the most difficult spots for the Broncos to make cuts ahead of Saturday's deadline to pare the roster to 53 players -- the bulk of which will come Friday -- will be in the secondary.

The Broncos kept nine defensive backs on the opening-weekend roster in 2011 and 10 last season -- five cornerbacks and five safeties. The issue this year is that Denver has two young, homegrown cornerback prospects in Omar Bolden and rookie Kayvon Webster, who have shown themselves to be worthy of the roster and would raise the overall athleticism at the position.

With Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Rahim Moore, Duke Ihenacho, Chris Harris, David Bruton and Tony Carter having worked in the top seven slots all through the preseason, that doesn’t leave room for Webster, Bolden, Mike Adams and Quentin Jammer to all make it.

If the Broncos stick with nine players in the secondary, they are essentially choosing between youth and experience for those final two spots. If they keep an extra cornerback, however, it may be an indication they feel they need to open the season with some insurance for Bailey’s foot injury.

Unless Denver takes the uncharacteristic step and keeps 11 defensive backs, Bolden and Webster both figure to play plenty against the Cardinals to state their cases.

  • Brock Osweiler is slated to get the start at quarterback behind what is largely a backup line. That has been a tough combination thus far in the preseason for Osweiler, who has been sacked eight times in the three previous games behind the reserves. It makes it difficult for the Broncos to work out of the three-wide look as much as they’d like given that they haven’t consistently protected the quarterback in it -- even when the starters have been in the game -- this preseason. If things get dicey they might have to go big again, as they did last weekend against the Rams. After opening the game with three wide receivers and allowing too many rushers to get too close to Peyton Manning, the Broncos went to a two-tight-end look. They lined up in a two-tight-end look on 29 of the next 35 plays after the opening three-and-out, including all 12 in a drive that ended with a blocked field goal. The Broncos might feel like they need to give Osweiler a little more beef up front.
  • The last few rosters spots will be decided on special teams, and the Broncos could use a good showing there. In the past two games they have surrendered a 107-yard kickoff return for a score, a 33-yard punt return, an 81-yard punt return and seen a field goal blocked. Many of the Broncos' youngest players will have a chance to help their causes against Arizona, with Denver special-teams coach Jeff Rodgers looking for those who display speed and smarts.
  • [+] EnlargeKayvon Webster
    AP Photo/Eric BakkeCornerback Kayvon Webster, a third-round pick, gets a last chance tonight to show he deserves a roster spot.
    The Broncos have lost five fumbles in three preseason games -- two by Osweiler, two by Ronnie Hillman and one by Julius Thomas. Hillman is not expected to play Thursday, but things need to be cleaned up. Lance Ball and Jacob Hester figure to get some work as the Broncos face some tough decisions at running back as well. Hester has not had a carry in the preseason and is the only back that has lined up at fullback thus far.
  • The Broncos have to sort things out in the offensive line, where they kept nine players in both 2011 and last season. After the starting five -- Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin -- the Broncos need a swing tackle, likely Chris Clark, and a swing guard/center or two, with Ryan Lilja, Steve Vallos and Philip Blake in the mix. Blake, a fourth-round pick in 2012, has been headed the wrong way on the depth chart -- the Broncos didn’t even work him much at center in the preseason, a position he played in college and one they originally drafted him for. Blake is decidedly on the bubble -- a long way down for a player some believed was pushing to start before a thumb injury ended his rookie season. He has regressed since that point, so he's either not getting the message about the changes in the offense or is not reacting well to the coaching he's getting. Rookie tackle Vinston Painter has shown the kind of athleticism that deserves a roster spot, but the Broncos may be in a position where they have to hope he makes it through waivers so they can sign him to their practice squad. Lilja is a tough call, too. Denver certainly likes him in the offense, but he had microfracture surgery on his knee just a few months ago and has missed significant amount of practice time of late because of the knee.
  • Rookie quarterback Zac Dysert will likely get his most significant work of the preseason. Dysert has shown some quality scrambling skills in practice, so he could have an entertaining down or two if he gets loose. He projects to the practice squad, but the Broncos would like to see some better accuracy from the pocket, especially in the shorter and intermediate routes.
  • Linebacker Lerentee McCray and wide receiver Lamaar Thomas are the undrafted rookies with the best chance to make the final 53 -- especially McCray. If the Broncos don’t keep McCray, there are at least two other teams that would consider signing him. He’s a big-bodied linebacker who, while not always showing good instincts, has the ability to disrupt an offense and closes to the ball with speed and intent.

Broncos rookie report -- Offense

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
6:00
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It’s always a bit startling for any team’s first-year class to see the first round of roster cuts.

To that point their knowledge of everyday NFL life is that of a 90-man roster, cruising through the offseason workouts into training camp as one big happy unit. Then suddenly things go to 75 players like they did this week and the threat of another 22 players getting the turn-in-your-iPad speech is hanging over them.

So, Thursday’s preseason finale, in which few, if any, Broncos regulars are scheduled to play, is the last chance to make a lasting impression. With that in mind, here’s the rookie report on offense, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class is doing:

Running back Montee Ball: After Ronnie Hillman had one of his fumbles returned for a touchdown for the second consecutive week this past Saturday, the Broncos moved Ball into a more prominent role with the starting offense in Monday's practice. There are certainly carries to be earned in the Broncos offense by the first back who hangs onto the ball and understands pass protection. Ball is the one whose missed block in Seattle resulted in perhaps the biggest hit Peyton Manning has taken in his time with the Broncos and he also coughed the ball up in practice Monday when Wesley Woodyard ripped the ball out late in a carry. Ball also dropped what might have been a sure scoring pass against the Rams, so while he’s currently at the top of the depth chart, his name isn’t chiseled there. In the end Ball played 38 plays on offense and had 14 carries against the Rams. For the preseason he has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on 25 carries.

Wide receiver Tavarres King: King continues to work with the second-team offense. He finished with 15 plays on offense against the Rams. He likely sits in the fifth spot at wide receiver, behind the top three and Andre Caldwell looks to be the No. 4. They’re pushing King hard out on his route running and they want to see a little physicality when goes up for the ball, they want him to consistently win the possession in a jump-ball situation. King should get plenty of work against the Cardinals and it will be a chance for him to show some consistency on his routes and make some plays.

Tackle Vinston Painter: Things are crowded on the offensive line, especially if the Broncos elect to carry both Chris Kuper (ankle) and Ryan Lilja (knee) on to the 53-man roster despite the fact they are not currently participating fully in practice because of their injuries. If they do, Painter could get squeezed in the cutdown and would be a practice squad gimme at that point if the Broncos believe they can get him through waivers. He’s played as the second-team right tackle. Painter did not get any snaps on offense against the Rams, an indication the Broncos may want to get him through waivers to get him on the practice squad. He’s shown plenty of athleticism, but still raw in his pass sets.

Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert did not play against the Rams and with the Broncos expected to keep just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster Dysert is likely headed to the practice squad as well. He will get some work against the Cardinals Thursday night and the Broncos like his ability to make some plays, so they may give him a chance to move around a bit.

Undrafted rookies:
  • Running back C.J. Anderson's knee injury turned out as expected, a six-week issue so the Broncos will have to make a decision on him having seen him in just one preseason game. He showed enough to be a practice squad player, and the Broncos have traditionally kept a back on the practice squad.
  • Wide receiver Lamaar Thomas got some work with the second-team offense at times in practice and consistently has shown the ability to be where the quarterbacks expect him to be. He has good hands with some ability to separate. He’s another at a crowded position who could be a quality candidate for the practice squad.
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.
Dominique Rodgers-CromartieAP Photo/Jack DempseyDominique Rodgers-Cromartie practiced Saturday for the first time since spraining his ankle July 31.

The Denver Broncos looked at the available cornerbacks in the offseason and saw Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as a still-in-his-prime, high-value target. Personnel boss John Elway went so far as to call him a "Pro Bowl talent."

Rodgers-Cromartie looked at his available options in free agency and saw the Broncos as a Super Bowl contender, making the decision to sign what is essentially a one-year deal something he called "really a no-brainer."

And how all this works out for both sides likely will depend on how cooperative Rodgers-Cromartie's left ankle is in the coming weeks and months. Rodgers-Cromartie returned to the practice field Saturday for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain July 31 during practice.

"It's good to be back ... I'm just easing my way back in," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I'm just trying to get a feel for it, some days you feel good, some days you don't."

It is often a notoriously difficult injury for a player to shake, especially at a position like cornerback where top-flight speed and the ability to change direction in the open field are integral parts of the job. It is the kind of injury that also resurfaces at times if a player lands awkwardly on the same spot.

And there is the matter that Rodgers-Cromartie previously suffered what he said were torn ligaments in the same ankle earlier in his career, during the 2011 season in Philadelphia.

Certainly the Broncos can function without Rodgers-Cromartie in the lineup -- they simply play their 2012 rotation, with Chris Harris as the starting right cornerback. In nickel and dime looks, Harris then moves inside to the slot and Tony Carter lines up outside.

But Rodgers-Cromartie gives them the size -- 6-foot-2, 193 pounds -- and speed they want in an outside corner. He would also allow the Broncos use Harris almost exclusively in the slot and keep size on the outside when they do go to the specialty looks. (Harris is 5-10 and Carter checks in at 5-9.)

The Broncos have not expressed concern about Rodgers-Cromartie over the long haul, but the injury, as well as his recovery, will bear watching as the team works toward the regular-season opener.

Before their bye in Week 9 the Broncos will face a cast of quarterbacks that includes Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. They are going to spend plenty of time in the nickel and dime -- they played the nickel over 60 percent of the defensive snaps last season -- and certainly want Rodgers-Cromartie in that mix.

(Read full post)

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:

THE DRAFT CLASS
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.

UNDRAFTED ROOKIES
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
8/04/13
4:20
PM ET
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.

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