ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos reached the halfway point of their season at 7-1, with a bye to re-charge for what they hope will be a second-half surge deep into the postseason. But then the team received the news this past weekend head coach John Fox needed to undergo surgery to replace a valve in his heart.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will be the interim head coach until Fox's return, but that return may not come until the regular season is complete. What that means is, as many of the Broncos' veterans players have said since Fox's surgery Monday morning, the Broncos are going to need everybody to do their part, without exception moving forward.
"That means everybody," said cornerback Chris Harris. "Everybody has to do everything they can right now, we all want to do right for Coach Fox."
So, with that in mind, here's the rookie report, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class is doing and what will be expected from it in the season's second half:
Running back Montee Ball: The Broncos have seen what they think are glimmers of the light going on for Ball. The team would like to establish a little more in the run game in the season's second half when the weather turns a bit, but Ball has to do his part to be in that mix. He played 120 snaps on offense in the season's first half with 55 of those being rushing attempts. But he simply can't make the kind of mistakes in pass protection he made earlier this season and cannot put the ball on the ground any more. He had two lost fumbles in the season's first half. The Broncos want him to be the closer late in games, but they will have to trust he's going to keep the ball to get those carries.
Quarterback Zac Dysert: Got a little more work in practice during the two workouts the Broncos had in the bye week because Peyton Manning did not throw on either of those days. The Broncos like what they've seen, in terms of his work ethic and ability to keep up in the classroom. He was a game-day inactive in each of the first eight games and figures to be through the second half as well.
Running back C.J. Anderson: The Broncos have made it pretty clear they intend to keep just three running backs in the game-day lineup. That means one of the four on the roster overall will likely be in street clothes on game-day each week. Anderson was in the lineup in place of Ronnie Hillman in the Broncos' win against the Redskins just before the bye. To keep that spot, Anderson is going to have to make it happen during the week with inspired work in practice. Because eventually, the Broncos hope, it's going to click with Hillman, but the Broncos want to see a little more grit from him, a little more nose-to-the-grindstone in his approach and more accountability in how he takes care of the football. So, they like Anderson's work in the run game and think he can add something, but he's got to keep forcing them to keep him in the mix with what he does during the week.
Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams: The Broncos want, and expect, more from Williams in the season's second half. He has found the transition a little tougher than perhaps he expected against far stronger and more savvy interior players in the offensive line in the NFL than he faced in college. He has flashed some quality up-field skills at times, but has also been a gameday inactive twice this season. Overall he has played 65 snaps on defense -- 13 percent of the snaps -- and had not played more than 19 plays on defense in any game this season. He has the power and quickness to get off blocks, it's now a matter of him getting his hands in the right spots to move the blocker and play with more confidence that he belongs.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster: He's been the cornerstone of the Class of '13 so far. Webster plays aggressively in man-to-man situations, has the confidence to bounce back from mistakes, has tackled well and fit quickly on special teams. That's all you can ask. The Broncos have felt good enough about his play to let him fend for himself in man coverage against some front-line receivers, and he has routinely responded. He's played 167 snaps on defense (34 percent of the team's plays on defense) to go with 124 special teams snaps as well (53 percent). He has an interception to go with five passes defensed. The Broncos will use him plenty in the season's second half, even if Champ Bailey returns to full speed.
Practice squad: Tackle Vinston Painter, a sixth-round pick, who 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 benefitted from working plenty of extra time with Alex Gibbs 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.