- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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No team in NFL history scored more points in a season than the Denver Broncos did in 2013. The 606 points made them the first offense in the league to top the 600-point barrier.
And in an unheard of distribution they had five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns. No team had ever had more than three players reach the 10 touchdown barrier.
In short, the Broncos were ruthlessly efficient when they had a chance to score touchdowns. Yet as they take the field this week for their first full on-field team workouts of a new season, they are still left to wonder what could have been.
Had they taken care of the ball better, the numbers would have been even more staggering. Sure they could have run the ball more efficiently and protected their prized quarterback better.
But the bottom line is the Broncos need to go back to the most basic of basics: They need to hold onto the ball.
"We have to do a better job as a group with that," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "That was a big downfall for us early, where the ball was on the ground way too much. It's almost two seasons in a row and we have to address that right away. We've got to be so much better as far as holding onto the ball as a group."
Those numbers are almost just as startling from last season. The Broncos led the NFL in lost fumbles in 2013 with 16 in a year when no other playoff team had more than 10.
Quarterback Peyton Manning, whose grip was somewhat affected by his spinal fusion surgery, led the team with six lost fumbles. But Manning only had two lost fumbles in 2012, his first season with the Broncos, and Denver has tried to address protection issues up front this offseason.
Left tackle Ryan Clady will return to the lineup after missing all but two games with a foot injury and Orlando Franklin has been moved from right tackle to left guard to try and bolster the Broncos' protection schemes on Manning's doorstep. If they can limit the clean hits in the pocket on Manning, his fumble total should be closer, the Broncos hope, to his 2012 work.
Gase has said ball security will be addressed right from the start with the team's running backs -- the running backs had four lost fumbles last season, three by Montee Ball. Ball did not lose a fumble following the Nov. 24 loss in New England. But the Broncos need Ball to get close to Knowshon Moreno's performance.
Moreno, who was allowed to leave in free agency, did not lose a fumble last season in 241 carries as well as 60 receptions.
The Broncos' wide receivers can do their part as well. Despite all of the quality work the Broncos did in the passing game last season, their top receivers dropped more than their share of passes as well.
Granted, the Broncos were second in pass attempts last season -- the Cleveland Browns were first -- so more opportunity certainly could lead to more drops. But their top three receivers -- Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker dropped a combined 20 passes.
Video review showed Welker was near the top of the league with nine drops, while Decker had six drops on in-frame passes -- another drop could have been added if a more liberal approach was taken -- and Thomas had five drops. Decker and Welker each had games with three drops and overall the Broncos had two games with at least six dropped passes in the regular season -- six against Tennessee and seven against New England.
Emmanuel Sanders will replace Decker in the team's three-wide look this year and the Broncos used a second-round pick on wide receiver Cody Latimer in the draft earlier this month. And most teams had Latimer as one of the most reliable receivers catching the ball in this year's draft class -- one of Latimer's coaches at Indiana was quoted as saying Latimer may have had just one drop last season in practice or in a game.
"That's always one of my emphases, just to catch the ball, that's why I play receiver," Latimer said. "You don't want to waste any passes. That's the emphasis we had. My coach, we kept track of drops and he always let me know, 'You didn't have any drops,' or, 'You dropped this,' but it wasn't many. So it was just something we focused on as receivers."
"I think you're always going to feel like you left some points out there sometimes, even with what we did," is how Thomas put it. "We can always be better."
In the end, with Manning back at quarterback, with Sanders adding some elusiveness and athleticism in the offense, with an offseason to tinker with all that they did last season, there is no reason to believe the Broncos should be one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league once again.
But if they take care of the ball better than they did last season, they'll pick up some of the points they left behind.