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Broncos planned for Welker's absence

9/3/2014



ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Though the revelation of Wes Welker's suspension closed out a headline-filled day in the NFL -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended, Michael Sam planned to visit the Dallas Cowboys and J.J. Watt discussed his $100 million contract -- it's clear now the Denver Broncos have been preparing for Welker's four-game absence for some time.

After he suffered two concussions last season, on Nov. 17 and Dec. 8, the Broncos were in a position to consider what they would do if Welker missed time in the future. So the suspension was simply another issue for the Broncos to consider with regards to Welker's availability.

Early on in their offseason planning, the threat of another Welker concussion was a big enough issue, coupled with Eric Decker's departure in free agency, that the Broncos considered Emmanuel Sanders their top target offensive free agent target. Executive vice president and general manager John Elway called Sanders "our No. 1 guy at the position we wanted to bring in. He fits what we do and what we wanted."

The Broncos then used a second-round draft pick on wide receiver Cody Latimer because they considered him a tough, fast, physical receiver, who could play immediately in the team's red zone packages, and steadily earn more playing time as he grew into the offense. Latimer then sped his development with extra sessions with quarterback Peyton Manning. Latimer was already poised for premium snaps before Tuesday's Welker announcement.

As they moved through their offseason work and Welker's flagged test in the performance-enhancing drug policy became an issue, the Broncos made plans. They knew he could miss time. Whether that missed time would be caused by a concussion, which Welker suffered Aug. 23 against the Houston Texans, or the threat of a suspension remained to be seen.

So when they cut the roster to 53, a team that wanted to keep five wide receivers kept six.

Granted, rookie Isaiah Burse was kept largely for his potential as a returner. The coaches said all along any player kept as a returner would have to show enough to contribute at another position. And just after the Broncos made the cuts, Elway said of Burse: "He's a bright kid. He's a kid that can play all positions, too. When it comes to that, he's a guy that can come in and help us on the offensive side, too."

The Broncos also kept two more wide receivers on the practice squad -- Bennie Fowler and Nathan Palmer -- who had been through training camp and know the offense. Palmer also spent time on the Broncos' practice squad during the 2013 season.

The Broncos had also worked a heavy rotation in training camp, giving a variety of receivers at least some snaps with the first- and second-team offenses.

Welker was excused from practice Aug. 20-21 for his appeal hearing, and that offers a glimpse into the timetable the team had as it prepared for the suspension. When a player is notified of a suspension -- a written "notice of discipline" -- he has five days to request an appeal hearing, according to the league policy on PEDs.

That appeal hearing is to take place within 20 days of the request, excluding extenuating circumstances for either league officials or the player. Within two days of the scheduled hearing, the two sides exchange documents and/or any evidence that will be presented.

The policy states a decision on the appeal will then be rendered within "five calendar days" of the hearing. It is likely the Broncos and Welker were well aware of the suspension as players reported for training camp July 23.

When asked about Welker's absence from practice last month, Broncos coach John Fox said, "We need to get him back and see what state of mind he's in and where he is in our game plan and just go from there."