Denver Broncos: Cody Latimer

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the NFL’s scouting combine winds down Monday, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has spent the past week previewing the draft's top prospects and navigating the hotbed of free agency that the event has become.

As teams and player agents scrambled to carve out time in between all of the running and jumping, the business of constructing a roster was at the forefront. A clearer picture has emerged after six frenetic days of how things will go for the Broncos once free agency officially opens on March 10.
  • Elway said in Indianapolis wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, as has been expected for weeks, will formally get the franchise player tag by the March 2 deadline if the two sides cannot work out a long-term deal. The franchise player tender is a one-year, guaranteed contract that would be for roughly $12.9 million for wide receivers this season -- the average of the top five contracts at the franchise player's position. The Broncos want, and intend, to keep Thomas and have made him the top priority this year among their own free agents. There was every indication that Thomas will get the franchise player tag and could then sign a long-term deal shortly after free agency opens and the market for front-line receivers is set.
  • Tight end Julius Thomas' representatives are seeking a long-term deal with near record guaranteed money for the position, as you would expect from a player with back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons. Denver has not given any indication that it expects to go that high. No talks are currently scheduled and Julius Thomas is expected to sign elsewhere. With all three of their top tight ends scheduled to be free agents, the Broncos will scan the market as well -- former Gary Kubiak favorite James Casey is available after having been released by the Philadelphia Eagles this past week. They will give a long look to selecting one in this year’s draft class as well. The team had particular interest in the tight ends workouts on Friday.
  • Yes, the Broncos would like to try to get players like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, guard Orlando Franklin and safety Rahim Moore back, but Elway outlined this past week the difficulty in trying to do a deal for those players before free agency opens. He described the conversations as: “How much you want? Oh I don’t know. How much you got? I don’t know.’’ And he also said: “Really the bottom line is until the market opens and you get out there and see what’s out there, that’s what sets the price. That’s why it’s very difficult for them to accept something before free agency starts and why it’s difficult for us -- we don’t know what the market is, it could be different for some players … . Players want all the money and they want to play where they want to play. Heck I’ve been a player I understand that, but I can’t calm the frustration because we have to do what’s best for the Broncos and also know we would love to have him back, but we’ve got to see what that number is.’’ Elway said he believed Franklin would get "a lot of interest'' from other teams and the Broncos expect him to sign elsewhere.
  • Elway also made it clear some of the roster gaps left behind by departing free agents will be filled by young players already on the roster who may not have gotten much, if any, playing time last season. In particular, Elway talked about the potentials of tackle Michael Schofield and wide receiver Cody Latimer many times this past week. He also called the right tackle position “a need for us,’’ that a player like Schofield could fill. With Wes Welker scheduled to be a free agent and the Broncos not expected to bring him back, Latimer will be asked to do far more in the offense. The Broncos also saw what everybody else saw this past week in Indianapolis: A deep, athletic group of wide receivers that could reach into the draft’s third day.
INDIANAPOLIS – As the on-field workouts continued Saturday at the NFL’s scouting combine, some players who will be of interest to the Denver Broncos were on display.

On Saturday, the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers got to work.
  • Even with Cody Latimer, a second-round draft pick in last year’s draft, expected to compete for far more playing time in the upcoming season, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said it's a given that the Broncos will still take a long look at a class of wide receivers that showed plenty of speed in Saturday’s workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium. West Virginia’s Kevin White, at 215 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 and 4.36 seconds. He is the top wide receiver on the board for many teams and will be gone long before the Broncos pick at 28th overall, but he led a group that showed plenty of size and speed at a position Elway has already called perhaps the deepest in the draft. Among players rated behind the most high-profile players at the position, William and Mary’s Tre McBride, at 6 foot, -inch and 210 pounds, ran 4.41 in both of his 40s. Georgia Tech’s Darren Waller, at 6-6 1/8, 238 pounds, ran 4.46 and 4.54 and Georgia’s Chris Conley (6-1 7/8, 213) ran 4.41 and 4.35. Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (6-1 1/8, 197) topped 40 inches in his vertical leap and then ran 4.42 and 4.40. Bell caught 47 passes for the Huskers this past season.
  • Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has said the Broncos will have a fullback on the roster. Whether it’s a traditional fullback, a converted tight end or a running back the Broncos already have on the roster, such as Juwan Thompson, remains to be seen. But the big guys at the combine ran pretty well. Alabama fullback Jalston Fowler (5-11, 254) ran a 4.94 and a 4.96. Hawaii’s Joey Iosefa (5-11, 247) ran 5.04 and 5.02. The fastest “big" back who ran Saturday was Florida State’s Karlos Williams, who at 230 pounds ran 4.48 and 4.53. Williams ran for 689 yards this past season for the Seminoles and led the team with 11 touchdowns.
  • Elway has consistently said he believes a team should consider drafting a quarterback in every draft to maintain the depth – former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf used at least a second-day draft pick on a quarterback seven times in an eight-year span when he had Brett Favre. Elway said this week the team is pleased with Brock Osweiler’s progress, but with Peyton Manning set to turn 39 in May, the Broncos will give a long look to the passers on this board. Elway likes the big-framed passers. The Broncos would likely have to expend an earlier pick on the likes of Baylor’s Bryce Petty (6-2 7/8, 230) and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (6-5 5/8, 229), but those two players both threw well in Saturday’s drills. Petty, in particular, showed improved footwork in dropbacks after spending his career in Baylor’s spread offense.
INDIANAPOLIS – First, Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said it at the NFL scouting combine.

Then executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said it a day later at the combine. So, that’s a 2-0 vote of the team’s football power brokers, a landslide really, that the players from the team’s 2014 draft class who didn’t play much, or at all, in their rookie seasons will get their chance to earn far more this time around.

While the defensive players in the team’s Class of ’14, including first-round pick Bradley Roby, found their way into the lineup last season, the three players who played on offense did not. And that’s going to change for those players and the ones who follow.

“They’re going to have expectations for those young guys to be able to step in and be able to contribute early,’’ Elway said. “That’s the coaching staff, that’s Gary’s mindset, the coaching staff’s mindset, they’re not afraid to play young guys. They’ll get them trained up to play, which is going to be beneficial to us.’’

Wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round) played just 37 snaps on offense last season. Tackle Michael Schofield (third round) was a gameday inactive for 16 regular-season games as well as the Broncos’ playoff loss in Janusry, and center Matt Paradis spent the season on the practice squad.

Kubiak, who spent last season as the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator, had already said he liked Schofield as a prospect before last year’s draft, and Elway said this week at the combine that Schofield will be in the mix at right tackle, offering “that’s what we drafted him to play.’’

“We were excited about Schofield coming out of preseason and we couldn’t get him a uni,’’ Elway said. “The guys we draft, we bring in, this year, they’re going to use them all, get them coached up.’’

Latimer is a player Kubiak said the Ravens brought in to Baltimore for a pre-draft visit last year and that he “really, really liked.’’ Latimer struggled at times with all of the audibles in the Broncos' offense last season, but he is a player the new coaching staff has already targeted for a bigger role in the coming season.

With Wes Welker scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, the Broncos will have some work to divvy up at the position in the new offense.

And for Paradis, his opportunity for playing time will come as offensive line coach Clancy Barone, who was the Broncos’ tight ends coach last season, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, a longtime offensive line coach in his previous stint with the Broncos, conduct the extreme makeover to the Broncos’ offensive front.

Louis Vasquez is expected to move back to guard – he played right tackle down the stretch as part of four moves the team made in the offensive during the season to try and improve things – and with center Will Montgomery and left guard Orlando Franklin set to be free agents, the Broncos could have at least two or three starting jobs open -- left guard, right tackle and center.

Kubiak said he had met with Paradis in recent weeks and came away feeling “he was a good, young guy, ready to work for more.’’
INDIANAPOLIS – Coach Gary Kubiak met with the media Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine, here’s what we learned about the Denver Broncos:

1. Let Peyton be Peyton: Kubiak said he likes to call plays and run the scheme he always has, but he’s prepared to put verbiage in the play-calls that quarterback Peyton Manning is familiar with. Kubiak said the coaches already are “in the process’’ of “meshing’’ what Manning has used with the Broncos and what Kubiak has used in the past. And when it comes to running the no-huddle, he’s ready to let Manning do that as well. “He’s, obviously, at the line of scrimmage, as good as there has ever been in this game,’’ Kubiak said. “You don’t ever take that away from your players and it’s something I look forward to talking with him about, his mindset, his philosophy.’’

2. Job opening at fullback: Kubiak was clear the Broncos are on the hunt for a fullback, a position they did not stock on the roster last season. The Broncos used tight end Virgil Green at times as a lead back, as well as reserve guard Ben Garland. They did line up in a two-back look on a smattering of snaps this past season, usually with three tight ends in the formation as well in short-yardage situations. Of the current backs on the roster Juwan Thompson is the most likely candidate, but Kubiak added a "smaller tight end’’ might fit the job description as well. “Obviously I’ve had one on my team all the time, it’s something we’ve discussed, that we’re going to have to find, or have to build,’’ Kubiak said. He added players who fit the bill would be reviewed over the next week at the combine as well as in the weeks leading up to the draft.

3. Come ready to work C.J.: Running back C.J. Anderson, whose roster spot was on shaky ground last spring when he showed up to the start of last year’s offseason workouts a little heavier than the Broncos coaches wanted and looked sluggish in that early work. But through training camp and into the season Anderson rebounded for 648 yards rushing over the last six regular-season games. And from a football perspective Anderson is considered a quality, potentially immensely productive fit in the run game Kubiak will install. Kubiak said he confirmed that in a conversation with Anderson shortly after Kubiak was hired. Asked Wednesday if Anderson would be the starter, Kubiak said; “He’s got to go earn that. I think when he walked off the field last year he was playing that way … I told that when I talked to him, I said ‘C.J., when you come back to the offseason, you need to walk in here handling yourself like a starter.’’

4. Grow up fast: Of the Broncos' draft class of 2014, only the defensive players selected got any significant playing time, especially first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby. But of the offensive players in the class – wide receiver Cody Latimer, tackle Michael Schofield and center Matt Paradis – only Latimer played in a game and he played only 37 snaps on offense all season. Kubiak said he has looked at practice video of that group, from both OTAs and into the season, and believes all three will be in the mix to be considered for far bigger roles this time around. Kubiak said he liked Schofield leading up to last year’s draft and that he liked what he has seen from Paradis as well. On Latimer he said; “I spent a whole day with him in Baltimore [before the ’14 draft], we really, really liked him. I think a lot of his ability.’’

5. On the nose: Kubiak said the Broncos would like to retain as many of their pending unrestricted free agents as possible, including defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Knighton would be one of the best fits to be the nose tackle in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, but Kubiak said the Broncos could adjust to the personnel they have. “Wade has played with both, Wade has had the huge guy [at nose tackle] and … Wade has played with the small guy – Earl Mitchell in Houston.’’ Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson are expected to move smoothly into the two defensive end spots in the three-man front, and Kubiak said he liked the potential of both players.
With the NFL's scouting combine set to open Feb. 17 and free agency to follow March 10, today marks the third installment of a position-by-position look of where things stand for the Denver Broncos at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitment, free agents and where their needs are greatest.

Today: Wide receivers. | Thursday: Tight ends. | Rest of the series

The Broncos were the only team in the NFL to have two different receivers finish the 2014 season among the league's top 10 in receiving yards. Demaryius Thomas finished with a Broncos' single-season record of 1,619 yards, which was second in the league, while Emmanuel Sanders was fifth in the league with 1,404 yards.

The two were also second and fifth in catches in the NFL as well with 111 and 101, respectively. For Sanders, those totals amounted to 34 catches and 664 receiving yards more than he had in his best of four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And what it really means is the Broncos have quite the starting point at the position as they install a new offense.

The Alpha: It's Thomas in every way. A team captain this past season, he had 10 100-yard games, seven of those in consecutive weeks, including a 226-yard, two-touchdown day against the Arizona Cardinals in October. His size-speed combination puts him among the league's best and his run-after-the-catch abilities have been a significant part of the Broncos' scheme on offense since Peyton Manning's arrival. Since Manning signed in 2012, Thomas has had three consecutive seasons with at least 92 receptions, at least 1,430 yards receiving and at least 10 touchdowns.

Salary cap: Thomas is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 10, but he is also expected to receive the franchise player tag if the Broncos can't work out a long-term deal. Sanders is under contract for two more seasons and will count $5.85 million against the salary cap in '15 while Andre Caldwell will count $1.55 million and Cody Latimer will count $842,875 against the cap. Jordan Norwood, who had a good chance of making the roster out of training camp last summer before suffering a season-ending injury, will count $745,000.

Pending free agents: Thomas is the one that will not get away this time around. Unless they have a staggering change of heart, the Broncos have long planned to use the franchise tag on their leading wideout, especially after they have been unable to work out the details of a five-year deal that has been on the table at times over the past year. Last year the franchise player salary for a wide receiver -- the average of the top five contracts at the position -- was $12.312 million and it is expected to be higher this time around. The franchise player tender is for one year and is guaranteed the moment the player signs it. It also would take up that amount of salary cap room as well, or likely roughly half of the Broncos' workable cap space at the moment. Wes Welker is also scheduled to be a free agent, but is not expected to be a part of the Broncos' free agency plan moving forward, at least nowhere near the level of his last deal -- two years for $12 million.

Who could stay: Thomas and Sanders are the starters with Latimer, who played just 37 plays on offense all season, 14 of those in the Broncos' win in Oakland in early November, set to carve out a bigger role in his second season. Caldwell is a reliable veteran who has kept his speed through the years. Norwood is a player the Broncos' former coaching staff was intrigued by and he was set to make the final 53 coming out of camp until he was injured. He has skills the new staff will be looking for as well.

Who could go: Welker's role and production in the offense dipped dramatically in a season that began with a two-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, to go with a concussion he suffered in the preseason. Welker's 49 receptions this past season were his fewest since he had 29 catches in 2005, and defenses that once considered him a player they had to think about using double coverage to keep him away from the ball, no longer felt that way. Even against largely single coverage, Welker was targeted just eight times combined in the final three games of the regular season as he did not find and/or create much room to work, and was targeted just twice in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

What they like/want: How the new offense looks when all is said and done remains to be seen and constructed after Manning makes a formal announcement about his plans for '15, but the group blocked well in the run game last season and will be asked to pick it up even a little more there. But they like what they have plenty, especially at the top of the depth chart and in-house they believe Latimer is ready to carve out a role in the offense.

Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): 2, they'll look depth, but after they formally get Thomas on board for the season, they have their impact players.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – By the time this past season was over, the Denver Broncos' 2014 draft class had been split down a very easy-to-see line.

If you were a defensive player, you were in uniform on game day, you were on the field, you contributed in some way. And if you were an offensive player in that draft class, you practiced a lot. But play in games? Not so much.

And when Mel Kiper Jr. re-graded the 2014 draft for every team in the league, it was a distinction he made as well as he dropped the grade from the C-plus he gave the Broncos this past May.

Cornerback Bradley Roby (first round) gave the Broncos all they hoped for as he quickly became a regular and a player the Broncos trusted enough to lock up in man coverage against some of the league’s more accomplished receivers.

Roby, who played 805 snaps in regular season on defense, was also a willing participant in run fits as well, as he finished as the third-leading tackler on the team with 64 tackles, including five tackles for loss. He looks every bit a future starter and will likely play even more next season if he makes the expected jump from his rookie season to Year 2.

Linebackers Lamin Barrow (fifth round) and Corey Nelson (seventh round) played sparingly in situational roles on defense – 49 snaps and 109 snaps, respectively – but both were regulars on special teams, with Barrow playing 74.4 percent of the snaps on special teams and Nelson 65 percent.

On offense, however, the rookies had mostly a watch-and-learn year. Wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round), despite his potential to contribute in red-zone offense because of his size-speed combination and willingness to win a contested ball, could not overcome the Broncos’ desire for him to be able to handle all of the fine points in a complex offense with a highly-productive position group that included two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Latimer played just 37 snaps on offense all season.

But that was far more than tackle Michael Schofield (third round), who was a game-day inactive for every game of the season and center Matt Paradis (seventh round), who spent the season on the practice squad.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is a familiarity in what Gary Kubiak will bring the Denver Broncos, it is one of the reasons he was hired by the team’s executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway.

But it’s still worth a look at Kubiak’s time as an offensive coordinator and his eight seasons as Houston Texans head coach to see what is on the horizon.

Each of the Broncos' running backs are going to want to be the guy. From 1995, (Kubiak’s first season in Denver as the offensive coordinator on Mike Shanahan’s staff) to this past season as offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, his running backs have hit at least 1,500 yards rushing in the offense seven times, three of those seasons by Terrell Davis.

[+] EnlargeGary Kubiak
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesGary Kubiak's offense has produced big numbers at every stop in his career, and Denver has some offensive players who fit his style.
Clinton Portis (twice), Mike Anderson and Arian Foster also reached that benchmark.

For the current group of Broncos backs, including C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball, and Ronnie Hillman, this is good news. The other news for them, however, is to be a one-cut runner.

No dawdling, pick-and-choose, maybe-this-maybe-that movements. Get the ball, get up the field. As former Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner often said on the practice "unless it says Barry Sanders on the back of your jersey, get your foot in the ground and get up the field."

From a football perspective, Anderson fits the mold the best, and Hillman has shown moments of decisiveness and speed to the hole. Ball has shown glimpses of that, too. But as the Broncos' ability to win the line of scrimmage waned early on this past season, Ball was at times trying to make too much of every run, and often looked hesitant as he approached the line of scrimmage.

But the Broncos backs, a look at the game video reveals, also suffered first-contact behind the line of scrimmage on roughly 32 percent of the team’s carries this season. So, the first order of business will be to smooth things out up front. But the run game is on the front burner.

Also, a big, strong, physical receiver with deep speed (like say, Demaryius Thomas) will live the play-action, deep-ball life. Twenty-one times in offenses where Kubiak was the coordinator or the team’s head coach, a player topped 1,000 yards receiving. Rod Smith topped 1,600 yards in 2000, and Andre Johnson topped 1,500 yards in 2008, 2009 and 2012. Johnson also had 1,407 yards in 2013, the year Kubiak was fired 13 games into the season and the Texans were 2-11.

Look for Cody Latimer, a second-round pick last May, to have far bigger impact in the offense with Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Quarterbacks have topped 4,000 yards passing four times in the offense, including three by Matt Schaub in the years leading up to his 2013 struggles. Jake Plummer's 4,089 yards passing was the Broncos' first 4,000-yard passing season in franchise history, and his career best.

And this past season in Kubiak’s only season as Ravens offensive coordinator, quarterback Joe Flacco had career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27), and Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards.

So the numbers have consistently been there in the offense, touchdowns have consistently been manufactured, and the rushing yards have been carved out against a variety of defensive fronts and approaches.

The question will be defense. In Kubiak’s time as Texans head coach the team fielded a top-10 scoring defense just twice -- 2011 and 2012 -- with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator and a defensive end named J.J. Watt's arrival. It’s no accident those two seasons also marked Kubiak’s best finishes as a head coach to this point -- 10-6 in ’11 and 12-4 in ’12, both AFC South titles.

Denver Broncos Rewind: Offense

December, 29, 2014
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For much of the 2014 regular season the Denver Broncos lived in the shadow of last season’s single-season record of 606 points.

They Broncos have spent the season in a swirl of discussion about their run game, their passing game, and their sometimes balky search for a workable balance between the two.

But in a 12-4 finish, the Broncos still closed out the season as the second-highest scoring team in the NFL -- 482 points, just behind the Green Bay Packers' 486 points. The 482 points also made this Broncos’ offense the third-highest scoring offense in franchise history, which means in the two years Adam Gase has called plays with Peyton Manning at quarterback, the team has the No. 1 and No. 3 scoring offenses in franchise history. It came on the heels of a 47-14 victory against the Oakland Raiders in the regular-season finale that included the Broncos’ third defensive score of the season.

After a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the team’s offense:
  • Green
    It’s not that tight end Virgil Green hasn’t played 45 snaps in a game before Sunday’s win. No, Green had played at least 45 snaps on offense in four of the previous five games before he played 45 against the Raiders. It’s just that the Broncos seem to continue to keep expanding Green’s role in the offense as Julius Thomas continues to recover from a left ankle injury suffered Nov. 16 against the St. Louis Rams. Against the Raiders, Green not only lined up in the heavy two-tight end look as he usually does, with reserve tackle Chris Clark as the second tight end, but Green also appeared quickly, as in the Broncos first possession of the game. He was the lone tight end in the team’s three-wide receiver set, a job that has been the domain of Thomas or Jacob Tamme. Green was even the lone tight end in a three-wide set with an empty backfield in the first quarter. Green had a career best three receptions in the game, including his first career touchdown -- a 1-yard scoring pass from Brock Osweiler with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining in the game.
  • Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer had two games in the regular season when he played more than six snaps on offense -- both were against the Raiders, including his 12 snaps on Sunday. But the challenge for a first-year wide receiver in the Broncos’ offense could be seen on a first quarter incompletion. Latimer, facing man coverage to the left sideline, was quarterback Peyton Manning's first read. Manning threw quickly to Latimer’s back shoulder. Latimer, however, continued up the sideline and did not look for the ball. The Broncos offense requires receivers to be on the same page as Manning from play to play, to hear the calls at the line of scrimmage, to make the same adjustments to the coverage, on the fly, that Manning sees. Latimer has consistently shown his athleticism and ability to win the ball in a crowd in practice, but to play more in games, that incompletion was exactly the kind of play he has to make.
  • Thomas
    Following Sunday night’s game, Demaryius Thomas said he believed he had suffered an injury to his right middle finger "sometime in the second quarter." A look at the video shows exactly when. On a 15-yard catch-and-run with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Thomas took a hit on his right hand from Raiders safety Brandian Ross' helmet as Ross made the tackle. It affected Thomas for the rest of the game and he had X-rays following the game. He said there was no fracture.
  • Manning came within an eyelash of being the first quarterback in NFL history to have three seasons with at least 40 touchdown passes. He finished with 39 -- the third highest total of his career -- but was oh-so close to 40. There was the two-arm grab on Demaryius Thomas by Raiders cornerback Ras-I Downing to prevent a touchdown just before halftime – no flag was thrown, even as Thomas pointed to video board. Demaryius Thomas had scoring chances in both the third and fourth quarters, including a dropped ball in the end zone, when the finger injury was clearly bothering him. "I still feel like I should have caught that one," Thomas said following the game.
  • The Broncos tweaked their approach against the Raiders the second time around this season. In the first meeting -- a 41-17 Broncos win on Nov. 9 in Oakland -- the Broncos lined up in a three-wide receiver set on 77 snaps, which was every snap that wasn’t a kneel down in the game. With a bigger emphasis on the run game in recent weeks, the Broncos were in a three-wide receiver set on 60 snaps Sunday and had 17 snaps in a two-tight end set. Sunday they scored two of their touchdowns on offense in the two-tight end set, and two out of the three-wide receiver set.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said his ankle injury shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.

Thomas, who had his ankle stepped on by a teammate in Wednesday’s practice, did not practice on Thursday. Thomas took part on a limited basis on Friday and was formally listed as probable by the Broncos for Sunday’s game.

“It feels way better, way better,’’ Thomas said following practice.

Asked if he would be ready to go against the Bills, Thomas said; “Let’s go.’’

Thomas was limping slight in the end zone at one point during this past Sunday’s win against the Kansas City Chiefs but said the current injury was in a different spot.

“I tweaked it in the end zone a little bit … but I actually got stepped on this time,’’ Thomas said.

And on how much he did in Friday’s practice, he hadded; “I did enough, I was able to get out and run, felt OK.’’

Julius Thomas, who has missed the last two games since injuring his left ankle against the St. Louis Rams, took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis and was formally listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Thomas has consistently said this week that he’s “close’’ to a return, but he has also not taken part fully in a practice since his injury.

Cornerback Aqib Talib (left hamstring) practiced fully this week, including Friday, and is expected to start against the Bills.

Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (elbow), safety Quinton Carter (knee) all took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis and were listed as questionable.

Wide receiver Cody Latimer, who was having concussion symptoms in Thursday’s practice, did not practice Friday and is under the league’s concussion protocol. He will miss Sunday’s game.

And cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot) and Montee Ball (right groin) all worked with one of the team’s strength coaches during practice Friday. All three will miss Sunday’s game.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas limped through the locker room following Wednesday’s practice, his ankle injury became one that would bear watching this week.

Thomas was held out of Thursday’s practice. Thomas was on the practice field in workout gear, but did not participate.

Demaryius Thomas is second in the NFL in catches (88) and receiving yards (1,255) as well as being tied for third in the league in touchdown receptions with 10. Thomas is still a bit of a question mark for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, but if it were a potential long-term issue the Broncos would not have let him walk around on the practice field Thursday during the workout.

“It was an ankle from [Wednesday]," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "... He got stepped on, he got cleats in the side of his foot -- bruised -- he’ll be fine.’’

Tight end Julius Thomas, who has not played since he injured his left ankle in the first quarter of the loss to the St. Louis Rams, continued to make progress toward a return to the lineup. He took part on a limited basis Thursday, as he did on Wednesday, and looked to be moving far better than he did at this point last week.

Julius Thomas continues to say he is "close" to returning to the lineup. Despite missing two games, the tight end still leads the league with 12 touchdown receptions.

In addition to Demaryius Thomas, tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), safety Quinton Carter (knee) and wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion symptoms) were held out of practice. Latimer walked off with head trainer Steve Antonopulos in the early minutes of practice and did not return.

Latimer is now in the concussion protocol.

“We think he had a concussion at some point [in practice]," Fox said.

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (elbow) and linebacker Lerentee McCray were limited in the workout.

Cornerback Aqib Talib (left hamstring) participated fully and is on schedule to start Sunday against the Bills. Wide receiver Wes Welker, who was given a day off by the coaches Wednesday, practiced fully Thursday.

Running backs Montee Ball (right groin) and Ronnie Hillman (left foot) did not practice and again worked off to the side with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have consistently said rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer is ready to participate in the team’s offense if they need him to.

Well, the Broncos may need him to be the team’s No. 4 wide receiver Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Emmanuel Sanders, who suffered a concussion in last Sunday's 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, did not participate in Thursday’s practice as he continues to be evaluated under the league’s concussion protocol.

Sanders viewed practiced dressed in sweats just like he did Wednesday. Under the protocol, he would have to be cleared by the Broncos medical staff as well as an independent physician, before he could return to practice even on a limited basis.

Broncos head coach John Fox said after Thursday's practice Sanders has been cleared to do some light conditioning work, which is the first step in the evaluation process to return to the field as the player undergoes cognitive testing.

"He's going through that phase of the program now, we’ll evaluate it again [Friday]," Fox said. "We're optimistic, we'll see what [Friday] brings."

The team’s second-leading receiver is still a significant question mark to play against the Dolphins. That means Latimer, who has played 16 snaps on offense this season, 14 of those in the win over the Oakland Raiders, may see some time in the offense when Peyton Manning is behind center.

Asked this week if Latimer would be ready to be in the rotation with the starters, Manning said: “Yes. I think he certainly has taken advantage of his time out here at practice and we ask a lot of questions of the guys that aren’t necessarily playing or even the practice squad, and try to keep those guys mentally involved ... I think Cody has done a good job studying and I know he certainly wants to be there. He’s a competitive guy and I think he’s improved throughout the season. I certainly think if his name and number was called, I think he’d go in there and answer the bell for us."

Tight end Julius Thomas, who suffered a left ankle sprain against the Rams, is also being evaluated. Thomas did stretch with the team at the start of practice, but he did not participate in the workout.

Running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) also did not participate Thursday. Ball and Hillman are not expected to practice this week or play in Sunday’s game.

Hillman could miss several additional weeks and Ball is expected to miss at least two to three weeks in his recovery.

Tight end Virgil Green, who has missed the past three games with a calf injury, did practice Thursday on a limited basis, while left tackle Ryan Clady (groin) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were also limited. Punter Britton Colquitt was sent home because of an illness and did not practice.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

November, 16, 2014

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.

What it means: The Broncos have slugged it out with all four NFC West teams, and they looked like a different team at home compared to on the road. At home, the Broncos overwhelmed the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers -- they outscored those two teams 83-37 -- but on the road the Broncos were outmuscled by the Seahawks in Week 3 and the Rams on Sunday. The Broncos are now 2-3 on the road, with their wins coming against a Jets team that had one win at the time the Broncos played them and a winless Raiders team.

Stock watch: There are times when the Broncos' defense looks exactly like a championship defense -- hard-nosed against the run, stingy against the pass and opportunistic all-around. But on a day when injuries carved out some issues on the Broncos' depth chart on the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos needed their defense to put, and keep, the Rams on their heels. Instead, the Rams played at their own pace -- St. Louis held the ball for 18 minutes, 46 seconds in the first half, 27:10 by the end of the third quarter -- and the Broncos never forced a momentum-snatching turnover.

Wait and see: The Broncos’ high-flying offense has plenty of impact players, but tight end Julius Thomas left Sunday’s game in the first quarter with an ankle injury and Emmanuel Sanders left in the third quarter with a concussion. That’s 19 touchdowns this season -- including Sanders’ against the Rams in the second quarter -- that will potentially be out of the lineup. Sanders is now under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol, so he will have to meet certain standards before he can return to practice. Thomas will be evaluated more -- including an expected MRI -- on Monday morning.

Game ball: With the Rams paying particular attention to Demaryius Thomas, and Julius Thomas out of the game with an ankle injury, Sanders continues to show he has No. 1 skills in this offense. Sanders had five receptions for 102 yards, including a 42-yard catch for a touchdown with 2:22 left in the first half. If Sanders misses time with his concussion, the Broncos are going to need rookie Cody Latimer to be ready to contribute and Andre Caldwell to produce in the team’s three-wide set.

What’s next: The Broncos’ continued issues in pass protection need to get ironed out. The Miami Dolphins, much like the Rams, can get in a quarterback’s wheelhouse and stay there. The Dolphins, after their win over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, have 30 sacks in 10 games, and Cameron Wake has 8.5 of those. Wake is quick off the ball and just the kind of second-effort rusher who has given the Broncos trouble this season.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have reached the halfway point of their season and one of the team’s prized rookies hasn’t seen any time in the team’s high-powered offense.

Wide receiver Cody Latimer, who was the Broncos' second-round draft pick in this past May’s NFL draft, has been active for three games this season, but has played just two snaps on offense -- both against the New England Patriots this past Sunday -- as he continues to battle through the growing pains in the Broncos' substantial playbook. For his part, Latimer has consistently said, “I’m just trying to study, get in my [playbook] and be ready for when the opportunity comes. I want to make plays that help us win games. Whatever that means, I’ll do it.’’

Overall, in the Broncos’ rookie class, the first-year players on defense have had an easier time cracking the lineup. Cornerback Bradley Roby and linebackers Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow have played 78, 14 and 5 percent of the team’s snaps on defense. Nelson and Barrow also have been regulars on special teams.

Offensively, the rookies have had a more difficult time in the Broncos’ no-huddle, audible-heavy attack. Tackle Michael Schofield has been a game-day inactive for eight of the Broncos games. Matt Paradis is on the Broncos’ practice squad.

In Latimer’s case, for a wide receiver, this is not your father’s offense and the receivers have a pile of choices to make both before and after the snap that have to match the decisions quarterback Peyton Manning makes in the pocket. If Manning throws to the spot where he expects the receiver to be, the receiver has to have made the right adjustment to get there.

“Any time you’re a rookie, it’s tough because most of these guys were the best player in their high school and, if not the best player in college, one of them,’’ said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “Anytime you come in and you’re not playing a lot, you’re inactive, you’re active, you’re not really involved in the offense, it’s that guy’s decision to shut it down or stay with it. He’s done a great job of staying in his book. He constantly is around me through the whole practice, asking me questions – ‘How would I do this?’ or ‘What’s the adjustment here?’’’

Since Wes Welker’s return from his suspension to open the season, there hasn’t been much room for a fourth receiver in the offense. Since Week 3, Andre Caldwell, who has been the No. 4 receiver on game day since Welker's return, has appeared for more than nine snaps on offense in just one game – 20 snaps against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Broncos still expect Latimer to contribute at some point in the season and believe he’s ready if an injury to one of the team’s other receivers forces him into the lineup. Overall, Gase said the most difficult thing in the offense for a young receiver is making adjustments to the route based on the coverage he sees.

Gase said Latimer is on a similar developmental path to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker when the two were Broncos’ rookies in 2010 and Gase was the team’s wide receivers coach in an offense that didn’t do nearly as many pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

“If you’re running a comeback and it’s Cover 2, you have a completely different route, whether it be a fade or you turn it into some kind of corner route," Gase said. "It’s a tough thing to adjust on the fly, and all of a sudden you release and they’re disguising it. … Things like that, it happens so fast. If you’re not used to doing that stuff, it takes some time to get used to … I had [Thomas] and Decker, and we didn’t get those guys going until late in the season. It’s not easy. It’s a tough position to learn.”

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

October, 15, 2014
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Aqib Talib returned the first pass he intercepted for the New England Patriots 54 yards for a touchdown.

Talib had to wait to repeat that feat with the Broncos -- he had an interception return for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs called back in Week 2 because of a penalty -- but his first official interception for the Broncos came with just 15 seconds remaining Sunday when he returned it 22 yards for a score.

"That's twice the first one went for a touchdown," Talib said. "In New England and now with Denver ... man, I want to add to the list."

So, with that in mind, after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos' defense and special teams:

  • [+] EnlargeAqib Talib
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounAqib Talib returned his first interception with the Broncos for a touchdown.
    In John Elway's first four drafts as the team's top football decision-maker the Broncos' first selection has been a defensive player. Von Miller, Sylvester Williams and Bradley Roby were first-round picks while Derek Wolfe was taken in the second round in 2012 after the Broncos had traded out of the opening round. Couple that with all of the free-agency capital the Broncos expended on the defense this past March, including Talib, and the Broncos are just beginning to enjoy the fruits of those labors. What it all means will have to wait, but when the Broncos lost in overtime in Seattle they were 30th in the league in yards allowed per game (390.7) and 16th in points allowed per game (22.3). After they had concluded their business against the Jets' struggling offense -- the Jets are near, or at, the bottom of the league in most significant passing categories -- the Broncos are now 4th in the league in yards allowed per game (318.2) and seventh in the league in scoring defense (20.8 points allowed per game). Granted playing the Cardinals No. 2, and then No. 3, quarterbacks didn't hurt their rankings and neither did Geno Smith's struggles. But it is the trend the Broncos both wanted, and needed, with a plan that has been several years in the making. Or as Elway has said "so we don't put Peyton in a position to have to do everything with the offense. We want the defense to have its own identity about how it plays."
  • The Broncos' current regime, especially Elway, has always liked the multi-taskers at linebacker, the guys with enough physicality to play along the line of scrimmage if they had to as well as the agility to play in the open in the team's specialty packages. And they're willing to go a little smaller behind their defensive tackles to get those players on the field. Enter seventh-round pick Corey Nelson, whose four years in what he called "a pro-style defense" at Oklahoma, has enabled him to move into the lineup. Nelson first caught the Broncos' eye enough to be kept on the 53-man roster after the preseason as the eighth linebacker. Then Nelson made a big enough impression on special teams to be used on defense, albeit for just two snaps against the Seattle Seahawks. But has done enough in practice since that when Danny Trevathan left Sunday's game on the second defensive snap it was Nelson, not Nate Irving, who came into the game as the second linebacker in the nickel, alongside Brandon Marshall. Nelson was credited with a team-leading seven tackles in the game and showed the ability to get off blocks and good instincts to the ball. "I feel like that's what they brought me in for—for my talents and abilities, that's what they wanted me to do," Nelson said. "So I was able to do it. But I definitely feel like that's a strength that I have, and that they're using." Nelson flashed as a productive pass-rusher in some situations at Oklahoma, especially in his sophomore season, so that is something else the Broncos could add to his to-do list in the coming weeks.
  • The Broncos, in large part, have kept rookie receiver Cody Latimer out of the game day lineup because wide receiver Andre Caldwell returns kickoffs and wide receiver Isaiah Burse returns punts. So, despite showing enough chops in the preseason to be legitimate deep threat as well as a matchup problem in the scoring zone, Latimer continues to take what can be a bumpy ride on the learning curve in the audible-heavy Broncos' offense. But in the big picture it's worth noting the Bronco are currently just 30th in kickoff returns (21.6 yards per return) with just four returns in their five games and 27th in punt returns at 5.2 yards per return. The Broncos are also one of just six teams in the league with at least 10 fair catches. After a shaky training camp on all fronts in the return game, the Broncos have made what they believe are the best, and safest, choices for their game day 46 without using a starter like Emmanuel Sanders or Wes Welker in the return game because of the threat of injury. But at least part of the price tag for all of it is Latimer without a uniform on game day.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When it comes to divvying out playing time in the Denver Broncos defense, Jack Del Rio believes in the more-the-merrier approach.

Or technically the more-the-engaged approach And “engaged’’ is a word Del Rio uses a lot when it comes to any discussion as far as who plays and how much for the Broncos.

“You earn your way,’’ Del Rio said. “That’s always the start, we tell all the guys earn your way, but I think we’ve shown in our time here, and we’ve been consistent in how we talk about it, how we do it, is if you earn your way, show us you can contribute something to what we’re doing, we’ll find a place for you.’’

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoCB Bradley Roby has been the most successful member of the Broncos' rookie class thus far.
That has certainly been the case for the Broncos rookies on defense in this season's early going. Part adjustment to injuries and part those first-year players carving out some room, the draft picks on defense have been in the rotation more than their offensive counterparts to this point.

The Broncos had a six-player draft class this past May, three players on defense, three on offense. Defensively, cornerback Bradley Roby (first round) was a defensive regular right from the start who has played at least 69 percent of the team’s snaps in all five of the Broncos’ games thus far.

The Broncos have used him in any and all situations, including matching him on the likes of Reggie Wayne and Larry Fitzgerald already this season. Roby had his first sack Sunday against the Jets and is one of the team leaders in passes defensed as quarterbacks have consistently elected to test him late in games.

With Danny Trevathan’s knee injury early in Sunday’s win over the New York Jets, linebacker Corey Nelson (seventh round) was moved into the Broncos’ nickel package and was certainly efficient. Nelson was credited with a team-leading seven tackles in the game in his 36 snaps of work.

Nelson, made his first appearance on defense in a two-play cameo against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 as the Broncos wanted to get more speed on the field to try to hem in Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

And linebacker Lamin Barrow (fifth round), who was ejected from Sunday’s game for throwing a post-play punch at a Jets player, was also used on defense against both the Seahawks (11 plays) and Arizona Cardinals (eight plays). Barrow also has been a special teams regular.

“We’ve got the depth to match personnel … we’re not scared to put anybody in this room in the game,’’ Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. “Guys get ready to play, they get in there, they play, man.’’

The depth of the Broncos playbook on offense, as well as quarterback Peyton Manning doing plenty of work at the line of scrimmage with a bevy of audibles run at no-huddle pace, has made it a little more difficult transition early on for the offensive rookies.

Wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round), who has consistently shown his potential in the team’s practices, has appeared in one game and been a gameday inactive four times. Tackle Michael Schofield (third round) has been a gameday inactive for all five of the Broncos’ games and center Matt Paradis (sixth round) is on team’s practice squad.

“I just know we will need every one of them before this is all over,’’ Broncos head coach John Fox said. “We have a lot of football in front of us, a lot of things can, and will happen. Those guys, like all our guys, show up and go to work and get themselves ready to play. Not everybody gets a uniform on gameday, that’s just the rules. But we like where all those guys are right now.’’