Denver Broncos: Joel Dreessen

Countdown to camp: Tight ends

July, 17, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When the Denver Broncos look at tight end Julius Thomas they see a player with phenomenal potential, a guy with plenty of upside remaining on his developmental curve who is at an extremely important place in his football career.

The roster says Thomas is entering his fourth NFL season, but in reality his first two seasons were largely cratered by an ankle injury he suffered on his first NFL catch. That essentially made his 65-catch, 12-touchdown season of 2013, when he pretty much became a matchup-nightmare-in-waiting for those trying to cover him, his real rookie season.

So, do the football math and there are plenty of folks inside the Broncos’ complex who believe Thomas should show the expected big jump a player usually has from his rookie season into Year 2 as he moves into this, his fourth season. And that would give an already high-powered offense a little more juice.

It also means the Broncos, who will likely have to use the franchise player tag on either Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas following the upcoming season, will need to get their checkbook ready. Because Jimmy Graham’s $40 million deal with the New Orleans Saints was not only good news for Graham, but for Julius Thomas as well because while Thomas isn't yet to Graham's place in the league, he's at least entered the short list right behind the New Orleans tight end's name.

So, as training camp approaches it’s all part of a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.

[+] EnlargeJulius Thomas
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsAfter recording 12 touchdowns in 2013, Julius Thomas is nearing elite status among NFL tight ends.
Today: Tight ends.

How many coming to camp: 7

How many will the Broncos keep: The Broncos kept four at the position as they exited the preseason in 2013 and would have kept four coming out of the preseason in 2012 as well, but Virgil Green opened the season serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. The Broncos carried four tight ends for much of that '12 season after Green returned.

The team kept three in 2011, but sported a far different offense at that point and carried a fullback on the roster.

The Broncos may eventually feel like they need an extra player at another position and that could dictate what happens here, as could any salary-cap ramifications of a new deal for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas -- the two sides are talking about a long-term pact. The Broncos currently carry two players at the position – Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen – with salary-cap figures of at least $3 million.

And Dreessen is coming off his second consecutive offseason when he required knee surgery. The versatile, hard-nosed Dreessen was held out of the team’s offseason work and remains a question mark headed into camp.

Ideally, the Broncos would likely still hope to have four on the roster for special-teams work as well as to fulfill their needs on offense, but Dreessen’s health impacts the decision.

Break it down: The Broncos ran their offense out of the three-wide set most of the time last season. But down the stretch they did line up in a two-tight end set 36 times (penalty snaps included) against the Titans on Dec. 8, 17 times against the Chargers on Dec. 12, 51 times against the Texans on Dec. 22 and 53 times against the Raiders in the regular-season finale.

However, some of that may have been to better protect quarterback Peyton Manning, who was sporting an ankle brace at that point. Once the postseason began, the Broncos were almost exclusively a three-wide offense – zero snaps of two tight ends against the Chargers in the divisional round and just 10 snaps with at least two tight ends against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Even with the additions of Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer at receiver, the Broncos figure to want a quality two-tight set at their disposal once again, especially against some of the more physical defensive fronts from the NFC West teams, in particular, that are on this year’s schedule.

It is also a formation that continues to be the one they can go to when they need to settle down a bit or hit the reset after a mistake. The Broncos are efficient in it and Thomas and Tamme give them the kind of athletes to make it look, and act, like a three-wide set, but with bigger players along the line of scrimmage and in the pattern.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever the Denver Broncos' chief decision-maker, John Elway, describes the developmental process, he will routinely offer "we don't draft All-Pros, we have to make them."

And over the course of the next week we'll take a glimpse at a few key players who are at various stages of the developmental process. Some have been named to the Pro Bowl, while others will be starters for the first time in the coming season.

But what they all have in common is more is expected of them than they could give, for a variety of reasons, in last season's run to the Super Bowl.

Today: Tight end Julius Thomas

[+] EnlargeJulius Thomas
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJulius Thomas averaged 64.4 plays per game in 2013, which could increase this season if the tight end improves as a blocker.
Thomas, who essentially recuperated for two seasons after suffering an ankle injury on his first NFL catch as a rookie, blossomed this past season into most everything the Broncos could have possibly hoped for during those arduous months of physical rehab.

This past season Thomas finished with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in the highest-scoring offense in league history. He repeatedly created mismatches as a receiver wherever he was in the formation. His touchdown total as well as yards per catch (12.1) put him behind only Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis at his position and in today's NFL that is elite company as a tight end. Thomas' catch total ranked tied for eighth among the league's tight ends in the epically balanced Broncos' attack, and his receiving yards were good for eighth too.

Elway has been clear he wants to find a way to get a long-term deal done with Thomas, even as the team tried to hammer out a long-term deal for Demaryius Thomas. Julius Thomas may be a candidate for the franchise player tag following the 2014 season, depending on what kind of work the team can do against the salary cap.

But the business of business will certainly come later. Right now the Broncos' coaching staff is interested in elevating Thomas' play a little more. Sometimes -- as Thomas shows his athleticism and fluidity in pass routes or when he's winning a contested pass because of an innate ability to get his body in the right spot -- it can be easy to forget Thomas played just one season of college football.

It can be easy to forget Thomas' first two years on the developmental curve as a pro were largely spent with the team's trainers as he worked his way back from ankle surgery. In short, he has room to grow, a thought not all that exciting to some defensive coordinators around the league.

Thomas' options as a receiver will only open up when the Broncos can use him more down in tight in the formation, lined up just outside the tackle. Many defensive coaches believe Thomas is still a weapon as a receiver when he starts his route down inside, but they believe it's easier to gauge what's coming because of the Broncos' reluctance to put Thomas in some situations as a potential blocker.

Look, nobody should want a receiver as gifted as Thomas to be some kind of lock-it-down blocker instead of running a pattern. But the more Thomas can function in a variety of roles, the more places the Broncos can put him and the more Thomas can do from an inside position, especially in the play-action passing game when the linebackers are headed toward the line of scrimmage.

But blocking, as you would expect from a four-year basketball player at Portland State, has been a hurdle for Thomas at times. One of the adjustments the Broncos made last season was to let Thomas line up with his right foot forward when he was on the outside shoulder of either tackle.

That angled Thomas toward the middle of the field, rather than with his right foot back when lined up to the right, as would be customary. It was a fairly significant concession to try to keep him on the field as he worked through his blocking issues. But when Thomas has lined up in a traditional stance to the right, he often took an extra step as he moved into a blocking position which would end up with him off balance and with the improper foot forward as he engaged the defender across from him.

Certainly the Broncos like their depth at tight end with Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen (even as Dreessen works back from knee troubles) and Virgil Green. But there is room for Thomas to get even more playing time if he can attack this part of his game with the same zeal he has everything else so far.

Thomas was one of the few young players the Broncos had who made it a point to attend the player-organized workouts the Broncos offense had shortly after Peyton Manning signed with the team in March of 2012. Thomas never wavered in his effort as he returned from his injury.

"I never really lost my confidence, I knew I had it in me if I just kept working at it and didn't lose sight of the goal, which was to get healthy and get back on the field to show what I could do," Thomas said.

But last season he played 74 percent of the Broncos' snaps on offense, a total that likely would have been higher had he not missed two games with a knee injury. He averaged 64.4 plays per game, just behind Eric Decker's 65.6 plays per game and ahead of Wes Welker's 59.2 plays per game.

But if the Broncos could get Julius Thomas into the same range as Demaryius Thomas, who led the team's pass-catchers with an average of 69.1 plays per game, the tight end could get about 75 more plays over the course of the season. The Broncos believe Julius Thomas is among the most productive tight ends in the league, but they also see an opportunity for him to get even better if they get creative and he does the work.
When he was behind center for the Denver Broncos, John Elway was a 30-something player, was one for quite some time in fact. He was a Super Bowl starter as a 37- and a 38-year-old as the Broncos won back-to-back titles in the final two years of his playing career.

So he knows the value a productive, respected, proven veteran player can bring to a team, on the field and in the locker room.

But as an executive charged with spending Pat Bowlen’s money wisely and keeping the Broncos relevant in the Super Bowl chase every season, Elway has been particular about handing out the team’s biggest checks in free agency to the over-30 crowd.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/James D. SmithJohn Elway on signing pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware: "We feel like he's got a lot of football ahead of him."
In fact, three trips into free agency in his current job, the list is essentially two -- Peyton Manning and now DeMarcus Ware -- and Elway is pretty clear on why he made them exceptions to the rule.

“I like to get Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders," Elway said.

In 2011, Elway’s first year in his role as the team’s chief football decision-maker, the Broncos only dabbled in free agency, sticking with short-term deals for the likes of Marcus Thomas, Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario.

In 2012, the Broncos dove in for Manning for a $96 million deal that included a pile of guaranteed money when Manning was ready to turn 36 following four neck surgeries. That has worked out with back-to-back 13-3 seasons and back-to-back division titles with some NFL single-season records tossed in.

The rest of the deals in 2012 were largely short-term, low-impact contracts. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen received three-year deals. Tamme turned 27 just after signing his deal, and Dreessen was 29 when he signed. The 30-and-over crowd of Keith Brooking, Jim Leonhard, Dan Koppen and Brandon Stokley received one-year deals.

Safety Mike Adams was 30 when he signed and received a two-year deal. Adams, however, had played in at least 15 games in five of the previous six seasons before arriving in Denver. The rest, players such as Shaun Phillips and Quentin Jammer, both 30 or older, received one-year deals without signing bonuses.

In 2013, the Broncos’ biggest contract in free agency (four years, $23.5 million) went to guard Louis Vasquez, who was 25 when he signed his deal and went on to be named All-Pro. Terrance Knighton received a two-year deal, as did Wes Welker.

This past week, the Broncos were one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, but they still largely stuck to the younger-is-better plan when the big money was in play. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward are 27 (Sanders turned 27 this week), and cornerback Aqib Talib is 28.

“It’s not [win] for now. We want young football players who are going to be here for a long time," Elway said. “... The age thing is big."

But in Ware, the Broncos saw a durable, high character player with 117 career sacks who has been a team captain and performed over the long haul. Ware, who soon will be 32, received a three-year, $30 million deal from the Broncos.

For that deal not to sting the salary cap, however, Ware simply has to play at least two of those seasons and be a major contributor. But the Broncos like that Ware’s preparation is unquestioned and that he has missed just three games in his career -- all in 2013.

“With 117 sacks, yeah, we feel like he’s got a lot of football ahead of him," Elway said. " ... We think he's going to perform at a high level, and with the way he practices, prepares and his knowledge of the game, he's going to help us on a lot of levels."

Elway the player made a career of taking risks with the ball and often turning those opportunities into history. Elway the executive has been more prudent -- a guy looking down the road, avoiding the franchise-crushing confines created by a we'll-worry-about-it-later approach to the salary cap.

“You have your wish list," Elway said. “We’re fortunate enough on our wish list we were able to X off a lot of guys on our wish list and [they] were able to come here. ... We want to plug in the right guys, the guys that make sense for us as an organization and guys who can be here and help us win for a long, long time."

Denver Broncos season wrap-up

February, 5, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 2
Preseason Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.

Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.

Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.

Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.

 

Jammer among Broncos' inactives

February, 2, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Denver Broncos inactives for Super Bowl XLVIII included at least one minor surprise when cornerback Quentin Jammer was one of the seven players who will not suit up for the game, according to the Broncos.

Jammer had played in some of the Broncos' specialty units down the stretch and the decision meant cornerback Marquice Cole, who was signed in the days leading up to the AFC Championship game, would be in uniform Sunday night.

The Broncos' other inactives are: quarterback Zac Dysert, running back Ronnie Hillman, tackle Vinston Painter, guard Chris Kuper, tight end Joel Dreessen and defensive tackle Sione Fua.

Fua has battled a calf injury for the last week.

Jacob Tamme rides out winds of change

December, 11, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Change, former Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith has often said, is "the only thing that stays the same" in the NFL.

Those who can't deal with that idea as they go about their football business "find themselves on the other side of the wall and they can't get back in."

There are those among this year's Broncos who have lived with change, wrestled with it, dealt with it, and still flourished with the team. A player such as Knowshon Moreno, who went from being a game-day inactive eight times in 2012 to the first choice at running back this season, is now on the doorstep of his first career 1,000-yard season.

Take a guy such as tight end Jacob Tamme.

[+] EnlargeJacob Tamme
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsWith Wes Welker out of the lineup, Jacob Tamme's role in the offense should grow.
"I'm just ready for whatever I'm asked to do," Tamme said. "It changes sometimes, it varies from time to time, so be prepared to do what's needed. That's kind of how I go about things, take care of what I need to take care of and not worry about the rest of it."

With Wes Welker ruled out for Thursday night's game against the San Diego Chargers due to a concussion -- his second concussion in the past four games -- Tamme figures to become a far bigger piece of the Broncos' puzzle on offense. It's a role Tamme had last season, before Welker was signed.

In 2012, when Tamme essentially worked out of the slot like a third wide receiver, he finished with 52 receptions, including a nine-catch day in a late-season win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After Welker joined the Broncos last March, Tamme's role in the offense went from regular contributor to spotty at best. Tamme didn't play more than 10 snaps on offense in any of the first 10 games of the season.

"You just prepare, do the work," Tamme said. "Something that's been a focus here from the beginning at the position, they want people who can do a lot of things at tight end. I feel like I can do a lot of different things, play in a lot of different spots."

But with Welker taking most of the snaps that were once Tamme's in the offense, Tamme simply went about the business of leading the team in special-teams tackles. He has nine, two more than special-teams captain David Bruton.

Tamme has played 285 plays on special teams through 13 games compared to 101 special-teams snaps all of last season. And on offense he has played 154 snaps so far this season (15.4 percent) compared to 528 plays on offense (46.2 percent) all of last season.

"You want guys on your team to understand it takes everybody, every day, to win," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "It's part of building a team, from staff, coaches and players, everybody has to participate and contribute. Sometimes that requires different things, sometimes it's more of one thing and less of another. If you don't work through that as a team, and keep moving, you're going to have a hard time being successful, I don't care what you're doing."

But it isn't like Tamme hasn't experienced this kind of ebb and flow before. During his time with the Indianapolis Colts he went from three catches in 2009 to 67 receptions in 2010 when Dallas Clark was injured. This season, the two tight ends the Broncos signed in free agency, Tamme and Joel Dreessen, have seen their playing time in the offense reduced, not only by Welker's arrival, but by tight end Julius Thomas' emergence.

In Thomas' most extensive playing time in his career -- he spent most of two seasons dealing with an ankle injury he suffered on his first NFL reception as a rookie -- he has 50 receptions to go with 11 touchdowns. Thomas' combination of size, speed and athleticism, to go with the trust Peyton Manning has in the third-year player in tight situations, has made him the go-to tight end in the lineup when the Broncos go to their third-wide-receiver look.

When Thomas missed two games with a right knee injury, Virgil Green got the starts and most of the work in Thomas' place against New England and Kansas City. But with Welker out things change. It figures to be Tamme in the lineup with Thomas much of the time and Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in the two wide receiver spots.

"[Tamme's] role has changed this year,'' Manning said. " … Obviously Julius has played well this year and Tamme hasn't had as much playing time, but he's had a great attitude. And when his number has been called he's come in there and been outstanding and has a chance to play more down the home stretch here and a real credit to him."

"He's a big part of the offense,'' said Demaryius Thomas. "I feel like you could spread Jacob out to any position because he has good speed, he's smart, he runs great routes and he knows every position on the field. So I think you can put him anywhere on the field to help the offense out and I think that helps us."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos liked what they saw of quarterback Peyton Manning over the past two days of practice, so much so they, as expected, formally listed Manning as probable for Sunday night’s matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Manning
But interim head coach Jack Del Rio said following Friday’s practice he would go one better than that.

“They don’t have a definite category on there, or I would check it off," Del Rio said. " ... He’s ready to go, and as a team we’re ready to go."

Manning had missed Wednesday’s practice because of a right ankle injury, but has said through the week he planned to start Sunday. He practiced without any issues both Thursday and Friday.

The news wasn’t quite as good for cornerback Champ Bailey, who has played in just two games this season because of a left foot injury he suffered in the preseason. Bailey did practice through the week on a limited basis, including in Friday’s workout, but was listed as doubtful for the game.

“And he is listed as doubtful, I believe, and it is doubtful that he’ll play," Del Rio said.

Linebacker Nate Irving (right shoulder) participated on Friday on a limited basis and was listed as questionable. Irving would likely have to improve over the next two days to play in Sunday’s game.

Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), who was held out of Wednesday’s practice, practiced both Thursday and Friday and is expected to play. Safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), who had been limited some this week, were full participants Friday and will play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos were back to full strength for Thursday's practice.

Manning
Quarterback Peyton Manning (right ankle), linebacker Nate Irving (right shoulder) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) all returned to the field after being held out of Wednesday’s workout. All three were formally listed as limited.

Manning and Dreessen are expected to play in Sunday’s game against Kansas City, while Irving is still a question mark. For his part Manning did plenty of work with the starters and showed no signs of mobility issues as he moved through drills.

“He looked pretty good,’’ Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said with a laugh. “He’s doing the things he needs to do.’’

Cornerback Champ Bailey (left foot) and safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle) also were listed as limited during the workout. Wide receiver Wes Welker, who had been limited in Wednesday’s practice because of an ankle injury, was a full participant Thursday and is expected to take his full allotment of work Sunday night.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan was excused from practice. He is expected back for Friday's practice and will play Sunday.

Broncos Irving, Dreessen don't practice

November, 13, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In addition to quarterback Peyton Manning (right ankle), Denver Broncos linebacker Nate Irving and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) were held out of Wednesday's practice.

Irving, who most often plays at strong-side linebacker in the Broncos' defense when Von Miller is moved to defensive end in some of the team's personnel groupings, injured his right shoulder on a touchdown run by the Chargers' Ryan Mathews Sunday. Irving did not participate Wednesday, but interim head coach Jack Del Rio has said he's hopeful Irving can return to practice on at least a limited basis at some point this week.

Dreessen had been limited last week as well -- he had two arthroscopic procedures on his knee before the regular season started -- but is expected to practice this week.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (left foot), who has played in just two games this season, also returned to practice for the first time since leaving the Broncos' Oct. 20 loss to the Colts. Bailey took part on a limited basis.

"Great to have Champ back ... we'll see how the week goes," Del Rio said.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle) and safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle) were also limited in the practice, but both are expected to play Sunday.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was held out of practice Friday and will miss his sixth game of the season Sunday in San Diego.

Bailey, who has worked with strength coaches during the week’s practices, is still recovering from a left foot injury he suffered in the preseason. He has played in just two games -- against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts -- this season. The Broncos are still hopeful he can return to practice next week and have a chance to play in the Nov. 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Denver.

The Broncos will play the Chiefs twice in a three-week span with the Broncos headed to Arrowhead Stadium for a Dec. 1 game.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle) and safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle), who were both held out of practice Wednesday, participated on Friday, though Ihenacho was limited and formally listed as questionable. Welker is expected to be able to take his full allotment of plays in the Broncos’ offense against the San Diego Chargers.

Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle), center Manny Ramirez (knee), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) and right tackle Orlando Franklin (ankle) all participated fully Friday and are expected to play Sunday.

Bailey, who suffered his original injury Aug. 17 against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason and re-aggravated it in the Broncos’ Oct. 20 loss in Indianapolis, has not played since leaving the Colts game in the second quarter.

“He’s a real pro, I think if there is any [frustration] he’s keeping it within,’’ said Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio. “He’s terrific leader, he’s out here doing everything he can do to get back as soon as possible.’’
DENVER -- There are times, when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning leaves his helmet on after he exits the field, when it’s pretty clear he had hoped to get clearance to go for it on fourth down.

When it’s clear he believed the time was right to roll the dice, take a chance.

Manning
But when the Broncos faced a fourth-and-3 in the second quarter of Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins, the ball was at the Redskins’ 43-yard line and the Broncos had a 7-0 lead. So, when Manning made the case, albeit briefly as he jogged to the sideline, Broncos coach John Fox still sent the punt team on.

However, when the Broncos faced a fourth-and-2 at the Redskins’ 20-yard line, trailing 21-7 in the third quarter having just seen two of their turnovers turned into two Washington touchdowns, now, that was a different story.

"Certainly as an offense, we like it," Manning said. "... I think there is a real motivation to please him and make it successful so you can do it again."

Manning sent running back Knowshon Moreno into the middle of the Redskins defense on a quick-hit play that gained five yards. Three plays later the Broncos had a touchdown and had cut Washington’s lead to 21-14 with an 11-play, 75-yard drive.

"At the end of the day it was a manageable distance," said Fox. "So, that’s why we elected to go for it."

The Broncos dialed it up again on their next possession. Having run 15 plays to move the ball 82 yards to the Redskins’ 1-yard line, the Broncos faced fourth-and-goal. The Broncos again elected to leave Manning and the offense on the field and were rewarded, again, this time with a 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Joel Dreessen out of the heaviest of formations that featured three tight ends to go with defensive tackle Mitch Unrein lined up out wide as a receiver.

"Mitch is always a threat out there," Manning said with a smile. "Never know how a defense is going to play him, whether they’re going to double him or not. It’s definitely good to throw a little wrinkle at the defense."

Dreessen's touchdown tied the game at 21-21 and the Broncos never looked back. In the end the Broncos scored 38 unanswered points, 31 of those in the fourth quarter.

“We put our defense in a tough spot with turnovers back to back," Manning said. " … Those first two drives after the first two turnovers and we were able to tie the game. That one to make it 21-14 was critical."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos may be forced to juggle their battered offensive line once again Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

Guard Chris Kuper, who was already in the starting lineup because right tackle Orlando Franklin was injured, missed his second consecutive day of practice Thursday because of an ankle injury. Kuper has had multiple surgeries on his ankle since he dislocated it in the 2011 regular-season finale.

For his part Franklin (ankle) was limited in Thursday’s practice after being held out of Wednesday’s practice. Kuper appears unlikely to play Sunday at this point and Franklin isn’t yet full speed, so the Broncos may have to put Winston Justice into the lineup for the first time this season.

Justice was signed when Ryan Clady was moved to injured reserve earlier this season. Should the Broncos put Justice in the lineup for Franklin they could move Louis Vasquez back to his right guard spot and give Justice help if needed with a few more two-tight-end looks.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) also did not practice Thursday and is not expected to play until some point after the Broncos’ bye week. Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring) were all limited in Thursday’s practice but all three are expected to play Sunday.

Defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin), linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), wide receiver Eric Decker (toe) and defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) all participated fully Thursday and all are expected to play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos gave several veteran players, including quarterback Peyton Manning, the day off in an effort to deal with some aches and pains in the wake of Sunday night’s loss in Indianapolis.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), guard Chris Kuper (ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (toe) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring) were held out of Wednesday’s practice. However, all are expected to practice as the week goes on and be available for Sunday’s game. Manning was held out with a minor ankle injury, but said following practice he would practice Thursday and be ready to start Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

“Just some of it is wear and tear of being almost halfway through an NFL season,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “Some of it is guys who are a little further along in their careers resting to make sure they’re ready to play on Sunday.’’

Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) and tackle Orlando Franklin (ankle) also were held out of Wednesday’s practice. Bailey won’t play against the Redskins; Franklin is still a major question mark for the game, but he did do some work with the team’s strength coaches Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck) were limited in the practice. Woodyard, who has missed the last two games, said he felt like he was progressing enough to play Sunday.

Broncos Rewind: Offense

October, 15, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In a season when they have largely kept the pedal to the metal and simply overwhelmed those in front of them with the league’s highest-scoring offense, the Denver Broncos found things a little more difficult than most expected this past Sunday.

But after a long look at the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, here are some thoughts on the Broncos' offense:
  • It can be camouflaged at times because of the impact the three wide receivers – Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker – have had this season, but people would be hard-pressed to scan the league’s rosters and find as good a collection of tight ends anywhere. And with all four of the Broncos' tight ends now back, healthy and circulating in the offensive game plan, the offense’s ability to find big plays down the field will improve as defenses have to deal more and more with the big guys in the pattern. The Broncos used all four tight ends – Julius Thomas, Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green – against the Jaguars, with Thomas having played all 74 plays the team had on offense. Dreessen checked in at 19 plays, Green had 15 and Tamme had nine plays. It gives the Broncos the option of playing both big and small within the same personnel grouping. A look with Tamme and Thomas is closer to a three-wide-receiver set, whereas if the Broncos simply want to pound they put Dreessen, Green and Thomas in the formation. They can still put Demaryius Thomas out wide in the three-tight-end set, and with Thomas there it gives them the ability to play a power look with two matchup dilemmas in the pattern in the two Thomases if they want to go with play-action and throw the ball. In the second half Sunday, especially in their two scoring drives after right tackle Orlando Franklin left the game with knee and ankle injuries, the Broncos consistently moved the ball with the group in the lineup.
  • It was just one play, but you have appreciate the texture of quality design from time to time. And when the Broncos were able to convert a third-and-20 on their first possession of Sunday’s game, it was because of what offensive coordinator Adam Gase and the rest of the offensive staff drew up worked just fine. Peyton Manning hit running back Knowshon Moreno with a short dump-off after Moreno had leaked out of the backfield a little late and the Jaguars rushers were already working their way upfield. In a three-wide look, the Broncos had also constructed the pass routes on the play to put the three receivers in position to block for Moreno once he had the ball. So, when Moreno made the catch, the three receivers, already clustered in the middle of the field, simply turned and blocked the defensive back on them in man coverage. The result? Moreno had a clear path to pick up an improbable first down because the Broncos' three wide receivers were willing to roll up their sleeves and block it up for somebody else. “I just caught it and it was open in front of me,’’ Moreno said. “It worked great, those guys just cleared it out.’’
  • Manning has made a Hall of Fame living on playing the percentages against the defenses in front of him because of his otherworldly preparation. But there are times the defense gets a win on a play because they have studied Manning as well. Manning’s interception just before halftime, which Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny returned 59 yards for a touchdown, was a result of Manning trying to jam a ball into a route that has resulted in a pile of big plays over the years, and the Jaguars floated Posluszny into the passing lane just in case Manning tried it. Manning was trying to hit Welker, who was sprinting out of the slot on the left side of the formation. Welker was already essentially doubled, with Jaguars cornerback Mike Harris with inside technique and safety Josh Evans closing on Welker’s outside shoulder. Double coverage, yes, but certainly the kind of pass Manning has fit into similar spaces hundreds of times. But knowing when, and where, on the field and against what look on defense Manning likes to make that throw, the Jaguars then floated Posluszny underneath. The ball was slightly underthrown – Manning called it a “total force’’ – and the interception followed.
  • In reality, the time to make those coveted halftime adjustments is severely limited. At least by the time any injured players get some brief treatment, any uniform issues taken care of and 53 players take care of assorted other things. But the Broncos are money in the offensive bank coming out after halftime thus far, as defenses routinely have given them the same looks they used in the first half. The Broncos have come out after halftime knowing what they want to do and have executed those plans with ruthless efficiency. In six games this season, their first possession of the second half has ended with a touchdown five times and with a field goal once. Sunday was no exception as they opened the second half in their three-wide look for the first six plays of what became a touchdown drive until they went to their heavy package -- three tight ends and two backs, with defensive tackle Mitch Unrein at fullback, from the Jacksonville 1-yard line. “You just get together and decide what could work,’’ Manning said.
  • The Broncos prefer Moreno as the running back in their three-wide-receiver look because of Moreno’s skills in pass protection, but that doesn’t mean they have stuck to the plan when Ronnie Hillman is in the formation. When Moreno has been the back in the three-wide set the Broncos have thrown a little more than 70 percent of the time. When Hillman is the back in the three-wide set the Broncos have thrown the ball 69 percent of the time.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 6

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
12:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A review of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 35-19 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars:

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsThe Denver Broncos could use the veteran experience of cornerback Champ Bailey, who returned to the secondary Sunday for the first time this season.
Air defenses: The Broncos got cornerback Champ Bailey back Sunday, and linebacker Von Miller, who returns next week, says he’s ready to be the impact player he was before his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse program. During their absences, opposing quarterbacks have found room to work in these pass-happy times. The Jaguars' Chad Henne had the fourth 300-yard passing game the Broncos have surrendered this season -- he’s 29th among league starters in passing yards. In the past two games, the Broncos have surrendered 809 passing yards and registered three interceptions. Last season, the Broncos did not surrender a 300-yard passing game until their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January, when Joe Flacco threw for 331 yards in the Ravens' win.

More pressure: To that end, the Broncos have to find a way to consistently pressure opposing passers. Miller should help if he has done the work he and those around him keep saying he’s done, but Malik Jackson had both Broncos sacks Sunday, and the two plays came during the same series in the third quarter. And that was against a battered Jaguars offensive line that has surrendered the fourth-most sacks in the league (22) after Sunday’s games.

Catch-and-run: With defenses consistently dropping at least seven players into coverage, including linebackers often sprinting away from the line of scrimmage at the snap, the Broncos have picked their spots and still found big plays. Quarterback Peyton Manning has been patient much of the time with at least 15 completions of 10 or fewer yards in each of the past five games and at least 18 completions of 10 or fewer yards in four of those games, including Sunday, when he had 19 completions of 10 or fewer yards against the Jaguars. Yet, the Broncos still lead the league with a gaudy 8.7 yards per pass attempt.

Power up: The Broncos again showed they can go big on offense, with two- and three-tight-end sets effectively moving the ball. After right tackle Orlando Franklin left the game in the third quarter, the Broncos used tight ends Julius Thomas, Joel Dreessen, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme in a variety of situations, including a pile of snaps on scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters. Thomas played all 74 snaps on offense against the Jaguars, while Dreessen played a season-high 19 snaps on offense, Green played 15 and Tamme nine. Using more of these sets may be something the Broncos give a long look at since Franklin is expected to miss several weeks.

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