Denver Broncos: Michael Huff

INDIANAPOLIS -- With the NFL's scouting combine now underway and free agency to follow on March 11, today marks the eighth installment of a series looking at where the Denver Broncos stand at each position group on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitments and where their needs are greatest.

Today: Defensive backs
Saturday: Specialists

There is no spot on the Broncos' depth chart that needs more attention or faces more potential turnover than the secondary.

The Broncos have six defensive backs who are in line for free agency, either as unrestricted or restricted free agents, and the team could be facing some kind of decision over Champ Bailey's future as well. So the Broncos may have to give the secondary a little more attention in the early part of the draft. And that's not something they've done that much over the past 25 years, especially in the first round.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Champ Bailey
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesWith Champ Bailey set to turn 36 before the season, the Broncos need an infusion of youth at cornerback.
The Broncos selected cornerbacks in the first round in back-to-back drafts in 2000 and 2001 -- Deltha O'Neal and Willie Middlebrooks, respectively -- and have not taken a cornerback in the opening round since. In the three drafts under John Elway's watch, the Broncos selected cornerback Kayvon Webster in the third round of the 2013 draft and Omar Bolden in the fourth round in 2012 -- Bolden has since moved to safety. The last safety the Broncos selected in the first round of the draft was Steve Atwater in 1989.

In a passing-first league, the Broncos have plenty of questions to answer when it comes to slowing down opposing quarterbacks.

The Alpha: It has, for the last decade, been Bailey. But he played in just five games during the 2013 regular season due to a foot injury, and he's now approaching his 36th birthday. Bailey has a $10 million salary-cap figure for the coming season, something the Broncos are expected to try to address in the coming weeks. After Bailey, Chris Harris Jr. has steadily evolved from undrafted rookie in 2011 to a leader in the secondary due to the competitiveness and toughness in his game.

Salary cap: Bailey leads the way in what is the final year of his current contract. Webster is the only other cornerback who finished the past season on the 53-man roster and is under contract for 2014. He has a $641,950 cap figure. At safety David Bruton leads the way at $1.65 million with Rahim Moore at $1.415 million, Quinton Carter at $758,750 and Bolden at $688,607.

Pending free agents: The list is long and full of regulars. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, safety Michael Huff and cornerback Quentin Jammer are all unrestricted free agents while Harris and cornerback Tony Carter are restricted free agents. Safety Duke Ihenacho is an exclusive rights free agent who can only negotiate with the Broncos.

Who could stay: The Broncos could make Rodgers-Cromartie some kind of offer. The Broncos also got more out of him than he showed in his time in Philadelphia, so they have enhanced Rodgers-Cromartie's potential in the open market as well.

They are expected to tender Harris, who is working his way back from recent ACL surgery, with enough attached compensation to chase any potential suitors away. The Broncos believe he will return from his injury to his former place in the lineup and that's significant since he plays in both the Broncos' base defense and all of the specialty packages.

Broncos head coach John Fox also said Thursday he expects safety Rahim Moore, who was on injured reserve with a lower leg injury for the last half of the regular seaosn and into the playoffs, to be set to return by training camp.

Who could go: They will have some competition for Rodgers-Cromartie that could affect their ability to bring him back. But they are expected to let Jammer, Adams and Huff test the market. Adams would be a consideration to return if he doesn't have a deal in place after the initial wave of free agency.

Adams started 23 regular-season games for the Broncos in the past two seasons, including seven in 2013. He's a quality player in the locker room and understands the team's scheme, but the team will look hard to add more speed and athleticism at the position.

What they like/want: Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is always willing to mix-and-match several personnel groupings to address what's happening across the line of scrimmage from his defense.

And he will have some new faces in the secondary in the coming season. The Broncos will need to have enough speed and athleticism in coverage to deal with the three-wide-receiver sets they'll face, but they will need options to play the run as well.

The schedule rotation means they will make the lap through the NFC West next season. Though they defended the run with effectiveness in the Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks -- one of the few things that went right -- they will likely have to play more run looks in 2014 to be in position to play for the title again. In 2013, they had just two games in the regular season -– wins over Washington and Tennessee -- where they were in their base defense for more snaps than they were in their specialty looks (five, six or seven defensive backs).

But overall, Broncos head coach John Fox, a secondary coach when he broke into the league on Hall of Famer Chuck Noll's staff, prefers coverage players with enough reach and size to match up with the bigger receivers in the league and some of the bigger cornerbacks on this draft board will get a long look.

Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): 5

It is the position of highest need on the roster. The Broncos have two cornerbacks under contract at the moment, one of those being Bailey, and four safeties.

Two of those safeties, Moore and Carter, were on injured reserve this past season. And Carter has played just three games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are always plans. Draft plans. Free agency plans. What-if plans.

And the Denver Broncos have certainly made their share of plans over the last year in an attempt to fill out a roster good enough to, as executive vice president of football operations John Elway routinely puts it, "win a world championship."

But sometimes things don't go according to plan. Somebody gets hurt, somebody gets suspended -- or in the case of linebacker Von Miller, both -- or somebody simply doesn't play as well as expected.

So that takes a course change here and there. With the Broncos set to open their postseason play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, here's a look at how some of their just-break-glass signings have gone so far and where those players figure to fit in the postseason.

DE Shaun Phillips: In the wake of the fax fiasco that resulted in Elvis Dumervil's release by the Broncos last March, the team felt Dwight Freeney and John Abraham had priced themselves out of the team's budget. So during the draft weekend the Broncos signed Phillips to a 1-year, $1 million deal, with incentives for sack totals that start at eight. Phillips played 770 snaps in the regular season (68.2 percent overall) and led the team in sacks with 10 but has had just one over last six games.

Jammer
CB Quentin Jammer: Jammer was originally signed May 30 and the Broncos intended to move him to safety to play him in some of their coverage packages. But that didn't go well and Jammer looked far more comfortable at cornerback, so the Broncos left him there. He's been a situational player, with 217 snaps (19.2 percent of the defensive plays). His playing time in the postseason could depend on how much the Broncos play Kayvon Webster with a cast on his surgically-repaired right thumb. If Webster is put back in the rotation, Jammer's potential playing time gets reduced.

LB Paris Lenon: The Broncos signed him Aug.20 when Stewart Bradley went to injured reserve. After bringing him in for a workout, the Broncos quickly saw the 36-year-old had kept himself in condition and they signed him with the hope that he could provide depth. But over the course of the season and as the Broncos have searched for answers on defense, he has been moved into the base defense at middle linebacker -- replacing a team captain in that role in Wesley Woodyard -- and has played at least 23 plays in each of the last four games. The Broncos need a big postseason from him because offenses figure to pound away at times against the Broncos to keep the ball out of the Peyton Manning's hands.

Huff
S Michael Huff: The Broncos signed the former first-round pick Nov. 19 to a 1-year, $840,000 deal ($49,412 each week on roster in regular season). He's played 40 snaps on defense, all in the last two games as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has begun to use him in some of the specialty packages, often lining him up at what is essentially a weak-side linebacker spot or using Huff along the line of scrimmage in the pass rush. With the number of open formations with three and four wide receivers the Broncos would figure to see in a multi-game postseason run, he figures to see more of those kinds of snaps.

DT Sione Fua: Signed a two-year deal with the Broncos after he had cleared waivers in November -- no signing bonus with $555,000 base salary this year, $645,000 in 2014 so it is essentially a one-year deal if the Broncos want to move on after the season. The Broncos like Fua's potential and he's played sparingly thus far -- 12 snaps overall with 10 of those coming against the Titans. Figures to have a difficult time getting in the rotation in the postseason unless there is an injury or the Broncos face a run-heavy offense.

DE Jeremy Mincey: The Broncos signed him Dec. 17 to help bolster things at end with the uncertainty around Derek Wolfe's return to the lineup -- Wolfe has practiced just twice since suffering what the team has called "seizure-like symptoms" on Nov. 29. Mincey, who played for Del Rio in Jacksonville, was moved into the lineup quickly, having played 60 snaps combined in the two games since he was signed. He figures to be in the mix in the postseason and will play in the base defense as well as some situational work.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos checked an awful lot of things off the to-do list in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.

They set some records, including the league’s single-season scoring mark at 606 points, put their 13th 30-point game of the year in the 34-14 victory and rested some starters along the way as they had largely earned the AFC’s top seed with a 31-0 halftime lead.

And after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the team’s defense and special teams:

• Jack Del Rio has made a habit of playing plenty of personnel groupings in his time as the Broncos' defensive coordinator. He says it helps players maximize whatever they can bring to the defense as well as keeps them engaged with the lure of at least some playing time always in front of them. But he has also consistently found roles for players the Broncos signed after they had been cast aside by others. Even on short notice.

The latest is former first-round pick Michael Huff. Huff has struggled at times in his career to live up to his lofty draft status -- seventh overall in 2006 by the Raiders -- and was released earlier this season by the Baltimore Ravens, who weren’t exactly loaded on the defensive depth chart at that time. The Broncos signed Huff on Nov. 19 and played him for two special teams snaps on Dec. 1.

Over the last two games, Del Rio has found a place for him in the defense. Huff has played in the nickel (five defensive backs), dime (six defensive backs) and when the Broncos go to their seven defensive-back look. Del Rio has played Huff deep at safety and played him as a weak-side linebacker. He’s also played Huff along the line of scrimmage in rush situations -- Huff ran down Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor on one of those snaps Sunday. Huff played 15 snaps in the Broncos’ win over Houston and then followed that with 25 snaps on Sunday against the Raiders. The Broncos were moving some people out of the game in the second half with a 31-0 halftime lead, but it does show Del Rio has found a niche for the veteran safety. And with Duke Ihenacho expected to be under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol for “a while’,’ as John Fox put it, Huff figures to be in the rotation plenty in the postseason as well.

• Raiders coach Dennis Allen was on John Fox’s staff with the Broncos when the Broncos launched the read-option on the NFL world as a predominant offensive set in 2011 with Tim Tebow at quarterback. So, you would think Allen would have known. But since the Broncos have consistently defended others’ attempts to run the offense, especially when it comes to limiting the rushing yards out of the quarterback position. Fox has routinely played something that looks far closer to a 3-4 look on defense with three down linemen and five-man fronts to hold the edges. The Broncos did so again Sunday and with the benefit of a big lead as well to mute the Raiders’ attempts to run the ball. Pryor finished with 49 yards rushing in the game and the Raiders ran for 64 yards overall. In the Sept. 24 meeting Pryor rushed for 36 of the Raiders’ 49 yards. Against the Redskins, the Broncos held Robert Griffin III to seven yards rushing on his five carries.

• Necessity has dictated the Broncos' desire for defensive end Robert Ayers to have a big part in the team's postseason plans after Von Miller. Ayers led all Broncos players with 44 snaps in Sunday’s win and it was the first time all season Ayers has led the defense in playing time. During Miller’s six-game suspension to open the season, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, played 70 snaps in the opener, 59 in Week 2 against the Giants and 42 against the Eagles in Week 4. The Broncos need Ayers to regain his early momentum when he had 4.5 sacks in the first five games. He had one after Miller returned to the lineup with Miller and Shaun Phillips getting the majority of the work in the rush positions. Beyond the lure of chasing a Super Bowl trip, the open market awaits Ayers at season’s end, a big postseason push would certainly help his cause.

• In what was a rare turn of events for what has been a difficult season at times, the Broncos defense did not play a snap on its own side of the 50-yard line in the first half of Sunday’s win. The Raiders never advanced the ball past their own 48-yard line in their six first-half possessions. The Raiders didn’t have a drive longer than 28 yards until the fourth quarter. They scored of two of their three possessions in the fourth quarter against some Broncos reserves.

• The Broncos special teams continue to find themselves a little wobbly on the doorstep to the postseason. Since the Week 7 loss in Indianapolis Trindon Holliday has muffed the ball on six returns, losing one of those. Over that span the Broncos have also surrendered a 108-yard kickoff return for a score to the Chiefs, from running back Knile Davis, a 95-yard kickoff return to the Titans' Leon Washington and a 51-yard punt return to the Texans' Keshawn Martin. And now add the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career to the list, on his 317th punt. Raiders' running back Jamize Olawale came untouched through the heart of the Broncos' formation for the first-quarter block. The Broncos defense held and the Raiders missed the field goal attempt that followed, but it was a quality design by the Raiders with an overload off the ball and it will be a surprise if an upcoming playoff opponent doesn’t try something similar.

It also continues a troubling trend for the Broncos, who have been consistently solid on those units in recent seasons. While they can't add signifciant help to the roster and injuries have taken their toll on the depth chart, they still have to find the assignment discipline they showed so often early on this season.

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
7:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos know what needs to be done to get everything they want heading into the postseason. They need to play the regular season to the end, they need to win in Oakland on Sunday and they certainly would like to stay as healthy as possible doing it.

If they accomplish all that, they will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and certainly will be one of the Super Bowl favorites.

And after a long look at the video from this past Sunday’s 37-13 win over Houston, here are some thoughts on the team’s defense and special teams:

    [+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
    Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsDenver's Champ Bailey had a strong showing this past Sunday as a slot cornerback.
  • In the search for something more on defense, as well as deal with their share of injuries on that side of the depth chart, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has tried plenty of people in plenty of jobs over the past 15 games, including three players in Paris Lenon, Michael Huff and Jeremy Mincey, who were signed off the street and are now in the rotation in a variety of situations. And Sunday Del Rio took a 12-time Pro Bowl selection at cornerback, who has played the vast majority of his snaps on the outside, and put Champ Bailey in the slot. The results were good for everybody, including Bailey, who has spent much of the season trying to come back from a foot injury he suffered in the preseason. The Broncos have put Bailey on a pitch count of sorts, and the win over the Texans was just the fourth time he had been in the lineup this season. Bailey has played out of the slot plenty in his career, but usually when asked to shadow a receiver no matter where the wideout lines up. This time he played inside with Chris Harris Jr. and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the two outside spots. “Champ hasn’t played in the slot a lot, at least since I’ve been here,’’ Harris Jr. said. “But he’s Champ Bailey.’’ In all Bailey played 35 snaps against the Texans and showed the fast-twitch reaction, anticipation and strength needed to play inside. And save for a cut on the bridge of his nose, he said he came though the game well. He also showed a little more top-end speed than he did in his last game -- Dec. 1 at Kansas City, a game he left at halftime -- when was asked to track Andre Johnson on a deep ball late in the game. “I like the role I was playing,’’ Bailey said. “I didn’t play every snap, which is probably smart at this point.’’ Against a bevy of three-wide receiver looks the Broncos would see in the postseason, it also gives the team some matchup options moving forward.

  • The Texans were consistently able to get Johnson into some favorable matchups against a Broncos defense adding players from well off the ball to the pass rush and dropping some others off the line into coverage. Lenon found himself tracking Johnson at one point in the second quarter and later in the game Johnson had linebacker Danny Trevathan in tow as well. Overall Johnson was able to find some room to work when the Texans elected to throw against the Broncos' base defense. Johnson had a 33-yard catch in the first quarter against the base look, an 18-yarder against the base look in the second quarter and dropped what would have been a touchdown pass against the Broncos’ base defense in the third quarter. The Broncos played much of the game without Von Miller in the base defense and had already adjusted the lineup once again when they started Duke Ihenacho at safety in the base. The Broncos had used Omar Bolden in that safety spot in the previous two games.

  • If the Broncos are going to find a way to pressure quarterbacks in Miller’s absence there are times when a three-man grouping of Shaun Phillips, Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers will have to make it happen. The Broncos used it plenty in some of their specialty packages Sunday, dropping eight players into coverage. The three consistently found ways to affect Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. The Broncos also rushed three on more snaps against the Texans than they have against any other opponent this season, using a three-man rush on 10 defensive snaps. The Texans did score their lone touchdown against a three-man rush, but the Broncos also had one of their biggest hits of the game when linebacker Nate Irving blasted Texans running back Dennis Johnson for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter when Schaub was trying to get the ball out. For the season the Broncos rushed three on three snaps against the Cowboys and got an interception on one, rushed three on one snap against Jacksonville and got a sack and rushed three on three snaps against the Titans and got a sack on one of them.

  • The Broncos' first responders on special teams haven't always making the available plays of late. Texans wide receiver Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return in Sunday’s game after escaping the first Broncos player to arrive, cornerback Tony Carter, and then ran by Irving, who over-pursued slightly. It was the third time in the past four games the Broncos have allowed a return of at least 51 yards, to go with the 108-yard kickoff return for a score by the Chiefs’ Knile Davis and a 95-yard kickoff return by the Titans’ Leon Washington.

  • Trindon Holliday muffed his sixth kick since the loss in Indianapolis (Oct. 20). And while Holliday has put in plenty of work catching the ball going back as far as offseason workouts, a look at each of those plays, including Sunday’s, does show a bit of a trend. Often when Holliday misplays a ball, it’s when he is drifting backward as he receives the ball. It can be a kick he didn’t expect to travel as far as it did or one he doesn’t locate quickly enough off the punter’s foot. But he is far more effective, and consistent, when he doesn't put himself in a position to have to open his hips and move backward to take the ball. But the Broncos could use his explosiveness in the return game and appear to again be of a mind to take away some of his return opportunities. Eric Decker was back on a punt return for a fair catch in the fourth quarter on the next Texans’ punt after Holliday had recovered his own bobble on the previous one.

It was 236 days ago when Joe Flacco threw that fateful, 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones, leading the Baltimore Ravens to a double-overtime playoff win at the Denver Broncos. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and the Broncos were left to think of what might have been. Flacco and the Ravens return to Denver's Sports Authority Stadium on Thursday night to kick off the 2013 season in a rematch of two of the top teams in the AFC.

The stakes are different, and so are the teams. Gone are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin from the Ravens. Baltimore is expected to have 10 different starters from the team that hoisted up the Lombardi trophy, and that doesn't include former Broncos defensive standout Elvis Dumervil, who is expected to play in passing situations.

The Broncos won't have Dumervil or Von Miller, who has been suspended for six games, rushing after Flacco this time. But Peyton Manning is back, along with the addition of Wes Welker to an already dangerous wide receiver group.

Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley discuss whether the opener will be a repeat of that memorable AFC divisional playoff game.

Hensley: Much has been made of the 50-foot Flacco banner hanging at the Broncos' stadium. Flacco has embraced the hate, saying it's not a bad thing for opposing fans to dislike you. The Ravens' focus, as it has been all offseason, has been to move forward. It's the start of a different era in many ways for the Ravens in their first game without Lewis and Reed. But it's easier to move forward when you're the ones sitting on top of the football world. How much will the "revenge factor" play into this game for the Broncos?

Legwold: Broncos coach John Fox, much like John Harbaugh with his "What's Important Now" mantra to leave the championship season behind, has tried to leave the past in the past. But questions about the kneel-down in the waning seconds despite Manning at quarterback and two timeouts in hand, as well as a third-and-7 running play late in the game, have trailed him all through the offseason. A lot of the Broncos players are willing to say memories of the playoff loss pushed them through the tedium of May and June. But over the past two weeks, they've stuck to the script -- that it's a new year, a new team -- but deep down they all know they let a potential Super Bowl trip, home-field advantage and a seven-point lead with less than a minute to play get away. And Dumervil's departure does add a little spice as well. How has Dumervil fit in and what kind of year do you think he'll have?

Hensley: Terrell Suggs has talked about Dumervil having the right mentality to play for the Ravens, and Harbaugh commented how Dumervil is already taking a leadership role. He really is a perfect fit for the Ravens on the field, too, where they have never had an elite pass-rusher to pair with Suggs. Over the past six seasons, Suggs has had only one teammate record more than seven sacks in a season. And being a pass-rusher is Dumervil's primary role. The Ravens will use Courtney Upshaw on early downs to set the edge against the run, which should keep Dumervil's legs fresh in pass-rushing situations. The Ravens have a familiarity with Dumervil because inside linebackers coach Don Martindale was Denver's defensive coordinator in 2010 and was Dumervil's position coach in 2009, when the linebacker-end led the NFL with 17 sacks. Baltimore is catching a break Thursday night with Dumervil now wearing purple and Miller serving his suspension. How are the Broncos going to generate a pass rush on Flacco?

[+] EnlargeElvis Dumervil
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyPass-rusher Elvis Dumervil was one of the Ravens' high-profile offseason acquisitions, and has become a leader on the field and off for Baltimore.
Legwold: That is the $380,687.50 question, which is how much of Miller's base salary he'll surrender during the six-game suspension. But without Miller (18.5 sacks in '12) and Dumervil (11.0 last season), the Broncos will mix and match on a variety of down-and-distances. Derek Wolfe is a key player, because of his ability to play inside and outside along the defensive line and still create matchup problems. Jack Del Rio believes Wolfe is ready to take an enormous step in his development, and among the defensive linemen only Dumervil played more snaps up front than Wolfe did as a rookie last year. The Broncos will ask Shaun Phillips, who they think has plenty left to give after 9.5 sacks for the struggling Chargers last season, to be a spot rusher. And Robert Ayers, who was a first-round pick in 2009, has always said he could put up the sack numbers if given the chance. He's played through four different coordinators -- Del Rio is his first to be on the job for two consecutive seasons -- but has just 6.5 career sacks. Now is his time. On Flacco, how has he dealt with all that comes with a Lombardi trophy and a nine-digit contract?

Hensley: The money and increased notoriety haven't really affected Flacco. If anything, he's become more vocal. There was a playful trash-talking exchange during training camp between Flacco and Suggs, who told his quarterback that the defense's "swag is on a thousand million." Flacco responded: "Then what's my swag at? I get paid more than you. A lot more!" What has really changed is the wide receiver group around Flacco. This unfamiliarity led to four interceptions in six quarters of work this preseason. His top two receivers from a year ago won't be there Thursday. Boldin was traded to San Francisco, and tight end Dennis Pitta is out indefinitely with a dislocated hip. They accounted for 36 receptions in the postseason, which was nearly half of Flacco's completions. That being said, it was Torrey Smith and Jones who did the most damage in the playoff game in Denver. The Ravens are hoping wide receiver Brandon Stokley can move the chains on third downs and tight end Ed Dickson (hamstring) can contribute in the season opener. There has to be more confidence in the Broncos' passing attack with Manning and his bunch of talented receivers.

Legwold: There is plenty of confidence in what the potential can be with Welker in the mix. The Broncos loved Stokley as a slot receiver, but Welker is younger and offers a bigger upside in terms of production. Welker will also have the best receivers to his outside shoulders in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, the best combo he's had since the Patriots decided they didn't want Randy Moss around any longer. The 229-pound Thomas and the 214-pound Decker make the Broncos a tough matchup for any secondary. In the preseason, teams simply backed off into coverage and took their chances they could allow the catch and make the tackle before too much damage was done. The pace, especially at altitude, is a little something new as well. The Broncos ran 49 plays, excluding penalties, in the first half alone against the Rams in the preseason. They won't always go that fast, but if they get the look they want from a defense, they'll put the pedal to the floor and not allow a substitution. The key issue will be protection: Left tackle Ryan Clady missed plenty of the preseason after offseason surgery, and Denver has surrendered pressure in the middle of the field at times. The three-wide look is what the Broncos want their base formation to be on offense, but they can't do it if they can't protect Manning. It has to be a strange thing for a Baltimore defense that has been the franchise's signature for so long to have so many changes.

Hensley: There were a lot of changes to the Ravens' defense, but there were necessary changes. The Ravens weren't a top-10 defense for the first time since 2002. This defense had slumped to No. 17 in the NFL. It's never easy to part ways with the likes of Lewis and Reed. But the Ravens aren't replacing two Hall of Fame players in their prime. Baltimore had to replace two aging players who weren't the same playmakers from a few years ago. The additions of Dumervil, defensive lineman Chris Canty, linebacker Daryl Smith and safety Michael Huff have made this a stronger and more athletic defense. The Ravens' defense is going to be significantly better in two areas: stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. The biggest concern, especially when you're starting two new safeties, is the communication in the secondary. One mistake there and Manning will burn you for a touchdown. How is the Broncos' secondary holding up this summer?

Legwold: The Broncos would feel better if Bailey felt better. Bailey did not practice Sunday or Monday because of a left foot injury he suffered in the preseason loss in Seattle and is still a major question mark for Thursday's game. Bailey has been on the field for practice, but has not participated in any of the drills. The end result means Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would likely line up much of the time in Bailey's left cornerback spot. Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the more athletic sidekicks the Broncos have had for Bailey since Bailey arrived in 2004. Chris Harris and Tony Carter, the player who gave Jones a free release off the line of scrimmage on the game-tying bomb last January, will play in the nickel and dime as well. But overall the Broncos kept 11 defensive backs -- six corners, five safeties -- and can mix and match for almost every situation. They have flexibility and use it, so every defensive back in uniform Thursday night could see some action in the defense.

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