Denver Broncos: Omar Bolden

If things were like they have been in recent years, the Denver Broncos would have wrapped up their 2014 draft last weekend.

But things are not that way, and in the NFL’s attempt to invade every page on the calendar, the Broncos are only in the homestretch of their preparation for the May 8-10 draft.

The Broncos are slated to pick 31st in the opening round. Their current regime of decision-makers, chiefly John Elway, has looked to trade out of that spot in the previous three drafts. But it all depends on how things go above that pick.

Often the thinking is to trade out of the lower end of the first round, get an extra pick or two and take a similarly graded player in the upper half of the second round. This draft, in particular, is considered deep throughout, so there are plenty of teams already looking to move in the opening round.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Paul SancyaWhile it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of draft day, John Elway and the rest of the Broncos' decision-makers would be better off exercising patience and waiting for a quality player to fall.
Sitting among the last eight picks of the opening round, Elway has lived in both schools of the stay-or-trade thought in the previous two drafts and ended up selecting players in the same position group each time -- defensive line.

In 2012, the Broncos made two trades to get all the way out of the first round. They initially moved from No. 25 to No. 31 in a trade with New England and picked up an extra fourth-rounder along the way. The Patriots selected Dont'a Hightower with the 25th pick, and he has started 27 games over the past two seasons, including a 97-tackle year in ’13.

The Broncos then torpedoed the local draft party scene when they traded that No. 31 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the fourth-rounder they got in the Patriots trade, for the No. 36 and No. 101 picks.

The Buccaneers took running back Doug Martin, who the Broncos also liked in the weeks leading up to that draft. When Martin plowed his way to 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, the trade looked fairly lopsided against the Broncos right out of the gate.

But in reality, the jury is still out with the major players each recovering from a stint on injured reserve. The Broncos selected Derek Wolfe at No. 36 that year. As a rookie, Wolfe had the look of a longtime starter. Last year at this time, many with the Broncos, including some of his teammates, were saying Wolfe had both the look and demeanor of a future captain.

Martin tore the labrum in his left shoulder last season -- rushing for 456 yards in six games before the injury -- and had surgery to repair it. Wolfe ended up on injured reserve after seizure-like symptoms on the team’s bus just before a late November road trip.

With the 101st pick in 2012, the Broncos selected Omar Bolden. He has already been moved from cornerback to safety and is still looking to find his niche in the defense.

Last year, with the No. 28 pick, the Broncos dabbled with the idea of making a move but in the end stayed put and selected defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He was a starter down the stretch as a rookie last season after Kevin Vickerson’s injury, and the Broncos see Williams as a potential impact player in the defensive line rotation this season.

In the end, many of the better personnel executives in the league -- the ones more proficient in the draft -- believe patience is indeed a draft virtue at the bottom of the opening round. They believe staying put, trusting their board and picking the guy they want will reap the best rewards. They don’t let the desire to get extra picks overshadow the ability to get a premium player.

Teams will make mistakes above you. A reach or two will be taken as the runs happen at one position or another. Some rush to fill needs they fear they won't find later. The result is often a highly graded player falling.

The Baltimore Ravens may have lived this life, with general manager Ozzie Newsome, better than most.

They selected linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26 in the 1996 draft -- side note: they selected Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at No. 4 that year, so the team’s first-round effort will have a nice slice of Canton in a few more years -- and picked tight end Todd Heap at No. 31 in 2001, safety Ed Reed at No. 24 in ’02, guard Ben Grubbs (one Pro Bowl) at No. 29 in '07 and safety Matt Elam (15 starts as a rookie in ’13) at No. 31 last year.

At the moment, the Broncos have seven picks in this draft, one in each round. The depth of the draft board would suggest their best play is sit, stay at 31 and take the highest-graded player on their board as the first round winds down.

Because that player is often one somebody else should, and could, have taken sooner.

Broncos draft rewind: 2012

April, 12, 2014
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As the guy at the top of the football flow chart for the Denver Broncos for the last three seasons, John Elway has now overseen three drafts for the team.

The Broncos have made 23 picks in that time, found seven full-time starters -- with more expected to be added if things go as planned in May.

Let's go inside each of those three drafts to see how things have gone and where they are headed.

Today: 2012.

First pick: Derek Wolfe. The Broncos traded down twice before selecting Wolfe in the second round -- 36th overall. Wolfe then had a productive rookie year as a starter who played at both defensive end and defensive tackle with almost equal effectiveness. And during last spring's offseason there was talk Wolfe, in both word and deed, had the look of a future team captain.

But then he struggled at times early in the season after a neck injury in the preseason loss in Seattle -- he was taken from the field by ambulance. Then in late November Wolfe collapsed on the team bus with seizure-like symptoms and missed the remainder of the year.

He lost some weight as he spent weeks with doctors who tried to find the source of the issues. The Broncos briefly tried to put him back on the practice field on Christmas Day, but elected to shut Wolfe down after that workout. Broncos head coach John Fox has said multiple times in this offseason Wolfe is on track to try to re-gain his starting job in the defense.

Starters: 1.

This draft class has has consistently led to questions about the team's approach and the lack of current starters. Linebacker Danny Trevathan (seventh round) is the only full-time starter among the seven picks at the moment.

Again, Wolfe is set to return to the starting lineup in the coming weeks and months. Defensive tackle/end Malik Jackson (fifth round) also has a prominent role in the line rotation and his playing time will only increase if he has another quality offseason. But Trevathan is the only pick from the draft who finished last season as an every-down player.

Best value pick: Trevathan. The Broncos -- for many of the same reasons they signed Wesley Woodyard as an undrafted and undersized linebacker out of Kentucky in 2008 -- selected Trevathan out of Kentucky.

Trevathan had led the Southeastern Conference in tackles and consistently displayed versatility and athleticism in his play. All he did last season was become the defense's most consistent player. He led the team in total tackles (124), solo tackles (84), tied for the team lead in interceptions (three) and knocked down 10 passes.

Now's the time: Running back Ronnie Hillman (third round) was handed the starting job when the Broncos opened their offseason work last spring and summer. He did not keep it.

And not only did he not keep it, he didn't handle the bump down the depth chart nearly as well as Knowshon Moreno had the year before in Hillman's rookie year. There are those with the team who believe Hillman showed some immaturity -- some to be expected from one of the youngest players on the '12 draft board with just two years in major college football -- and sulked a bit as the 2013 season wore on.

He was inactive on game days five times, did not play a snap in another game he was in uniform, and had an additional game he played in, but didn't get a carry. In all he carried the ball 55 times last season, or roughly at least 100 fewer times than the Broncos had hoped.

With the Broncos expected to take a look at the bigger backs available in this draft and with Montee Ball already penciled in as the starter, Hillman is in danger of finding out how quickly the NFL window closes for some.

He is still the big-play option in the backfield for the Broncos, but can't show that if he doesn't convince them he should be in the lineup.

Gone: C Philip Blake (fourth round). The Broncos tried him both at center and guard and he always seemed to be one of those players the personnel department thought more of than the coaching staff.

He never played his way into a serious consideration for playing time and they cut him last August. Blake is currently on the Arizona Cardinals roster.

More to come?: Ultimately, the player who will carry the signature of this class was their second pick in the second round: quarterback Brock Osweiler. He is Elway's hand-picked successor for Peyton Manning.

Osweiler is a big-framed (6-foot-8, 240 pounds), strong-armed passer. But what the Broncos, including Elway, liked about him most before that draft was his combination of confidence and work ethic. It takes work to play along side Manning and not every teammate, especially those who are his backup quarterbacks, are up for the pedal-to-the-metal intensity.

But Osweiler is a mentally tough guy who the team's veteran players say has commanded the huddle when he's had the chance in both practice and games. Sure, that's a long way from following a future Hall of Famer, but the Broncos still believe Osweiler is that guy.

It's why his age factored into the selection as well. He was just 21 when the 2012 draft rolled around, giving the team a buffer as compared to some of the other passers on the board that year.

It means Osweiler is set to enter his third season studying the game with one of the league's greatest-ever thinkers and Osweiler is still just 23.

Also, the Broncos, having moved Omar Bolden (fourth round) to safety, from cornerback, continue to hope he can find his way into some of their specialty packages. They drafted Bolden after he tore an ACL in his final season at Arizona State and moved him to safety last season, looking for more athleticism at the position in coverage looks.
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.

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

December, 15, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a span of five days, the Broncos went from the AFC's top seed with a dominant win over the Tennessee Titans to a loss to the San Diego Chargers this past Thursday night that knocked them out of the inside lane for the No. 1 seed and added a question mark or two along the way.

The Broncos didn't handle their short week, prime-time appearance very well, with a one-dimensional look on offense that featured miniscule work in the run game to go with another tough night for a beleaguered defense still looking for answers.

And after a long look at the video from Thursday night's loss, here are some thoughts on the team's defense and special teams:
  • Broncos rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster has taken plenty of heat for his work in the loss and some of it is deserved as part of the growing pains that come with the position for first-year players. His technique is spotty at times, particularly when he tries to press a receiver as he often surrenders too much room to the inside or outside, depending on his positioning. If he's going to line up tight, he can't give the receiver an escape route. But Webster was also a victim of Philip Rivers' accuracy. Rivers' 14-yard completion to Vincent Brown in the first quarter, the 12-yard completion to Eddie Royal in the second quarter, the 10-yard touchdown throw to Keenan Allen in the second quarter, and the 32-yard completion to Brown in the third all had plenty in common. First, Rivers hammered away at the rookie as veteran quarterbacks will do -- i.e. Manning, Peyton on Cooper, Marcus. Second, Webster's positioning has him in tight on many of the completions, the ball was simply in the best spot. On the touchdown to Allen – the non-hurdling touchdown for the Chargers rookie – Webster even, as defensive backs coaches say, has his hand “in the pocket'' in between Allen's hands. But Allen won the battle for the ball with quality hand strength. Yes, the rookie has some rough edges and yes any quarterbacks the Broncos see in the postseason will have more than enough ability to come after him again. But he's a prospect with potential who kept playing with a fractured thumb who didn't fare as badly as some Twitter rants would seem to indicate.
  • The bigger concern for the Broncos is what to do in their specialty looks on defense. They consistently rush the passer well out of their nickel and dime packages as well as a seven-defensive back look because of the variety of fronts they present and the variety of places in the formation the rushers can come from. But to make it work, they have to hold up in the secondary. And opposing quarterbacks have started to single out the safeties in coverage in those looks, especially if they can get the matchup they want on Duke Ihenacho. Rivers went after Ihenacho plenty, especially if the Chargers were able to get tight end Antonio Gates or tight end Ladarius Green singled up with room to work. Ihenacho took a pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter when he grabbed Green's jersey as Ihenacho trailed the play. Gates had a 14-yard catch in the first quarter to go with a 9-yarder in the third quarter to convert a third-and-6 with Ihenacho in tow. The Broncos have taken Ihenacho out of the base defense already, but when he joins the specialty looks, now the dime (six defensive backs) or the seven-defensive back looks, quarterbacks have located him quickly.
  • The Chargers made plenty of room to run against some of the Broncos' specialty looks as well. On back-to-back plays in the third quarter, the Chargers got bigger-on-smaller matchups to win the play. On a second-and-6 play, with the Broncos in their nickel (five defensive backs) that includes three linebackers as well, Chargers rookie tackle D.J. Fluker went to the second level and plowed over linebacker Danny Trevathan as Danny Woodhead had an 8-yard gain. On the following play, with the Broncos in the same personnel grouping, Denver lined up Shaun Phillips and Von Miller as stand-up linebackers to the defensive right and left respectively around three down defensive linemen. Cornerback Chris Harris was lined up behind Miller a bit because the Chargers did not have a slot receiver in the formation, but had two tight ends to Miller's and Harris' side. As the play flowed to the defensive right, Miller missed a tackle after he couldn't shed the block as he's was being shoved by Chargers tight end John Phillips, Harris was kicked out of the play and center Nick Hardwick was well down the field to pick up safety Omar Bolden. The result was a 23-yard run by Ryan Mathews.
  • The Broncos weren't able to consistently get the stops they needed when the Chargers had a short field. In the second quarter, when the Broncos' offense put up three consecutive three-and-outs, the Chargers got the ball on the San Diego 45-yard line and the Broncos' 43-yard line after the second and third of those three-and-outs. The Broncos forced a punt when San Diego got the ball on the 45, but didn't fare as well when San Diego took over on the Broncos' 43. The Chargers' drove seven plays for a touchdown.
  • The Broncos had some issues with the comeback-crushing penalty on linebacker Nate Irving on a punt in the fourth quarter. The Broncos, trailing 24-10, appeared to have forced a punt with the Chargers facing a fourth-and-4 with 8:28 to play in the third quarter. Chargers punter Mike Scifres was set to punt from his own end zone and the Broncos were set to get the kind of field position they had not had for much of the night. Instead, Irving was called for a neutral-zone infraction that gave the Chargers a first down. San Diego went on to hold the ball for almost seven more minutes before the Broncos forced another punt, seven minutes that would have come in handy in what turned out to be a seven-point loss. The Broncos believe long-snapper Mike Windt picked up the ball and set it back down before picking it up again to snap. Irving jumped at the first movement. The video confirmed Windt did pick the ball up -- he picked it up slightly and tapped the nose of the ball on the ground before he set it back down to pick it up again to snap. In the end Irving was likely drawn off by the first movement, which by the letter of the law isn't allowed, but the penalty is still inexcusable in that situation, even if the Broncos were set to rush Scifres hard to try to get the block.
  • The Broncos' special-teams units were among the league's most productive and disciplined in the early going this season. And Matt Prater's 64-yard field goal against the Titans was a league record. But like Irving's penalty, the group was undone late by fundamentals. Recovering an onside kick is difficult enough these days with recent rules changes to take away the re-dos as well as prevent over-loading one side of the formation. But in the final seconds Thursday, the Broncos didn't even give themselves a last-chance gasp because Prater's attempt didn't go the required 10 yards.
Phillip Rivers, Peyton ManningGetty ImagesExpect a high-scoring AFC West fight when Philip Rivers' Chargers take on Peyton Manning's Broncos.
For the second time in six weeks, the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos will square off, with each team working through its postseason checklist.

The Broncos (11-2) want the division title and the AFC's top seed. Due to a loss to New England last month, they will likely have to win out to get both, unless the Patriots stumble down the stretch. The Chargers (6-7) know the time is now if they are going to snag an AFC wild-card spot, so much so that Jarret Johnson called Thursday night's game "a playoff scenario for us."

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at Thursday night's game.

Legwold: Eric, former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels once called the Chargers the "measuring stick" of the division, but the Broncos are 4-1 against San Diego since John Fox replaced McDaniels and 3-0 since Peyton Manning became Denver's quarterback. How is former Broncos coach Mike McCoy framing this one, especially with the Chargers clinging to at least some postseason hopes?

Williams: McCoy has done a good job of making sure his players are staying in the now and not looking too far ahead. But with their postseason aspirations on life support, San Diego players view the trip to Denver as a playoff game. Defensively, the Chargers are frustrated with how sloppily they played against Manning in Week 10, giving up several big plays in the passing game. San Diego's secondary has played much better in the past two games, allowing just two touchdown passes. So the Chargers are looking to redeem themselves on Thursday.

Wes Welker will miss Thursday's contest due to lingering concussion symptoms. How will Denver replace his production?

Legwold: Even in the Broncos' ultrabalanced attack in the passing game, Welker will certainly be missed given he's second on the team in targets (111), receptions (73) and touchdown catches (10). But how the Broncos deal with that should look familiar to McCoy because the Broncos figure to field a lineup similar to the one McCoy called plays for here last season. The Broncos will move to a two-tight end look with Jacob Tamme working out of the slot. Tamme caught 52 passes last season, with the majority of those receptions coming when he was lined up as a slot receiver. It was a job he did well enough that Manning called him one of the most important players in the offense last season. Manning has confidence in Tamme -- they played together in Indianapolis -- and Manning threw to Tamme this past weekend in many of the situations where Manning usually throws to Welker.

The Chargers' secondary had a quality day against the Giants this past Sunday. How do you think they'll line up against the Broncos?

Williams: Cornerback Derek Cox was replaced by eight-year veteran Richard Marshall in the starting lineup two weeks ago, bringing stability to the back end defensively. San Diego has given up 20 passing touchdowns this season, but just two touchdown passes in the past two games. The Chargers had just four interceptions through the first nine games, but have hauled in five picks in the past four. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said his defensive teammates just made too many silly mistakes against the Broncos earlier this season, and that they need to make Manning work for Denver's touchdowns by playing sound fundamental defense with multiple looks up front.

How has Broncos coach John Fox made the transition back to the sideline after heart surgery?

Legwold: Fox had surgery to repair a condition that was diagnosed during his time with the New York Giants in the late '90s, so he knew the surgery was coming at some point. He has also lived with the difficulties a faulty aortic valve brought on. He says he now feels better than he has in 20 years. Doctors cleared him to return to work the Monday before the Titans game and he worked through the week without any difficulties. He coached from the sideline during the game this past Sunday and was on the field last week even though the team practiced outside in below-zero temperatures for three days.

Manning is five touchdowns away from tying the NFL single-season record, but Philip Rivers has two three-touchdown days over the past three games. Do the Chargers feel like they left some points on the field the last time these two teams met?

Williams: Yes, that's certainly the case. Rivers mentioned this week during his conversation with reporters here in San Diego that even though the Chargers had the ball for more than 38 minutes the last time these two teams played, the Chargers scored only 20 points. Rivers understands that can't happen again on the road at Denver. The Chargers seem to have a better plan for how they will attack teams when they get into the red zone. Running back Ryan Mathews has emerged as more of a focal point of the offense when they get near the end zone. Mathews has scored four touchdowns in San Diego's past seven games.

While Denver's offense purrs, the defense continues to sputter. What has Fox done to change his fortunes on that side of the ball?

Legwold: The Broncos have surrendered at least 17 points in every game this season and four times they have trailed by at least 11 points in games they eventually went on to win. They have certainly missed cornerback Champ Bailey, who has played in just three games this season, and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, one of their best run defenders up front who is now on injured reserve. Fox juggled things some this past weekend when he essentially benched linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a team captain, in the base 4-3 look, playing veteran Paris Lenon there instead. Fox also switched out Duke Ihenacho at safety, putting in Omar Bolden instead. Woodyard will still play the specialty packages, but the Broncos have juggled things in the base. Von Miller has had a dominant half against the Patriots and a dominant half against the Titans, but the Broncos are still waiting to see the impact player he can be for an entire game. The last time they played the Chargers, they were in the nickel most of time -- 42 snaps in all to go with 11 in the dime. They are far more consistent in those looks and have struggled more against teams that make them play out of their base defense.

Power Rankings: No. 2 Denver Broncos

December, 10, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Broncos’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 3 | Last week: 2 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Denver Broncos are one of two 11-win teams in the league, they have scored a league-high 515 points -- 158 more points than the next-highest team -- they are coming off their third 50-point game of the season (the first team to have three in the same year since the '69 Minnesota Vikings) and they still remain at No. 2 in ESPN.com's Power Rankings this week.

The Broncos also kept their grip on an AFC West title and currently have the No. 1 seed in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC after a 51-28 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

It was quarterback Peyton Manning's seventh game of the season with at least four touchdown passes, and he wasn't sacked and did not throw an interception in the game. And with kickoff temperature at 18 degrees, it gave Manning a tidy little forum to show he can throw in the cold.

The most pressing question in the big picture for the Broncos, and likely the question that kept them at No. 2 this week behind the Seattle Seahawks, who lost at San Francisco on Sunday, comes with their defense. The defense has surrendered at least 17 points in every game this season, and is 25th in points allowed per game (26.5) and 29th in passing yards allowed per game (274.3).

The Broncos have juggled the lineup some on defense, moving veteran linebacker Paris Lenon into the mix as well as second-year defensive back Omar Bolden at safety as they search for some answers on that side of the ball.

Or as coach John Fox put it earlier this week: "We're not satisfied at this point. There's room for improvement and I'm not ashamed to say it."

Woodyard, Ihenacho caught in shuffle

December, 9, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- They are already the highest-scoring team in the franchise’s history, are in the top spot in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC, but that doesn’t mean the Denver Broncos aren’t still searching for answers on a defense that hasn't yet found a groove to match the team's record-setting offense.

And in Sunday’s win against the Tennessee Titans, that meant dialing back one of the team captains in linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard and safety Duke Ihenacho were nudged down the depth chart a bit as Paris Lenon started at middle linebacker in Woodyard’s place and Omar Bolden played much of the day in what had previously been Ihenacho’s strong safety spot.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesBroncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, 52, has seen his snaps decrease as the team gives more playing time to veteran Paris Lenon.
The issue is the Broncos continue to surrender too many points for anyone’s liking at their Dove Valley complex as the postseason approaches. They have surrendered at least 17 points in every game this season, and are 26th in the league in scoring defense (26.5 points allowed per game), 25th in total yards allowed per game and 29th in passing yards allowed per game.

“I thought we put some guys and plugged them in,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox on Monday. “ … Paris Lenon, again he’s a veteran guy and he’s played a lot of football, and we haven’t given him a lot of opportunities. Some of this is giving guys opportunities to see what they can do. We try to get better every day and every week as we move closer to the end of the season. I think it just helps us. Our agenda is to get better every day, that’s what we’re trying to do.’’

After he missed two games with a neck injury (a stinger) he suffered in the win in Dallas, Woodyard returned to play 71, 71, 78 and 87 plays in the next four games, respectively. Some with the team believed the injury was affecting Woodyard’s play to some degree, and already undersized at middle linebacker at 233 pounds, the Broncos have tried to regulate his snap counts. Woodyard had been moved from his more natural weakside linebacker spot into the middle earlier this season when neither Stewart Bradley nor Nate Irving were able to keep the job.

Woodyard played 49 of 72 defensive snaps against the Chiefs two weeks ago and played just 10 snaps on defense Sunday to go with 18 plays on special teams. The team put Lenon into the base 4-3 defense for the most part, and he was in the middle for 23 plays against the Titans, finishing with three tackles. Lenon is slightly bigger (240 pounds) than Woodyard and has far more experience at the middle linebacker spot in his previous 11 seasons in the league.

Some of it could have been in the matchup as well, as the Titans run far more two-back and two-tight-end looks -- often at the same time -- than many teams do. Even if the Broncos wanted to keep Lenon in the middle in the base defense, Woodyard will still play plenty when the Broncos are in their specialty packages with Woodyard and Danny Trevathan as the two linebackers.

“Wesley Woodyard is a great player for us and he’s done a tremendous job,’’ Fox said. “Wesley Woodyard’s fine. He’s going to play a lot of football for us moving forward … It’s that the other guys have earned opportunities, and the more guys that you can call on, the better it is for your football team.”

Following the Broncos’ 51-28 win, Fox said Woodyard had been “rested a bit’’ in the game. Asked Monday to clarify, Fox said: “He had a type of injury that can affect you … It’s not so much just about that, it’s part of it, but basically the situation is giving other guys opportunities that we feel like have earned them.”

Bolden arrived in the 2012 draft class as a cornerback for the Broncos, but they have played him at safety at times this season because they like his coverage skills, and his physical play around the line of scrimmage when asked to tackle in the run game. Bolden earned Sunday’s playing time with his work in practice, and opposing offenses had increasingly gone after Ihenacho in coverage in recent games.

Bolden played 41 snaps on defense Sunday -- 82 percent of the Broncos’ total and most of them plays when the Broncos were in their base defense -- while Ihenacho played 21 as the Broncos used plenty of six- and seven-defensive-back looks in the game.

Broncos give cold shoulder to Titans

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:25
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videoDENVER -- When the mercury can crawl only to 18 degrees at kickoff, everything is cold -- frozen hard like stone -- including the facts.

And on a frigid, largely windless day, the fact is some folks just may have to rethink the whole Peyton-Manning-in-the-cold thing, at least a little bit. The fact is the Denver Broncos lead the league in scoring with 515 points, Sunday's 51-28 victory against the Tennessee Titans was the Broncos’ third 50-point effort of the season and they have already set a single-season scoring record for the franchise with three games remaining.

The fact is the Broncos still have the inside track for a division title and the coveted No. 1 seed in the AFC. The fact is their defense still needs some attention. The fact is injuries that have eroded the defense have taken a bite out of the special teams units as well.

And the bottom-line fact to all of that -- 11-2 is still 11-2.

"It’s winning. I don’t care if you win by five or 50 to be honest with you," Broncos coach John Fox said. "This game is only fun if you win and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing it, coaching it, or probably being a fan of it."

So when it’s right-down-to-the-bone cold, as it had been all week in Denver, including Sunday, the fun of winning comes when you line up, mano a mano and ... throw it 59 times. Manning finished with a franchise record 39 completions on a record-tying 59 attempts for 397 yards and four touchdowns.

And after days’ worth of debate over his below-freezing worthiness and with little or no wind to impede him, Manning was not sacked, did not throw an interception and pushed his season touchdown total to 45 with three games to play. The league’s single-season record of 50, set by Tom Brady in 2007, is now within his expansive reach.

Asked following the game if he felt like he had sent a message against the Titans, Manning said: "I wasn’t trying to answer it because I didn’t give it any validation in the first place. We had a good plan and I thought we threw the ball well and guys caught the ball well."

"I’m sure he’s tired of hearing it," Broncos tight end Julius Thomas said of all of the cold-weather talk. "He’s been playing great all season, he’s been playing great his entire career and just to hear people nit-picking about something like the cold, for him to be able to come out there and put 50 on the board and put that whole cold thing to bed, I’m sure he’ll be happy to see that behind him tomorrow."

But more importantly for the Broncos, their offense was again the trump card. Because for all the Broncos have done this season, they don’t always come out of the blocks with their best and Sunday was the fourth time they have trailed by at least 11 points and eventually won. They trailed 14-0 in Dallas, but won 51-48; trailed the Redskins 21-7, but won 45-21 with a 31-point fourth quarter; trailed 21-7 to the Chiefs in Arrowhead last weekend, but won 35-28; and trailed the Titans 21-10 Sunday before finally getting the pedal to the floor.

"We know what we have the capability and potential to do," Julius Thomas said. "All year we’ve been proving if we get things going we can be explosive and put points up on that scoreboard."

So, depending on which side of the half-full glass discourse you come down on it means the Broncos fast-lane work on offense can iron out their wrinkles or the reasons for those slow starts, especially those last two, are cause for at least a raised eyebrow if not some outright concern. A week ago in Kansas City it was two interceptions by Manning, a defense that couldn’t turn the Chiefs away following the mistakes and a 108-yard kickoff return by Kansas City’s Knile Davis that powered the Chiefs early.

Sunday it was two long drives by the Titans -- a five-play, 73-yard affair to go with an eight-play, 89-yard effort -- to go with a 95-yard kickoff return that led to a one-play scoring drive that had the Titans in front. An injury-riddled defense was also turned over a bit by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who kept starters such as Wesley Woodyard and safety Duke Ihenacho on the sideline for much of the day.

Fox said following the game Woodyard was "rested a bit" because of a neck injury he suffered earlier this season, but both Woodyard and Ihenacho were used on special teams plenty as they watched Paris Lenon and Omar Bolden, respectively, play in their spots on defense. And while the final numbers won’t raise too many red flags overall -- 254 total yards for the Titans, 152 of those in the first half -- the starts are an issue as was the 24-point lead that got away against the Patriots.

"We took a look at some other guys a little bit [Sunday] to develop that throughout the rest of the season," Fox said. "We’re not satisfied at this point, there’s room for improvement and I’m not ashamed to say it."

The roster juggling on that side of the depth chart has leaked into the Broncos’ special teams units, which opened the season with two blocked punts and two touchdown returns by Trindon Holliday, who didn’t play Sunday because of a shoulder injury, in the season’s first month. Leon Washington’s 95-yard return in the first quarter put the Titans on the 3-yard line in the first quarter. The Broncos also had a 104-yard touchdown return by Andre Caldwell called back because of a penalty on rookie Kayvon Webster. It’s all part of the can-they-win-it-all tapestry wrapped around the Broncos these days.

"There's no exhaling," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. "Just keep pushing and pushing each week."

"And we’re 11-2," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We know there are things we need to do better, and we will. But we’re 11-2, and that’s just a fact."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
7:25
PM ET

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 51-28 win over the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: With the win, the Broncos, in largely throw-first mode for much of the day despite a kickoff temperature of 18 degrees, kept their hold on the top spot in both AFC West as well as the race for home-field advantage in the AFC. The Broncos are 11-2, with the New England Patriots (10-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) right behind in the AFC. The Broncos have swept the Chiefs already this season.

Stock watch: It always seems to come down to a kicker at some point in the postseason for any Super Bowl hopeful, and the Broncos continue to feel good about the range and accuracy of Matt Prater, even in a season when the Broncos have scored so many touchdowns. His NFL-record 64-yard field goal on the last play of the first half was his 20th made field goal of at least 50 yards in his career with the Broncos.

Mix it up: With injuries starting to impact the depth chart on defense, the Broncos continue to search for answers on that side of the ball. They used a variety of personnel groupings that didn't include two of their starters much of the time. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard and safety Duke Ihenacho were replaced by Paris Lenon and Omar Bolden, respectively, much of the time in the base 4-3 defense. Woodyard and Ihenacho were not injured and played regularly on special teams. The Broncos also used Quentin Jammer at cornerback in the base defense in place of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Both sides of the coin: The Broncos keep hoping linebacker Von Miller can consistently be the kind of impact player he was last season. Miller took a terrible roughing-the-passer penalty in the second quarter, a clear helmet-to-helmet hit on Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that likely will cost Miller some money. But he also tipped a pass in the third quarter that resulted in an interception and forced a Chris Johnson fumble in the fourth quarter that safety Mike Adams recovered. He added a sack.

What's next: A battered and bruised team gets a short week late in the season. The Broncos host the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, a game Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker is unlikely to play in after leaving Sunday's game with a concussion.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos’ 34-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaDenver's Knowshon Moreno has been the most reliable running back for the Broncos -- but it's time for someone else to help shoulder the load.
Working overtime: Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno tore an ACL in 2011 and had another knee procedure this past offseason, and the Broncos have consistently talked about watching his workload. But then their other running backs kept fumbling the ball -- both C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball lost the handle against the Patriots on Sunday night -- so Moreno has been left as Mr. Reliable or the one, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said, who has "that trust factor." And after 37 carries as the piece of the team’s offense that could function in the cold Sunday night, Moreno left Gillette Stadium in a walking boot on his right leg. With his 27 carries the week before against the Chiefs, Moreno’s 64 carries in the past two games are more than he had in the previous four games combined before the win over Kansas City. Somebody else in that running backs meeting room must now step forward.

Thinning out: The Broncos kept 11 defensive backs on the roster when they exited the preseason, and at the time it looked like a healthy surplus. But then Champ Bailey aggravated his left foot injury in Indianapolis, and he has played in just two games this season. Then Rahim Moore had surgery on his lower left leg, and on Sunday, two other defensive backs left the game. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a freakish shoulder injury trying to make a diving catch on a Hail Mary play to end the first half Sunday night, and Omar Bolden suffered a concussion in the second half. It means Quentin Jammer will have to play more on the outside and rookie Kayvon Webster is going to act and play like a starter.

Cold as ice: The Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning continue to say the cold isn’t an issue on offense, that Manning practices in it all the time. But all the rest of the world has to go on is the past two games the team has played in below-freezing temperatures. Against the Ravens in the playoff loss in January when kickoff temperature was 13 degrees (and wind chill was 2 degrees), Manning was 28-of-43 with two interceptions and didn’t push the ball down the field. Sunday night, with a kickoff temperature of 22 degrees (and a 22 mph wind made the wind chill 6 degrees), Manning was 19-of-36 for 150 yards and an interception. For many, the Broncos’ cold-weather postseason prospects will continue to be a question mark until they all show, including Manning, that it isn’t.

It’s time: Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio has said recently he liked rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams’ progress this season, that Williams was ready for far more in the defense. He said that even as Williams was a game-day inactive three times this season, twice in the past four games. Now Williams will have to lift his game with Kevin Vickerson’s right hip injury. Williams will have to play more and be an early-down force, especially in run defense, if the Broncos are to get some momentum going defensively down the stretch.

Moreno, Vickerson, DRC set for MRIs

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
3:10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Denver Broncos left Gillette Stadium with some injury concerns to go along with a gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots, including to running back Knowshon Moreno.

Cornerback Omar Bolden suffered a concussion in punt coverage late in the game and will be subject to the league’s protocol in the coming days. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson suffered a right hip injury while cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder trying to field a Hail Mary attempt on the last play of the first half.

Vickerson and Rodgers-Cromartie are expected to get MRIs Monday after the team returns to Denver. Moreno, who suffered a lower right leg injury in overtime, was using crutches to go to and from the trainer’s room following the game. He left the stadium using a walking boot.

Moreno, who rushed for a career-best 224 yards on 37 carries in the overtime loss, is expected to get an MRI as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos pushed themselves to 4-0 Sunday with another record-setting day from quarterback Peyton Manning as they scored a franchise-record 52 points in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles. And after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos defense and special teams:
  • When the Broncos prepared for their first look at first-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s offense, Denver’s coaches said they were using video largely from the regular season's first three games. Which is why running back Chris Polk may have been a bit of a surprise to the Broncos game-planners. When Polk pounded his way for 4 yards through the middle of the Broncos defense for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the day, it was Polk’s first carry of the season. He was a player the Broncos had looked at before the 2012 draft, because at 222 pounds he was one of the more productive big backs on the board. But an extensive medical file, including left shoulder surgery in both 2008 and 2009 to go with knee surgery in 2011, likely kept him from being draft. Polk signed with the Eagles last season as an undrafted rookie.
  • The Broncos were fairly effective using a “spy’’ on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on many third-down situations to try to contain Vick in the run game. The Broncos used a variety of players for the job, including linebacker Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Shaun Phillips. The Broncos then played man coverage in the secondary on many of those third-down plays. And they were far more successful, far more disciplined in the second half. After surrendering 101 yards rushing in the first half Sunday, including 39 from Vick, the Eagles rushed for 65 in the second half with just two of those yards coming from Vick.
  • With as much as the Cowboys have thrown the ball to running back DeMarco Murray, the Eagles' success in getting the ball to the running backs in the passing game at times against the Broncos will certainly get a look from the Dallas coaches. Five of Vick’s 14 completions in the game went to running backs and one in particular is the kind of play that could be a concern for an aggressive defense like Denver's. With just under 4:30 left in the second quarter, the Broncos sent five rushers at Vick on a second-and-7. But instead of keeping running back LeSean McCoy into block to help block, McCoy released immediately and the closest Broncos linebacker or defensive back was 8 yards away. McCoy caught a little flip pass, thrown over the rush, and went 21 yards for the first down. Running back Bryce Brown had 35-yard catch-and-run on a similar play in the game.
  • Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has used safety David Bruton far more on defense than all of his predecessors did on the job during Bruton's time with the team, but when the Broncos signed their special teams captain to a three-year, $4.5 million deal in the offseason they had plenty of other duties in mind. Bruton is consistently one of the team’s best, and most active players in kick or punt blocking units. But Sunday he also showed he can block in the open field when asked in kickoff returns as well. It was Bruton’s and cornerback/safety Omar Bolden's blocks that set Trindon Holliday free for a 105-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter. Bolden picked off Eagles wide receiver Jeff Maehl, creating the initial lane and Bruton knocked down Eagles cornerback Jordan Poyer at the 45-yard line and that left Holliday with only the kicker to beat. Bruton locked on and drove Poyer to the ground. “I mean (Holliday) is a tremendous talent, but he needs people blocking for him,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox.
  • Steven Johnson’s blocked punt, scoop of the loose ball and 17-yard return for a touchdown was the result of Eagle’s long snapper Jon Dorenbos simply making a poor choice. At the snap, with Johnson lined up in the gap off his right shoulder, Dorenbos inexplicably looks left as soon as he lets the ball go and comes out of his stance, where there is no rusher. Dorenbos briefly puts his right hand on Johnson, but Johnson is already well into the gap on his way to punter Donnie Jones. "I knew I might get in there when he let me go,'' Johnson said.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey maintained his progress through the week and has been formally listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Raiders.

Bailey
Bailey was limited in Saturday’s practice, but showed enough for the Broncos to not rule him out as they had in the first two weeks of the season.

Bailey, who returned to practice this week and has not played since suffering a left foot injury in the Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle, said through the week he was “very close’’ to being ready to play. Even if the Broncos weren’t inclined to start him, they do play various six- and seven-defensive back packages Bailey could appear in if he continues to make progress Sunday and Monday.

On Saturday, the Broncos did add defensive end Shaun Phillips to the injury report with back spasms. He did not take part in practice and has been listed as questionable. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) also was listed as questionable.

Safety Duke Ihenacho (right ankle), long snapper Aaron Brewer (rib), running back C.J. Anderson (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), and guard Chris Kuper (ankle) all practiced fully and were listed as probable.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said Friday that if he continues to progress through the weekend, he can see himself in uniform Monday night against the Raiders.

Bailey
Bailey returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering a left foot injury in the Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle. He was held out of the Broncos' first two games.

“I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m definitely close, very close,’’ Bailey said following practice. “ … If I keep progressing like I am, having successful days, days like this, I’ll be ready.’’

Bailey was formally listed as “limited’’ on the Broncos’ injury report.

“Barring any setbacks, I’ll be out there as soon as possible,’’ Bailey said.

Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) also practiced for the second consecutive day. Safety Duke Ihenacho (right ankle) was limited Thursday and long snapper Aaron Brewer (rib), running back C.J. Anderson (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), guard Chris Kuper (ankle) all practiced fully.

Tight end Jacob Tamme was excused for personal reasons.

Champ Bailey, Dreessen back at practice

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
4:15
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos went from receiving crushing injury news when they moved left tackle Ryan Clady to injured reserve Wednesday to a hint of good Thursday when cornerback Champ Bailey and tight end Joel Dreessen returned to practice for the first time since August.

Bailey
Bailey (left foot) and Dreessen (knee) were both limited in the workout, but it was the first time Bailey had practiced since suffering his injury in the Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle and Dreessen’s first practice since the first full week of training camp.

On Bailey, Fox said:

“He was limited, we’re going to ease him back. It’s good to have him back out there, he’s been staying in it, in the meetings, he is a team captain for a reason … we’ll see day to day how it goes and maybe as early as this Monday night.’’

Barring a setback in the coming days, Bailey is expected to be in position to play at least some Monday night against the Oakland Raiders. Dreessen could be in position to play too, which would help the Broncos if they want to use a two-tight-end look a little more.

Safety Duke Ihenacho (right ankle) was limited Thursday while long-snapper Aaron Brewer (rib), running back C.J. Anderson (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), guard Chris Kuper (ankle) all practiced fully.

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