Denver Broncos: Quentin Jammer

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.

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.

 

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the sting of the Super Bowl loss still fresh, the Denver Broncos' chief football decision-maker said the team heads into the offseason under the premise that Peyton Manning will return at quarterback for 2014.

Manning has already said on several occasions his intent is to play in 2014, but executive vice president of football operations John Elway added Tuesday that the Broncos will make offseason decisions based on Manning being behind center. But the team knows the 37-year-old can't play forever, so the Broncos will also keep an eye on making a plan for life without Manning at some point.

Manning
"Well, we're going to keep building like Peyton is going to be here," Elway said. "If Peyton decided to hang 'em up, we have expectations hopefully to make that transition. It's going to be tough, but we're going to hopefully be ready for that transition, too. We do that by making sure that we do a good job in the draft, drafting well, and having those young guys come in and perform for us."

Elway has consistently talked of maintaining the youth of the Broncos' roster with homegrown players as the foundation. But last year, the Broncos elected -- either because of injuries or the need to fill holes that remained following the draft -- to reel in some veterans with double-digit years of experience. Defensive end Shaun Phillips (who just finished his 10th season), Quentin Jammer (12th) and linebacker Paris Lenon (12th) were all signed to fill needs.

Of the seven players who closed the season on the Broncos' roster who were in at least their 10th year in the league, four were signed when free agency opened last March.

But Manning's return is the foundation for what the Broncos do across the roster. Manning carries a $17.5 million salary-cap charge in 2014, the team's largest.

"Yeah, but I'll tell you right now it's worth it for us to have Peyton Manning," Elway said. "That's just part of when you get a quality quarterback like that, that we have in Peyton Manning. You know that's going to be a big chunk of your salary cap, but we got to figure out ways to find the right players."

Manning said the 43-8 loss Sunday night didn't "change anything" in regard to his plan for next season. Manning is scheduled to have a physical in the coming week on his surgically repaired neck.

But the Broncos did give him an exit physical Tuesday for everything else, including his ankles, and they expect good news from the coming exam, as well. Manning feels good enough physically to have entered the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament, which begins Thursday. Certainly, if the team had any concerns about the quarterback, or if Manning himself had any concerns about his neck, a golf tournament would not be on the docket. Manning will likely have his physical before free agency opens March 11.

Elway said Tuesday he had not yet had a chance to speak to Manning since the team returned to Denver on Monday.

Elway disputed the notion that there was more frustration and disappointment among the team's faithful than there was inside the team's complex.

"Let me tell you this: There is not anybody that is more disappointed about what happened on Sunday than everybody in this organization, especially the coaches and the players in that locker room," Elway said. "They are as disappointed because they are the ones that went through the hard work for the whole year. That's where I get disappointed, because I know how hard they worked and I know how disappointing it is when you aren't able to play your best football game in the Super Bowl like we were."

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.

Broncos ride the Super Bowl wave

January, 30, 2014
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JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Denver Broncos certainly needed their wits about them to handle their media obligations at Super Bowl XLVIII, but they also needed their sea legs.

That’s because the Broncos conducted the week’s media sessions aboard the Cornucopia Majesty, a 30,000 square foot Hoboken, N.J.-based ship docked behind the team’s hotel this week.

Bailey
And for Wednesday's and Thursday's sessions in particular, there was plenty of motion as the ship rose and fell on the waves.

Cornerback Champ Bailey stepped away from the podium on Wednesday and asked “you feel that?"

And quarterback Peyton Manning offered; “Is this boat moving?" and a little later, in between questions, said “I wasn’t prepared for the rocking cruise ship."

Several players said they were uncomfortable on the bobbing vessel, with cornerback Quentin Jammer offering “I don’t like this at all."

It was somewhat reminiscent of Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. An ice storm hit the city during the week of the league's championship game, and it was unseasonably cold for several consecutive days.

The St. Louis Rams conducted their interview sessions in a ballroom of their hotel while the Tennessee Titans conducted theirs in a large tent that had been erected in the parking lot outside the hotel. When the Titans did their arrival news conference, there was no heat and then coach Jeff Fisher wore an overcoat for his session.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will play in the franchise's seventh Super Bowl a week from Sunday because they did enough in the draft to make it that far, they did enough in free agency (OK, Peyton Manning is the ultimate free-agency home run) and they made it all work over the past three seasons.

But even with the extreme makeover that came with John Elway's return to the team as its chief football executive in January of 2011, even with the title-game appearance, there is still a roster hole the Broncos will have to address moving forward.

[+] EnlargeShaun Phillips
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJohn Elway signed veterans like Shaun Phillips to help win now, but is also committed to rebuilding through the draft.
Or, to put it another way, there is a reason the Broncos will be the older team in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Broncos have seven players on the current 53-man roster who have played at least 10 seasons in the league, led by Manning's 16. The Seattle Seahawks have one: defensive end Chris Clemons. While the Broncos have certainly climbed all the way out of their 4-12 finish in 2010, they also are still a product of that season and the smattering of nonplayoff finishes that came before it.

For those who believe the draft is the team's foundation -- and Elway counts himself as one of those -- the real guts of a roster are those fifth- and sixth-year, homegrown players. Players drafted and then signed to their second contracts to stay put. Of the Broncos' captains -- Manning, Champ Bailey, David Bruton, Wesley Woodyard and Wes Welker -- just two have been with the team since they were rookies. That’s Bruton (2009 draft) and Woodyard (2008 undrafted rookie).

A player in his sixth season would be a product of the 2008 draft. And since ’08 the Broncos have had two coaching changes and two changes at the call-the-shots general manager level as well. Each resulted in a complete teardown from the previous regime. That is why this current roster includes a pile of young players to go with the veterans who have been around for at least 10 seasons. The Seahawks have 24 players with three seasons experience or less on their current roster -- players who came into the league in 2011 or after, while the Broncos have 22.

It means the Broncos' roster gap is rooted in '08 and '09. For the Broncos, only Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady remains from the ’08 draft, which was Mike Shanahan’s last season with the team, while Woodyard remains a high-quality find as an undrafted rookie from that year as well.

A player in his fifth year would be a product of the 2009 draft. For the Broncos that includes only Bruton, running back Knowshon Moreno and defensive end Robert Ayers. While Bruton is a special-teams regular, Moreno is still the only one of those three players who played at least 50 percent of the team’s snaps on offense or defense this season.

And that has put the Broncos in a position to be active in free agency at the front end -- the recruitment and signing of Manning in 2012 -- to go with a series of one-year contracts to experienced players. This past year that included defensive end Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), cornerback Quentin Jammer and linebacker Paris Lenon.

"I’ve always said if we can find somebody better than we have, we have to find them," Elway said. "And if they’re out there then we’ll sign them. So age and all that at this point in time, with where we were coming out of a 4-12 year and then we go to 8-8 now at that point and then you get a guy like Peyton Manning. Now it’s about trying to find all the pieces together … but we’re not just trying to find young guys. We’re going to find guys that fit, young and old guys, that fit together."

From Elway’s perspective, a Super Bowl trip only helps his cause, as would Manning’s expected return for 2014 if doctors give the quarterback the go-ahead in the weeks following the Super Bowl to play next season. So, even as Elway would continue his quest to "stack those draft classes year after year," to make the draft the foundation of sustaining what they’ve done over the past three seasons, the Broncos would be a popular destination for veteran players in search of success.

"It comes down to the thing is that it’s been my goal to really continue what [Broncos owner] Pat Bowlen created in the fact that people want to play here," Elway said. "So players will come here late in their career when they know they have a chance to win a world championship and they know the reputation of the Denver Broncos since Pat Bowlen has been here that it’s a good place to play … . If money is the No. 1 thing, we’re really not on the same page if it’s all about money, in my mind."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos won’t ask, but in all of the decisions they have to make in the coming days about how they deploy themselves on defense without Chris Harris Jr. in the lineup, there is one thing they shouldn’t do.

They shouldn’t move Champ Bailey. They should leave Bailey in the slot as the team’s nickel cornerback and mix-and-match on the outside.

Harris Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday -- a torn ACL -- and no player in the team’s defense had been on the field for more snaps than Harris Jr. had been up until the point he was injured in the third quarter of the 24-17 victory against the San Diego Chargers.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, FileIf the Broncos leave Champ Bailey as the slot cornerback, he could spend much of the AFC title game lined up against New England's top receiver, Julian Edelman.
Harris Jr. played 1,042 snaps on defense in the regular season, the most of any Denver defender. He was one of just two players -- linebacker Danny Trevathan was the other -- to even top 900 snaps in the regular season. So, it is no small consideration, in January, days before the conference championship, for the Broncos to figure out what they want to do next.

Especially when you look at Harris’ impact on Sunday’s game. Looking at the video, it appeared Harris was injured on Keenan Allen's first catch of Sunday’s game -- a 19-yarder on a third-and-3 play with just under eight minutes to play in the third quarter.

To that point, with Harris Jr. in tow plenty of the time, Allen did not have a catch and had been targeted just once -- an incompletion -- by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers before that reception. After Harris Jr. left the game, Allen had five receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

The Broncos used Quentin Jammer in Harris Jr.'s spot to close out the game and it didn’t go well. Jammer, after not getting all that many reps in practice in the defense last week, was decidedly out of sorts. Certainly some of the issues were speed related for a player in his 12th season at a speed-first position.

But there were some basic positioning/footwork things Jammer has done far better this season, including several snaps when he was simply late to make the change out of his back-pedal against a player with the kind of explosiveness Allen has. And Jammer has played some quality snaps as an early down option in the team’s base defense when they wanted a little more size in the formation.

Though rookie Kayvon Webster, who is playing with a cast on his surgically repaired right thumb, has been targeted at times by opposing quarterbacks, he hasn’t had a lost season as some have framed it. He has upper-tier speed, usually plays with good technique with his hands, and has battled snap-after-snap despite the attention he’s gotten when he’s found himself in man-to-man coverage.

If the Broncos mix--and-match on the outside, they can put the help there, because Bailey can play inside on his own. It has been a quality move for him and the defense. And with the Patriots using their top receiver, Julian Edelman, in the slot about 45 percent of the time this season, it would put Bailey in position to square off with Edelman on those premium snaps.

As you would expect from a player with his anticipation and intellect, Bailey has played well in the slot. And there is more than one defensive coordinator in the league who would argue, because of the structure of passing attacks in the league and the variety of players who line up in the slot in terms of speed and power, that the slot corner is one of the most important players on the field.

There are some scouts, as well, who believe it might be the most difficult coverage player to find. Because things happen so quickly inside -- the time between snap to throw -- it take players with quick minds, who understand offensive concepts, and quick feet who are also strong enough to put up with, and handle, all of the contact on the inside.

In their 17 games thus far, Sunday’s included, the Broncos have held opponents to fewer than 300 yards on offense in four games. Bailey has played out of the slot in three of those games. To play Bailey as a nickel cornerback, the Broncos can also keep a pitch count of sorts on a player they need and who has played in just six games this season, Sunday’s included, because of a left foot injury.

Though the Broncos have plenty of folks with plenty of years on their football resumes to make the call, from here it looks like the one to make is to have Bailey keep doing what's he's doing, because it's been good for everybody and the Broncos don't have anybody else who can do that job like he can.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After 15 seasons -- and all of the practices, games and offseason workouts that go with them -- Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has a theory about young players at the position.

Beyond the speed and other physical attributes that go with the job -- “Look, lots of guys have that or you wouldn’t even be here" -- Bailey has always believed there is a little something else that determines who stays and who doesn’t.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBroncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will be sorely missed in Denver's next game against New England.
“And that’s confidence about what you do, how you do it," Bailey said. “Not over-the-top, not misplaced confidence, because you have to come to work every day and be ready to do your job and get better. But the guys who bounce back from mistakes, who line right up to go again and play like nothing happened. You have to learn from your mistakes, but the mistakes can’t slow you down. It just seems like the guys who can’t rebound, repeat them."

That’s why, Bailey has always said, he knew Chris Harris Jr. had a bright future in the Broncos’ defense. Because Harris Jr., even from his first day as an undrafted rookie in 2011, has always bounced back from anything in front of him, has always learned and has always put in the work.

Which is also why, though Harris Jr. may not be a household name for many, he is one of the most important players in the Broncos’ defense. And after Harris Jr. tore an ACL in Sunday’s win over the San Diego Chargers, he will be one of the most difficult players to replace in the defense.

Harris Jr. took to Twitter on Monday morning to say he will work the same way he always has worked to get himself back:

Harris tweeted “Thanks for the prayers , Gonna work extremely hard and come back a Monster next year . God is on my side. #broncosup" to go with “Blessed to be able to help the team get this Far , and will still do my part in meeting room to help my guys out."

Overall, though, Harris Jr. played the most snaps in the regular season of any of the Broncos' defensive players -- 1,042 -- and his ability to play in either outside position -- left or right -- and in either slot position, depending on the what the Broncos needed, enabled the Broncos to do more things in coverage. Harris Jr. can run with the league's fastest, he's willing to mix it up in traffic, doesn't get pushed off the ball and he is intelligent enough to work in the slot. And when a pass does get past him, he simply lines up to stop the next one, leaving the bad baggage behind, taking only what he needed from the experience with him.

In the few games the Broncos could play Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Bailey and Harris Jr. together -- Bailey played in just five games in the regular season because of a left foot injury -- the Broncos showed they just might have one of the better cornerback trios in the league.

They will have to mix and match to make up for the loss of Harris Jr. They’ll need to figure out how to get rookie Kayvon Webster involved because of his speed and the bounce-back ability he has shown already this season. Webster, however, is playing with a cast on a surgically-repaired right thumb and Sunday’s game was his first game back since the injury.

The Broncos can use Quentin Jammer, as well, but will have to gauge his readiness to work on the outside in a playoff situation. Jammer is plenty savvy and in his time with the Broncos has played better down toward the line of scrimmage in the short and intermediate areas.

The veteran had a tough go Sunday after he replaced Harris Jr. in the lineup and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was quick to target him in one-on-one situations down the field, including a fourth-quarter touchdown throw to rookie Keenan Allen. Jammer said after the game he knows he has to be better and the Broncos will certainly have to agree to put him in similar situations in this postseason.

They have Tony Carter on the roster, as well. Carter is one of the team’s fastest players and has worked in many roles in his time with the Broncos, but over the course of the season the Broncos have moved both Webster and Jammer past him on the depth chart after Carter had been targeted some by opposing quarterbacks earlier in the season.

It all may force the Broncos to take fewer chances in the pass rush, especially given the fact defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has added defensive backs to the rush in many of the Broncos’ specialty packages. That will be a difficult line to walk with the Broncos not at their best in the secondary right now, because to give the quarterbacks remaining in the postseason, starting with the Patriots' Tom Brady on Sunday, more time to look their coverages over certainly wouldn’t be a good thing.

In the end they need Rodgers-Cromartie to play like a No. 1 cornerback the rest of the way. They need Bailey to stay on the field playing with every ounce of determination to get to his first Super Bowl. And they need all of the remaining cornerbacks to find a way to cover for at least some of what Harris Jr. did for them in coverage.
DENVER -- Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will have an MRI exam Monday morning on his injured knee and ankle, and privately some team officials are not optimistic about what they will hear from the medical staff.

Both injuries will be examined, but there was more concern late Sunday night about his knee. Harris Jr. left Sunday’s 24-17 victory against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter and did not return.

The Broncos led 17-0 when Harris Jr. departed and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers targeted Harris Jr.’s replacement -- Quentin Jammer -- often down the stretch as San Diego scored all 17 of its points in the fourth quarter.

“I have to be better,’’ Jammer said following the game. “There were some technique things I need to clean up.’’

Harris Jr. has been the Broncos' most consistent defensive back and because of his versatility he plays in all of the team’s packages. Harris Jr. played 1,042 snaps on defense in the regular season, the most of any Broncos player on that side of the ball. He was one of just two players -- linebacker Danny Trevathan was the other -- to even top 900 snaps in the regular season.

The Broncos will have to adjust plenty of things against the New England Patriots with Harris Jr. not expected to be available. The Broncos could leave Jammer in the base defense and keep Champ Bailey in the slot as the nickel cornerback.

They could move Bailey back outside if they think he’s ready after three games since his return to the lineup from a left foot injury that kept him out of 11 games this season. And the Broncos could simply use rookie Kayvon Webster, who is playing with a cast on his surgically-repaired right thumb, more as well.

Quick Take: Patriots at Broncos

January, 12, 2014
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DENVER -- Three things to know about the Denver Broncos' matchup against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at 3:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

1. Once more with feeling: Commence hyping, but it's Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady again, with a Super Bowl trip on the line. And no matter how much Manning tries to deflect in the coming days -- and he will try with all of his conversation-directing might -- most folks will want to make Sunday's affair another high-profile chapter in the Manning-Brady saga that has played out over the course of two Hall-of-Fame careers. It will be the 15th time the two have faced each other and the fifth time in the postseason. And while Brady has a decided advantage -- 10-4 -- they are 1-1 against each other in previous AFC Championship Games. It will also be a meeting of the only two quarterbacks in league history to have thrown at least 50 touchdown passes in a season.

2. Don't sleep on the ground (attacks): While the pregame hoopla will center on the two quarterbacks, the two offenses' running games may really decide the issue. The Patriots, especially over the past month of the regular season, have shown their run-game chops and they simply overwhelmed the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round Saturday night. The Broncos then pounded out 133 yards against the Chargers on Sunday. Denver rushed for 280 yards against New England in Foxborough, Mass., in the Patriots' 34-31 Nov. 24 overtime win. Whichever defense holds up against that burly approach just may earn a Super Bowl trip.

3. Cover up: When Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. left Sunday's game early in the second half with knee and ankle injuries, what had been a dominant defensive performance for the Broncos got a little dicier down the stretch. Harris is their do-it-all guy in coverage and plays in all of the team's defensive packages. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers went after Harris's replacement -- Quentin Jammer -- plenty after the change, and had success. The Broncos will have to consider what they do if Harris does not play against the Patriots. They could stick with Jammer or try rookie Kayvon Webster on the outside against Brady. Or they could move Champ Bailey back outside. Bailey has played in the nickel, as the slot cornerback, since his return to the lineup in mid-December.
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.

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
7:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos put a firm grip on the AFC West race this past Sunday with their second win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the span of three weeks.

It's difficult to throw a new wrinkle at a division opponent, especially with just 14 days in between games, but the Broncos showed the Chiefs a little different look on both sides of the ball.

And after a long look at the video from Sunday night's win, here are some thoughts on the team's defense and special teams:
  • Linebacker Von Miller has four sacks in the six games he has played for the Broncos since he returned from his six-game suspension to open the season. At times, especially in the first half against the New England Patriots he has looked every bit the All Pro he was last season when he finished with 18.5 sacks. And at times he has not. Sunday, he had several quality pressures, including on a Danny Trevathan interception that was negated by a penalty on Chris Harris Jr. as well as late in the game when Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert hyper-extended his knee trying to slow Miller down. He also had a tackle for loss and was often “impactful'' as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio puts it. But in the end, at least at this stage of his return, Miller is a different kind of player than he was. He's looked different in practice and looked different in games. Personnel executives around the league now use words like “good'' and “potential Pro Bowl level,'' to describe him when last season they used words like “elite'' and “special.'' Miller is making his tackles close to the line of scrimmage or for loss and he is, at times, pressing the pocket and forcing offenses to adjust. But the game video shows a player more intent on playing with power, using the added bulk he intentionally put on his frame during his suspension. No question he is often good at the power game. He rushes with leverage, moves tackles back into the quarterback and gets the corner with a two-hand swipe to get the tackles hands off him right after the snap. But while good is good, Miller was an elite speed rusher in 2012, as in a rare talent, top of the line. And no matter the letter grades or numerical designations put next to what he's done thus far, the simple truth is, and many personnel folks around the league agree, he hasn't been elite yet for an entire game. Miller himself has said he's a “work in progress'' and the Broncos need some more progress.
  • There were times, particularly in the early going Sunday, when the Chiefs found some room to run against the Broncos' nickel package (five defensive backs). Included during that early damage was a 13-yard run by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and a 26-yarder by Smith. The Broncos have a slightly bigger nickel look they use with Quentin Jammer at one of the three cornerback spots and they fared better as the game wore on. Jammer, rookie Kayvon Webster and Harris Jr. were in the three cornerback spots in the nickel in much of the second half. It is something others will take a look at down the stretch, however. The Broncos will need safeties Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams to be physical when they are asked to moved to the point of attack.
  • Not every team has a running back like Jamaal Charles, who was the top priority for the Broncos' defense in both the run game and the passing game. But the Chiefs were able to swing Charles out of the backfield at times to Miller's side to get Miller out of the pass rush. Miller was forced to go with Charles, leaving the Broncos with a three-man rush going after Smith. Miller played it well, however, and it is part of his overall game that has progressed a great deal since his rookie season when the Broncos would often pull him off the field on passing downs.
  • Without defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson -- he's now on injured reserve with a hip injury suffered in the loss to New England -- and defensive end Derek Wolfe in the lineup Sunday, the Chiefs often found a little room to work in the middle of the field. On a first-and-10 play from the Broncos' 37-yard line late in the first quarter, the Broncos were in a base defense with a bigger as they expected a run. Jammer and Harris were the two cornerbacks while Mitch Unrein and Terrance Knighton were the two defensive tackles with all three Broncos' starting linebackers in the formation as well. The Chiefs still carved out a lane and Knile Davis, who also had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game, went up the middle for 20 yards. With Vickerson out for the remainder of the season, it is a play -- an old school lead play in these pass-happy times -- that figures to get repeated from time to time in the coming weeks to see if the Broncos can hold their ground.
  • Davis' 108-yard kickoff return was the longest surrendered by the Broncos in the franchise's history and also the first one returned for a touchdown in Jeff Rodgers' tenure as the Broncos special teams coordinator. If you polled the Broncos players about who the team's fastest players are, safety David Bruton and cornerback Tony Carter are two of the names that would quickly come up. And it was Bruton and Carter who the 227-pound Davis ran away from to close the deal on the play. Davis did run a 4.37 40-yard dash at last February's scouting combine so he has top-tier speed. Davis also suffered a fractured ankle three times -- the right twice and the left once -- in a four-year span as he moved from his prep career to the University of Arkansas, so some teams did have a medical red flag on him coming into the draft.

Broncos' Champ Bailey works way back

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
10:45
PM ET
videoKANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Things change. The seasons go by, things happens, what was once a given is no longer that way.

Quarterback Peyton Manning has taken several Wednesday practices off in recent weeks, a nod to a right ankle injury that Manning has called "an adjustment" he’s had to make as a 37-year-old in his post-neck surgery football life.

Same for cornerback Champ Bailey, the other 12-time Pro Bowl selection on the Broncos' roster, along with Manning. Bailey returned to the lineup in Sunday's 35-28 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs for the first time since he re-aggravated a left foot injury in the Broncos’ Oct. 20 loss in Indianapolis. It was just the third game Bailey has played in this season -- he originally suffered the injury in the preseason -- and the Broncos had him on a tight play count.

When Bailey did play, it was largely only in the nickel package. In the second half rookie Kayvon Webster and Chris Harris Jr. were the cornerbacks in the base defense while Quentin Jammer then played in the nickel as Bailey remained on the sideline.

Bailey had the wind knocked out of him on a tackle just two plays into the game and had to leave for several snaps before returning and finishing out the first half. He finished with four tackles in the game.

"I’m always going to be aware of my snap count," Bailey said. "I never want to come out of the game, but after being out for so long, and I’ve never been in this position where I’ve been out so long before, it was hard to get back going a little bit. I’m not 25 anymore. I’ll figure it out."

"We knew we weren’t going to try to play him 80 snaps on his first day back," said interim head coach Jack Del Rio. "The plan was to rotate him through and not have him play too much in his first game back."

Bailey said he would expect to play more in the coming weeks, but believed he came through the game without any issues with the foot.

"I feel good," Bailey said. "I always want to be out there, it’s just a different situation for me. I’m working through it, just like they are."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
7:48
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 35-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: With another remember-when day from Peyton Manning, the Broncos put themselves squarely on the inside lane for the AFC West title, with a one-game lead and a season sweep of the Chiefs. The Broncos sit at 10-2 and don’t play a team with a winning record the rest of the way (Tennessee, San Diego, Houston and Oakland).

Stock watch: It has been a bumpy ride at times for running back Montee Ball, including a fumble deep in Broncos territory in the third quarter against New England last weekend that helped fuel the Patriots' comeback and was his third lost fumble of the season. But against the Chiefs, with Knowshon Moreno dealing with a bone bruise in his right ankle, Ball got quality snaps at important times. And his 45-yard run to open the Broncos’ drive with five minutes left in the third quarter was perhaps his biggest jaunt of the season.

A measured return: Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey played for the first time since he left the Week 7 loss in Indianapolis after aggravating a left foot injury. He briefly left Sunday’s game after being hit in the midsection on a tackle, then played largely in the nickel. Kayvon Webster and Chris Harris played much of the time as the corners in the base defense, and in the second half there were times when Harris, Webster and Quentin Jammer played as the three cornerbacks in the nickel. They want Bailey available for the long haul, and had said they may work him into things on a situational basis.

A full Decker: The Broncos came into the game with three players -- Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker -- with at least nine touchdown receptions. But Eric Decker had not really joined the scoring fun, with three touchdowns in the Broncos’ first 11 games -- he had just one catch for 5 yards in the loss in New England. Then Decker manhandled the Chiefs' man coverage, especially rookie Marcus Cooper, and finished with 174 yards and four touchdown catches.

What’s next: The Broncos are fairly battered, with a long list of aching players coming in and kick/punt returner Trindon Holliday having left Sunday’s game with a right shoulder injury. They will now have two games in a five-day span, facing Tennessee next Sunday and San Diego on the following Thursday. It’s an important late-season stretch for a team with more than its share of guys in the trainer's room.

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
7:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Broncos roared through the first six games of the season, piling up the points and wins, Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio often preached composure to his defensive players, that how they went about their business week to week was far more important than getting swept up in the team's successes.

It is the same tact Del Rio has taken as he addresses the whole team these days in the wake of Sunday night's loss in New England. That the players should keep the ebb and flow of opinions about the Broncos' postseason prospects on the outside and get to work inside the building.

"I know everyone is going to ride that roller coaster, last week we're the greatest, this week not so good," Del Rio said. "We'll just keep working at it."

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

  • Del Rio has said he would prefer to use a lot of personnel combinations to both improve the Broncos' ability to create the match-ups they'd like on defense as well as to keep everyone in the defensive meeting rooms engaged and involved through each week with the lure of at least some playing time. Nowhere has that been more evident of late than in the secondary. Against the Patriots, Del Rio used a variety of groupings, even before Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the game at halftime with a shoulder injury. Del Rio used Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris Jr. at the cornerback spots in the base defense at times and used Harris Jr. and Quentin Jammer at the two cornerback spots in the base as well against some of the Patriots' bigger personnel groupings. And Del Rio had used both combinations at cornerback in their base 4-3 look before the Broncos had played 10 snaps in the base in the game. The Broncos also had a grouping in the base defense on a first-and-10 play early in the game that didn't include either linebacker Von Miller or Rodgers-Cromartie. The play was an incomplete pass. Miller then entered the game on the next snap, sacking Brady and forcing a fumble. Wesley Woodyard was only linebacker who was on the field for every defensive snap for the Broncos -- 87 in all. That first quarter snap was the only one Miller was held out. But Woodyard, Miller, Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving and Steven Johnson all played snaps at linebacker at varying times in the game, Irving, with 15 plays, usually when Miller was moved into a defensive end spot while Johnson played one snap.

  • [+] EnlargePatriots' Nate Ebner
    AP Photo/Elise AmendolaPatriots players celebrate Nate Ebner's recovery of a muffed punt in overtime.
    Given the success the Patriots had after halftime with pick plays -- with the receivers as well as wheel routes from their running backs hooking out of the backfield -- the Broncos can expect more of the same in the coming weeks. Few coaches bring out the copycats like Bill Belichick. The Patriots made a concerted effort to free their receivers against the Broncos' man-to-man coverage with a few more high-traffic routes, something the Broncos do on offense regularly to get their receivers free. The Patriots were particularly effective getting tight end Rob Gronkowski free by crossing him with another receiver, especially down the field when the Broncos were trying to cover him with one of the safeties.

  • The Patriots were down to a third-string right tackle in the first quarter after Marcus Cannon left with an ankle injury. With Sebastian Vollmer already on injured reserve and Cannon out of the lineup, the Patriots moved Will Svitek into the right tackle spot. Even with that the Broncos were not particularly effective generating pressure from that side of the formation, even when they flipped Miller to that side in longer down-and-distance situations. After sacking Brady three times in the first half, two of those before Cannon left the lineup, they did not sack Brady in the second half or overtime. The Patriots did use two tight ends at times to help things along and Svitek is no newbie -- it's his eighth year in the league -- but the Broncos should have been able to make a little more of the situation whether it was from Miller, Robert Ayers or Shaun Phillips.

  • It was a raw and difficult night for punt returners -- both teams lost possession on a muff from their top punt returner -- but the Broncos' Trindon Holliday has now muffed a punt against Indianapolis, San Diego, Kansas City and New England over the past five games. The Broncos only lost possession on the one against the Patriots', but it was obviously a trend headed the wrong way before Sunday night. Things are tighter down the stretch and into the postseason and few things change momentum like a special teams gaffe, both for the team that forces it or commits it. Holliday spent plenty of extra time in training camp and the offseason catching punts and perhaps it's time to break out the JUGGS machine again. The Broncos need him to be decisive about when he is or isn't going to field a punt, and to keep his elbows in when the makes the catch.

  • Many offensive coaches around the league would prefer for Denver not to be in their base defense -- because of the Broncos' team speed and their bigger front. In their first seven snaps in base defense against the Patriots the Broncos forced two fumbles to go with a sack. They scored on one of the fumbles -- Miller's 60-yard return -- and Terrance Knighton returned the other fumble to the Patriots' 10-yard line. The Broncos scored two plays later.

  • The play that gave the Patriots the field position for their game-winning field goal in overtime came down to both communication and execution. Wes Welker had to make the call sooner -- the Broncos use the word "Peter" to signify everyone needs to get away from a kick -- to make sure all of his teammates had a chance to stay clear. And Tony Carter, whose leg the ball hit, has to be aware of where he is on the field. He was moving laterally in front of Welker just before the ball hit his leg. He had an opportunity to see he was close enough, even if Welker waited slightly too long to make the call. Or as Del Rio put it; "Certainly, Wes would say, ‘Hey I've got to be more emphatic getting the guy out of there' and then Tony I'm sure would say, ‘Hey I've got to be more aware there.' ... It's just one of those fluke deals that can occur. We work hard and practice that to ensure it doesn't and it just got us -- it bit us there."

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