Denver Broncos: T.J. Ward

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows all about bend-but-don’t-break defense.

It’s just he’s not all that interested in either.

“I’m not looking for any bend," Del Rio said this week. “But at the end of the day, we want to make plays. It just so happens that we’re giving ourselves a chance and then coming up with plays to stop people from scoring in key moments. So that’s the good part: The resiliency, the determination, those are the good things. And we want to clean it up and not let it get like that. But it’s a constant battle … So like I said, we’re hard at work. We’re aware of things that need to be better. We’re working hard to make sure they get better."

When the Broncos take the field Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the plan was for the Broncos’ remade defense to have shown itself ready for a Super Bowl rematch, for the defense to have shown it can be what both Del Rio and the players have said they believe it could be, and that’s a top-five unit. And two weeks into the regular season, the new faces have had plenty of impact, and the group has made a fourth-down, game-clinching play in each of the first two victories, over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Broncos also find themselves 28th in the league in yards allowed per game -- how the NFL ranks defenses statistically overall -- at 394.0 yards allowed per game and 14th in points allowed per game (20.5). The Broncos are tied for 10th in sacks (five), tied for ninth in interceptions (two) and have not yet recovered a fumble.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware and the Denver Broncos' defense are looking to make a bigger impact.
“I wouldn’t say we’re searching for anything," Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “I always say there is room for improvement. We have all the players here, and we’re playing good enough to win games. But you’ve got to have those shutout games, those games you want to have on defense -- those big turnover games, interceptions, getting more pressure on the quarterback, keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not having those big games."

Against the Seahawks, it means having all of the above. It’s about keeping quarterback Russell Wilson under duress, limiting his escape routes. It’s about keeping running back Marshawn Lynch from controlling the tempo with yard after yard after contact. It’s about, for the Broncos, being far better than they were in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The defense received most of the attention in the offseason with the signings of Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to go with first-round pick Bradley Roby this past May. But new faces, to go with the Broncos returning from stints on injured reserve -- linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe -- means the Broncos are still working to fit the pieces together.

That can be more difficult on defense, as teams rarely do in any practice what just might be the most important job on defense -- tackle at game speed. They can simulate, they can work on form and positioning, but they don’t get to see how they close the deal until the games get played. From the Seahawks' perspective, the group in front of them Sunday won't be close to the unit they faced in the Super Bowl, given at least seven projected starters on defense for the Broncos on Sunday did not play in the Super Bowl, and just two of the usual starters on defense -- defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams -- will be playing in the same spots as they did in the title game.

“We’re a real good unit," Del Rio said. “It’s early in the year. We’ve played well in spurts. We’ve played well in big moments. We’ve contributed to two wins. But we feel like there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and our guys all understand that. But we have a good group, and we’re working hard."

Said Moore: “We know what we have; we know what we can do. I’m not sure the last couple weeks we win both those games all the time in the past. We feel like we want to be on the field with the game on the line, we want that. We can play better, and we will. Every guy in here wants to show what we can do and keep getting the W's."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Throughout the offseason Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan lauded the team’s depth at the position, offering "we’ve got guys who can do so many things and we can line up a lot of ways."

Well, things change and often that change comes quickly. Just two games into this regular season and the Broncos are facing a far different look on the depth chart at linebacker and it may affect how they can line up Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

"We know some guys have some things," said middle linebacker Nate Irving. "Our job to pick it up, whoever is in there has to get the job done. We don’t make excuses."

It started in training camp when Trevathan suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia. The team’s leading tackler in 2013, and the starter on the weak side, did not play in the preseason as a result of the injury and is not expected to play in the regular season for a few more weeks.

Then Sunday against the Chiefs, the Broncos took a hit on the strong side of the formation when Von Miller suffered a groin injury after his backup Lerentee McCray had suffered a right knee injury earlier in the game when former Broncos tackle Ryan Harris hit McCray low in pass protection.

Miller played on in the game after it appeared his legs were pinned awkwardly as he made a tackle earlier in the day. In the end, Miller ended up leaving the game in the fourth quarter -- he played 57 of the team’s 86 plays on defense.

The Broncos were already using McCray to spell Miller at times as Miller is just eight months out from ACL surgery.

Those two injuries forced the Broncos to alter things in their base defense. They moved Irving, who was Miller’s backup last season and started late in the year -- including the Broncos' three playoff games after Miller’s ACL surgery -- into a more strong-side role with Steven Johnson in the lineup as well. Brandon Marshall, already filling in for Trevathan, stayed on the weak side.

Asked Monday if he was concerned Miller could miss time, Broncos head coach John Fox said; "I get concerned about all the players."

McCray, who spent the 2013 season on injured reserve with an ankle injury, underwent an MRI for was described as an injury that would cause him to miss some time.

Fox said "it’s not season-ending or anything of that nature.”

But it could force the Broncos into some decisions as they are poised to face the Seahawks’ power run game. The Chiefs found some success against the Broncos by running the ball against the Broncos’ nickel package (five defensive backs).

So, if the Broncos find themselves in a nickel look against the Seahawks’ three-wide set that includes wide receiver Percy Harvin as a potential runner, with two linebackers in the formation, they’re going to have to get off blocks in a lighter formation in the front seven than they did in the first half against the Chiefs.

If they line up in their base look, with three linebacker, if Miller doesn’t play Sunday the Broncos will have backups in two of the three linebacker spots.

The Broncos could also use safety T.J. Ward, who often lines up as a linebacker in some of the specialty looks, in a bigger variety of roles and play Quinton Carter at Ward’s strong safety spot as well. But keeping the Seahawks from setting the tempo with physical play in the run game has to be Job 1.

"Again whoever is in there has to play," Irving said. "Nobody on the outside is going to care what you have to go through. We just have to go out there and get it done, whatever it takes."

Broncos vs. Chiefs preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs don't have to wait long to open up AFC West play as they jump into a Week 2 matchup. The Broncos had one glorious half before they had to hang on in their season-opening 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Chiefs struggled in a 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium and will be without two regulars in defensive tackle Mike DeVito and linebacker Derrick Johnson, who both suffered season-ending Achilles injuries in the loss.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Adam, every training camp for every team ends with such high hopes and plenty of optimism. What is the Chiefs' mindset after such a tough opening week?

Teicher: There's not a lot for the Chiefs to be optimistic about right now. Since their 9-0 start last season they've gone 2-7, including their collapse in the playoffs against Indianapolis. Their offensive line is in tatters, quarterback Alex Smith is throwing interceptions in uncharacteristically high numbers, running back Jamaal Charles didn’t get the ball much against Tennessee, some of their best young players aren't contributing much, they lost two of their best defensive players for the season with injuries last week and their defense got pushed around by Jake Locker and the Titans. Then there's the upcoming schedule, which has the Chiefs playing road games against the Broncos, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and a home game against the New England Patriots in the next five weeks. Otherwise, all is good with the Chiefs.

What about the Broncos in this regard? The losing team in the Super Bowl often has a season-long hangover afterward, but the Broncos don't seem to be affected.

Legwold: When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he wanted not only Manning's play on the field, but also a player "who raises all boats." Manning and the other Broncos veterans attacked the offseason and a fairly young team overall has taken its cues from those hard-driving older players. When they brought in veteran players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, those guys saw this as a chance at a Super Bowl, so they have been no nonsense as they've gone about their business. That has kept things on the tracks. The suspensions handed down to wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater ended what had been a quiet summer for the team. But, overall, it's a locked-in group that needs to avoid injuries to key players to be in the title mix again.

In terms of offseason work, the Chiefs locked up Smith with a contract extension. What was the organization's plan and is there even more pressure on Smith now to lift them into the postseason?

Teicher: The plan with Smith all along, from the time they acquired him in the trade with the 49ers, was to lock him up for the long term. At no time did they consider him a stopgap or the bridge to the next quarterback. Those plans could have changed had they not been satisfied with Smith's play last season. But Smith last season was the guy the Chiefs thought they were getting. This new contract certainly increases the pressure on Smith to deliver. The Chiefs have committed to him in a big way, and he will be consuming a significant portion of the team's salary cap. Smith is by no means solely responsible for last Sunday's loss, but he didn't play well. He threw three interceptions, and two were bad decisions on his part, the kind of choices he doesn't usually make. The Chiefs are paying him a lot of money to make better decisions.

You mentioned Denver's offseason signings of defensive players in Ware, Talib and Ward. How has their presence changed the complexion of the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Elway spends a lot of time talking about "the mindset" and "the mentality to win a world championship," and when he was waving the team's checkbook around in free agency, he went looking for players with the mindset to remake the defense. There are just six players on the roster who started on defense in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos players voted Ware a captain and his straightforward, no-nonsense approach has made him an almost instant team leader. He also had 1.5 sacks in the opener, and while some in the league had labeled Ware a declining player in his 10th season, the Broncos think they can manage his snaps to get the most out of him. Ward and Talib bring an edge the Broncos wanted, and both were all over the field this past Sunday night. Toss in the first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby, and the Broncos will play with more aggressiveness and a bigger variety in personnel groupings than they did in last season's two games against the Chiefs.

Defensively, how will the Chiefs adjust to the injuries to DeVito and Johnson? Will it alter their approach dramatically, especially given what Johnson means to the group?

Teicher: I don't think the Chiefs will change their approach dramatically, but there's no question they will feel the loss of both players. Johnson will be replaced by James-Michael Johnson. The Chiefs went out in free agency and signed veteran Joe Mays, a former Broncos player, to fill one of their inside linebacker spots, an indication they didn't think Johnson was ready to be a full-time player. He got a long look in passing situations during the preseason, and the Chiefs are more comfortable with him playing in coverage than against the run. That said, he's no Derrick Johnson, who is superb against the run and versatile against the pass. DeVito was one of the Chiefs' better run defenders and was improving as a pass-rusher. His main replacement will be Jaye Howard, who had a promising preseason. Former Oakland Raider Vance Walker, and even the newly signed Kevin Vickerson, could get some playing time as well.

The Chiefs tried to sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency before he joined the Broncos. He looked like a good fit for the Broncos in the opener against Indianapolis. What are their expectations for him? And give us a little scouting report on Vickerson, a former Bronco.

Legwold: In terms of players on offense who were available in free agency, Sanders was the team's top target. The Broncos' offensive coaches, particularly offensive coordinator Adam Gase, like Sanders' versatility in that he can line up in the outside spots and in the slot to go with the fact he has quality short-area quickness to beat press coverage off the snap and top-end speed to run away from defenders in the open. Manning has worked extensively with him -- the two stayed after practice, often with rookie receiver Cody Latimer -- every day of offseason workouts, as well as in training camp. The work helped, and Sanders projects to a big season in this offense. Vickerson was likely the 54th player on this roster when the Broncos cut to 53. The Broncos liked his work on run downs and the physicality and ability take on double-teams. They did have some long-term concern about his hip -- Vickerson was kept on a limited schedule throughout much of training camp -- but they needed a little cap space and kept only eight defensive linemen, so Vickerson got caught in the squeeze.

DENVER -- After the Denver Broncos swept up the pieces of a 35-point Super Bowl loss, after they picked at the football scabs and said all of the uncomfortable things behind closed doors that needed to be said, John Elway took the team's checkbook into free agency in search of players.

At the top of the list he said he wanted "the right mentality" on defense, he wanted a defense to "develop its own personality, something to grab onto like we have on offense."

One game in for the Broncos, and it was money well spent. Because while it was quarterback Peyton Manning who took the knee in the victory formation to close out a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts with another three touchdown passes on his resume, it was the Broncos' defensive work in the third quarter that kept this game in the win column.

"That's it right there, if we don't get those, we would have lost," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. "That was a great job. … Communication was fantastic. Anything bad happened, we fixed it. That's what it's all about. But those goal-line stands were crucial."

After exploding from the gate for a 24-0 lead by the time the two-minute warning arrived in the first half, the Broncos suddenly saw the Colts pick away. Andrew Luck drove the Colts 80 yards in eight plays just before halftime to make it 24-7.

And then Luck took the Colts to the Broncos' 8-yard line in just four plays in Indianapolis' first possession of the second half. With a first-and-goal from the 8, the Colts pushed the ball to the 1, where, on fourth-and-goal, Colts coach Chuck Pagano tried to seize momentum with both hands.

Luck tried to sneak into the middle of the Broncos' defensive line but was stuffed by linebacker Brandon Marshall.

"Andrew Luck, you knew he was going to try to sneak the ball," Moore said. "But those guys in the middle, they're like vending machines, you can't move them. … Just clog the holes up front and everybody else comes swarming."

On their next possession, the Colts moved to the Broncos' 4-yard line in eight plays. Then Marshall tackled Reggie Wayne for a 2-yard loss, Chris Harris Jr. knocked a pass away for tight end Coby Fleener and DeMarcus Ware sacked Luck. The Colts came away with a 25-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri.

In all, the Colts ran eight plays inside the Broncos' 10-yard line on those two possessions and came away with just a field goal.

And with Marshall playing for the injured Danny Trevathan (fracture at top of tibia in training camp) and with Harris and linebacker Von Miller on a pitch count of sorts as they come back from ACL surgeries, the Broncos simply showed the depth on defense they didn't have last season.

New arrivals Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib had the desired impact with 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed and nine tackles combined. One of Talib's tipped passes turned into one of the Broncos' two interceptions.

And Denver felt good enough about rookie Bradley Roby, the team's first-round pick this past May, to lock him up on Wayne throughout the night. Roby would finish with seven solo tackles and three passes defensed, including the game-clincher in the final minutes. And it had been Roby and safety Quinton Carter, who had not played in almost two full seasons before Sunday because of knee injuries, who stopped Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks at the 1-yard line on the play before Luck was stuffed.

"The defense just came up with some big stops when we needed them," Manning said. "I thought it was a good, overall team win. The offense did some good things and then we were in a little bit of a rut [before] our defense picked it up for us."

New faces that, for one opening night, gave the Broncos just the kind of return on investment they had hoped for.

"We're a force to be reckoned with," Marshall said. "That's what all defenses want. We have a long way to go, we'll keep getting better. We'll be a great defense, definitely."

Prediction: Broncos will beat Colts

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- This Denver Broncos team, at least on paper, is deeper and more athletic than the 2013 model. And not just by a little bit. It added impact on defense with DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward in free agency to go with cornerback Bradley Roby in the draft. It added pop to an already record-setting offense with Emmanuel Sanders.

The Broncos have also listened to an offseason's worth of people calling them soft and saying they were too intimidated to win the Super Bowl last February. Ordinarily that chatter doesn't really mean much after a play or two.

But in this case, it has been a drumbeat that has been ringing in their ears since the 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the title game. Toss in the injuries in the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line to go with Robert Mathis' suspension, and it would be a stunner if the Broncos didn't open strong and with an emphatic message.

Prediction: Broncos 38, Colts 17.

Jack Del Rio sees 'Crush' potential

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The names still roll off the tongues of the die-hards in this football-mad region, especially those longtime ticket holders with more than a little gray in their hair whose memories of the Denver Broncos go to any year B.E. – before Elway.

The likes of Rubin Carter, Lyle Alzado, Barney Chavous, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Joe Rizzo, Bo Swenson, Steve Foley, Louis Wright, Bernard Jackson and Billy Thompson, the names of the Orange Crush defense that not only powered the Broncos to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 1977, but into the franchise’s first of what has now been seven Super Bowl trips.

They were the Orange Crush. And Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio turned back the clock at a team function this week, just as he had to open training camp, and showed the current Broncos a collection of highlights from the ’77 team. That’s because Del Rio wants some Crush 2.0.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsJack Del Rio wants a Denver defense that has as good a reputation as the Broncos' offense.
“Despite all our offensive prowess, the productivity and how special our offense is, this town loves its team to play great defense," Del Rio said after practice Thursday. “And I look forward to bringing back some of that Orange Crush feel."

“Oh, I like that a lot," said Joe Collier, the Broncos’ longtime defensive coordinator, including in ’77. “That’s good, that was a year you love to be a part of, it’s great Jack thought enough to do that. That was the year that kind of got it going here, I always call it that ‘get over the hump’ year for the franchise."

Del Rio has spent much of the offseason extolling the potential virtues of the Broncos’ current defense in the team’s quest to get back to its 2012 status, when it finished among the league’s top five scoring defenses and top five defenses overall.

The Broncos dove into free agency to sign safety T.J. Ward, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib. They selected cornerback Bradley Roby in the first round of the draft. They have a recovered Chris Harris Jr. And they have a rejuvenated Von Miller, who is fully recovered from knee surgery and has his weight back down to where it was in 2012, when he had 18.5 sacks.

The Broncos hope they are a far cry from a defense that was missing five starters, all on injured reserve, in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos finished in the bottom half of the league in many defensive categories.

"We’re talented, we’re deeper and we understand there are a lot of challenges in front of us, so we’re just gearing up to play good football," Del Rio said. “ … I tell our guys all the time, you know, Coach Fox says it, just show me. We want to see it. Because we know that this is a good, talented group, but it’s about coming together, playing together, playing well, feeding off each other at home, getting the crowd into it, giving them something to cheer for."

Gradishar was honored by Del Rio's sentiment. “I’m surprised, and honored, Jack would reach back almost 30 years to show them something," Gradishar said just after quickly naming the other 10 starters in the unit. “We were proud of the way that defense played, proud of what we did. We had great coaches, had great players. But I’m excited to see what these guys can do. If they keep themselves focused, they have a Super Bowl team, a Super Bowl-winning team."

After a predictably vanilla preseason with Del Rio sticking to the basics – Harris didn’t play at all while Miller played just nine snaps, as both are returning from knee surgeries – Sunday night’s opener against the Indianapolis Colts will be the first time the team shows the changes that arrive with the new personnel and the starters who are returning from injury.

“At the end of the day, this is an offensive-minded regime," Ware said. “But we’re trying to be the No. 1 defense and we’re bringing that Orange Crush back."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After months of offseason work, training camp and the initial cut to 53 players on the roster, the Denver Broncos make the transition this week.

They go from "on paper," to the scoreboard as Sunday night's regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts approaches.

"I think we're further along than maybe we have been in other years, but on paper doesn't mean anything," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Monday's practice. "How we come together, how we go about our work on and off the field -- there's still a lot of variations -- if we stay healthy. … Last year doesn't mean anything for anybody. It's what you do now."

But as the Broncos are poised to see if the theory is true, this has all been the undercurrent of the Broncos' spring and summer. That this version, this roster, is better than the one that finished 13-3 in the 2013 season and advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII before the horrible-no-good-very-bad-day meltdown in the title game ended the run.

Much of the offseason energy was spent on a defensive makeover that included free agent signings DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talilb to go with a first-round pick in the May draft used to select cornerback Bradley Roby. But even an offense that scored a single-season record 606 points -- that features a new primary runner in Montee Ball and a new starter at wide receiver in Emmanuel Sanders -- may have more to offer when attacking defenses.

But overall the team's chief football decision-maker, John Elway, said his biggest mission was to add some youth, more speed overall and find a way, if the inevitable spate of injuries arrives to have enough athleticism on hand that special teams units wouldn't suffer when the roster dominoes fall. The Broncos had five defensive starters on injured reserve when they arrived at the Super Bowl this past February.

"We've got more depth," Elway said. " … We've got more speed, especially in the backup positions and that can help us on special teams so I think speed-wise we're much better on special teams. We've got some young guys that came in and competed and overall our team's speed's better but again with the guys that we've signed this offseason, we've talked several times about it, it is a different mentality and confidence level on the defensive side."

The difference in where the Broncos are now and where they were in 2011 when Elway and Fox began their current tenures -- aside from the Peyton Manning signing -- is what happened when the Broncos released players this time around.

This time, several personnel executives from around the league said in recent days, the players the Broncos released got far more looks than they have in the previous three seasons. Safety Duke Ihenacho was claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins. Head coach Jay Gruden said he expects Ihenacho to contribute on special teams immediately and that Ihenacho has a chance to play in the team's defense as well.

Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who started 11 games last season and was released when the Broncos kept just eight defensive linemen, has drawn interest from several teams, including the San Diego Chargers. With a more difficult schedule, at least in the early examination before any games are played, another Super Bowl trip remains to be seen.

"It's a situation that you want to be in having to make a lot of tough decisions like we had to make," Elway said. "This is by far the deepest team since I've been here and the toughest decisions we've had since I've been here … health is going to be a big part of it. We were one game short of where we wanted to be last year. I think we feel good about where we are right now, but we also know that you don't win it on paper. Now this group has to come together, work together and continue to grow. It's a good roster. We're excited where we are. Now we have to see it come together."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used over seven dozen voters from the network's many NFL platforms, as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, to rank the league's top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense.

Talib
Talib
Ware
In the end, 85 voters turned in ballots on defense, 90 on offense.

Today, players ranked No. 30 down to 21 are featured, and in this segment, the voters certainly believe the Denver Broncos made a significant defensive upgrade for the coming season.

Cornerback Aqib Talib checks in at No. 30 while defensive end DeMarcus Ware is at No. 23 -- both players were signed in this past offseason's free-agency binge by the Broncos. Safety T.J. Ward, who was also in the shopping spree this past March, was earlier ranked No. 59.

"I think there's no question, players like Aqib, DeMarcus and T.J. change what your defense is," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "They're all good players, proven guys who have shown what they can do in this league. You bring them in because you think they have things to offer to help what you do. No question, we believe they'll help what we do."

Thus far, ESPN's ranking project has shown the Broncos' current regime is a little light on homegrown players on the defensive side when it comes to the upper crust in personnel. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, who just completed his fourth draft with the team in May and has consistently stated his long-term goal for the team is "to compete for world championships every year and we know the draft is a key part of that. We know that's our core."

And their hope is they see the fruits of those labors in the seasons to come. But in this year's rankings, between No. 100 and No. 31, the Broncos have had four players ranked with Terrance Knighton at No. 78 to go with Ward, Talib and Ware. All four of those players were signed in free agency -- Knighton last year to go with the three this past March.

One would expect linebacker Von Miller's name to appear in the coming days somewhere in the top 20 rankings, and as a whole the voters likely short-changed linebacker Danny Trevathan as well. Lead a 13-3 Super Bowl team in tackles with equal effectiveness along the line of scrimmage or in coverage and you are likely a top-100 player.

Both Trevathan and Miller are Elway draft picks and the team believes in the futures of players such as cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who were the team's last two first-round picks.

But it does show when the Broncos wanted to repair their defense this time around, they had to use their checkbook -- and not their depth chart -- to do it.

Broncos Rewind: Preseason Game 3

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the end the Denver Broncos played their starters until halftime Saturday night, or just about what they had planned to do against the Houston Texans after three days’ worth of work against the Texans leading up to the game.

That will also do it for virtually all of the regulars since they will not play in Thursday night's preseason finale in Dallas.

But after a look at the game video from the 18-17 loss to the Texans, here are some items of note:
  • With just three tight ends in uniform due to injuries, offensive coordinator Adam Gase still went to work some in a two-tight-end look with mixed results. With the starters in the game, the Broncos used it for nine snaps before halftime with Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas in the formation, including all seven snaps on a second-quarter possession that ended with a Peyton Manning interception. The Broncos had five called runs in the look and Manning was sacked once. The Broncos will consistently work the three-wide-receiver look as their base formation much of the time this season -- 35 snaps in all for the starters Saturday, including penalty snaps. But unless something unexpected happens when the roster gets cut to 53 players next week, the Broncos will most likely have three tight ends on the roster during the season, so Saturday was a rather tidy dress rehearsal for that. Green's return will allow them to muscle up a bit more when they're in it and some additional game-planning should help. But it has to be an effective option for them against some of the sturdier defensive fronts they'll face.
  • One of the more effective looks for the Broncos defense last season was their dime (six defensive backs) and it should be an even more reliable option this season with the addition of safety T.J. Ward to go with some additional depth at the position. The Broncos didn’t play cornerback Chris Harris or cornerback Kayvon Webster in the game, but still fared well in the look against the Texans’ starters. Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 2-of-4 passing against the Broncos’ dime package with Ward, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter, Omar Bolden, Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby in the lineup. The completions went for 12 and 5 yards on the Texans' first scoring drive. The Texans eventually converted a fourth-and-1 on a 4-yard run by Alfred Blue, also against the dime look. The Broncos will mostly use the formation in passing situations, but their ability to stay in it could depend on how they do when offenses try to run on it because it's a lighter look in terms of personnel. Ward helps, with his ability to drop down to the weak-ide linebacker spot as he can play along the line of scrimmage in a run fit or drop into coverage.
  • Some of the most difficult roster decisions for the Broncos will come in the defensive line, especially if they keep just eight at a deep position. In a scenario where they keep eight, they are going to lose more than one defensive lineman who could play elsewhere. Saturday night Kevin Vickerson, who was on injured reserve during the second half of last season with a hip injury, got his first action of the preseason. Vickerson carries a $2.266 million salary-cap figure for the upcoming season and given the Broncos’ current cap situation contracts are going to be a bigger consideration in cuts than in the previous three seasons. They would take a $500,000 hit for “dead’’ money if Vickerson is released, so ultimately the Broncos would see a $1.766 million cap savings. It's not huge but perhaps necessary. Vickerson played 24 snaps with the second-team defense in the game.
  • For the optimism surrounding a still-high-powered offense and a revamped defense, the Broncos' special teams didn’t have the kind of night you would expect in the third preseason outing. Matt Prater, now facing a four-game suspension to open the season, missed a field goal and took a chunk of sod out of the ground even as he made his other attempt in the game. Britton Colquitt shanked a punt in the first half -- a 27-yarder with plenty of field to work with -- and rookie Mitch Ewald missed a 36-yard field goal attempt. Couple that with the up-and-down work they’ve had in the return game throughout the preseason and there’s plenty of work to be done.
  • The snap leaders for the night on offense were Manning and the starting offensive line, with 43 plays in the game (all in the first half). On defense Bolden led the way with 39 snaps in a variety of packages with linebackers Corey Nelson and Lerentee McCray checking in at 37 plays each.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In their first significant tackle-for-real effort of the 2014 preseason the Denver Broncos scooped out plenty of vanilla on defense, but it was clear they’re going to be able to rush the passer when they get down to business.

And beyond any reckless preseason sack prediction that are often are tossed out in the August sun, the Broncos have a variety in personnel and a defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio who is apt to rotate, switch out and use as many players as he can.

“Our guys know, and I say this to them and to you, if you have a uniform on game day and you’ve shown us you have something to offer, you’re going to play,’’ Del Rio said.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe Broncos got to Russell Wilson twice in Thursday night's preseason opener.
And then Del Rio added, with his best ex-linebacker half smile; “What that means specifically will have to wait. We’ll wait and see. We’ll wait and see until it all shakes out and we’re game-planning for our opponents. But I think we like our possibilities.’’

So, while the Broncos sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks three times Thursday night -- Russell Wilson twice in his 24 snaps, Tarvaris Jackson once -- and they will likely sack the quarterbacks to come here and there over the next three preseason games. But how it’s all going to look and if it really is better than what the Broncos had to offer last season, that will remain under wraps for the most part.

At least until the Colts and Andrew Luck shows up Sept. 7 for the regular-season opener.

“It is still training camp to where you can throw everything out there, you throw the kitchen sink out there,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “And then at the end once you’re done with training camp we have the tool box ready for the season. Now that is what this game is about, that is what each preseason game is about ... to get better each week.”

However it turns out it will be a convergence of returning players, including those who missed out on the Super Bowl because they were on injured reserve, players such as linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end Derek Wolfe and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson to go with those they’ve added. And they added three players -- Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward -- who have all been named to the Pro Bowl in their careers, including seven for Ware.

Former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has always said the defenses that make life the most miserable for quarterbacks essentially have three elements. They have more than one player who can consistently create pressure off the edge, they have a secondary good enough to make the quarterback hold the ball that little bit extra so the front can get there, and they can send players from all over the formation.

Again, while preseason optimism is a rite of summer to be sure, the Broncos would appear to have all three of those elements, even if Miller isn’t yet full speed.

“You don’t really get that chemistry until it’s like third-and-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and you’re down like three points, or you’re up by three points and you need a sack or a big play,’’ Miller said. “You don’t really get that chemistry until you’re in those types of situations. You develop that in those types of scenarios. When we get to that point, I’m confident that we’ll be able to perform to the best of our abilities, and I’m looking forward to getting in those situations.’’

Miller
Other than the injuries that eroded the defense as it dropped from fourth-best in points allowed per game in 2012 to 22nd last season, the loss of Elvis Dumervil in the fax fiasco rippled through the defense. Though the Broncos hit on free-agency bingo when late signee Shaun Phillips ended up leading the team with 10 sacks, Dumervil’s presence off the edge was not replaced.

Toss in Miller’s suspension and that even he admits he wasn’t quite himself when he returned, heavier by design.

“We never sort of replaced Elvis … I think we’re closer now to what we want to do on defense,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “ … I always say we’ll get what we earn, but we like where we are.’’

Where they will go will depends plenty on Ware’s health -- he battled elbow and leg injuries last season as he missed the first three games of his career -- and Miller’s ability to bounce back to something close to his 2012 form when he finished with 18.5 sacks. The Broncos have the kind of options Del Rio likes in the team’s specialty rush packages, which at times feature a swirl of players moving all over the formation, often with just one or two in a three-point stance.

It also creates competition to get snaps. Del Rio will use as many players as are in uniform on most game days, but the battle for playing time figures to be spirited. A group that will include the high-profile guys like Miller and Ware as well as Quanterus Smith, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, Malik Jackson and Ward having moved down from safety to linebacker in some of those looks.

“At the end of the day, everybody knows their job,’’ Vickerson said. “At the end of the day, everybody knows what their responsibilities are and where they’re supposed to be at on each call. With everybody doing their job and playing fast and physical and violent and doing the things on this side of the defense … that’s when you get done what you need to get done.’’
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks had a marathon affair Thursday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High that included a 45-minute lighting delay, a player ejection and two teams that combined for 20 penalties through three quarters.

All in all, the Broncos' 21-16 win was a rather ugly affair overall involving last February's Super Bowl teams, but also one in which the Broncos showed the kind of impact some of their new additions can have.

Here are some other thoughts on the Broncos' first preseason game of the year:


  • The Broncos have made their run game a priority throughout their offseason work as well as early on in training camp. No, they don't want to become some run-first outfit, but they do want to be able run the ball with efficiency when the game situation presents itself. To that end they have worked heavy packages in camp and broke one out on their first possession when they used three tight ends in addition to backup tackle Paul Cornick as a fourth tight end on consecutive snaps. There are rough edges to smooth as Ronnie Hillman went 2 yards and minus-1 yard on the two plays.
  • It is often logically hazardous to take a few preseason snaps and use them as a template to project anything to come in the regular season. Preseason football is routinely littered with August heroes. But DeMarcus Ware offered a glimpse of what he has left in his football tank. He blew up the Seahawks' first play from scrimmage -- a run in which Nate Irving tackled Robert Turbin for no gain -- and sacked Russell Wilson two plays later. No surprise for those who have seen Ware go about his business at Broncos camp, but put Von Miller back in the defense and the Broncos are going to be able to create plenty of pressure.
  • The Broncos had the officials in for a smattering of training camp practices. They saw the video on the "points of emphasis" on illegal contact and defensive holding. Consider them very much a work in progress there. Among the starters alone cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward were each flagged for defensive holding while Irving and fellow linebacker Danny Trevathan were flagged for illegal contact and pass interference, respectively. Ward also was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty.
  • Running back Juwan Thompson, an undrafted rookie from Duke, did what undrafted rookies need to do: He got noticed. Thompson had 59 yards rushing on his six carries, including a 20-yarder on a third-quarter touchdown drive. Thompson was a rotation back at Duke, but the Broncos liked what they saw from him in David Cutcliffe's offense -- the Blue Devils coach was Peyton Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee and remains a close confidant -- and the rookie hasn't disappointed throughout the offseason. He has a good feel in pass protection, runs with purpose and catches the ball smoothly. At 225 pounds he's also the biggest back on the roster and a former special teams captain at Duke. He's also the No. 4 back right now for a team that routinely keeps four.
  • After tinkering with the heavy formation, the Broncos' starting offense went back to its reliable three-wide set. Thirteen of the 14 plays in the unit's touchdown drive came in three-wide, the scoring play -- a 1-yard run by Hillman -- was in two tight end.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos opened training camp with a team that was good enough to have played in the Super Bowl six months before and as one of the league’s most active teams in free agency, a rare combination as they try to repair the damage from February’s 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Broncos wanted a little more nastiness on defense, more athleticism across the board and to keep their edge after back-to-back 13-3 seasons that have ended in postseason disappointment.

They wanted what John Elway calls “the right mentality."

So far in this training camp they have shown they should certainly be in the Super Bowl discussion if they simply keep the train on the tracks in the months to come.

“We will get what we work for," coach John Fox said.

Without many starting jobs open, or even roster spots for that matter, the camp has been about getting the new faces acclimated and smoothing any rough edges before things get going for real.

“I think we all understand what they’ve got going here and why they brought some of us in," said safety T.J. Ward, a free-agent signee. “We all know it’s time to get to work and get ready."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM


1. It’s clear already the offense is going to score plenty -- again. Peyton Manning, who needs just 18 touchdown passes to set the league career record, has looked as sharp as ever and may actually have more options to throw to than he did in last year's record-setting 606-point performance. Orlando Franklin’s move inside to guard means the Broncos should pass protect better in the middle of the formation, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders should have a career year in this offense, especially given his versatility to play all over the formation. The Broncos also didn’t sit on the laurels of last season’s record-setting effort as Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase were each aggressive and honest, with plenty of attention to detail when looking at what could be better.

[+] EnlargeWare
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDeMarcus Ware has made his presence felt since signing with the Broncos.
2. In cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and Ward, the Broncos got exactly what they wanted in free agency. Ware has commanded respect with his no-nonsense, quiet work ethic and leadership from his first day in the building. Talib is the physical corner who can match up anywhere in the formation the Broncos need him, and Ward is a guy defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will move all over the field. The Talib-Demaryius Thomas battles have created some of the highlights of practice. Ware has mentored, in some way, virtually all of the pass-rushers, especially linebacker Von Miller.

3. Continuity helps. The team’s playcallers on offense and defense -- Gase and Del Rio -- are back. Last season, as Gase raced to put in some changes to the offense when Mike McCoy moved on to become the Chargers' coach, the Broncos were working through the new stuff. This year, Gase has tweaked the offense in spots, but there looks to be a greater comfort level across the board. The groups have played fairly cleanly in practice, with only a smattering of penalties and a minimum of repeats as they have worked through things.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Until they square up in a game that counts, there is at least some question if a slightly revamped offensive line is going to make it happen in the run game. The Broncos don’t want to be some outdated, 50-50 run-pass affair, but they do want to be able to pound the ball to close out games and keep the heat off Manning when needed. Thus far, in limited full-contact work, it’s been a spotty effort with flashes of potential. It will be a key piece in keeping opposing defenses honest and giving the Broncos some other options in the scoring zone.

2. Somebody, anybody, has to step up in the return game. As camp has rolled on, the Broncos have simply mishandled too many kickoffs and punts. They would prefer to not have to use starters if they don’t have to, and wide receiver Andre Caldwell and defensive back Omar Bolden have been the most consistent in kickoff returns so far. At punt return, however, things are still open with Wes Welker, who suffered two concussions last season, currently listed at the top of the team’s depth chart. Because of the concussion risk, Welker is not the player the Broncos want catching punts beyond any deep-in-their-own-territory fair catches. So it is a chance for a young player such as wide receiver Jordan Norwood or rookie Isaiah Burse.

3. The blue ball is in play -- a football with a blue covering -- to emphasize ball security after the team led the league in lost fumbles last season. The Broncos also dropped their fair share of passes in 2013, including a seven-drop game against the New England Patriots and a six-drop game against the Tennessee Titans. It has been a front-burner issue all through camp, but they have still put the ball on the ground on occasion in workouts, especially on special teams. It will bear watching as they move through the preseason and into the regular season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • With the additions of Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer to an offense that already includes Demaryius Thomas, Welker and Julius Thomas, the Broncos feature an array of pass-catchers who can all play, with equal comfort, on the outside or in the slot. It gives them plenty of size to create some matchup problems against more aggressive defenses. Even the most aggressive defensive backs are going to have a difficult time manhandling them all as the Broncos have spent plenty of time considering how to consistently get their pass-catchers the free release they need off the line.
  • Manning, and his receivers have said as much, has shown a little more pop in his arm through offseason workouts and camp and has pushed the ball down the field with ease.
  • Of the team’s draft class, cornerback Bradley Roby is, at minimum, going to play in the nickel and dime, Latimer will be in the rotation on offense, and Lamin Barrow figures to get special-teams work and could work his way into some of the specialty packages on defense.
  • In recent seasons, the Broncos have consistently had a late free-agent signing, a veteran who signs a one-year deal, come in and contribute in a big way. This year it looks like that guy is going to be defensive tackle Marvin Austin. He had back surgery in the past year, and the former second-round pick by the Giants has caught the Broncos’ eye.
  • It’s early with plenty of road to be traveled, but the most improved players from a year ago look to be running back Ronnie Hillman and guard Ben Garland, who was switched from defensive tackle in the offseason and is pushing hard for one of the final roster spots allotted for the offensive line. Hillman has shown the big-play potential the offense needs at the position, especially as it looks to improve its impact on runs between the tackles against the bevy of nickel and dime formations used to stop the Broncos' passing game.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Many of the prime-time players who had a role in Super Bowl XLVIII this past February won't make more than a cameo in Thursday night's preseason opener for the Denver Broncos.

There is a chance, though, that the opening few plays of Thursday's game with the Seattle Seahawks could offer a brief, yet intense batch of plays, all these months after the Seahawks' 35-point win over the Broncos.

"We won't need any more speeches," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "They are the champs, and they get the last word. But ultimately our goal is to get back to the big show and win it this time. I think that playing them in the preseason and the regular season will show if we're ready or not to take that next step. I'm just looking forward to it."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Evan VucciPeyton Manning and the Broncos have been answering questions about the Seahawks since the embarrassing loss in the Super Bowl. The Broncos and Seahawks meet this week in the preseason opener for both teams.
"Even though it's a preseason game, you know it's going to be physical," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. "We're looking to be physical. You know they're already physical. It's going to be a head-knocker. The first preseason game, regardless, we're both looking to set the tone for the rest of the season."

Backups will account for most of whatever becomes of Thursday night's affair at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And given the two teams will face each other, for real, in the third week of the regular season, it's unlikely either of them decides to show much to the other.

But given this is the Broncos' first opponent since the Super Bowl blowout, it does offer something to consider. Especially since some in the league quietly agree with what Bobby Wagner said on ESPN -- that the Broncos were intimidated by the Seahawks' defense in the title game.

Wagner even used the word "timid." The Broncos have been answering questions about how they lost the Super Bowl and about the way in which they lost it every day since it happened. Even as recently as after Saturday's scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, quarterback Peyton Manning was asked about the Seahawks, as well as the Super Bowl loss, and if that loss motivates them in the season to come.

"I think the entire team has been motivated," Manning said at his deflecting best. "We're trying to get better, trying to be a better team than we were last year but that started back in April though when we got back on the offseason program. We have worked hard every day and as a veteran player, I certainly appreciate that.”

Broncos coach John Fox has tried to turn down the hype burner a bit on the whole thing when he offered this weekend: "It's the preseason, not a lot of people remember the preseason."

And it should be noted Manning played all of seven snaps in last year's preseason opener -- in San Francisco -- and he was 2-of-4 passing for 13 yards. This won't be a long night for anybody's regulars, but there should be some quality entertainment on the smattering of snaps the starters do play on both sides.

And given the preseason meeting and the regular-season meeting with the Seahawks are just more than six weeks apart on the football calendar, and the fact all of the rugged NFC West teams are on the Broncos' schedule this season, the Broncos' on-field response to the Super Bowl loss figures to be a topic for much of the season.

"Of course it means something," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has been indoctrinated since his arrival in free agency this past March. "That's a defense that beat us in the Super Bowl -- and I'm going to say ‘us' because now I'm a Denver Bronco -- but it's one that beat us in the Super Bowl. So we've got to go out, we've got to make a statement. There are a lot of guys who are hungry and a lot of guys that are excited that we do have the Seattle Seahawks the first preseason game and in the regular season."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you sifted through all of the words both the Denver Broncos’ football decision-makers and players have already said a week into training camp, there are three that have routinely been peppered into the conversations.

Toughness.

Attitude.

Mentality.

If you’re looking for a theme, a mantra, a way of doing things in the 2014 season for the Super Bowl hopeful on the Front Range, there it is.

“No question,’’ safety T.J. Ward said. “They already had a great team here, Peyton Manning, they won a lot of games. Some of us came in new and we just want to help, add a little thump if we can. I know I wanted to be a part of a team like this.’’

The Broncos are a week into training camp, and as we work through the hope-for-the-best stories about better leadership, depth and the luxury of the fresh start each summer gives to every NFL team, they are working to clear their own hurdle to go from last February’s Super Bowl loss to what they hope this season will be.

There was plenty good about what they did last season as the highest-scoring team, with the highest-scoring quarterback in league history. They can’t just abandon that because of one dismal February night. But for all of the records, fireworks on offense and piles of touchdowns, it wasn’t enough to win the title.

So, hence the search for toughness, for attitude and for what the team’s football boss John Elway has consistently called that “championship mentality.’’

Elway has said “it’s hard to win a world championship. Nobody just waves you by so you can walk up and have it handed it to you. You have to go get it.''

A few days into camp and it’s already clear, moving Orlando Franklin to guard should help. In live run-game drills, the Broncos showed the ability to move people in the middle of the field. They still haven’t found a right tackle -- Chris Clark has taken most of the snaps with the regulars -- to play as well as Franklin did.

But the Broncos want, and need, to be tougher on the interior, to run better inside, to protect Manning more consistently from inside rushers. Franklin can aid that cause.

Then there’s the defense, which got most of the attention and money in the offseason. And their progress, which includes the return of some players who were on injured reserve last season, can be measured in how much better they have stared down Manning and Adam Gase’s high-flying offense in their own practices so far. It isn't as if there is a more proficient offense waiting on the schedule.

It’s been far more difficult for the Broncos' offensive starters to move the ball on the defensive starters already. And it’s not because the Broncos have lost traction on offense, it’s because to 11 players across from it are better than they were in 2013.

DeMarcus Ware has the look of a team captain a few months into his tenure with Denver, and he physically looks as if he will make a high-profile team to the East feel some regret about losing him. And while the preseason figures to be two scoops of vanilla from Jack Del Rio and his cast, this defense should be top 5 if it’s healthy.

In the end, the games decide how much improvement was really made. Through the years, the league has been littered with team who are happy in the summer only to miss the playoffs when December rolls around. But if people believe they will see a shell-shocked Broncos team, still limping after a 35-point title game loss, they won’t.

They think that one is so last year.
DENVER -- With a massive $35 million construction project still underway at their complex, the Denver Broncos have kept fans out of training camp this summer. But Sunday the team’s faithful were set to get their first look at the team as the Broncos were scheduled to hold the day’s practice at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

 Fans were already lined up at the stadium gates just after 8 a.m. Mountain time for the 11:30 a.m. practice. Sunday’s practice will be the first of three at the stadium in the coming week. It was the fans' first opportunity to see the newest Broncos like DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders as well as the team's rookie class in uniform.

In addition to Sunday’s practice, the team will practice at the stadium on Wednesday in addition to a scrimmage/practice Saturday. Quarterback Peyton Manning has said he hopes the stadium practices will help players push through the “tough’’ days in the second and third weeks of camp.

“I think our players are excited,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “Anytime they walk in there, it’s such a great spot and we have such great fans. That obviously sparks them especially since the fans aren’t able to come out here. I think they are definitely looking forward to it.”

The Broncos bused from the team’s complex to the stadium on Sunday morning. The Broncos first preseason game is Aug. 7 against the Seattle Seahawks in Sports Authority.

“Anytime you get in the stadium around fans and family,’’ Ward said. “It makes it a little bit more exciting to play.’’

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