Denver Broncos: Von Miller

John Fox: 'There are no cupcakes'

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
DENVER – Observed and heard in the Broncos' locker room after their win 24-17 over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday:
  • The Broncos were left to explain what was on, at least some levels, an unsightly win. And while the scrappy, not-so-pretty wins were celebrated before Peyton Manning signed, the Broncos 11-penalty day where the Chiefs ran 29 more plays on offense than Denver did was not. It was enough to get coach John Fox’s hackles up . “We’re not going to win every game 58 to nothing,’’ Fox said. Fox later added: “There are no cupcakes, there never will be. They’re all tough and you feel good about all of [the wins].’’
  • The Broncos' defensive players all say they love the crowd noise, the thunder of stomping feet by those in the seats for their home games. But Sunday the Broncos struggled in their own stadium at times. The Broncos' defense had four offside penalties, including one by defensive end Quanterus Smith that negated what would have been a game-clinching interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “They had a really good snap count,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “There’s no excuse, it’s watching the ball. But when you have a lot of movement before the snap of the ball, you get a little antsy.’’
  • The Broncos' defense has made a play on fourth down in the closing minutes to preserve a seven-point victory in each of the first two games. Last week it was rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocking a pass away from Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and this week it was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knocking down a pass on fourth down with 15 seconds to play. “We just got to end the game there,’’ cornerback Aqib Talib said. “We saw the clock, we saw the down and distance, defense just had to end that game. We like being on field last.’’
  • The Broncos came out of the game with two injuries -- to linebackers Lerentee McCray and Von Miller. Initially McCray’s looks to be more serious. He was taken to the locker room in the first quarter with a right knee injury and did not return. McCray will have an MRI on Monday, but after the preliminary exam there was some concern he could miss some time. Miller, who was not in the game during the Chiefs’ final drive, will be evaluated more on Monday as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a business in which most anything can be considered some kind of competitive edge, signs posted outside the visitors' locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, in enormous lettering, remind teams the stadium indeed sits a mile above sea level.

There's even a helpful list outlining the symptoms of altitude sickness.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware is learning to adjust to playing time at one mile above sea level.
All to serve as reminders to opposing players and coaches of the thin air and the difference between playing in Denver and any other stadium in the NFL.

But in these days of limited preseason playing time for the starters, even the Broncos are reminded once the regular season arrives.

"Practicing in it you get used to it at a certain tempo, but when you have a different competitor and you have to actually play four quarters, it's a lot different," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said of his first regular-season game as a Bronco this past weekemd. "Your body gets a little more fatigued. That comes with better conditioning and practice, and that's what we did this week to make sure guys don't get as tired or can sustain for four quarters."

In the 31-24 victory Sunday over the Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Broncos had two players -- linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. -- who were eight and seven months removed from ACL surgery respectively, so their snaps were limited. So while the Broncos played 74 snaps on defense against the Colts, not an outlandish total, 49 of those plays came in the second half when the Colts scored 17 of their 24 points.

The Colts' rally included a 14-point fourth quarter. The Broncos needed a stop in the final minutes -- rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocked a fourth-down pass away from Reggie Waybe to end Indianapolis' final possession -- to secure the win.

Broncos defenders have said there was a fatigue factor in there to go with the adrenaline of the season opener, something they expect to handle better this week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I think [the opener] is a gauge," Broncos head coach John Fox said. "It's the first regular-season game, the first time really any team plays their regulars for four quarters. So I think most guys were able to gauge how they felt. Everybody's different, every position is different. So hopefully, we put a lot of responsibility on them to know their conditioning, and we've got a lot of resources here, so I feel a lot better about it this week than last week."

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio sees room for improvement.

"I think as a group, we feel we can be and need to be better," Del Rio said. "So with Von in particular, Chris, guys that are coming off injuries, that's their first real exposure for a significant amount of snaps. So certainly they'll build on that, learn from some things, the conditioning aspect and going with that many plays that will get better over the next couple of weeks so we're early in the season, early in the process but it's great to have those guys back."

In the end, safety Rahim Moore, linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward were the only players on defense to play all 74 snaps. Cornerback Aqib Talib checked in at 72 snaps and Roby came in at 63. After he played just nine snaps in the preseason, Miller played 56 snaps in the game while Harris, who did not play in the preseason, finished with 39 snaps against the Colts.

"I've said I feel great, the knee feels great,' Harris said. "I just need to get some of my wind. It'll get better."

Both Miller's and Harris' playing time are going to be monitored; the Broncos have taken a long-term approach as they come back from those injuries. Both expect to progressively play more. Ware said he too, after 50 snaps in his first home game with the Broncos, expects to increase his total, at least a little, in the weeks to come.

"Every [opening] game I feel fatigue like that because you're not used to playing four quarters in the preseason," Ware said. "It's a progression from one [quarter], two, three each [preseason] game and the last game you don't even play. You've just got to get used to it and your body has to get used to it. I told [Miller] that he put a lot in this offseason. He's rehabilitated himself to get back to where he is right now. Now he just has to get that fatigue out and get his body in better shape so he can endure through four quarters so he can be effective throughout the whole game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- An examination of what the Denver Broncos must to after their win over the Indianapolis Colts:

When a game gets a little frayed around the edges before it eventually ends a victory, quarterback Peyton Manning will often quote his first NFL head coach -- Jim Mora.

"(Mora) used to say 'don't take winning for granted,'" Manning said after a game got a little frayed around the edges as the Broncos still came away with a 31-24 victory over the Colts in their season opener. "And sometimes people do it, we'll learn from it."

Some things to consider:
  • Too many drops: Routinely "it's the opener," is often the response for some things that aren't quite as they should be in the opener. But by the time the Broncos had finished three quarters of play Sunday night, Demaryius Thomas had three drops, Andre Caldwell had two (one a tough call, but he would say he should have reeled it in) and Emmanuel Sanders had one. This isn't new. Even in the never-before-seen 606-point season the Broncos put up in 2013, they Broncos simply dropped too many passes. Last season, the top three wideouts -- Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker all dropped at least five passes with Welker's team-leading nine, including two three-drop games. The Broncos escaped, but with the schedule they have, those are potential first downs/big plays they don't want to leave on the table.
  • Not happy: It's certain the Broncos will send the video clip to the league office for a review, but the team's coaches and players were not happy about how special teams captain David Bruton Jr. suffered a left shoulder injury on what was a touchback on a Broncos' kickoff late in the second quarter. Some used the words "cheap shot." Broncos coach John Fox reacted angrily on the sideline following the hit on Bruton Jr. by Indianapolis safety Colt Anderson on what was clearly going to be a touchback with the kicked ball out of play from the moment Brandon McManus launched the kick. Bruton Jr. is expected to miss some time and his would be a big loss on the team's specialty units. Tight end Jacob Tamme would be asked to lead a little more, do a little more if Bruton Jr. is sidelined.
  • Work in progress: The Broncos' run game, which the team hopes will be more efficient this season than last, especially, let's say, when trying to protect a big lead against a team with a clutch playmaker at quarterback. Oh, like the Colts. The Broncos had a good thing going in the first half with 75 yards rushing on their 18 carries. Simple, efficient, just what they are looking for. But in the second half, the Broncos rushed 14 times for 27 yards, and in the fourth quarter when they couldn't slam the door until the Colts' final possession, they ran for all of nine yards on nine carries. That is still too one dimensional.
  • Work them in: The recoveries of Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. from ACL surgeries in January and February respectively, have been remarkable. But the Broncos are going to be careful with the two starters and the defense should get more consistent as the two regain their conditioning as they continue to work into the lineup. But the Colts' comeback was indeed rooted in Andrew Luck's immense ability under pressure, but also in the fact the Broncos were rotating Harris Jr., Miller and DeMarcus Ware (he had elbow surgery in the offseason and leg injuries last year) in and out of the lineup. When all was said and done Harris Jr. played 39 of the defense's 74 snaps, Miller played 56 and Ware played 50. The Broncos will continue to play it safe and they do like their depth, but that play time should increase as they go, especially Harris Jr.'s.

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."
DENVER -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after the team hung on Sunday night for a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts:
  • Safety David Bruton's was the most significant injury for the Broncos. The special teams captain suffered a left shoulder injury covering a second-quarter kickoff. Bruton suffered the injury on what was a touchback. He received treatment following the game and will undergo an MRI on Monday. Just before he left the locker room, Bruton said he still held out hope he wouldn't miss much time. Linebacker Nate Irving left the game in the third quarter with a lower right leg injury, but he did re-enter the game in the fourth quarter. Irving will be examined again Monday.
  • Broncos safety Quinton Carter waited almost two seasons, after multiple knee surgeries, including a microfracture procedure, to play in another regular-season game. Carter finished with five tackles on defense to go with two more on special teams and forced a fumble. "It was very emotional, truly blessed to be back out there," he said, "... but you know you look hard at it, a little disappointed too, left a couple plays out there, dropped a pick for sure. But definitely some gratification to be back out there. There were plenty of days I wasn't sure if I would ever play again."
  • With cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller having had ACL surgeries in February and January, respectively, the Broncos played it safe at times in the players' first full game since their injuries. Miller played just nine snaps in the preseason; Harris not at all. The Broncos used rookie Bradley Roby and Tony Carter to spell Harris at times while Lerentee McCray got plenty of work in Miller's strongside linebacker spot. "I'll be all right," Harris said. "I just need to get my wind back." For his part, Miller said, "I was more thinking about breathing. The knee wasn't an issue, it was more conditioning. I haven't played a full game in I don't know how long."
  • Broncos tight end Julius Thomas had his first three-touchdown game Sunday night, but there may have been more out there for him. "On Wednesday you're always saying 'Man, look at this game plan, there's five touchdowns'," Thomas said. The Colts tried to cover Thomas with a linebacker early in the game and then tried safety LaRon Landry as well. When all was said and done, Thomas had seven receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns, with five of those catches for 90 yards and all three touchdowns in the first half. Colts coach Chuck Pagano called him "a monster."
  • And this from quarterback Peyton Manning on becoming just the second quarterback to defeat all 32 teams in the league as a starter -- Brett Favre is the other; "I think it means you have to be old. You have to be 38 years old probably, at least, to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I will have that one up on my mantel or anything like that -- put it that way."

W2W4: Denver Broncos Week 1

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It wouldn’t be the first time over the past three seasons that quarterback Peyton Manning has, in just a few words, summed up the Denver Broncos' mindset as an organization.

But this week, Manning likely spoke for all of his teammates, all of his coaches and for most folks in the region when, on the doorstep of the team’s regular-season opener, Manning showed just how ready he is to leave the offseason behind.

"I am tired of talking," Manning said with a sigh. "I am looking forward to playing some real football."

After months of being called soft in the Super Bowl from people far and wide, a major re-tooling of their defense and Manning’s next-level preparation to make another run at a title, the Broncos have their first chance at some of that real football Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts.

Some things to keep an eye on:
  • Robinson
    Del Rio
    Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio played things so close to the vest in the preseason, the game plan might have actually been inside the vest. If there is something beyond vanilla on the don’t-show-anything scale, that is where Del Rio was. Sunday will be the first showcase of what the defense's new personnel will mean in the big picture, and how Del Rio intends to deploy all of his players. Certainly, the Broncos figure to be far more aggressive overall, especially in pass-rush situations when they now have far more options to vary their fronts and send rushers from anywhere in the front seven or from the secondary.
  • The Colts will arrive with a battered offensive line -- they have injuries at center and both tackle spots. Their backup left tackle, Joe Reitz will miss several weeks with an ankle injury, their backup right tackle, Xavier Nixon, was placed on injured reserve/designated for return. At center, if Khaled Holmes can't play because of an ankle injury, the Colts' options at the moment are A.Q. Shipley, claimed off waivers this week, and rookie Jonotthan Harrison, who has dealt with a hand injury. That is a lot of uncertainty up front for the Colts, so Indianapolis figures to pound away at the Broncos in the run game out of some heavier formations. That would keep the Broncos in their base defense and keep Del Rio out of some of the more exotic pass-rush looks if the Colts are able to keep manageable down-and-distance situations. The Colts could put quarterback Andrew Luck on the move a bit with a moving pocket to try to keep him out of harm’s way. But if the Colts have to use double teams out wide to slow down DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, look for Del Rio to send a later rusher or two at the middle of the formation.
  • Ball
    The Broncos have said since the opening day of their offseason that Montee Ball is ready for the primary role at running back. Ball played in just one preseason game because of an appendectomy early in training camp, but has shown he has enough skills in the passing game -- both in pass protection and catching the ball -- to get some three-down work in the offense. There is every chance he’s the team’s first 250-carry back since Reuben Droughns in 2004. The Broncos flashed plenty of two, three and even four-tight end looks in the preseason when they wanted to grind it out a bit. They aren't going to be a run-first team, but they want the option if they need it.
  • Undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse rallied some in the final preseason game, but overall the Broncos were not consistent in the return game for more of training camp. They bobbled too many, dropped too many, made bad choices, especially when it wasn’t Emmanuel Sanders catching the ball. They would rather not use Sanders, because of his primary role on offense, fielding punts or kickoffs. It is really the only item a deep, talented team with Super Bowl aspirations didn’t nail down in the preseason, and it also happens to be an item that can change games quickly.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When the Denver Broncos opened their offseason program, the middle linebacker spot in their defense was one of the few spots on the depth chart that was considered wide open.

And Nate Irving got the first shot.

All these weeks and months later, the Broncos are just two days out from their regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts and Irving is still in there, having done his part to take what was characterized as a competition and turn it into a chorus of crickets.

[+] EnlargeNate Irving, Jermaine Kearse
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesNate Irving figures to have a hand in more action this season for the Broncos.
“Nothing is ever set in stone,’’ Irving said after Friday’s practice. “And this is a production-based job, if I’m not doing it somebody else is going to have to come in and do it. But right now I’m not happy to be here, I’m still going to work, trying to help my team, become a better player overall.’’

This time around Irving seized the opportunity in front of him. Last summer they tried him at middle linebacker as well and while he eventually went on to fill in well for Von Miller at strong-side linebacker, especially following Miller’s Week 16 ACL injury and into the postseason, the middle linebacker thing just didn’t go the way Irving had hoped it would.

The Broncos moved Wesley Woodyard into the middle early in the season and after Woodyard suffered a stinger Oct. 6 against the Dallas Cowboys, the Broncos then put Paris Lenon, who they had signed during training camp, in the middle.

This time Irving has gone in and stayed in.

“For the coaches to have that faith in me, for my teammates to have that faith in me and to have faith in myself was a pretty big deal to me,’’ Irving said. “And I thank them for it.’’

In these current pass-happy times, the middle linebacker in the base defense is essentially a specialty position. But defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has consistently said the Broncos’ ability to keep opposing offenses in down-and-distance situations that favor the Broncos’ pass rushers, the ones where a defense can get sacks, force turnovers and change games, will be dependent upon standing tall in the base defense.

Some scouts said when Irving, a third-round pick in the 2011 draft, entered the league that they weren’t sure Irving could consistently square up blockers in run defense to be in position to shed blockers and make tackles as a middle linebacker without surrendering a running lane, Perhaps he was better suited to play on the outside. And at times, when Irving previously played at middle linebacker, the Broncos wanted more from him in that role.

And they’ve seen it so far.

“I think he’s very familiar with our defense, he has some confidence with the way he played last year when he filled in for Von, he understands what he’s supposed to do, where he’s supposed to be,’’ Del Rio said. “He’s a heavy-handed guy, who’s done a good job in what we’re doing. We like what he’s done.’’

The Broncos, with the Indianapolis Colts’ injury struggles in the offensive line, expect the Colts to pound away out of some heavier formations at times in the run game. That would put the Broncos in their base defense, with Irving in the middle, in position to stop the run, especially early in the game.

“I just think you try, each year, be better than you were at that point last year, that’s the goal,’’ Irving said. “How much have I progressed? From my rookie year until now? Mountains, man. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived yet, so I still have a long way to go. But I’m excited to have the chance.’’

Broncos vs. Colts preview

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
The last time the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos faced each other, the Broncos were rolling along with a 6-0 record, having scored at least 41 points in four of those games and 50 in two. But on Oct. 20, they couldn’t block Indianapolis' Robert Mathis (two sacks and a forced fumble), quarterback Peyton Manning aggravated his ankle injuries, and the Broncos limped away from a 39-33 loss.

This time, the Colts will see a newly minted defense -- just five players remain from the Super Bowl XLVIII roster -- and the Broncos will see a Colts team that has battled injuries throughout the preseason and is without Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday night’s game.

Wells: Not that Manning needs any motivation to get better year to year, but how much did the embarrassing Super Bowl loss fuel him during the offseason and in training camp, especially because the clock is ticking on his career?

Legwold: Mike, as folks in Indianapolis saw for quite some time, Manning is a study in focus, and he simply attacked the offseason. He said once he decided he was all-in for the coming season, and his annual exam on his neck came back with a medical thumbs-up, he went about the business of taking last season apart -- league-record 606 points, Super Bowl blowout and all -- pass by pass. He looked at his incompletions, interceptions, touchdowns, plays that should have been touchdowns and plays that should have been interceptions. He essentially took his game back to the foundation. Coach John Fox says Manning looks stronger physically than in his previous two seasons in Denver, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas says Manning has shown more arm strength in workouts. Put it all together and it’s pretty clear Manning is locked in on getting another shot at the trophy.

Keeping with the quarterbacks, where do the Colts believe quarterback Andrew Luck is on his developmental curve? This is decidedly his team, correct?

Wells: I’d say it became Luck’s team once they selected him No. 1 overall in 2012. That is not a bad thing when you take into account Luck has led the Colts to 22 wins, two playoff appearances and an AFC South title in his first two seasons. Did I mention that he is only 24? Not that Luck needs any pats on the back, but you could tell how he is perceived by others when our colleague Mike Sando talked to executives around the league and they said he is a top-five NFL quarterback. There is nothing wrong with being voted behind Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Those are four future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Colts have a chance to beat any team, including the Broncos, as long as No. 12 is taking the snaps for them.

The Colts' issue is whether the defense can play on the same level as Luck and the offense. The Broncos went out and added some substantial pieces to their defense. Can the defense be as good as Manning and the offense?

Legwold: If it isn’t, it won’t be because the Broncos didn’t make the effort. They made an almost unprecedented dive into free agency for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance, adding defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib. They also used their first-round pick in the May draft on cornerback Bradley Roby. All four players will get significant snaps against the Colts on Sunday night. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway wanted more speed on defense and more attitude. The Broncos, who had five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they got to the Super Bowl, also have a healthy Von Miller back at linebacker and Chris Harris at cornerback. They have not shown much in the preseason, so the Colts will get the first real look at this unit. But Miller and Ware give Denver the kind of one-two pairing in the pass rush it had with Miller and Elvis Dumervil in 2012, when this was a top-five defense.

Defensively, Mathis is suspended for the first four games of the season. The previous time these teams played, Mathis was the most disruptive defensive player on the field. What is the Colts’ plan to get to Manning this time around?

Wells: How about we say: What do the Colts hope to do without Mathis? As you pointed out, Mathis was the difference-maker in the game last year. His strip-sack of Manning was a momentum changer because it led to a safety and started a string of 23 straight points for Indy. Bjoern Werner is starting at outside linebacker in place of Mathis. But let’s be real, there is no replacing Mathis' 19.5 sacks from last season. The Colts will attempt to do it by committee. The starting defense accounted for only two sacks in the preseason. That is pretty scary to think about. Manning is the master of picking apart defenses.

I was going to ask you about Wes Welker and his concussion issues. Now the Colts don’t have worry about facing him because he has been suspended for the first four games of the season. How do the Broncos go about replacing Welker in the lineup?

Legwold: Welker’s suspension is the reason the Broncos will have to adjust their rotation at wide receiver Sunday night, but they had put plans in motion long before because of Welker’s concussions. He had two last season and suffered a third in an Aug. 23 preseason game. The Broncos made Emmanuel Sanders a primary target in free agency and used a second-round draft pick on Cody Latimer in May. Sanders, who has shown in the preseason just how big a year he could have in this offense, will get plenty of work in the slot; he played there during most of his tenure with the Steelers. Tight end Jacob Tamme, who played in the slot a great deal in Manning’s first year in Denver (2012), will also get plenty of snaps. The Broncos will move the pass-catchers all over in search of the matchups they like. They have a versatile group of receivers and tight ends that should allow them to overcome four games without Welker.

A different kind of injury issue to be sure, and you have written about it plenty, but how will the Colts adjust things on the offensive line to line up against a revamped Broncos defense?

Wells: The offensive line has been an issue for the Colts going back to when Manning was there. Luck has his best group of offensive weapons to work with since entering the league, but none of that matters if the line can’t do its job. Luck has been sacked 73 times in his first two seasons. The Colts have a rookie -- Jack Mewhort -- starting at one guard, a second-year player -- Hugh Thornton -- at the other guard, and center is up the air. Khaled Holmes, the projected starter, missed four weeks with a sprained ankle, and A.Q. Shipley was claimed off waivers from Baltimore last weekend. Ware and the rest of the Denver defense should be excited about the opportunity to get after Luck.

Jack Del Rio sees 'Crush' potential

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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. -- When the Denver Broncos take the field against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night, the team’s defense will feature several players who have come all the way back from injury to regain their spots in the team’s rotation.

Linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., safety Rahim Moore and safety Quinton Carter, who were all on injured reserve last season by the time the Broncos had reached Super Bowl XLVIII, all continue to be on track to take their places back in the defense.

"There’s so much to be excited about," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said following Thursday’s practice.

Carter spent two years coming back from knee troubles, while Harris, Miller and Moore all spent time on injured reserve in 2013. But as the Broncos move into the final days before their regular-season opener Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, they continue to be healthy and ready.

Harris has declared, "I’m a 100 percent, ready to go."

Del Rio said Harris, who did not play in the preseason and is still less than seven months removed from ACL surgery, will be monitored, but Del Rio expects no issues.

"We’ll work through it," Del Rio said. "We have an idea of what we would like to have happen and we’ll adjust if we need to. He’s anxious and ready to go. He’s been terrific. The guy is the ultimate competitor."

Overall the Broncos continue to have a light showing on the injury report.

Guard Ben Garland (ankle) and linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia early in training camp, were again the only players held out of practice with injuries.

Guard Louis Vasquez (back) and wide receiver Isaiah Burse (heat related), who left Wednesday’s practice and did not return, practiced fully on Thursday.

Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson was excused for personal reasons.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Often when Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is offering up something for public consumption, he will turn down the volume on the compliments.

Things are “fine.’’ Players do a “nice job." And if, out from behind the closed doors of the defensive meeting room, he really wants to lay it on thick, a player is “quality."

But when Del Rio talks about Von Miller’s return, the coach is emphatic.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesVon Miller is close to his playing weight from his All-Pro season in 2012.
“I have no doubt, and I’ve said this before, no doubt Von is going to come back and be the player he was (in 2012)," Del Rio said. “He’s a player of unique characteristics and we like what we’ve seen out on the practice field, like how he’s gone about his work, and that’s why I say no doubt."

Miller, a first-team All-Pro in 2012, is looking to bounce back from a turbulent 2013 season that included a six-game suspension to open it and a torn ACL to close it. He feels the same way about his outlook for 2014.

“Things happen and you have to deal with things, but I know I’ve said it about 100 times, but I’m in a great place right now, mentally, physically, everything," Miller said. "I go one day at a time right now, but I want to be the player they think I can be and the player I know I can be."

ESPN used 85 voters from across its 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, and Miller checked in at No. 11. That's still plenty of respect after what Miller called “not the kind of season I want,’’ but not what his standing would have been following an 18.5-sack season in 2012 when Miller was so disruptive, so game-changing, he was in the same top-shelf conversations as Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

And after all of the off-the-field issues last season, to go with Miller having made the decision to come back from his suspension far heavier -- he said about 270 pounds -- than when he was at his best, there were at least some questions inside the Broncos’ organization about Miller’s future as well as his maturity to handle both what he had done and what was ahead.

But by all accounts, Miller attacked his injury rehab and the structure of that rehab in his offseason seemed to suit him. He remained in Denver for much of the offseason, and when the rest of the Broncos opened their offseason workouts on the field, Miller was far closer to 255 pounds, when he was at his best.

The Broncos also signed DeMarcus Ware in the offseason and Ware has been a quality mentor for Miller, a member of the league's 100-sack club and someone Miller looked up to even before Ware arrived in Denver.

“For all the chatter that they talk about Von not being the guy they want him to be, when I first got here, he was one of the first guys in the treatment room, working out really hard, over and beyond," Ware said. “You can see how he’s rehabilitated himself to be an even better player than he was. That comes with mental toughness. He’s doing really well. I was very surprised with how athletic he was. He’s very fast and agile. He’s a really quick guy. I thought I was quick, but he’s actually quicker than I am. … When you see a guy that uses the offseason to get himself right … I think that really shows he’s really focused this season."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On the surface it was just another practice play in a summer sea full of practice plays.

There was Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, under center, doing Manning what Manning does when making things just so in the team's offense. Pointing, working through the cadence, moving people around, all in some situational work.

Manny Ramirez snapped the ball, Manning started his dropback, eyes downfield. Just as he planted his back foot to start his throwing motion, linebacker Von Miller swooped in, a training-camp fly-by with a simple touch to the quarterback's shoulder that is required.

And if there is one play in recent weeks that showed Miller's readiness to return from ACL surgery and back into the lineup, that one is better than most.

"I just feel great," Miller said. "I've been coming in every day, doing what they want me to do, everything I need to do to get back on the field. That's where I'm at. I'm in a good place."

Over the past two weeks the Broncos have seen Miller's progress from his January surgery to repair his ACL. First they allowed him to participate in some team drills when the team wasn't in full gear and then in fully padded practices as well. The prevailing wisdom with the team's decision-makers in watching all of that is that he just might be ready to take some snaps in Saturday night's preseason game against the Houston Texans.

It is the Broncos' third preseason game so the routine schedule calls for the starters to play into the third quarter before they largely sit out the fourth preseason game just five days later. For Miller it would likely be the only opportunity to get on the field before the regular season begins -- if that is indeed still something the Broncos would like to do.

"We'll just play it day to day," Broncos head coach John Fox has said. " ... We like what we've seen, but we're going to be smart about all of our players. You want to get ready to play in the preseason, but you also want to make sure you have everybody you can available for the regular season. But again we like what we've seen."

Miller figures to at least get some work during the three days' worth of practices with the Texans this week. But the two teams will try to play it as safely as possible with the regular season so close. Players will not be tackled to the ground in any of the workouts. The Texans were the Broncos' opponent when Miller suffered his injury last December.

Miller routinely defers to the team's medical staff on the timetable of his full return, but also makes clear his desire to get back into his usual role in the defense. At least some work against the Texans this week as well as Saturday night would smooth out some of the few remaining rough edges as the Broncos point toward the regular season next week and beyond.

"I just feel great out here in practice and that's where I'm going to keep it right now," Miller said. "Practicing against another team is always more intense. My teammates care about me. They (the Texans) may not care about me as much, so I don't know how that'll go, but [Broncos head trainer Steve Antonopulos] and everybody else, they have a great game plan for me."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For many who currently have lockers inside the Denver Broncos' complex, things get down to the vocational nitty gritty this week.

For months they have shown up to work each day, part of a team. They've worked in the weight room, eaten in the cafeteria and rubbed shoulders with their far more famous teammates.

After this week, the Broncos will send almost half of them on their way.

The Broncos will practice against the Houston Texans this week, play the Texans Saturday night and then cut at least 37 players from their current roster in a span of seven days with a fourth preseason game sandwiched in there somewhere.

And while the Broncos didn't have all that many roster jobs in play when they opened training camp, there are still plenty of tough decisions, especially at a few spots, with some things to consider:

Salary cap: The Broncos were active in free agency this past offseason. But they are squarely up against the salary cap right now -- $133 million per team -- and that is going to impact some of their decisions.

Only the top 51 salary-cap figures count in the preseason, but that luxury ends when rosters go to 53 players the week before the opener. The Broncos top 51 cap salary-cap figures come in at $129.7 million at the moment and the team is carrying $6.43 million worth of “dead'' money as well -- cap figures for players no longer on the team, led by $2.1 million for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and $1.83 million for the retired Chris Kuper.

So, even with the accounting of salary cap rollover and subtracting other expenses that amount to about $3.3 million more available cap space, the Broncos are up against the limit when you consider they still have to leave room for players who end up on injured reserve and for a practice squad.

Right now the Broncos' top 53 salary cap figures come in at $130.761 million, so add in that dead money and it's clear they have work to get done whether that includes a new deal for Demaryius Thomas or an unexpected roster cut or two.

Defensive line: With their offseason work, to go with the recovery of those who were on injured reserve last season, the Broncos turned this from a red-flag position into one of the deepest on the roster.

As a result, the Broncos will likely let a player, or players, go here who will draw some interest from other teams. That hasn't always been the case with their roster in recent seasons, which may be, along with back-to-back 13-3 season, a measure of their progress from 2010's 4-12 finish.

The question really comes down to if the team keeps just eight players here, which is exactly what they did last season. Part of the rationale, from a personnel standpoint, in keeping eight is that linebacker Von Miller is in one of the defensive end spots for most of the team's pass-rush looks.

Start counting and it doesn't take long to find eight that would make a quality rotation. Combine some common sense with the way they've practiced and played the first two preseason games and DeMarcus Ware, Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams and Derek Wolfe are the starters in the base defense.

Malik Jackson, Quanterus Smith and Marvin Austin project as the next three. That could leave, if the number is eight, Mitch Unrein, Kevin Vickerson and others scrapping for a final spot. Vickerson did not play in Sunday's preseason game in Santa Clara, California, as he continues to work all the way back from his hip injury of 2013.

Returner: There are still questions to answer here. Wide receiver Jordan Norwood has shown enough on offense to make a case as the sixth wide receiver and he has shown the most consistency among the punt returners. Wes Welker is a fall-back option, but he had two concussions last season so that's not preferable.

At kickoff returner the Broncos are still inconsistent fielding the ball in practice and haven't had many chances to show much in their games -- no kickoff returns against the 49ers. Defensive back Omar Bolden looks like the safest bet at the moment.

Offensive line: The Broncos have kept nine players in each of the three previous seasons and there is no reason to expect they won't keep nine once again.

So, that means the final spots will come down to youth vs. veteran. The Broncos are looking at the young players here. Guard Ben Garland and rookie tackle Michael Schofield played more Sunday -- 54 snaps each -- than any other Broncos players. Guard Vinston Painter and tackle Paul Cornick, who both were on Broncos practice squad last season (Painter finished the season on active roster), were next in line with 39 snaps each.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 23

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:

  • The Broncos "broke" camp after their walk-through late Friday afternoon, though things will look largely the same for players Tuesday when they return to the practice field. Because of construction at their complex, including that of a new indoor practice facility, fans have not been able to attend training camp practices that have routinely been open to the public in previous years. As a result Friday's two practices had much the same setting as Tuesday's will. That's when the Broncos begin three days of work against the Houston Texans. As of Friday, however, the Broncos' veterans no longer have to stay at the nearby hotel and can commute from home the rest of the way. "Camp's over, but we're still in camp mode because we're not in the regular season yet," safety T.J. Ward said. "We get to get out of the hotel and it's not as long of a day, but we're still preparing in that mindset. I'm just glad I get to go home and sleep in my own bed."
  • Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was held out of Friday's morning practice with a thigh injury that has limited him over the last two weeks. Sanders had practiced Tuesday and Thursday but was also held out of Monday's practice. He did participate in the evening walk-through, which forced the Broncos to adjust things with the starting offense earlier in the day as they went through red-zone work and end-of-game scenarios. The biggest beneficiary was Jordan Norwood, who got a selection of snaps with the regulars, including back-to-back receptions from Peyton Manning in a two-minute drill. Norwood, who is also getting a long look as the team's punt returner, would solidify his ability to gain a roster spot if he can consistently show he can give the team something at receiver. The fifth-year player has just four career starts -- all in 2011 with the Cleveland Browns.
  • Rookie running back Juwan Thompson got additional work with the starting offense and also continues to show he's up to the mental challenge. "You just want to be prepared at any given time when Peyton throws anything at you. At the end of the day, I can just ask him, so that I can feel 100 percent guaranteed about what I'm doing out there." Thompson figures to get plenty of work Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers since Montee Ball won't play (appendectomy) and C.J. Anderson just returned to practice Thursday after suffering a concussion. The Broncos believe Ball will return to practice on at least a limited basis next week, possibly as early as Tuesday's practice.
  • Von Miller's mother, Gloria, has been a regular visitor to training camp practices. After Friday's morning workout, Von took defensive end DeMarcus Ware over the meet her. "That's the first time she's met DeMarcus," Miller said. "DeMarcus is her second favorite player in the league, and she wanted to meet him ... She's a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, too." As Miller does more and more in practices in his return from ACL surgery, he and Ware have shown more of their potential in the pass rush. Friday, with Manning under center on one play, Miller launched himself around right tackle Chris Clark and got to Manning before Manning had even finished his dropback.
  • Odd and ends: Aqib Talib intercepted Manning in the end zone in a red-zone drill, a pass intended for Andre Caldwell ... Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler had a difficult sequence in end-of-game work against the second-team defense with what would have been a sack/fumble if defenders were allowed to hit the quarterbacks, to go with an interception by rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow on the next snap.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Step by step, player by player, a defense that saw five starters finish the 2013 season on injured reserve, has closed in on its desired staffing.

Safety Rahim Moore has participated fully all through training camp as has defensive end Derek Wolfe. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was limited in camp's early going, but has been back to full participation as well over the last two weeks

And now linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. -- both had ACL surgery, Miller in January and Harris Jr. in February -- are back practicing in team drills. Miller has steadily worked his way into more and more team drills and over the past week and has appeared in those drills in fully padded practices.

Thursday, Harris Jr., went through team drills in what was a fully-padded workout as well.

"I've been saying I feel great," Harris Jr. said. "I don't even feel like I had an injury or anything. My knee feels stronger and I've felt like I could do everything for a while. I didn't want to rush it and do something I shouldn't, but I wanted to work as hard as I could to get back as fast as I could, too."

It means -- other than linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture to the top of his tibia in Tuesday's practice -- the Broncos have the personnel they expected, and wanted, to have when they put the depth chart together.

Both Miller and Harris are expected to participate at least some next week when the Broncos and Houston Texans hold joint practices at the Broncos complex. And Miller is on schedule to play at least some in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Texans.

That game is the Broncos third preseason game, when the starters typically play into the third quarter. Asked after Thursday's practice if people were close to seeing the Miller who had 18.5 sacks in 2012, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said:

"If you mean the suddenness and the ability to bend and those things we appreciate and love from him, then yes. I think he is working his way back and is doing a good job with the way we have increased his work load and the way he's been able to handle it. I said it earlier in camp that I have no question in my mind that Von Miller will be back to his old self for this camp."

For his part Miller says he believes he is ready for big season and has drawn raves for his approach thus far. Many with the team repeatedly say the proof will be in how he handles himself on and off the field after his suspension- and injury-marred season in '13.

Or as Miller has put it:

"I'm in a great spot -- spiritually, emotionally, physically. And I think that's where it all starts. I wake up every day, it's great. I've got great teammates around me, great coaches. We've got colorful people in the locker room. It's great coming to work every day. It was like that last year, but this year it's just different. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do as a team this year.”

Both Miller and Harris Jr. have repeatedly said going through the rehab from their respective injuries together has likely kept them both on track and moving toward their return.

Miller suffered his injury in the Broncos' Week 16 victory over the Houston Texans while Harris Jr. suffered his injury in the team's divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers in January. Their return to full participation will also allow the Broncos to line up in the personnel groupings in practice over the last two weeks of the preseason that will most closely resemble what they will play when they open the season Sept. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I'm glad going through it I was around a guy like Von," Harris Jr. said. "We could push each other every day. I think it helped us both and I think we both look as strong as ever, quick as ever, it will great to be back in our defense."