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Thursday, October 3, 2013
Denver Broncos' offense a sum of the parts

By Jeff Legwold

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning has the Denver offense on a record scoring pace.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The league’s highest-scoring offense, the one on pace to become the league’s first 600-point team, must be full of first-round picks and high-end free agents.

Yes. And no.

Denver's offense is a mix of talent, drive, a Hall of Fame quarterback, and a depth chart built with an eye toward the finished product rather than the pieces.

Broncos executive vice president John Elway has said: “We don’t need everybody else’s stars. We need guys who fit what we do, who are what we want for the Denver Broncos. If we do a good job of that, keep stacking those drafts and keep an eye on who’s out there we think could help us, we feel like we can be competitive and compete for championships. That’s always going to be our goal. But the main criteria is going to be their skills, because you need talent and athleticism, and how they fit what we want, how they handle themselves with what we do and how we do it."

The offense averaging 44.8 points this season is a collection of premium draft picks, a high-end free agent or two, some guys who have developed like the Broncos had hoped, and more than a couple career resurrections along the way.

First, you have future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning,  the guy Elway won a bidding war for with the gutsy step-away-and-let-a-guy-think approach. The Broncos were first in line to make their pitch to Manning in March 2012. Then Elway, as if he had to go 98 yards in the closing minutes of a playoff game, played it cool when perhaps many others could not, and told Manning if he had any questions to simply call. And then Elway waited.

Coach John Fox has since joked he often went into Elway’s office to ask, “Shouldn’t we be doing something else? Because I was pacing around like I couldn't wait any more."

As the Broncos had hoped, Manning wasn’t just looking to simply come and play out the string. The 37-year-old had ferociously rehabbed his body after multiple neck surgeries, and those who know him say he’s been mentally rejuvenated in a way with the new surroundings and a new challenge. In his second season with the Broncos, Manning has 16 touchdowns in four games without an interception.

“I think he’s shown he’s always trying to be better,’’ Fox said. “Here’s a guy who has every reason to look at what he’s done and say it’s enough, but that’s not what he does, and that’s why he’s who he is."

The rest of the starting offense fits together just right, too. There are two former first-round picks by the Broncos -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (2010) and running back Knowshon Moreno (2009). There are two players who were signed as “futures’’ because they had been released elsewhere: left tackle Chris Clark, who is playing for the injured Ryan Clady, and center Manny Ramirez. There are four other Broncos draft picks: guard Zane Beadles (2nd round, 2010), right tackle Orlando Franklin (2nd, 2010), tight end Julius Thomas (4th, 2011) and receiver Eric Decker (4th, 2010).

Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker
Demaryius Thomas, left, and Eric Decker, who overcame injuries early in their careers, form one of the NFL's top receiving tandems.
There are two other unrestricted free agents: guard Louis Vasquez, who got the longest deal of any player the Broncos signed this past season at four years, and receiver Wes Welker.

In all, a little of this, a little of that and a lot of touchdowns.

“I know when the Lions released me (in October of 2010), I looked at everything I was doing to see if it was enough, if I needed to change some things, and at that time I promised myself if I ever got another opportunity, I would do everything to try to be a part of something successful,’’ Ramirez said. “I think everybody here feels like that. I think that’s the big thing. You can have talented people, but if everybody wants to be successful and does what they should to be successful, I think you can accomplish some things."

You also need some good fortune. After all, Manning could have made any decision after he slept on it that one last night.

And Moreno’s roster spot, let alone starting spot, has been in jeopardy more than once in recent years. But after spending this past offseason at No. 3 on the depth chart, with some questioning his focus and attention to detail at times coming off a second knee procedure in three years, he suddenly is the guy playing because he’s the most reliable.

Decker and Demaryius Thomas, who came into the league with medical concerns regarding foot injuries they suffered in college, have blossomed after bumpy starts to their careers. Decker started no games as a rookie battling pain in his surgically repaired foot for most of the season. Thomas missed six and five games, respectively, in his first two seasons because of injuries before his breakout year in ’12 with 94 catches for 1,434 yards. Julius Thomas spent almost two years recovering from an ankle injury he suffered on his first, and only career catch before this season, and now has become the kind of matchup dilemma every offense wants to have at tight end.

It’s all there in the House of Manning. All with first-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase calling the plays.

“I think the guys have done a good job coming together. They want to things well, they want to execute, and if you’re going to be successful, people have to trust the idea if they’re in the right spot, doing their jobs, we’ll move the ball and score points,’’ Gase said. “And these guys don’t worry about carries or catches or numbers, and you can’t if you’re going to be part of something. We want to win as a group. They want to win as a group. We just have to keep that mindset."