NFL Nation: C.J. Anderson

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In a vocation where scouting matters a lot, Juwan Thompson has had a better up-close-and-personal look at what the Denver Broncos' offense has to offer than almost any other undrafted rookie.

Thompson is a former Duke running back and one of many first-year hopefuls being put through the offseason paces in Denver. Duke University happens to be where, because of head coach David Cutcliffe's presence, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and the team's pass catchers have gathered in each of the past two offseasons to get a head start on their work.

[+] EnlargeJuwan Thompson
AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe depth chart behind Montee Ball is wide open and Juwan Thompson looks to claim a spot.
"I was able to see those guys, see their practice habits, see how it correlated back to them," Thompson said. "Those guys going full out, they went twice a day, they made sure they got their rehab in so they were good to go the next day. ...

"I met the guys a couple times when I saw them around. But just to watch them, it was a great feeling. It would kind of like a home fit for me at the end of the day. There is opportunity here ... and I know my special teams ability can help."

And while there are few job openings on a fairly young team that also had the salary cap room to dive into free agency, the running back position is another story. This past week offensive coordinator Adam Gase threw open the doors on competition for each of the slots after starter Montee Ball.

"Right now, it's an open competition for that spot -- all those spots," Gase said. "So we need to see who is going to be the guy to step up."

That's because the Broncos allowed Knowshon Moreno -- who finished with his first career 1,000-yard rushing season in 2013 to go with 60 receptions -- to test the market. Moreno signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos also did not select a running back in the draft.

Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick in 2012 who went from starter last offseason to a game day inactive much of the time, faces a get-it-done summer to keep his roster spot. C.J. Anderson, who made the Broncos roster as an undrafted rookie last season, and this year's class of undrafted players make up the rest of the depth chart at the position -- Thompson, Jerodis Williams, Oklahoma's Brennan Clay and Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs.

In some ways Thompson is a little bit an outlier in that group. Williams, who went to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings last season, Clay and Bibbs were all work-horses in college. Thompson, in Cutcliffe's spread-it-around philosophy, was one of six players on the Duke roster to have at least 60 carries last season.

And none of those Blue Devils had more than 113 carries.

"But at the end of the day we had one goal and that was just winning," Thompson said. "I had to put that selfishness in the backseat so we could have that record we had."

Cutcliffe, who was Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee and one of Manning's closest confidants in football, spoke highly of Thompson to the Broncos coaches when it was time to sign rookies who were not selected in the seven-round draft. At 225 pounds Thompson is the biggest back on the roster. He ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at his pro day to go with a double-take worthy 35 1/2-inch vertical jump. He also played plenty of special teams in his career at Duke and is well-versed in pass protection.

Last season Moreno went from a shaky roster spot to starter for the Broncos because, at least initially, he was the most reliable in pass protection. Moreno then kept the job because of the way he handled his business running the ball as well.

Thompson says, having seen Manning and the team's receivers work up close, he also understands just how detail-oriented things are in the Broncos' offense.

"They wanted to make sure they were precise at the end of the day," Thompson said. "It will be very beneficial to me … . Most importantly in pass protection."

Gase said Ball is slotted as the starter as the Broncos work through their offseason team workouts, just as Hillman was this time last year. Ball went on to pass Hillman on the depth chart and carry the ball 120 times for 559 yards as a rookie in the highest-scoring offense in league history. The Broncos will share the work at least some in the running game this time around as well, but who gets those carries after Ball is still to be sorted out.

"We drafted [Ball] to be a guy that was going to be a big contributor for us," Gase said. "But at the running back spot, it's hard to just have one guy and say, 'Hey, we're going with him for 350 carries.' It's really not what we're looking for. We're looking for a guy that can start those games out, be consistent all year, make sure that he's great in pass protection, great in route concepts, which he's shown us that he has the ability to do. We just need to make sure that he continues that through this season."
Before a pick had been made in this year’s NFL draft, John Elway knew that it was going to be a tough sell to get some of the better undrafted players who remained on the team's draft board to sign with the Denver Broncos.

After all, the Broncos were a Super Bowl team last season with fairly young players on the depth chart. Denver also was one of the league's most active teams in free agency, making for limited spots to keep the team’s undrafted player streak alive.

The Broncos were able to convince 15 undrafted players to agree to terms Saturday night. And for the past 10 seasons at least one undrafted rookie has made the team’s cut to 53 players before the season opener. Last year it was running back C.J. Anderson who made the roster.

[+] EnlargeKapri Bibbs
AP Photo/Eric DraperColorado State celebrated touchdowns by Kapri Bibbs on a regular basis in 2013.
“It got much harder last year, and I’m sure it’ll be harder this year once the draft is over and we do start calling the college free agents," Elway said last week. “But there’s no question, it makes it more difficult when you have a real good football team, because those kids are looking for opportunities and trying to go to the places where they’re best going to be able to make a roster. So it makes it more difficult for us … it’s a good problem to have."

This year’s road figures to be bumpy for those undrafteds because the Broncos simply don’t have much room for any of them on the roster. But there are some possibilities.

There are three players who were invited to the scouting combine this past February in the group – Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs, Fresno State wide receiver/returner Isaiah Burse and Michigan State wide receiver Bennie Fowler.

The Broncos are a little thin at running back, so there is some room for Bibbs to make a push. Bibbs entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore after a 1,741-yard, 31-touchdown season. In a quirky bit of production Bibbs, who had 603 yards rushing combined in back-to-back games last season, had more games with fewer than 100 yards rushing last season (eight) than he did with more than 100 yards rushing (six).

But the Broncos are on the hunt for another back in the rotation, so Bibbs has a shot as does another undrafted player signed Saturday -- Duke’s Juwan Thompson. Thompson played for David Cutcliffe at Duke -- Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee -- and he came with a quality recommendation from Cutcliffe to the Broncos.

Manning and the Broncos pass-catchers were at Duke for some workouts earlier in the offseason. At 5-foot-10 inches tall and 226 pounds, Thompson is a big back well versed in the passing game. He ran a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.

He’ll be a player to keep an eye on in training camp. Duke had six players carry the ball at least 62 times last season and none of the players had more than 113 carries. Thompson finished the season with 64 carries for 355 yards to go with seven receptions.

Burse, too, will have a quality chance because of his ability as a returner. At 5-10 3/8, 188 pounds, Burse was an undersized receiver in a draft class filled with tall, big and fast wideouts. But Burse was one of the better punt returners on the board, averaging 12.5 yards on punt returns with two touchdowns this past season.

“Obviously with Burse he’s a good slot, productive receiver,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “[Return work] obviously helps his chance, but his skill set is something we were impressed with.’’

For Fowler's part, he ran 4.35 (hand-timed) at his pro day to go with an attention-grabbing 17.3 yards per catch last season, but he has suffered fractures in both feet during his career.

Colorado State linebacker Shaquil Barrett was the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year last season and set the conference’s record for tackles for loss (20.5). His play speed is far better than his workout numbers, so he could find a way on the roster if he makes a quick impact on special teams.

The Broncos did take two linebackers in the draft -- LSU’s Lamin Barrow and Oklahoma’s Corey Nelson -- so it will be an uphill trek, but there is a slim opportunity available.

Also, Mister Cobble, a 333-pound defensive tackle from Kentucky, shows quick feet for a player his size in his game video. Cobble missed time in the 2012 season with an infection, had shoulder surgery in 2011 to repair a torn labrum and missed most of the 2010 season with academic issues.

But the Broncos like that kind of bulk in the middle of the defensive line, so Cobble will get a long look.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Montee Ball is a smart young man. With level-headed consideration, he fully understands his place on the Denver Broncos’ depth chart and in the offensive plans at the moment.

But then again, with running back Knowshon Moreno now in Miami, and Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson the only other backs on the roster with an NFL carry on their resumes, it doesn’t exactly take mind-bending calculus to do the math. And that’s fine with the Broncos, who selected him in the second round of last April’s draft to be a starting running back.

"I know for a fact they're not going to hand it to me, they're going to make sure we all get our opportunities throughout camp and throughout OTAs … but it’s going to be who’s the most productive," Ball said. "But for me, my mentality is that it is my job."

Ball also said Moreno’s departure was "a great opportunity for me and the other running backs to step up to the plate."

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsMontee Ball's Denver teammates say that they were impressed with the running back's development in 2013.
That said, however, Ball already knows first-hand what being tabbed a starter in April really means in the framework of how things go when the games actually get played. Last season the Broncos spent most of their offseason work with Hillman, a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, installed as the starter at running back, with plenty of plans built for Hillman's big-play potential.

But even as training camp opened, the Broncos had not seen all they wanted from Hillman. They thought he got a little too comfortable with the idea, so they were giving a long look to Ball in the lead role, as well. But when Ball missed a blitz pickup in a preseason loss in Seattle and quarterback Peyton Manning took a vicious hit from linebacker Bobby Wagner, it was Moreno who started to get more and more work in the offense.

And that’s the way it stayed as Moreno topped 1,000 yards rushing to go with 60 receptions. For his part, Ball, after some early fumble troubles -- he lost three fumbles in the team’s first 10 games -- settled in nicely in his rookie year.

He didn't lose the ball the remainder of the season and finished with 559 yards rushing and four touchdowns. His 4.7 yards per carry was the best among the team’s top three ball carriers, as well. All a big enough taste for Ball to want more.

"I don't want them to bring another running back in," Ball said. "I want it to be my job and that’s how I'm approaching it, in the most humble way possible. Like I said, I understand they're not going to hand it to me, but I'm going to work really, really hard to contribute."

Ball has already received a key vote of confidence, as Manning has already endorsed Ball’s readiness for the job, having said earlier this month that Ball has “the work ethic" and “mental capabilities to handle the workload."

And in the Broncos’ offense, there's a lot more on the to-do list than simply lugging the rock. There’s protecting Manning from those extra rushers, working as a receiver, and there is the ability to adjust to the inevitable changes at the line of scrimmage when Manning has the pedal to the metal in the team’s no-huddle look.

Ball’s ability to adjust and grow quickly last season didn't escape his teammates.

"How well he learned," said tight end Julius Thomas on Wednesday when he was asked what he noticed most about Ball as a rookie. "… He picked it up well, he focused on what his job was."

While the Broncos will give a long look to the running backs on the draft board next weekend in the second round and beyond, Ball’s emergence is the most important part of the Broncos’ efforts to find more efficiency in the run game. With Manning behind center and new arrival Emmanuel Sanders expected to add some pop in a passing attack that already includes Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, as well as Wes Welker –- all three have been Pro Bowl selections in their careers –- the Broncos aren’t looking to make their offense some kind of grind-it-out affair.

But depending on the run shouldn't be an issue for the Broncos, either. With the move of right tackle Orlando Franklin inside to left guard, and with All-Pro Louis Vasquez already at right guard, Denver should be able to create more space in the middle of the field against defenses deployed in lighter nickel and dime packages to combat the Broncos’ three-wide receiver look. Last season, about eight of every 10 carries for Moreno went against formations with six or fewer players in the box, something Ball and the Broncos would expect again.

"[I've] got to take what the defense gives you every play," Ball said. "It’s not going to be a 30-yard run, a 20-yard run every play like it was at Wisconsin. Sometimes it’s going to be a 2-yard, 3-yard run …

"A lot more patience, a lot more patience. You can’t be greedy … You’ve got to trust your blocks, allow the play to develop and trust the scheme."

Broncos free agency primer: RB

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
With the countdown to free agency in its final hours, it's time to conclude the week-long look at the Denver Broncos' top needs in the open market.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos will lean on second-year player Montee Ball to be the lead running back in 2014.
The Broncos are expected to be aggressive and active once the signings formally begin Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and have already taken a long look at Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, as well as linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (he signed with the Indianapolis Colts). Their executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has repeatedly made clear he believes free agency is the time to shop for need and the draft is the time to secure potential long-term Broncos who were the best picks on the board when their picks arrived.

Plenty of folks around the league say they expect the Broncos to buzz in early for some specific targets and then back off to finish out with shorter-term deals weeks later after the initial waves of signings have passed. It was a profile they used last season when they moved quickly to sign Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and then waited to add players like Shaun Phillips, Stewart Bradley, Quentin Jammer and Steve Vallos.

Today: Running back

Why it's an issue: It's took Knowshon Moreno five seasons, two knee surgeries, a pile of ups and downs to go with a teetering roster spot when the Broncos opened 2013 training camp, but in the '13 season Moreno was everything the team hoped he would be all along.

He led the team in rushing, with 1,038 yards, scored 13 touchdowns overall, caught 60 passes and was the go-to guy at the position when it came to pass protection. Moreno was also the poster-child for perseverance and hard work in the team's running backs room.

He's also not expected back. Moreno is an unrestricted free agent and there is at least some feeling inside the Broncos' complex, they got every ounce of what Moreno had to give this past season. And that Montee Ball, selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, is ready to move to the front of the line.

Ball closed out last season with 120 carries for 559 yards while steadily improving his work as a receiver and as a pass protector when working out of the backfield in the team's three-wide receiver set. The Broncos want him to be the guy, and Ball has done the work to show them he wants to be the guy, too.

However, the Broncos need some depth, especially if they can't kickstart Ronnie Hillman. Hillman went from being handed the starting job last offseason to what the team considered pouting his way down the stretch when he was often a game-day inactive.

Hillman is the potential big-play guy at the position and still has a pile of un-tapped potential, but he has to show something in the offseason work as the Broncos' patience will wear thin if they don't see an uptick in both performance and preparation.

The Broncos had undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson on the roster last season, as well. And Anderson is a bigger back, but is seen as a rotation/situational player at the moment.

The best out there: Teams are not really looking -- ever -- to break the bank on older running backs in free agency, so there is at least a scenario where Moreno returns to the Broncos on a short-term -- one- or two-year deal -- if he doesn't find anything in the open market to his liking.

Overall, however, the Texans' Ben Tate, the Colts' Donald Brown, the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, the Raiders' Darren McFadden, the Raiders' Rashad Jennings, the Patriots' LeGarrette Blount, the Giants' Andre Brown, the Steelers Jonathan Dwyer, the Vikings' Toby Gerhart, the Steelers' Felix Jones and the Buccaneers' Brian Leonard lead what is a class full of question marks and plenty of injury history.

The 25-year-old Tate is the youngest of that group with the least wear and tear, but he also wants No. 1 back money and has already dubbed himself "elite" as the market was set to open. Jones-Drew is a former No. 1 coming off two injury-marred seasons, while Jones had just 48 carries for the Steelers last season and did not show the big-play speed he had when the Cowboys made him a first-round selection.

The rest of the backs in the groups, especially Blount, have flashed at times, but the Broncos aren't looking for a potential No. 1, but rather a back who can support their homegrown No. 1. The draft also factors in with the coming rookie class with some depth in the middle rounds for those willing to live with some growing pains that come with a younger player.

Bottom line: Free agency has not been kind to this high-impact position. As a result, the Broncos, with Ball set to be the lead guy, will take a look for a player who can take some carries from time to time and function in the team's offense, but they have bigger needs with bigger dollars to spend elsewhere on the depth chart.

Manning says he believes in young RBs

November, 27, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno is in his fifth NFL season. In terms of NFL experience, that puts him in the middle of the road in the team’s locker room.

However, when the team’s running backs meet, Moreno has more NFL seasons than the other three in the room combined. And if experience is indeed the best teacher, the Broncos need -- as in really, really need -- those three youngsters in the backfield to learn a little more quickly.

“[It’s] just having confidence in yourself,’’ rookie running back Montee Ball said. “Because you are playing against grown men, it is a different level than college. But it just comes with confidence, just doing your assignment, knowing what to do and playing fast.’’

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsWith starter Knowshon Moreno banged up, the Broncos may lean on rookie Montee Ball on Sunday.
And with Moreno, who missed practice Wednesday with a bone bruise to his right ankle and is still a bit of a question mark for Sunday’s game in Kansas City, the Broncos' run game could now very well be in the hands of three players who have each seen their playing time trimmed at times because they haven’t hung on to the ball well enough. But with Moreno's injury at this point in the football calendar, with the stretch drive waiting, the time is now for Ball, rookie C.J. Anderson, as well as second-year back Ronnie Hillman.

“All those guys are always ready to play each week, no question,’’ quarterback Peyton Manning said following Wednesday’s practice. “... Whoever’s called on to be in there, we’re calling the same plays, we expect them to go in there and do their jobs ... they have to.’’

Ball, Anderson and Hillman have all flashed the ability to impact games and move the chains. But they have also had issues with ball security at times, a glaring problem for a team that has done so much right on offense yet leads the league in lost fumbles with 16. Hillman, who opened training camp as the starter, has not played in a game since fumbling away a touchdown opportunity Oct. 20 in the Broncos’ loss to the Colts.

Ball leads the team's running backs with three lost fumbles, including one in Sunday night’s loss to the Patriots that gave the ball to Tom Brady and the New England offense at the Broncos' 32-yard line early in the third quarter. The play helped the Patriots fuel their comeback from a 24-0 deficit, sparking a 21-point third quarter.

Anderson fumbled in Sunday’s game as well, but was able to reel it in before a Patriots defender arrived.

“Coaches have faith in me,’’ Ball said. “Freak accident, but I’m most definitely not dwelling on it because this team needs me, they need everybody right now to correct the mistakes and move forward.’’

But as the season has gone along, Moreno has largely taken what was once a plan for running back by committee and turned it into a solo act over the past two games due to his reliability and performance. Moreno has consistently been the most reliable back in pass protection and has not lost a fumble in 187 carries or 38 receptions, while Ball has lost a fumble for every 25 carries and Hillman has fumbled twice in 40 carries (Eric Decker recovered Hillman's fumble against Jacksonville in Week 6).

Moreno has also handled the duties required of all of the Broncos’ regulars on offense, that you work quickly and still get it right. The Broncos' playbook is large, Manning routinely makes changes at the line of scrimmage and the team often works in the fast lane out of its no-huddle look.

To that end, Ball has said Manning will often quiz younger players, including Ball, about assignments on specific plays. And once the answer is provided, Ball said, Manning will often ask “Are you sure?’’ Manning said Wednesday the key has been to try to keep the same pace in practice the offense uses on game day.

“We try to treat practice like a game,’’ Manning said. “Maybe you try not to help him out as much during practice as you would in a game to kind of find out ... what you might need to help them with come game time. The test is kind of during the week in practice. Sunday is not a test. I’m not going to not tell you something, hoping that you get it right. That’s a hard way to find out he didn’t know it.’’

The level of confidence the Broncos have in the group behind Moreno will be seen in how the team attacks the Chiefs' defense Sunday, especially if Moreno is limited or not in the lineup. When the two teams met two weeks ago, the Broncos handed the ball to Moreno 27 times, a season high for him until this past Sunday night, when Moreno had 37 carries in the overtime loss.

“We try not to make it bigger than it is, because you don’t want players to play outside their shoes,’’ Ball said. “Because our best is good enough, you do your individual assignment -- for myself, hold on to the ball and keep playing the way I’ve been playing -- and I think we’ll be fine.’’

Fumbles have been Denver's 'kryptonite'

November, 26, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is what drains the superpowers out of the Denver Broncos' offense. It brings it to its knees. It is the fumble. Rather, not just "a" fumble, but a slew of them. No team in the league has put the ball on the ground and lost more fumbles than the Broncos have this season.

The total is now 16 lost fumbles after three more got away in the Broncos' overtime loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night. This puts the Broncos well in front of the New York Giants' 12 fumbles and the 10 by the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsMontee Ball has had three lost fumbles this season.
"Kryptonite, it's been kryptonite so far," Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio said. "I watched 'Man of Steel' on the ride home [from New England]. That's an issue and we've got to correct it. We've got to be better there. That's the one area that regardless of how good you are, that's the kind of thing that can really cripple you and we've got to protect the football better. We are preaching it."

While quarterbacks routinely lead their respective teams in lost fumbles because of blindside hits in the pocket -- Peyton Manning is no exception with a team-leading six lost fumbles this season -- it is the propensity for the ball to end up on the ground in the return game and from the team's running backs that have been most troubling.

And after offensive coordinator Adam Gase said he hoped to dial back running back Knowshon Moreno's workload a bit, Moreno has carried the ball 64 times combined in the past two games because he seems to be the only one who can hold on to it.

Before the Kansas City Chiefs arrived in Denver two Sundays ago, Moreno had carried the ball more than 25 times just once in 53 regular-season games, and that was a 32-carry effort last season against the Oakland Raiders. But in the last two weeks, he has had 27 carries against the Chiefs for 79 yards to go with 37 carries against the Patriots on Sunday for a career-best 224 yards.

Yes, the Broncos want to spell a player who had ACL surgery in 2011 to go with another knee procedure this past offseason. Yes, the Broncos would like one of their young running backs to be the guy to do it.

But it hasn't happened because of, at least in part, what Gase refers to as the "trust factor."

And it's really two factors: it's blocking in the passing game and it's still having the ball in your hands when the running play ends. It's why, until Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson or Ronnie Hillman consistently meets those two standards -- Ball and Anderson each fumbled Sunday night -- the Broncos will be inclined to keep handing the ball to Moreno and hope for the best in terms of Moreno's durability.

But after a career night, Moreno left Gillette Stadium with a walking boot on his right foot because of what Del Rio called a bone bruise. But Del Rio added Moreno's workload against the Patriots was part of a concerted effort for the Broncos to run the ball better, and Moreno has produced the best results.

"I think it was the hot hand [Sunday] night," Del Rio said. "I think we played the hot hand. [Moreno] really was exceptional. ... He ran tough, had passion. They were doing their best to rattle him, do different things to try and get the ball off of him -- and it wasn't even close. So no, it was a really gritty, tough performance. We thought he was the hot hand. We rolled that hot hand. He had a great night. We have that in the back of our mind. We don't have him on a pitch count. We're not protecting a pitcher and going to make sure that he's going to be good 10 years from now. We'd like to win now. We're working the guys we have, the best of our ability, recognizing there is a season to play. But [Sunday] night, I think it was just right.”

Just right, perhaps, but it was just the second game of Moreno's career in which he's had more than 30 carries. Del Rio said Moreno could return to practice at some point this week, but the time has come for the other backs to show they can hang on to the ball. And the one who earns the most trust will be the one who gets the carries, most likely Ball at the moment.

Or as Ball has put it: "We know it's important to keep the ball, it's the priority, that and making sure you protect Peyton. It's pretty clear."

But the Broncos have tried to deal with the problem as well. They have talked about fumbling -- "over and over again,'' Gase said -- about how the ball should be carried drill after drill in practice when the defensive players have been asked to make it as difficult as possible for the ball carriers to hang on to the ball.

"We dedicate more [time] than you might think," Del Rio said. "We drill it, rip at it. We have different drills that our guys are being put through all the time. So we are definitely not only stressing it and talking about it, but we are coaching it and drilling it. Look, I'm an optimistic guy. I believe that we're giving it the proper attention. I believe that is something that we can fix ourselves. We control that. And so I believe, as we do that, that we take away the one thing that has kind of been our kryptonite and hopefully it gets a lot better."

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 12

November, 25, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos’ 34-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

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

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

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

It’s time: Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio has said recently he liked rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams’ progress this season, that Williams was ready for far more in the defense. He said that even as Williams was a game-day inactive three times this season, twice in the past four games. Now Williams will have to lift his game with Kevin Vickerson’s right hip injury. Williams will have to play more and be an early-down force, especially in run defense, if the Broncos are to get some momentum going defensively down the stretch.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –- With the way things have gone for the Denver Broncos' offense in the season's first half, it seems every time Peyton Manning drops back to pass a slice of league history is along for the ride.

The eight-game numbers are, well, ridiculous. Manning's 29 touchdown passes are already more than the total in six of his previous full seasons as a pro. He has more touchdowns passes than any other team in the league has scored overall thus far. And the Broncos' 44 touchdowns -- passing, rushing and returns -- are 17 more than any other team has scored.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesA battered Peyton Manning is counting on backs such as Knowshon Moreno to squeeze more out of the running game when the Broncos return from their bye week.
Yet not only do the Broncos believe there's more to come -- more variety, more ways to stress a defense. If things go the way they hope, they will get a little more impact from their running backs.

"Oh yeah, I think we can bring more," running back Knowshon Moreno said. "I think all of us, as running backs, think there is more we can do in the rest of the season."

Despite the fact the Broncos can rifle passes to players who can win matchups all over the formation, they want to wring a little more out of the run game in the season's second half. And the biggest reason why, even in this pass-first era, is that it's still the best way to protect the guy throwing the ball -- especially if he's a 37-year-old who has had four neck surgeries. Though the Broncos didn't need a reminder of all of that, Manning did arrive to the bye week as a fairly battered player, having taken plenty of heavy shots in the Broncos' last three outings before the week off.

So much so that Manning didn't take part in the team's two practices this week. Overall, Manning has always said few things slow down a defensive front intent on pounding a quarterback than the threat of a running back sprinting into the room left behind.

"And it opens up options, you get the play-action game going ... and have choices," Manning said. "It can open things up, when those linebackers and safeties have to worry about other things."

However, given their injuries up front -- left tackle Ryan Clady is on injured reserve and right tackle Orlando Franklin has missed just under two games -- to go with the fact Manny Ramirez is just eight games into his move from center to guard, the Broncos haven't always been productive when running the ball. The slow start and ball-security issues of two of their young backs, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, haven't helped.

As a result, the Broncos have had 35.9 percent of their rushing attempts this season go for two or fewer yards. That total includes 12 carries for no gain and 12 more for negative yardage.

But it hasn't been for a lack of trying. Like virtually all of the league's upper-tier teams, the Broncos have kept on running, whether it be to protect a lead or as a change of pace. Of the seven teams with at least six wins this season, six are among the league's leaders in rushing attempts. The 49ers (6-2) are first in rushing attempts per game, the Seahawks (7-1) are third, the Broncos (7-1) are sixth, the Chiefs (8-0) and Patriots (6-2) are tied for seventh and the Bengals (6-2) are 10th.

"And we're just going to lean on those guys more and more," Broncos coach John Fox said.

Moreno will continue to be the key for the Broncos, who recently benched Hillman because of a fumble late in the loss in Indianapolis and put rookie C.J. Anderson in the rotation. He joins Ball and Moreno, who's still the best of the group in pass protection, by far, so he's the choice much of the time when the Broncos are in their favored three-wide receiver set.

Moreno is also the most well-versed among the backs in the passing game as a receiver -- he had his first receiving touchdown of the season Sunday in the win over Washington. The Broncos do have to walk the line with his workload. He tore an ACL in 2011 and had another knee procedure this past offseason, which is why they need at least one of the youngsters to step forward in the coming weeks.

"[Moreno] has been a downhill runner, he's caught the ball well out of the backfield, he's been able to keep us, what we call 'keep us in phase'," Manning said. "... He has been stud for us in the first half of the season. We expect him to be better in the second half."

It will be a necessity after the bye, given the last three teams the Broncos faced -- Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Washington -- were far more willing to turn the heat up on Manning. He threw interceptions returned for touchdowns against the Jaguars and Redskins and fumbled on sacks against Indianapolis and Washington. Of the Broncos' first four games following the bye, two are against the Chiefs, who currently lead the league in sacks, and one against the Patriots, who are tied for eighth.

Moreno said whatever the task at hand will be, he's ready to dive in.

"When we get those first downs to keep the ball moving, to get those points on the board, that's all that matters," Moreno said. " ... I think everybody in our [meeting] room feels like that. All the backs, we have a good group of guys, we all know if they ask to do something we have to do it. We have to be a part of it. Peyton is the greatest and our receivers are great, but we have to be ready to when our number comes up."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey maintained his progress through the week and has been formally listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Raiders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tight end Jacob Tamme was excused for personal reasons.

Champ Bailey, Dreessen back at practice

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

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

On Bailey, Fox said:

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

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

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

Woodyard on track to play; Bailey out

September, 13, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After practicing for the second consecutive day, middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard is expected to start and take his customary snaps Sunday against the New York Giants.

Woodyard took part fully in Friday’s workout and was formally listed as probable for the game.

Cornerback Champ Bailey, however, did not participate in the practice. He has not practiced since injuring his left foot in an Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle and was listed as out for Sunday’s game. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) was also held out of Friday’s practice and listed as out for the game.

Wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver/kick returner Trindon Holliday (left lower leg) all took part fully in Friday’s practice and were formally listed as probable, but all three are expected to take their usual rotations in Sunday’s game.

Cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder) was limited Friday and was listed as questionable while rookie running back C.J. Anderson (knee) was limited and listed as doubtful. Guard Chris Kuper (ankle) was limited and listed as questionable. Tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder), defensive end Robert Ayers (Achilles/ankle) and safety Duke Ihenacho (thigh) have been on the injury report all week, but all three have practiced fully and will play Sunday.

Wesley Woodyard returns to practice

September, 12, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who was held out of Monday’s and Wednesday’s practices, returned to the field Thursday as the Broncos practiced in a rare downpour at their Dove Valley complex.

Woodyard (right ankle) was limited in the workout, but has said he expects to play Sunday against the Giants. Cornerback Champ Bailey continues to work to get back on the field, but he was held out again Thursday and still has not practiced since suffering a left foot injury in the Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) was also held out of the workout.

Wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder) was a full participant in practice after being limited Wednesday and is expected to take his usual number of snaps in Sunday’s game. Wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver/kick returner Trindon Holliday (left lower leg) and rookie running back C.J. Anderson (knee) were all limited. Welker and Holliday are expected to play Sunday, as is Bolden.

Guard Chris Kuper (ankle) was also limited. Tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder), defensive end Robert Ayers (Achilles/ankle) and safety Duke Ihenacho (thigh) have been on the injury report all week, but all three have participated fully.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Cornerback Champ Bailey is closer to returning the Denver Broncos’ lineup, but the 12-time Pro Bowl selection still remains a question mark for the team’s game Sunday against the New York Giants.

Bailey, who suffered a left foot injury in the Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle, stepped up his on-field work with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches Wednesday, but he was held out of the team's practice. Middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard (right ankle) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) were also held out. Woodyard did return to the game last Thursday night after he initially suffered his injury, but experienced some pain and swelling in the days since.

The Broncos are still hopeful he can get on the practice field this week, but he did not participate in Monday’s practice either.

Wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver/kick returner Trindon Holliday (left lower leg) and rookie running back C.J. Anderson (knee) were all limited. At this point, Decker, Welker and Holliday are all expected to play Sunday, as is Bolden.

Guard Chris Kuper (ankle) was also limited. Tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder) and defensive end Robert Ayers (Achilles/ankle) were on the injury report, but participated fully.
Victor Cruz AP Photo/LM OteroThe Broncos will likely deploy more defensive backs when taking on the Giants and Victor Cruz.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Fresh off the feel-good season opener the Denver Broncos' secondary will get an entirely different kind of test Sunday against the New York Giants.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had limited options on the outside -- once Jacoby Jones left with a knee injury on a second-quarter punt return. Brandon Stokley is 37 years old and was signed after training camp opened; Dallas Clark is 34, has struggled with injuries in recent seasons and was signed after training camp open; Marlon Brown is a rookie; and Ed Dickson struggled mightily in a receiving role last Thursday night. So, despite not having either Champ Bailey (left foot injury) or Von Miller (suspension) in the lineup, the Broncos did not surrender a pass play longer than 34 yards in the game.

The Giants, however, present a different set of troubles. In their turnover-marred loss in Dallas, New York still had three wide receivers finish with at least 100 yards in the game -- Victor Cruz with 118 yards on five catches, Hakeem Nicks with 115 yards on five catches and Rueben Randle with 101 yards on, yes, five catches. Cruz finished with three touchdowns in the game.

“Their receivers are dynamic,'' said Broncos safety Rahim Moore. “ … They have so many targets.''

“Honestly, Cruz is getting the bulk of the attention, but they have weapons all over the place,'' said safety Duke Ihenacho.

The challenge will be how the Broncos matchup with the size the Giants have on the outside, especially if Bailey isn't ready to return to the lineup this week. Randle is 6-foot-2, Nicks is 6-foot-1 and Cruz comes in at 6-0. The Broncos can counter with 6-2 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the 6-0 Bailey, if the 12-time Pro Bowl selection is ready to return to the lineup.

Cornerback Chris Harris, an aggressive player who consistently fends off the challenges, is 5-foot-10 and cornerback Tony Carter, who has routinely come in when the Broncos go to the nickel in games Bailey doesn't play and the dime when Bailey is in the lineup, is 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. When Carter plays in the nickel, he lines up in one of the outside positions and Harris goes inside to the slot.

Flacco sought Carter out in coverage on several occasions in last January's playoff win as well as last Thursday night. This is especially true if Carter allows the receiver to get a free release off the line of scrimmage, and Eli Manning would likely do the same.

The Broncos will also use rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster at times in some of their specialty looks and if they get into some of the longer down-and-distance situations, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will use a seven defensive back package. The Broncos used it for two snaps against the Ravens, but figure to use it more against the Giants' attack.

  • Giants coach Tom Coughlin's peers in the league have long considered him one of the more aggressive coaches in the NFL, whether it be during his tenure in Jacksonville or now with the Giants. He signs players who once worked for an upcoming opponent in the days before his team plays that opponent. And if things go well for former Broncos running back Willis McGahee Tuesday, he could join the list. Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, McGahee will be one of three backs -- Brandon Jacobs and Joe McKnight are the others, who will work out for the Giants Tuesday. The Broncos released McGahee in June after McGahee had skipped the majority of the team's offseason workouts. The running back cited “family reasons.'' McGahee will turn 32 next month and hasn't played in a game since tearing an MCL on Nov. 18 against the Chargers on a hit from now-Broncos cornerback Quentin Jammer. McGahee had two years left on his deal when the Broncos let him go with a scheduled $2.5 million base salary this season and $2 million base salary in 2014. But with the Broncos having used a third-round pick on Ronnie Hillman in the 2012 draft to go with the second-round pick they used on Montee Ball in April's draft, the combination of McGahee's injury and contract pushed the Broncos toward the young guys at the position. So much so, the Broncos were willing to take a $1 million dead money hit against the salary cap to release McGahee. The Broncos had some concern about McGahee's ability to stay healthy over the long term and after he took part in the team's mandatory minicamp in mid-June, they released him. The Giants benched running back David Wilson Sunday after two fumbles and some bobbles in pass protection.
  • Wide receiver/kick return Trindon Holliday (left lower leg), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (right ankle) were not on the field for the Broncos' workout Monday. The practice was essentially an extra opportunity for some on-field work for the Broncos -- what coach John Fox calls “a Broncos on Broncos practice.'' Wide receiver Eric Decker, who suffered a right shoulder injury in last Thursday's game, did participate in the practice. Bailey (left foot) did not take part. Tight end Joel Dreessen, who had two arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee since May, is closing in on returning to practice on at least a limited basis. Dreessen worked with strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson. Rookie running back C.J. Anderson also did drills alongside Dreessen, work that included some short sprints.
  • The final Manning tally for the season's opening week: 912 passing yards -- both finished 27-of-42 passing in their respective games -- and 11 touchdowns. Peyton Manning was 27-of-42 for 462 yards with seven touchdowns without an interception in the Broncos' 49-27 victory over the Ravens on Thursday night. Eli Manning was 27-of-42 for 450 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions in the Giants' loss to Dallas Sunday. The two brothers will face each other Sunday at MetLife Stadium -- it's the third time they have played each other in the NFL.