NFL Nation: Chris Kuper

It will be one of the buzz phrases of the Denver Broncos' offseason. Perhaps right there with John Fox's "skins on the wall" or quarterback Peyton Manning's “put in the work."

But ask about anything going on with the Broncos’ offensive line these days and it won’t take long for somebody involved to drop "the best five" into the conversation.

Franklin
And since he started 16 games as a rookie in 2011, Orlando Franklin has been one of those best five, at right tackle. But now, as the Broncos pursue a better protection plan for Manning as well as a little more muscle in the run game, Franklin is to get a kick-the-tires look at left guard, and one of the options to find "the best five" just might be a rookie.

Michael Schofield, the Broncos' third-round selection in last week’s draft, and Chris Clark will get the initial looks at right tackle, with Franklin having been bumped inside. Having been the last Broncos’ rookie to start on the offensive line and also having made the transition to Manning’s tenure at quarterback, Franklin does have a unique perspective on the challenges Schofield faces in the coming months.

When asked Wednesday about the potential hurdles rookies face on the offensive line, Franklin said.

"The amount of stuff you have to know, especially in this offense. I think if I was a rookie in this offense, I don’t think I would have played. I think it was a lot easier for me to play with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow (at quarterback) when I came in than it is to come in and play with a guy like Peyton."

Franklin also credited former Broncos captain Chris Kuper, who retired in March, for getting him through that initial season, something that shows the importance of mentoring a player like Schofield through the team’s offseason work and into training camp. The rookies will get their first real taste of things at a rookie minicamp Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Chris Kuper was a great guy, he’s one of my best friends on this team," Franklin said. "If it wasn’t for 'Kupe' I never would have played as a rookie. He really took care of everything, there were times he was telling me what to do and yet he was still performing at a high level with what he had to do."
When the Denver Broncos gathered this week for their first group workouts of the offseason, there were plenty of new faces on the roster.

DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib and Will Montgomery lead the way in the new arrival department, at least until the draft class arrives next month. But for many on hand this week, the workouts still had an odd feel to them.

The Broncos were missing three former team captains -- three powerful voices in the locker room, three players others often looked to in good times, as well as bad, to show others the way.

Champ Bailey is in New Orleans, having been released by the Broncos after 10 seasons. Chris Kuper retired and Wesley Woodyard signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Manning
And while Super Bowls are won with talent on the field, they are also won with how things get handled in the locker room along the way, because ego, the pursuit of credit, fretting over contract status, grousing over playing time and the general human condition has cratered almost as many title hopefuls as the injury report.

Asked this week about the team's identity, quarterback Peyton Manning said what he usually says when things such as identity or chemistry are the topics of the day.

"I don't know if it has to be the same or different," Manning said. "I want it to be an identity that helps us win football games. I think it's hard to say what it is going to be at this point. Our full roster has certainly not been decided. The draft is -- when is the draft now? It's like in September now. ...We still probably need to see who we are based on who the personnel is, I think you form the identity from that. I think it is OTAs, it's definitely training camp and obviously it'd be nice to have it somewhere around the beginning of the season, but even before, I think you can develop it throughout the course of the season -- what really works for you."

Clady
It also means players such as Manning and left tackle Ryan Clady, the team's captains on offense last season -- Wes Welker replaced Clady when Clady went on injured reserve -- will again have prominent roles in the locker room.

But defensively, with Bailey and Woodyard gone, there are some players who are going to have to step forward in how they handle themselves as well as how they interact with their teammates. Linebacker Danny Trevathan has the look of a potential captain in how he approaches his job and how he plays on the field. As does cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who is currently working his way back from ACL surgery.

They will be two of the most important voices in the defensive meeting room, kind of a bridge between the new arrivals like Ward, Talib and Ware and the players who have been with the Broncos. But it would be a shock if Ware, whose friends in the league say is one of the hardest workers they have been around, is not elected a team captain by his new teammates when the votes get tallied later this summer.

Ware is a classic lead-by-example guy who has 117 sacks on his playing resume. He will serve an important role in the coming weeks and months, as a veteran presence on that side of the ball. And while Ware's presence will certainly benefit Von Miller, Derek Wolfe is another player who could reap the rewards as well. Wolfe had the look of an impact player as a rookie in 2012 before last season's illness landed him on injured reserve.

The Broncos have some questions to answer on the field as they get started, but they're working through some in the locker room as they move through these opening weeks of their offseason work.

"Everything is all about details when it comes to football," Ware said this week. "When you have everything in place, it really doesn't matter. It comes to the small things of guys really wanting it, the mistakes that you make and it starts this offseason with just working out and guys really giving it their all. That carries over into the season."
After center Will Montgomery's contract was filed with the NFL last week, the Denver Broncos used up most of what had been allotted to spend in these initial weeks of free agency. And they intend to stick to the budget.

"You know you're going to have some bumps in the road and we don't want to get so close [to the limit] you can't adjust," is how Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has put it. "We'll ease back after our initial work and keep our eyes open."

Montgomery signed a one-year deal last week that carries a salary cap hit of just more than $1.5 million. Montgomery will get a $50,000 roster bonus in August to go with another $75,000 bonus in Week 1 of the regular season.

Before the signing the Broncos had just under $6 million worth of workable salary cap space, so that total is close to $4 million at the moment. That figure includes just the top 51 players and with the May draft still on the docket. The Broncos will need to keep enough room to count all 53 players on the roster when final roster cuts are made this summer and to cover the potential of players on injured reserve.

The Broncos currently have seven picks in next month's draft and have allotted room for that.

So unless they want to release a player, they're largely done signing any free agent beyond a no-bonus, one-year minimum deal. Because they have spent most of the cash they had on hand in recent weeks, the Broncos have even tweaked the last two deals they've done -- Montgomery and Emmanuel Sanders -- to pay the bonuses later.

Sanders gets the actual payment of the bulk of his "up front" money in a bonus payment next year.

Before free agency started the Broncos were among the teams in the best shape in terms of "dead" money -- salary cap charges for players no longer on the roster -- but did add a bit in recent weeks. They are still among the 11 teams with fewer than $6 million in dead money charges, but they added the bulk of theirs since the end of the season and the start of free agency.

They took a $2.1 million hit when the second year of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's original contract voided five days after the Super Bowl. They also took a $1.83 million dead money charge when Chris Kuper retired last month.

Those two players account for 67.8 percent of the Broncos' current dead money total. The charge for the player who has been gone the longest is $500,000 for running back Willis McGahee, who was released last spring.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Perhaps it was part warning shot across the bow of the locker room as well as the team's scouting and personnel departments or simply a promise about living with what happened to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Either way, John Elway wasn't even 48 hours past the crushing loss to the Seattle Seahawks and he was already dialing in on the 2014 season.

"The bottom line is we're going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder," Elway said. "And continue to do that with the mindset that we want to be world champions and we're going to do everything we can to get there."

And as Elway has said, the decisions get tougher with the wins -- the Broncos are 26-6 over the last two regular seasons. With that, here's an early look at what's to come for the Broncos:

First, the lists ...

Unrestricted free agents (2013 salary cap figures in parentheses): RB Knowshon Moreno ($3.287 million), LB Wesley Woodyard ($3.25 million), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ($2.9 million), DE Robert Ayers ($2.241 million), S Mike Adams ($2 million), LB Paris Lenon ($1.54 million), WR Eric Decker ($1.506 million), CB Quentin Jammer ($1.5 million), DE Shaun Phillips ($1.4 million), LB Stewart Bradley ($1.2 million), G Zane Beadles ($1.06 million), C Dan Koppen ($1.015 million), WR Andre Caldwell ($1 million), T Winston Justice ($991,176), C Steve Vallos ($555,000), S Michael Huff ($296,470).

Restricted free agents, so Broncos have right to match other offers (2013 salary cap charges): CB Tony Carter ($715,000), CB Chris Harris Jr. ($555,668), DT Mitch Unrein ($555,000), LB Brandon Marshall ($28,235).

Exclusive-rights free agents, so they can't negotiate with any other team (2013 salary cap figures): KR Trindon Holliday ($480,000), S Duke Ihenacho ($480,000).

Position to watch: The Broncos have six defensive backs who are slated to be either unrestricted or restricted free agents. Rodgers-Cromartie, whose 2014 portion of his contract will void Friday, will turn 28 in early April so he will likely have demand elsewhere.

Bailey
Harris will need the entire offseason to recover from surgery to repair a torn ACL, so the Broncos could simply tender him a one-year offer with enough compensation required to keep away the suitors if they want to gauge his recovery before diving in long term.

But overall, cornerback Champ Bailey will also turn 36 in June and played in just five games this past season. The Broncos will have to look long and hard for help at this position since their entire rotation is in flux. Rodgers-Cromartie started 13 games in the regular season, Adams played in 16 and started seven, Harris started 15, Jammer played in 11 games, Huff played in seven after signing in November and Carter played in 12.

That's a lot of snaps at one position on the bargaining table.

Cap figures to watch: Bailey's $10 million hit for '14 leads the way. It's likely the Broncos will approach him about some kind of relief and if Bailey's willing the two sides could work something out. If not, the Broncos are not in position to bring him back at that number.

"Most people in this locker room have to deal with something coming up," Bailey said this week. "You deal with it when you can. I don't control anything -- I'm under contract for another year, so I'm not concerned with what's going on, really. Those decisions are not made by me. I'll deal with that when it comes."

Guard Chris Kuper, who has continued to battle his way back from multiple ankle surgeries as well as a major infection, took a pay cut last August. He has a $5.19 million cap figure for '14. Tight end Joel Dreessen has a $3.166 million cap figure and was a game-day inactive for the Broncos' three postseason games.

The you-can't-keep-everybody department: Woodyard -- who has been a captain in all six of his seasons with the team -- Moreno, Ayers, Decker and Beadles have been just the kind of home-grown players Elway wants as the Broncos move forward.

Decker
But they are not all going to get their best offers from the Broncos. Decker, in particular, fits the profile of an offensive players who will do far better in the open market than he would with the Broncos. Offensive starters at skill positions, especially those who work in the league's marquee offenses, are considered splash signings to many teams. So, those players often get some of the big money tossed around early in free agency.

Moreno fits what the Broncos do in all facets of his game, but he's had two knee surgeries, including an ACL repair. Ayers has been a rotation player over the last two seasons. And while offensive linemen are considered by many general managers to be the safest bets in free agency, the Broncos' feelings on Beadles will be seen in the kind offer they extend.

Feel the draft: The Broncos' top spots should be cornerback, defensive line and the middle of the offensive line. They will have to consider wide receivers as well if Decker moves on and given they lost their last draft pick at the position -- Tavarres King -- when he was claimed off waivers by Carolina in October as the Broncos tried to get him back on to the practice squad.

Given Lenon and Woodyard are free agents and Von Miller coming back from ACL surgery, linebacker will need at least a second-day look as well.

Who's got the most to gain in '14: Miller, by far. He's been suspended for six games already. Another one would cost him a year and he remains in Stage 3 of the league's drug program for the remainder of his career.

Miller
He returned from his suspension a little heavier and didn't play with nearly the same explosiveness he had in 2013, according to a wide sampling of pro personnel scouts who have evaluated him. And he's coming back from ACL surgery.

That's a lot for a guy set to be an unrestricted free agent following the '14 season and it means there are several questions swirling around a guy who once looked like a foundation player for the team.

Also, Brock Osweiler can continue to show the Broncos he's got what they'll need for him to take over in the post Peyton Manning era.

And offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who will be in the last year of his current contract in '14, was a red-hot head coaching candidate this season and he figures to remain at the front of the line with Manning's return.

Other matters that need attention: Head coach John Fox will be in last year of his deal in '14, a situation more coaches do not like to be in. Elway has said he would sit down with Fox after the season was over. In Fox's favor are three consecutive division titles, but he will have to answer for the Super Bowl meltdown.

Also, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's contract is set to expire. He likes it in Denver. The Broncos like his work, especially as the interim head coach this season season, so as it stands something would get done unless an unexpected bump in the road appears.

Plan for the future: What the Broncos do, or don't do, in free agency this time around could be affected by the fact Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Orlando Franklin are all slated to be unrestricted free agents after the 2014 season.

Or as Elway put it; "My job is to stay two steps ahead."
 Julius ThomasAP Photo/Jack DempseyJulius Thomas has come a long way since living with Brady Quinn to learn the Broncos playbook.

NEWARK, N.J. -- It was the spring of discontent in the NFL. The lockout was on, two sides dug in for a nasty corporate spat over money, benefits with each trying to find the public relations high ground.

And Julius Thomas, with all of one season’s worth of college football experience on his résumé, had just been selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft by the Denver Broncos. But Thomas was a Broncos player in name only. He had no contract, no contact with his new coaches beyond a short post-draft how-do-you-do? session, no access to the team’s weight room and no way to use anything the Broncos had inside of their complex that could help him.

"At that point, the lockout was kind of frustrating for a guy like me," Thomas said. "I needed the OTAs [organized team activities], I needed practice, I needed meetings, I needed to be around it. I didn’t know what my role was going to be in the NFL or what kind of player I could be. I just knew I thought I had a lot of work to do and wanted to get started."

Now, Thomas is a Pro Bowl tight end, a key piece in an offense that set an NFL scoring record this season with 606 points. But in April, May and June of 2011, he was a Broncos draft pick adrift, with more questions than answers with just one season of football at Portland State after his four-year basketball career has concluded.

Thomas was raw, bristling with potential and in search of help.

Enter Brady Quinn, a Broncos backup quarterback at the time who hoped to compete for the starting job if and when the labor posturing ended. Quinn was one of many Broncos players who took part in on-their-own workouts during the lockout, a group that included several current Broncos such as Zane Beadles, Chris Kuper, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, as well as former Broncos safety Brian Dawkins.

And Quinn, the guy with the best grasp of the team's playbook in those workouts -- having never met Thomas before, having been introduced to the then-rookie by a friend -- offered Thomas a place to stay as well as a seat in a Football 101 classroom of sorts. Thomas gladly accepted, paid his own way -- before he even had an NFL paycheck -- and got to work.

"But just to go live with someone he didn’t even know, to sacrifice whatever he was doing in his life right to start a career you’re just beginning, all during a lockout, I think it took a lot for a young guy," said Quinn, currently a St. Louis Rams quarterback recovering from back surgery in California. "But you just saw that desire, that work ethic."

Quinn also saw what the Broncos saw in pre-draft workouts, what the team saw in Thomas’ first two seasons in the NFL despite struggles with ankle issues, including surgery following the 2011 season. But even through those first two seasons -- when Thomas had just one catch -- the Broncos believed in the potential Quinn saw from almost the first pass he threw to the kid.

The veteran quarterback set things up like Thomas would see once he was allowed to join the team. The two had installation sessions with the team’s playbook, then they would discuss what Thomas had just been shown and head to the field to see if Thomas could turn the information into action.

"And the thing that struck you right away was his ability, that wow factor, just watching him move. You’re like, 'holy crap,'" Quinn said. "And I know it’s going to sound crazy, but to me, it was like if LeBron [James] played football. I really thought to myself, even in those first workouts, this is what it might look like if LeBron James played football. You saw that size, running like a wide receiver. That wingspan, the way he ran routes with power and agility and to look so smooth and effortless to go with the way he just snatched the ball when he caught it."

"I think about it from time to time, for sure, but I’ve always appreciated what Brady did for me," Thomas said this week. "Here I am, a young guy, coming out of college, lockout is going on, and Brady opened up his home to me. And he didn’t just open his home to me, he sat down every day and worked with me on the playbook. He was my first real introduction into the NFL, my first real glimpse of being a pro."

Quinn said after he would throw to Thomas and some of the others in the on-field work, he would quiz Thomas about things in the playbook they had discussed or worked on that day "just to see what he retained."

Coaches often say good habits, developed early in a career, will serve a player well, maybe even help beat the league's short-term odds. Two years after his work with Quinn, Thomas was also one of the first of the Broncos' youthful group of players on offense to find his way into workouts with Peyton Manning after the quarterback signed in March 2012.

Thomas quickly developed the on-field chemistry with Manning, and it could be seen in his 65-catch, 12-touchdown season.

"It showed [Thomas] didn’t have much of a football background at that point. He knew some of the things he was going to have to do to be in this business to be a pro," Broncos tight end coach Clancy Barone said. "He was living on Brady’s couch basically. That was his first step. I’ll be honest, he’s still got a great upside to go, still plenty of work to do, and that’s a great thing, to have that kind of skill set now and still have some room to grow. I think it shows what he could be if he continues to do those things."

"He’s just smart. He picks things up easily. He understood football right away even though he didn't have much of a history with the game," Quinn said. "It was almost innate. You just didn't have to teach him too much about the routes. He seemed to just understand how to do it. It was almost like he had a feel of how to set up a guy who was covering him."

So here’s Thomas now, a star in waiting and a matchup nightmare who is being described as an X factor in a Super Bowl. An unlikely road traveled, in at least some way, right from Brady Quinn’s house.

"I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what he did for me," Thomas said. "I’ll always appreciate it, I’ll always be grateful for it and I’ll always remember it."

Broncos will rest the weary during bye

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
4:50
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Several injured Denver Broncos will be given a practice bye this week as the Broncos move through their weekend off.

With a long line of players headed into the trainer’s room Monday -- tight end Julius Thomas and safety Duke Ihenacho were added to the list in Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins -- the Broncos will take a more measured approached to their two days’ worth of practice this week.

Manning
The team has its bye Sunday, so players and coaches will have short workouts Tuesday and Wednesday, then have Thursday through Sunday off before returning Monday.

"We’ll go Broncos versus Broncos next two days ... just work on some areas we need to improve at," Broncos coach John Fox said Monday. "(We’ll) look at some younger guys, hold out the guys that are a little sore or somewhat injured, typical bye week."

Thomas, who suffered a left ankle injury when his leg was twisted awkwardly on a tackle by Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson just after halftime, will be one of those held out of this week’s workouts. Fox said "all the testing has been negative to date" on Thomas’ ankle. Thomas, who missed much of his first two seasons in the league because of troubles with the right ankle after injuring it on his only NFL catch before this season, is fourth on the team in catches with 39, and second in touchdown receptions with eight.

Much like the Broncos did with tests on quarterback Peyton Manning's ankles this past week, Thomas is expected to have his test results looked at by noted foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson. Anderson, based in Charlotte, N.C., and a Panthers team physician during Fox’s tenure as Carolina’s head coach, performed surgery on Thomas’ right ankle in April of 2012.

Ihenacho was injured when he was folded back awkwardly by a post-play hit by Redskins tight end Jordan Reed after Ihenacho had tried to make a play on a potential interception in the second quarter Sunday. Ihenacho, too, had an MRI Monday. Asked if he thought the hit on Ihenacho was "necessary," given Ihenacho was already down, Fox said.

"I thought a lot of things, but really at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. I tried to get them to look at it again, it just one of those things that's judgment, you have to go with what they call."

No penalty was called on the play.

Overall, tackle Orlando Franklin (ankle), cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), and guard Chris Kuper (ankle) are among the other veteran players expected to be held out of workouts this week. Players who were limited at least some in practice last week are expected to be dialed back as well, like linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring), defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) and wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle).

Phillips was taken to the locker room shortly before halftime Sunday, but did return to the game. Manning, too, is expected to get a break from the on-field work this week.

Asked if he would hold Manning out of the next two days, Fox made it clear that was his plan.

"I don’t want to say now, because I might change my mind," Fox said. "We’ll definitely look at everybody who’s sore -- he’s not going to get a whole lot of reps the next two days, I’ll put it that way."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The jury is still out on the Broncos offensive line, but they’re hoping right tackle Orlando Franklin continues to progress to be in the lineup against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Franklin
Franklin (ankle) did practice on a limited basis Friday and the Broncos formally listed him as questionable for the game. But the Broncos do have at least some additional optimism about Franklin's status, more than they did earlier in the week. Their hope, given the punishment quarterback Peyton Manning has taken over the past two games, being they can get their starting five up front back on the field and protect Manning better.

“Definitely, [Franklin] has gotten from not sure to questionable,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “He’ll be a game-time decision, but he did practice on a limited basis and looked good.’’

Manning took several hard hits against the Jaguars after Franklin left the game and Manning was then sacked four times in last Sunday night’s loss to Indianapolis -- he fumbled after a hit and threw an interception after his arm was hit -- with Franklin out of the lineup. Manning, who was then held out of Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury, had been sacked just five times in the six previous games combined.

If Franklin were able to play, the Broncos would move Louis Vasquez back to his right guard position and have their preferred lineup in the game.

Guard Chris Kuper (ankle), who had filled in at right guard when Vasquez went to right tackle, did practice at least some Friday after being held out of both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices. Kuper was listed as questionable.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) was the only Broncos player held out of Friday’s practice and will be a game-day inactive against the Redskins because of the injury.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring), defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin), linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), wide receiver Eric Decker (toe) and defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) all participated fully Friday and all are expected to play against the Redskins.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos may be forced to juggle their battered offensive line once again Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

Guard Chris Kuper, who was already in the starting lineup because right tackle Orlando Franklin was injured, missed his second consecutive day of practice Thursday because of an ankle injury. Kuper has had multiple surgeries on his ankle since he dislocated it in the 2011 regular-season finale.

For his part Franklin (ankle) was limited in Thursday’s practice after being held out of Wednesday’s practice. Kuper appears unlikely to play Sunday at this point and Franklin isn’t yet full speed, so the Broncos may have to put Winston Justice into the lineup for the first time this season.

Justice was signed when Ryan Clady was moved to injured reserve earlier this season. Should the Broncos put Justice in the lineup for Franklin they could move Louis Vasquez back to his right guard spot and give Justice help if needed with a few more two-tight-end looks.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) also did not practice Thursday and is not expected to play until some point after the Broncos’ bye week. Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring) were all limited in Thursday’s practice but all three are expected to play Sunday.

Defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin), linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), wide receiver Eric Decker (toe) and defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) all participated fully Thursday and all are expected to play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos gave several veteran players, including quarterback Peyton Manning, the day off in an effort to deal with some aches and pains in the wake of Sunday night’s loss in Indianapolis.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), guard Chris Kuper (ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (toe) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring) were held out of Wednesday’s practice. However, all are expected to practice as the week goes on and be available for Sunday’s game. Manning was held out with a minor ankle injury, but said following practice he would practice Thursday and be ready to start Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

“Just some of it is wear and tear of being almost halfway through an NFL season,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “Some of it is guys who are a little further along in their careers resting to make sure they’re ready to play on Sunday.’’

Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) and tackle Orlando Franklin (ankle) also were held out of Wednesday’s practice. Bailey won’t play against the Redskins; Franklin is still a major question mark for the game, but he did do some work with the team’s strength coaches Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck) were limited in the practice. Woodyard, who has missed the last two games, said he felt like he was progressing enough to play Sunday.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Almost the moment anyone passes through the front doors of the Denver Broncos' south suburban complex, there are two easy-to-see reminders of Mike Shanahan's tenure with the team.

The two Lombardi trophies stand watch -- bathed in the glow of their own spotlights, along with all of the hardware from the six AFC Championship Game wins in the franchise's history -- over all those who cross the lobby each day. While there aren’t many players left from Shanahan’s time with the team – Chris Kuper, Champ Bailey, Wesley Woodyard, Matt Prater and Ryan Clady – and Alex Gibbs is the only Broncos assistant to have worked with Shanahan, those coveted silver baubles from the two titles remain.

Though Shanahan has a restaurant with his name operating just a few miles from the Broncos’ practice fields, as well as an offseason home nearby, Sunday will mark his first trip back to Denver as another team's head coach. He will stand on the opposite sideline at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and make what he says is just his second trip to the stadium’s visiting locker room.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan, John Elway
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiMike Shanahan helped John Elway and the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles during his time in Denver.
"You're there for 21 years, got a lot of great friends, great memories, where we raised our family, yeah, I’m looking forward to it," Shanahan said. "It will be enjoyable."

After an 8-8 finish in 2008, when the Broncos lost their last three games to miss the playoffs, including a crushing home loss to the Bills and a 52-21 loss to the Chargers in the season finale, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired the man he once called his "coach for life." The Broncos had won just one playoff game between their Super Bowl triumph to close out the 1998 season and the day Bowlen made the change. Shanahan exited having worked as the head coach or an assistant coach there for more than two decades.

A lot of road has been traveled by Shanahan and the Broncos since. Denver fired another coach (Josh McDaniels) before the 2010 season was over, Bowlen hired John Elway to run the football side of his team, and Elway signed Peyton Manning to throw passes for it. Shanahan, after selecting quarterback Robert Griffin III in the 2012 draft, has seen his team win the division, has dealt with the aftermath of Griffin’s knee injury, and now brings the 2-4 Redskins to Denver in his fourth season with the team.

"That’s part of football, people making decisions and going different directions," Shanahan said. "… At least when I left it I felt like I left it in pretty good shape … even though we didn’t get done the last couple years as much as you’d like to. Five Super Bowls [as head coach and as an assistant], one out of every three years we were in a championship game. You do that seven out of 21 years, you feel like you’re pretty lucky being in the right place at the right time, a lot of people helping you out along the way."

Beyond Bowlen and team president Joe Ellis, the football side of the Broncos’ operation has undergone two extreme makeovers since Shanahan's last day. McDaniels first brought his version of the Patriot Way to Colorado. Then Elway arrived in early 2011 to rebuild from the 4-12 season left behind after McDaniels' second year, replacing him with John Fox.

As far as players, Prater (signed off the Dolphins' practice squad in 2007) and Woodyard (made Shanahan's last Broncos roster in '08 as an undrafted free agent) have seen a lot of change since Shanahan's departure.

"He gave me my first good opportunity in this league," Prater said. "It’s pretty crazy. It’s been a lot of transition with different coaches and different guys coming through. I’m happy to still be here."

"He was the guy who gave me my first chance to play in the NFL, so much respect," Woodyard said. "He was one of those guys who always kept it straight forward, he never B.S.’ed it, he always told you exactly what you wanted to hear from a head coach, he never cut you short, he always kept it real. … I believed in him and he believed in me."

The Broncos will honor Shanahan with a video presentation before Sunday's kickoff, a nod to those trophies in the lobby and all the time Shanahan spent with the team.

He has always said he believes the Broncos were close to being a playoff regular once again -- with Jay Cutler at quarterback -- when he was let go in 2008. Still, he spends a big slice of his offseason time in Denver, played a round of golf with Elway earlier this year during the league meetings and says he still considers Bowlen a friend.

"I had 21 great years with Pat," Shanahan said. "Sometimes when you separate, you look back at all the great times you did have. I’ve always considered Pat one of my best friends."

Asked if thought he would hear cheers or boos from the fans on Sunday, Shanahan said, "Hope they don’t boo me. I don’t think I did anything wrong to get booed. I didn’t leave. They fired me."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It may not be the return most showed up at the Broncos complex to talk about this week, but the team finished the practice week Friday feeling pretty good about the return they’ve been waiting to see.

Linebacker Von Miller, who was back on the practice field Monday for the first time this season after a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance policy, finished the week well, Broncos coach John Fox said, and is on track to start against the Colts.

“He’s had a great week of practice. Obviously he’s got a lot of energy, he’s got fresh legs,’’ Fox said. “He’s excited about playing and his teammates are excited about watching him.’’

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck) also took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis and was formally listed as questionable for the game. If Woodyard doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he is expected to play.

“He’s definitely further ahead this week,’’ Fox said.

As they have through practice this week, the Broncos will have to shuffle things in the offensive front because of right tackle Orlando Franklin’s injury. Franklin left Sunday’s game against the Jaguars with knee and ankle injuries. The ankle has been the biggest concern as he was held out of practice all week, including Friday. The Broncos listed him as doubtful and he is not expected to play Sunday with Louis Vasquez expected to line up at right tackle with Chris Kuper at right guard.

Defensive end Robert Ayers (left shoulder), defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring) and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (neck), were all limited in practice at some point this week, but participated fully Friday and are on track to play.

Tight end Virgil Green (back), wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), wide receiver Eric Decker (shoulder), cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) and Kuper (ankle) all participated fully through the week and were listed as probable for the game. All are expected to play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is a white board hanging in Dave Magazu's office inside the Denver Broncos complex. Sometimes, the long-time offensive line coach will write the future on it.

He will write a plan for a rainy day, some just-in-case ideas for the inevitable sprains, breaks and strains that come his group's way.

[+] EnlargeMagazu
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiBroncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu has already had to dip into his rainy-day lineup plans on more than one instance.
"In the summer, before OTAs, I might have 15 different lineups written on my board," Magazu said. "You try to make the parts interchangeable."

Good thing. The Broncos, with the highest-scoring offense in the history of the league over a season's first six weeks and with a 37-year-old future Hall of Famer at quarterback, are fairly deep into Magazu's magic marker musings already. ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is a white board hanging in Dave Magazu's office inside the Denver Broncos complex. Sometimes, the long-time offensive line coach will write the future on it.

He will write a plan for a rainy day, some just-in-case ideas for the inevitable sprains, breaks and strains that come his group's way.

"In the summer, before OTAs, I might have 15 different lineups written on my board," Magazu said. "You try to make the parts interchangeable."

Good thing. The Broncos, with the highest-scoring offense in the history of the league over a season's first six weeks and with a 37-year-old future Hall of Famer at quarterback, are fairly deep into Magazu's magic marker musings already. And many of the mix-and-match combinations they ran in their offseason practices and training camp have come to fruition.

"It's not something you do at the drop of a hat, but it's best to be ready for things," Magazu said. "You have to start doing some planning in the spring."

Manny Ramirez, who had never started a game in his NFL career at center, was moved there during offseason workouts and has been the Broncos' starter since. Left tackle Ryan Clady, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who had not missed a game in his career until this season, suffered a season-ending foot injury in September, so that put backup Chris Clark at left tackle.

Then right tackle Orlando Franklin suffered left knee and ankle injuries -- the team has said the ankle injury is more serious at this point -- on a third-quarter touchdown run by Knowshon Moreno last Sunday. The Broncos were forced to dip into those plans again. They moved right guard Louis Vasquez, who had started to practice at tackle just weeks after he signed with the Broncos in free agency, into Franklin's spot.

And Chris Kuper, who has spent almost two years battling back from a dislocated ankle he suffered in the 2011 regular-season finale and an infection that followed this offseason, was moved into the right guard spot where he had been a starter previously in his career.

"I'm not even sure [Vasquez] has even played tackle before," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said following a 35-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I don't think it's too much technique as much as it all looks different," Broncos coach John Fox said of the cross-training up front. "It's like moving safety to corner or inside linebacker to outside linebacker, it's just the plays come at you from different angles and stuff looks different. So, guys go down during the season -- we've had our share -- but knock on wood, those guys step in."

Ramirez said he's prepared to do whatever the team requests.

"My thinking has always been I'll play wherever they want me to," Ramirez said. "The more places you can play, the better your chances of playing. The more you can do."

Beyond the threat of injuries, Magazu said part of the issue is the Broncos routinely keep just seven offensive linemen available on their 46-player gameday roster. That means the two backups have to be ready to play at more than one spot.

So, the Broncos will kick the tires in the offseason, try tackles at guard, guards at center, centers at guard, just to see who can, or can't have a little more added to their job description.

"It's a long process, and it doesn't always work," Magazu said. "Sometimes, you take a guy and you try some things and you watch and it's pretty clear it's not going to be something that works out. And it goes the other way sometimes, too. You take a guy you don't think is going to be able to do something and you give him a couple reps, and it's there. It makes them more valuable. But seven guys on game day is a nightmare. I've been with John [Fox] forever and if I could promise him nobody would get hurt, he'd keep five up. He wants 20 DBs, 14 [defensive] linemen."

So far, however, it has worked much of the time. Manning is still the least sacked starter in the league, in part because the veteran quarterback has done his part well and adjusted having been the quickest quarterback in the league to get rid of the ball much of the time. Overall, the Broncos have surrendered just five sacks in six games combined and three of those came in the season opener against the Ravens.

The Giants, Cowboys and Jaguars did not sack Manning. The Colts, however, will likely be the most aggressive defense the Broncos have faced in a season when opponents have rushed four players or fewer at Manning on 70 percent of his dropbacks. Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.5.

The Broncos also have two games remaining this season with the NFL's sack leader -- the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We're playing in one of the loudest places to play, if not the loudest, against a great pass-rush team," Manning said. "We've got a great challenge from that standpoint."n.

"It's not something you do at the drop of a hat, but it's best to be ready for things," Magazu said. "You have to start doing some planning in the spring."

Manny Ramirez, who had never started a game in his NFL career at center, was moved there during offseason workouts and has been the Broncos' starter since. Left tackle Ryan Clady, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who had not missed a game in his career until this season, suffered a season-ending foot injury in September, so that put backup Chris Clark at left tackle.

Then right tackle Orlando Franklin suffered left knee and ankle injuries -- the team has said the ankle injury is more serious at this point -- on a third-quarter touchdown run by Knowshon Moreno last Sunday. The Broncos were forced to dip into those plans again. They moved right guard Louis Vasquez, who had started to practice at tackle just weeks after he signed with the Broncos in free agency, into Franklin's spot.

And Chris Kuper, who has spent almost two years battling back from a dislocated ankle he suffered in the 2011 regular-season finale and an infection that followed this offseason, was moved into the right guard spot where he had been a starter previously in his career.

"I'm not even sure [Vasquez] has even played tackle before," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said following a 35-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I don't think it's too much technique as much as it all looks different," Broncos coach John Fox said of the cross-training up front. "It's like moving safety to corner or inside linebacker to outside linebacker, it's just the plays come at you from different angles and stuff looks different. So, guys go down during the season -- we've had our share -- but knock on wood, those guys step in."

Ramirez said he's prepared to do whatever the team requests.

"My thinking has always been I'll play wherever they want me to," Ramirez said. "The more places you can play, the better your chances of playing. The more you can do."

Beyond the threat of injuries, Magazu said part of the issue is the Broncos routinely keep just seven offensive linemen available on their 46-player gameday roster. That means the two backups have to be ready to play at more than one spot.

So, the Broncos will kick the tires in the offseason, try tackles at guard, guards at center, centers at guard, just to see who can, or can't have a little more added to their job description.

"It's a long process, and it doesn't always work," Magazu said. "Sometimes, you take a guy and you try some things and you watch and it's pretty clear it's not going to be something that works out. And it goes the other way sometimes, too. You take a guy you don't think is going to be able to do something and you give him a couple reps, and it's there. It makes them more valuable. But seven guys on game day is a nightmare. I've been with John [Fox] forever and if I could promise him nobody would get hurt, he'd keep five up. He wants 20 DBs, 14 [defensive] linemen."

So far, however, it has worked much of the time. Manning is still the least sacked starter in the league, in part because the veteran quarterback has done his part well and adjusted having been the quickest quarterback in the league to get rid of the ball much of the time. Overall, the Broncos have surrendered just five sacks in six games combined and three of those came in the season opener against the Ravens.

The Giants, Cowboys and Jaguars did not sack Manning. The Colts, however, will likely be the most aggressive defense the Broncos have faced in a season when opponents have rushed four players or fewer at Manning on 70 percent of his dropbacks. Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.5.

The Broncos also have two games remaining this season with the NFL's sack leader -- the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We're playing in one of the loudest places to play, if not the loudest, against a great pass-rush team," Manning said. "We've got a great challenge from that standpoint."

Broncos-Colts matchup of the day

October, 18, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has talked about the Indianapolis Colts' defense this week the name that often appeared in the sentence first was Robert Mathis.

And why not, the Colts outside linebacker is tied for the league lead in sacks, with 9.5, and once again the Broncos are likely to start a mix-and-match offensive line. Mathis, who was a defensive end during Manning’s time in Indianapolis, part of a disruptive tandem with former Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, was moved to outside linebacker in 2012 when the team switched to a 3-4 defense. And in his 11th season, he’s still quick off the ball, quick to the corner and keeps working to the quarterback even if he is initially stopped.

Mathis routinely grinds out sacks because he keeps pressing the issue, often after opposing linemen believe they have shoved him far enough past the quarterback.

Mathis often lines up on the defensive left, which would put him directly across from this week’s makeover in the offensive front. With right tackle Orlando Franklin sidelined because of ankle and knee injuries, the Broncos are expected to keep the lineup they used after Franklin left this past Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That would put Louis Vasquez in Franklin’s right tackle spot and Chris Kuper in Vasquez’ right guard spot. It’s been a crash course for Vasquez, who has only started at guard in his NFL career, but was cross-trained at tackle at times in offseason workouts as well as training camp

“Louis knew he was probably going to play some right tackle probably about two weeks after he got here,’’ said Broncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu. “You kind of get into their comfort zone a little bit, make them learn a little more than their own position.’’

Vasquez is a technically sound player, so much so he has been flagged for penalties just four times in his entire career. He is a power player with imposing size, but he has the reach of a tackle and played well after making the move this past Sunday.

Mathis will be a stern test of Vasquez’ footwork however, given Mathis’ ability to change direction and catch linemen leaning. At 246 pounds Mathis still rushes with power at times, usually as a change of pace or to shove a lineman off balance once he sees a mistake has been made.

The Colts figure to test whatever the Broncos have to offer in the right side of the offensive line and the Broncos may need to bulk up the formation from time to time with their two-tight end look. Defenses have played it conservatively thus far against Manning. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning has faced four or fewer pass-rushers on 70 percent of his dropbacks this season.

Broncos inch closer to expected lineup

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
4:25
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos continue to make progress toward an unveiling of sorts Sunday in Indianapolis.

No, not quarterback Peyton Manning sporting former Broncos colors in the city he once called his NFL home. It's the defense they’ve waited six weeks to see, with all of the expected starters on the field.

“It’s good to have everybody back working,’’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "You expect to play better when your better players are out there.''

Linebacker Von Miller has returned from his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, cornerback Champ Bailey played for the first time of the season last weekend against Jacksonville and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck) and defensive end Robert Ayers (left shoulder) continue to make progress toward playing against the Colts.

Both Woodyard and Ayers, who were held out of the win over Jacksonville, took part in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis. Defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring) was also limited.

Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (neck), who was limited in Wednesday’s workout, took part fully Thursday.

Right tackle Orlando Franklin (left ankle and knee) was held out of practice for the second consecutive day. Franklin was expected to miss one or two games with the injuries, and the Broncos are expected to stick with the lineup they used Sunday against the Jaguars after Franklin left the game. Louis Vasquez lined up at right tackle and Chris Kuper at right guard after Franklin was injured in the third quarter.

Tight end Virgil Green (back), wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), wide receiver Eric Decker (shoulder), Bailey (foot) and Kuper (ankle) all were listed on the injury report Thursday and all participated fully.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos were evaluating right tackle Orlando Franklin for both left knee and left ankle injuries Monday morning.

Initial exams revealed Franklin has both a sprained ankle as well as a possible MCL sprain in his knee. However, he was slated for an MRI exam and other tests Monday to check for any additional damage. Severe MCL sprains can often keep players sidelined for as many as six weeks.

Franklin
Following Sunday’s win, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said “we have our fingers crossed on Orlando.’’

Franklin suffered the injuries with 12:16 to play in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno. Franklin was briefly examined on the Broncos' bench by team doctors and then taken to the locker room and did not return to the game.

Franklin left the stadium Sunday evening using crutches.

Franklin has started every game since he was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft -- 41 consecutive games including three career postseason games. In his absence, and with tackle Winston Justice having been a game-day inactive, the Broncos moved right guard Louis Vasquez to Franklin’s right tackle spot and put Chris Kuper in at right guard to finish out the game against the Jaguars.

It is believed to have been the first time Vasquez played tackle in either an NFL or college game. Given Justice’s experience -- a former starter at right tackle for both the Eagles and Colts -- the Broncos would likely give him a long look to fill in for Franklin.

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