NFL Nation: Danny Trevathan

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- During this past week's minicamp workouts, you could see plenty of the Denver Broncos' top draft picks on display on offense.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and left tackle Ryan Clady are former first-round picks by the team. Guard Orlando Franklin, running back Montee Ball and rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer are former second-round picks. Rookie tackle Michael Schofield, who will need a remember-when training camp to earn the starting right tackle job but is slated to get a long look, was a third-round pick last month.

[+] EnlargeDanny Trevathan
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos have gotten critical production from late-round picks such as sixth-rounder Danny Trevathan.
Of the players who project in the top tier of the rotation on offense, tight end Julius Thomas -- a fourth-round selection in 2011 -- is the lowest draft pick among the players originally selected by the Broncos.

The defense, however, is a bit of a different matter, at least the top of the performance food chain.

"I think we've got some guys who prove it doesn't matter how you got here," said linebacker Danny Trevathan. "It matters what you do when you get here. I don't know if it's like that everywhere, but it's like that here."

So much so that an argument could easily be made that, as the Broncos closed out the regular season in 2013, the three players on defense not named Terrance Knighton who were playing the best were Trevathan, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle/end Malik Jackson. Harris, who went to injured reserve with a partially torn ACL in January, was an undrafted rookie who made the roster in 2011. Jackson was a fifth-round pick in 2012, and Trevathan was a sixth-round pick in '12.

That's a lot of top-shelf production from players taken on the draft's third day and just the kind of performance a team has to have in the annual selection event if it's going to compete over the long haul and avoid the anchor of "dead" money on the salary cap from free agents no longer on the roster who essentially were signed to repair draft mistakes in previous years.

Among the projected starters on defense, the Broncos have committed some early picks on defense in the John Elway/John Fox era. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Von Miller are former first-round picks, and this year's top Denver pick, cornerback Bradley Roby, is slated to play in the nickel. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe is a former second-round pick.

Nate Irving, a former third-round pick, sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker, but he will have to hold off this year's fifth-round pick, Lamin Barrow, to keep the job. Barrow is a third-day pick who already has the look of a guy who's going to push early and often for playing time.

It is what Elway, as the team's chief decision-maker, needs to happen if he's going to be able to stick to his mantra that the Broncos are trying "to win [from] now on." Because, although the first- and second-day picks get the biggest headlines, it takes the third-day guys added into the equation to get any team into the biggest games.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When you spend much of your on-field workday going against a quarterback like Peyton Manning operating in a fast-paced, no-huddle attack, you have a pretty good idea of what a big play looks like.

And as the Denver Broncos' defense has moved through its offseason work, taking a bite out of some of those big plays has been on the front burner.

“Too often last year we let people go over the top of us or run through us," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos bolstered their secondary this offseason, signing T.J. Ward (not pictured) and Aqib Talib.
The Broncos allowed 40 run plays of at least 10 yards last season, the 10th highest total in the league. Not bad, but as a guy with a don't-give-an-inch mindset, Del Rio wants that number to go down this season.

But the real trouble came through the air. Logically, it fits. If your offense is on the way to a single-season record of 606 points, if your quarterback is on the way to a single-season record of 55 touchdown passes, you’re playing with the lead much of the time. And usually the leads were big enough that there was plenty of chuck-it-around desperation on the other side.

No matter how it came about, however, the results were ugly. Opponents had 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards against the Broncos last season (27th in the league). By contrast, the Seattle Seahawks led the league in fewest big-play passes allowed with 30.

Eleven opponents in the regular season had at least three pass plays of 20 yards or more against the Broncos, and their three playoff opponents had three pass plays of at least 20 yards, including the Seahawks in their 35-point win in Super Bowl XLVIII.

“[It's] leveraging and tackling," Del Rio said this week. "The biggest thing is the back end. It typically comes from the back end and if you're leveraging properly and then tackling, you can minimize plays and make people go the hard way."

So it's no shock the Broncos devoted most of their free-agency capital to their defense, and the position group that saw the biggest expenditure was defensive back with the signings of cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. The Broncos also used their first-round pick on cornerback Bradley Roby.

Talib and Ward are physical players who Del Rio said “will show up and tackle you." Roby, the Broncos believe, showed that same kind of potential during his time at Ohio State. Broncos executive vice president John Elway said he thought Roby was the best man-to-man cover cornerback on the board and was a "top-15 talent" that the team took at No. 31.

“We were a top-five defense two years ago," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “Last year, that wasn’t us, that wasn’t the kind of defense we think we have. When you have an offense like ours, we want to give them the ball back as many times as possible after we hold people to three-and-outs."

The early returns of these latest workouts say Ward will have a variety of roles, given his ability to play with a physical edge down near the line of scrimmage -- Del Rio has often lined a safety up at weakside linebacker in some of the team's specialty looks -- as well as his ability to work in coverage downfield. Talib and Harris can both play as matchup cornerbacks, playing receivers out of the slot and on the outside. They both have proven to be willing tacklers in the run game as well.

As Harris continues to rehab from ACL surgery, Roby has found himself inserted with the starters in workouts. Roby projects to play in the team's nickel package, which was on the field for almost 70 percent of the team's defensive snaps last season.

Del Rio will point out that even with five starters on injured reserve by the time the Broncos earned their way into the Super Bowl, the defense had found itself a bit at the end of the regular season. After four teams had topped the 400-yard mark in the first 12 games, the Broncos held three of their last four regular-season opponents to fewer than 300 yards.

"I would suggest if you go back and review last year, that we were very good down the stretch when it mattered," Del Rio said. "That didn’t help our rank for the regular season but we were effective in the home win against San Diego and we were effective in the home win against the Patriots. And we helped our football team get to the championship game. So we did things that we're very proud of. And we did them short-handed."

During the past few weeks, the Broncos have pushed each other on both sides of the ball as Del Rio and offensive coordinator Adam Gase have their daily battles in team drills, each offering up a little surprise here, something unexpected there, to try to gain an edge. During the team’s mandatory minicamp this week, both sides were emotional when plays were made.

“We look at it like you can’t go against anybody better than Peyton and our offense every day," linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “That can only help us, that can only make us better. Because we're not going to face anyone better, so if we put in the work, play the way we're supposed to, we want to see those results."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was easy to see as free agency opened this past March that the Denver Broncos -- even with a Super Bowl trip this past February and three consecutive AFC West titles in tow -- were going to be a team in transition in the locker room.

Not just the usual player turnover that coach John Fox says he prepares for each season -- "a third of your team is going to be new looking back at you in that meeting room, that's what I expect almost every year" -- but at the foundation, at the core. It's also turnover among the guys who keep an eye on things, the guys who keep the peace, the guys who give the needed pats on the back or deliver the kicks a little south of there.

The guys who run the room, who help keep the little problems from becoming big ones.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Michael Ciaglo/MCT/Icon SMIChris Harris has the potential to be a leader on defense, but injuries have kept him separated from his teammates.
"A lot of it is the players you bring in," Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said. "I just believe you have to get that locker room right, your leaders have to lead in what they say and what they do."

This offseason, including this week's mandatory minicamp, has been as much about getting their leadership secured as it has been about X's and O's. None of the five captains who strode to midfield to take the pregame coin flip as recently as the 2011 season are still with the team. The last three -- all significant contributors -- were lost this offseason.

Champ Bailey was released before he signed with the New Orleans Saints, Wesley Woodyard was not offered a contract, so he signed with the Tennessee Titans, and Chris Kuper retired.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and tackle Ryan Clady were voted captains on offense by their teammates last season -- Wes Welker was voted a captain after Clady went to injured reserve -- and there's no reason to believe Manning and Clady wouldn't get the votes again. Manning sets the agenda, in many ways for the entire team, by his approach and presence, but he's also a decade older than many of his teammates, and separated by standing and life experiences, so other voices will be needed on offense. That's where Clady comes in; he's a quiet, talented leader who has the respect of those around him.

Welker, too, has the savvy, veteran chops to get the attention of teammates, but some younger players such as Demaryius Thomas, Louis Vasquez and even second-year running back Montee Ball can emerge.

Defensively, however, it still bears watching given that two of the team's most talented defenders -- linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris -- are both on the mend from ACL surgery. Players going through injury rehab often spend much of their day away from their teammates. They are held out of most of the on-field work, which limits contact with their teammates at times.

"It's just so hard to lead right now when I'm not actually involved with a lot of things," Harris said. "That's the only thing that I would say hurts right now on the leadership part is that it's kind of like I'm on IR still. So everybody else does their thing and I kind of do my own thing. So I'm still in that situation. But film room, meeting room, off the field, I'm definitely going to lead, and once I get on the field that leadership is going to come right back."

Harris has the potential to act like a captain, with or without the actual C on his jersey -- Bailey often said as much during his time with the Broncos. So does linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the team in tackles last season and has been pushing for more in offseason workouts.

"I'm sure that's in my picture, or at least I hope it is," Trevathan said of his potential to be a captain. "Right now I just need to get better, help others get better, help this team get better."

Broncos players say defensive end DeMarcus Ware, with a no-nonsense work ethic to go with 117 career sacks, has already earned the respect of his new teammates. Ware, simply because of his standing in the league and how he carries himself, has the potential to be an important voice among the Broncos.

Those who know him say he is a lead-by-example type who picks his spots carefully to speak. Often that works far better given that so few players have any patience for the rah-rah, in-your-face guys who don't practice anything close to what they preach.

In the end, this type of thing always gets sorted out. Talent will always be the biggest component in success, but talent is also the most wasted commodity in the league when it isn't accompanied by the ability to work in a group or some roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.

The Broncos are talented. They just need the right people keeping everyone involved and on the right track.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It might be time for Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan to invest in alternative fuels.

Because to this point, for the most part, Trevathan has powered himself through the beginning stages of his NFL career by igniting the slights, doubts, criticisms and question marks people have put next to his name and turning them into desire and production.

"I always dream big. I’m not usually on people’s radar, you know, but I always dream big," Trevathan said. “People can’t control your dreams. Those are all yours, man, so I try to find a way to get myself in the mixture and find a way to get myself on top. That’s always my mentality with me, showcase things they said I couldn’t do."

[+] EnlargeDanny Trevathan
Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDanny Trevathan showed last season that he can be an asset when dropping into pass coverage.
Still, after he finished as the leading tackler on a Super Bowl team last season, the list of things people think Trevathan can’t do is shrinking. He was, in his second season, the defense’s most consistent player in 2012, the kind of every-down linebacker that Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway wants in the mix.

That’s a long way from the undersized linebacker the Broncos grabbed in the sixth round of the 2013 draft with the idea that Trevathan had the instincts and ability in the high-powered Southeastern Conference to have a chance to play on special teams.

Ah, but that’s where the "dream big" part comes in for Trevathan. Let him get his foot in the door, and he wants to come inside to find a seat.

After playing in every game and finishing with 30 tackles as a rookie, Trevathan had designs on more. He latched onto a starting job at weakside linebacker last summer, and he didn’t let go.

"I think last year he just came here with a totally different mentality," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “Got himself ready to be bigger, faster, better prepared, more focused and ready to have the kind of year he had. You saw the natural instinct right away when he was a rookie, but he needed to grow, he needed to get stronger. Last year he came back with the intention to keep his weight up, and he did. Once he does that part, we can take some of that great instinct that we see and develop it."

So when LB Von Miller was suspended for six games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, when the Broncos couldn’t decide what to do at middle linebacker and eventually moved Wesley Woodyard into the spot, when injuries started to erode the plan the Broncos had on the defensive drawing board last season, Trevathan just kept churning.

There was the interception return for a near touchdown in the regular-season opener -- only a young-guy-loses-his-mind-for-a-moment dropped ball to celebrate too early kept it from being a score -- and the 12-tackle game against the New England Patriots and the 12-tackle game in the blowout loss in the Super Bowl.

When all was said and done, Trevathan led the team in tackles with 134 and, along with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, was one of the team's best week-in, week-out performers on defense. Trevathan proved himself to be physical enough to work out of the base defense and athletic enough to drop into coverage when the Broncos go to their specialty looks.

Through the team's offseason workouts thus far, Trevathan has carried himself like a player who believes he is still ascending on the developmental curve.

And the Broncos, too, expect to see even more from Trevathan this time around.

"And that’s what is happening; his confidence now is soaring and I think he’s ready to have a big year for us," Del Rio said.

Pro Bowl? Team captain? More playoff wins? Trevathan doesn’t leave anything off the "dream big" list.

"I like going above and beyond the expectations people have for me," Trevathan said. “I’m never the type of person to let the other stuff get me big-headed, because as soon as you mess up, a lot of those people are going to go over to the other side of the fence with you. So just be sure of what you’re doing, be sure of yourself; you can’t let what other people say change how you carry yourself, how you handle yourself. Little kids watching you, be great, work hard, be accountable for yourself."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Folks keep wanting to tell John Elway he’s all in for the Super Bowl this year, that he is in win-now mode as the clock ticks on what remains in Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's career.

But Saturday, as he wrapped up his fourth draft as the Broncos’ top football executive, Elway stuck to his mantra. That he is always in win-now mode, as in this year, next year and all the years that follow in whatever becomes of his tenure on the job.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesThe Broncos are confident first-round pick Bradley Roby will help keep them atop the AFC West.
"There’s so much talk about us trying to win now, and I keep saying we’re trying to win from now on and that’s going to continue," Elway said. “And that’s why every draft you go to is very, very important, because if we’re successful in the draft that’s what creates depth and creates your players down the line … Our mentality is to win now and now on."

Over the draft’s three days, the Broncos moved around some as they surrendered one of their picks this year, one next year and then got one back in '15 to do it, and the six-player draft class, Elway said, accomplished three goals. It increased the team’s speed, increased the team’s physicality, and potentially, if they get what they hope for from the newest crop of rookies, they got a few more players to help win both now and in the post-Manning era.

"Everybody on here, we feel really good about," said Broncos head coach John Fox. “We really increased our team speed. Really if you go through every position, even (tackle) Michael Schofield ran very well. They’re athletic, we hope they develop, but for sure, right away, we increased our team speed."

The class provided at least some angst among fans in the Twitter-verse who wanted a linebacker somewhere in the first two days of the draft, or wished Elway wouldn’t have traded away three picks to move up to take wide receiver Cody Latimer. However, if the Broncos are right and the usual post-draft optimism turns out to be the reality, they see potential starters in the group.

They see first-rounder Bradley Roby as a future starter who will be in the mix to play in the nickel and dime packages as a rookie. They see Latimer, the second-rounder, in the rotation at wideout this season as a No. 4 with the ability for more if there is an injury among the top three at the position -- Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders.

And they see Schofield, the third-round pick, as a potential starter at right tackle as a rookie, or at minimum a player who immediately makes the push for the job against fifth-year veteran Chris Clark. Then there’s linebacker Lamin Barrow, the fifth-round pick Saturday, who the Broncos see as a potential middle linebacker in their scheme.

As it turned out, it was the wait for Barrow on the draft board that turned out to be the most nerve-wracking. Some teams saw Barrow as a weakside linebacker in the NFL, but the Broncos see him as a potential option in the middle with the versatility to do a little more on third down in the team's specialty packages, perhaps paired with Danny Trevathan, a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft.

"We were holding on a little bit after we moved back from the bottom of the fourth to the middle of the fifth, we were holding on a little bit there," Elway said. "Fortunately Lamin made it to use there, that was the one John did about 18 laps around the room, the most nervous time of the draft."

"(Playing in the middle) is definitely something I’m looking forward to," Barrow said. "... Whatever they need me to play, I’ll play it."

Among the three previous draft classes Elway has presided over, the team has gotten plenty of production from the ’11 and ’13 groups with the 2012 class still lagging behind. Even with Trevathan's development from the '12 class, Ronnie Hillman was unable to crack the lineup much last year, Derek Wolfe is coming back from injured reserve, and quarterback Brock Osweiler is still in watch-and-learn mode behind Manning.

This time around Roby and Latimer will make the Class of ’14 go in coming seasons, but if the Broncos are right about two or three of the others, it will help Elway keep the team right where he wants it.

In win-now mode. Always.

Broncos free agency primer: LB

March, 10, 2014
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With the countdown to free agency in its final stages, it’s time to take a look at the Denver Broncos' top needs in the open market.

The Broncos are expected to aggressive once the signings formally begin Tuesday. 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 then the time to secure potential long-term Broncos who were the best picks on the board when their picks arrived.

Plenty of folks in the league say they expect the Broncos to buzz in early for some specific targets, then back off to finish out with shorter-term deals weeks later after the initial wave of signings has passed.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Dansby
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellArizona free agent linebacker Karlos Dansby would be a good fit in Denver's scheme.
It was a profile they used last season when they moved quickly to sign Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, then waited to add players like Shaun Phillips, Stewart Bradley, Quentin Jammer and Steve Vallos.

Today: Linebacker

Tuesday: Running back

Why it’s an issue: For most of the past six seasons, when the Broncos had a problem at linebacker and circumstances demanded they do something, they usually moved Wesley Woodyard somewhere in the formation to try to make things right. When it was an injury, a D.J. Williams suspension or a Von Miller suspension, or just the desire for a little something different, Woodyard was often the man for the plan.

Woodyard is an unrestricted free agent, coming off a difficult season when he suffered a stinger and eventually lost his starting job. The Broncos appear to be moving on as he goes in search of a starting job.

The player who replaced Woodyard in the starting lineup a middle linebacker, Paris Lenon, 36, was a stop-gap signing last August and is an unrestricted free agent.

Nate Irving, who the Broncos have tried at middle linebacker on multiple occasions, has shown himself to be a far better on the strong side. Von Miller is working back from ACL surgery, and Danny Trevathan is a foundation player in the defense on the weak side.

The Broncos need/want somebody in the middle, somebody with enough power to bring some presence to plays in and around the line of scrimmage yet with enough athleticism to drop into coverage. With the right player, the Broncos could go from having a middle linebacker who is simply a situational player (as they did down the stretch with Lenon) to a player who plays the middle on early down and stays in the formation with Trevathan in the nickel. Woodyard did this with success before his injury.

The Broncos had two games this past season -- against Washington and Tennessee -- when they were in a base 4-3 look more than they were in their specialty packages. They had four games this season when they were in the base defense, with three linebackers, for 12 or fewer snaps. That could change in 2014, because the Broncos will have the rough-and-tumble NFC West on their schedule.

The best out there: It is not a deep group of inside linebackers poised for the open market, and the Broncos have already worked out a player -- Lofa Tatupu -- who has not played in three years.

The Broncos would have taken a look at Donald Butler, but the San Diego Chargers signed Butler last week to deal that is worth almost $20 million over the first three years with a team option for four additional years. The Broncos also had D'Qwell Jackson in for a visit, but Jackson then signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. The Buccaneers also re-signed Jonathan Casillas to a one-year deal this past weekend.

The Colts' Pat Angerer is set for the open market, but has had foot and knee injuries over the past two seasons to go with a concussion. The Colts’ Kavell Conner is a free agent, and played in 10 games this past season as a reserve at inside linebacker.

Jon Beason played for Broncos head coach John Fox in Carolina -- Beason was the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2007 -- and is acting as his own agent. He sent an e-mail to teams saying he was the contact for any contract talks, but by rule teams could not respond to that e-mail, because Beason is a player and players cannot have direct contact with team officials until Tuesday.

Only agents could negotiate this past weekend before the formal opening of free agency.

But the biggest risk/reward riddle for the Broncos among inside linebackers is Karlos Dansby, who will require some of the biggest money that will get spent at this position. Dansby is coming off a 114-tackle, 6.5-sack, four-interception season at inside linebacker in the Arizona Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. But Dansby will be 33 in November and never has been named to a Pro Bowl despite having been a franchise player multiple times in his career.

He has the kind of range and lower-body power, even at about 230 pounds, to flourish in the Broncos’ defense, but it will take blue-chip money if the Broncos choose to pursue him.

Bottom line: With fewer college linebackers fitting as an NFL middle linebacker because of the proliferation of spread offenses in the college game, the Broncos will look hard at the free agent market to fill this hole.
INDIANAPOLIS -- With the NFL's scouting combine officially underway and free agency to follow March 11, Thursday marks the seventh installment of a position-a-day look at where the Denver Broncos stand at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitments and where their needs are greatest.

Today: Linebackers

Friday: Defensive backs

Miller
Woodyard
Things happen in football life. Plans, from time to time, get shoved off the drawing board and shatter into pieces.

And what the Broncos plan was at linebacker, a position that was going to be among -- if not the -- deepest and most talented on the roster, pretty much imploded when Von Miller was suspended for six games to open the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

When Miller returned, he never reached his 2012 level of impact and was then lost for the season when he tore his ACL against the Texans in December. Wesley Woodyard also suffered a neck injury and eventually lost his starting spot along the way when he returned to the lineup.

So, two of the three expected starters weren't for roughly half the season.

Also, with Miller in just the beginning stages of his knee rehab and Woodyard an unrestricted free agent, the Broncos have a lot of uncertainty in the middle of the defense, uncertainty that will need attention.

The Alpha: It should be Miller, but it's not. If things don't change, it will be intriguing to see what kind of momentum the Broncos have toward a long-term deal given Miller's maturity issues that now come with a major knee injury. Miller becomes an unrestricted free agent following the 2014 season. Woodyard has been a team captain for six seasons, but if he moves on it leaves a large leadership hole behind. But Danny Trevathan's next step as a player will come in this regard. He was the team's best at the position this past season and is on track to be a foundation player in the defense.

He's young, entering just his third season, but he is an every-down player who can play in a variety of situations.

Salary cap: Miller, on the basis of being the No. 2 pick of the 2011 draft, leads the way among the linebackers under contract for 2014. His cap figure for '14 is $6.682 million, the sixth highest on the team at the moment. He's also the only linebacker right now with a cap figure of over $1 million. Nate Irving is at $818,750 for the coming season, Trevathan at $596,018, Steven Johnson at $574,000 and Lerentee McCray, who was set to make the roster as an undrafted free agent in training camp last summer before suffering a season-ending injury, is at $425,666.

Pending free agents: Woodyard, who has been with the Broncos since making Mike Shanahan's last Broncos team as an undrafted free agent in 2008, is slated to hit the open market in the coming weeks. The player who replaced him in the starting base defense, Paris Lenon, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Stewart Bradley, who was given a look as the starting middle linebacker in the preseason, is also an unrestricted free agent. Reserve linebacker Brandon Marshall, who the Broncos promoted to the active roster late in the season, is a restricted free agent.

Who could stay: The spot where the "help wanted" sign is out at the moment is at middle linebacker. The Broncos' attempts to play Irving there haven't gone all that well over the last two seasons and he has performed far better on the strong side when in the lineup, so he figures to get penciled in there as Miller tries to return. Trevathan is the unquestioned weak-side guy right now and plays in all of the specialty packages as well.

So there won't be much turnover at the other spots with those players already under contract. The movement will come in the middle because that is where the deals are up.

Who could go: Given the Broncos already moved Woodyard out of the starting middle linebacker spot this past season, it's unlikely they would consider him an option there this time around. And Lenon was signed to a one-year deal in August as a depth player who ended up being moved into the starting lineup when Woodyard injured his neck. The Broncos didn't see him as a potential starter when he signed and won't see him as one in free agency.

Woodyard is a high-character player who knows the team's scheme and always played with passion no matter where they lined him up, but this time around he may be able to secure a better offer elsewhere -- his last deal with the Broncos was a two-year, $5 million contract he signed in 2012. The Broncos would certainly consider to have him back, but at their price.

What they like/want: They like speed overall at the position and versatility as well. That's because, like many defenses in this pass-first era, the Broncos "base" defense isn't their base defense at all.

They had just two games in the regular-season -- wins over Washington and Tennessee -- in which they were in their base defense for more snaps than they were in their specialty looks (five, six or seven defensive backs). And they had four games in the regular season in which they were in their base defense for 12 or fewer snaps in a game, three games in which they were in the base 4-3 for 9 or fewer snaps in the game.

That means right now the premium is on movement and the ability to drop into coverage. Which makes a player like Trevathan, who can do that and play with a physical edge on the line of scrimmage as well, all the more valuable.

Need index (1 is lowest priority, 5 the highest): 4

Miller is coming back from an ACL surgery and most guys not named Adrian Peterson need more than a season to return to the level of play they could reach before the injury. And with Woodyard and Lenon both free agents, the Broncos need a middle linebacker.

It means the Broncos will need pass rush help at the position as well as a potential starter in the base defense.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Teams that make the Super Bowl sit on an odd bridge between the present and the future.

Their coaches and players are concentrating on the moment, getting ready for the title game and all of the trappings that go with it. But the personnel departments are, by necessity of the compressed time frame playing into February creates, on to the draft and free agency.

The scouts make the rounds to the college all-star games -- Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway made an appearance at the Senior Bowl -- as things get pointed toward the draft. Elway usually refers to the change from the in-season business of trying to win games week to week to the offseason business of the draft and free agency as “shifting gears.’’ And the Broncos shifted their first significant gear this week.

They signed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to a new two-year deal and it was a good call on both sides. Del Rio is good for the Broncos' defense and the Broncos are good for Del Rio.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesRe-signing Jack Del Rio means maintaining continuity on the Broncos defense.
And while there will be changes in the offing during the offseason after a dismal 35-point loss in the Super Bowl, Del Rio’s signing is an indication of a measured, objective approach to trying to be better in the 2014 season than they finished in the 2013 season’s final game. A Super Bowl loss routinely brings all sorts of crater-it hypotheses both near and far, to raze the fort as it were. But the bottom line is objectively, rationally, there isn’t some immense talent gap between the Seahawks and the Broncos. It’s just one team played with discipline, took advantage of opportunities and played to the moment while one team did none of the above.

No team puts up 606 points on offense in a season and needs to be scraped to the foundation. Overall, the Broncos need a little more physicality and more speed across the roster, especially on special teams.

And overall, because of injuries and the free-agency status of the players on the depth chart, the Broncos' defense will need more big-picture attention in the offseason than the offense. And one of the biggest impediments to the Broncos fielding any sort of consistent defense late in Mike Shanahan’s tenure, throughout most of Josh McDaniels’ brief tenure and even at the start of John Fox’s tenure, was the constant turnover at defensive coordinator.

When Fox hired Del Rio in early 2012, Del Rio was the seventh person in the job in a seven-season stretch. And over that span the Broncos changed the alignment of their base defense. They went big across the board, then went for speed across the board and often lived with inconsistent results because they had difficulty matching personnel to the constant changes in schemes each new defensive playcaller brought with him.

Del Rio’s new contract means the Broncos will have the same defensive coordinator in three consecutive seasons for the first time since the final three years of Larry Coyer’s time on the job in 2004-06. If the plan is good, if the right decisions are made on the depth chart, then that kind of continuity can mean something.

The Broncos, because of injuries throughout the year -- five defensive starters closed out the season on injured reserve -- as well as linebacker Von Miller's suspension for the first six games of the season, the Broncos were never able to find the level of play this past season they had for most of 2012.

But one mark of a defense's potential is being able to take away what an offense wants to do and make them do something else. And camouflaged somewhat by the amount of Super Bowl wreckage is the fact the Broncos did that. The Broncos held Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to 39 yards rushing on 15 carries -- 2.6 yards per carry -- in the game and held Robert Turbin to 25 yards rushing on nine carries in the game.

No, they didn’t tackle particularly well in the game -- something that was an issue throughout the season -- and they didn’t consistently pressure Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. But they did make it difficult for the Seahawks to do what they most wanted to do offensively.

The Broncos will need to dive into the draft to fill in spots in the secondary and at linebacker. The return of Quanterus Smith, a fifth-round draft pick who spent the season on injured reserve because of a torn ACL he suffered in his senior year at Western Kentucky, should help the pass rush.

They found out Danny Trevathan could well be one of the build-around players on defense, and that Terrance Knighton was just what they hoped at defensive tackle, and a guy like Malik Jackson (fifth-round pick in ’12) is just the kind of homegrown contributor the Broncos need to add to the depth chart.

“[Knighton and Jackson], and I would say Danny Trevathan is the other one, that are young players, kind of below-the-radar kind of players, not considered stars by any means, but they played a very big role for us,’’ Del Rio said last week. “They played well all year. Malik in particular, he got his chance … and really blossomed. Terrance we brought over hoping we could resurrect his career and get him back on track, had him previously in Jacksonville. And Danny is a young player, he’s in his second year now with us and he’s really starting to blossom.’’

And with Del Rio back, the Broncos can push for progress in a system that’s in place instead of installing yet another playbook and hoping for the best.

There was a time, when John Elway wore a helmet at work instead of a tie, when the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were division rivals.

From 1977 to 2001, the two teams did their football business together in the AFC West and now these former division rivals, who have gone their separate ways since -- through good times and bad -- now arrive to Super Bowl XLVIII as the matchup many wanted to see.

The Broncos' league-leading scoring offense -- which produced an NFL record 606 points with Peyton Manning at quarterback -- against Seattle's league-leading defense (14.4 points per game), a physical, brash group that led the league in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and interceptions.

It is the first time the league's No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense have met in the Super Bowl since 1990, when the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants authored a classic, a 20-19 Giants win decided when Scott Norwood's kick drifted wide right.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game:

Legwold: Terry, in your mind, what are some of the major decisions John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made to put the Seahawks in this position?

Blount: Jeff, first and foremost, the one decision that almost everyone will point to is selecting Russell Wilson with a third-round draft choice two years ago when so many experts felt Wilson was too short to be an effective starter in today's NFL. That led to another big decision when Carroll named Wilson the starter after the team had signed Matt Flynn to a big-money deal -- a brave move, to say the least. But pointing to one move doesn't begin to tell the story of a team that Schneider and Carroll completely revamped over the past four seasons. Only four players remain from the team they inherited in 2010. Schneider and Carroll's strengths are their trust in each other and their ability to make stars, or at least quality starters, out of players that other teams overlooked such as cornerback Richard Sherman (a fifth-round pick), slot receiver Doug Baldwin (undrafted) and guard J.R. Sweezy (a seventh-round pick). They also made one of the best trades in team history, acquiring Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo in 2010. It's an example of how Schneider and Carroll are willing to take chances on players who might have had off-the-field issues.

Let me ask you a similar question, Jeff. Elway gets huge props for convincing Manning that Denver was the place for him to end his career, but obviously, it took more than one move to get the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Aside from Manning, what has made Elway's tenure so successful?

Legwold: Elway's mission, for owner Pat Bowlen, when he took the job, wasn't just to make the team competitive as quickly as possible after the 4-12 finish in 2010, but to fix the cracks in the foundation. This meant addressing the personnel and salary-cap issues that needed to be dealt with if the team was going to succeed over the long term. Elway always says people talk to him about a "win-now philosophy," but he wants the team to win from now on.

Elway and the Broncos' front office cleaned up the cap a bit, and though Elway is a former quarterback, he thinks big picture. They've drafted plenty of defensive players -- 11 of 23 picks under Elway -- and they've made finding the guy they want more important than simply making big-ticket splashes in free agency, other than Manning of course. Signing players to one-year deals with little or no signing bonuses, such as Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), Paris Lenon and Quentin Jammer (two starters and a situational player in the defense), have made it go. Starting center Manny Ramirez was released by the Lions at one point. John Fox, hand-picked by Elway, and his staff also have gotten more from players who were holdovers such as Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas. Toss in some big-time draft hits -- Von Miller and Julius Thomas -- and you have back-to-back 13-3 finishes.

For their part, the Seahawks have played quality defense all season long. Terry, how do you think they will attack Manning?

Blount: They will line up and say, 'This is who were are and what we do. Beat us if you can.' I honestly don't think they'll change a thing. Whether it's a rookie calling the signals or one of the all-time greats such as Manning, the Seahawks don't believe anyone can outperform their defense. They are as talented a group as I've seen. Two things set them apart: incredible overall speed, especially at the linebacker spots, and a physical approach that borders on all-out violence and intimidation. Calling for crossing patterns over the middle against this bunch is asking for punishment. The one thing defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said they will do is change the wording and signals on their calls. And what they must do in this game is get a push up the middle on the defensive front and force Manning to move in the pocket. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald have to outmuscle Denver interior linemen in this game.

Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary is an extraordinarily talented group that includes three players who were voted into the Pro Bowl. They play a lot of press coverage and almost dare a quarterback to try to beat them.

Jeff, does man-to-man coverage help or hurt Manning and his receivers?

Legwold: Man coverage almost never hurts Manning, unless those defensive backs consistently knock the Broncos' receivers off their routes, or Mother Nature brings a windy night. And not just a breeze, but something on the order of the 40-mph gusts the team faced on a frigid night at New England this season. But even then Manning was sharp and aggressive on a late drive to tie the game at 31-31. Where some defenses have had some success this season -- Indianapolis, New England and to a certain extent Jacksonville -- was when they essentially tossed aside the idea of adding pressure to try to get Manning, because he gets the ball out too quickly, and play as physically as possible against the Broncos' receivers to disrupt their routes and disrupt the offense's timing. That said, Manning still threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts to go with 295 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. And while the Patriots held him to a season-low 150 yards on Nov. 24, Manning still looked sharp late, throwing the ball in a game in which the Broncos rushed for 280 yards because New England often left six-man fronts after dropping so many players into coverage. In the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, who used much the same philosophy as in November, Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The mix for some kind of defensive success is usually to get the Broncos receivers out of sorts and find a way to pressure Manning in the middle of the field so he can't step into the throws.

Staying at quarterback, Terry, how do you think Wilson, certainly well-known for his poise and maturity, will handle his first Super Bowl behind center?

Blount: I realize it's a lot to ask of any second-year quarterback to enter this setting and not have it effect his performance, but Wilson is an extraordinary young man. I've said all season that he has the unusual quality of being at his best when things appear to be at their worst. He thrives on the big stage. I've never seen him rattled, and when he does make a mistake (such as fumbling on the first play in the NFC Championship Game), he acts like it never happened. And I've never seen any athlete who prepares with the time and detail that Wilson prepares. You can't fool him. People often compare him to Fran Tarkenton because of his scrambling ability, which is true. But in some ways, I see him more of a Bart Starr-type quarterback, a man who had the ultimate respect of his teammates, understood the skills of the men around him and made them better. Wilson said his goal every game is to be the calm in the storm and stay in the moment. Well, there's no moment like this one. It's cliché to say, but I think he truly believes he was born for this moment.

Jeff, there has been a lot of talk about how extreme weather conditions could benefit the Seahawks and hinder Manning's ability to throw the football the way he normally would. Do you think that's overblown?

Legwold: There may be no more overblown idea circulating around than Manning's ability to play in the cold. The cold-weather stats are always tossed around, but there are at least two of those games in some of the totals people are using when Manning played only one series because the Colts had their playoff position wrapped up. One of those was in Denver to close out the 2004 regular season (32 degrees at kickoff; Manning threw two passes in the game). The wind has been a far-bigger deal for Manning. Post-surgery, he has had to make some adjustments to his game because of some grip issues in his right hand. He wears a glove on his throwing hand in a variety of temperatures now. This season, he wore it in New England (22 degrees, wind chill of 6 degrees), against Tennessee (18 degrees), as well as in Houston (kickoff temperature was 58 degrees) and at Oakland in the regular-season finale, when the kickoff temperature was 70. And with the glove on his throwing hand in 10 games this season, including both of the Broncos' playoff wins, Manning has thrown 33 touchdown passes to go with five interceptions. He's had four 400-yard games and six games when he attempted at least 40 passes. People have scrutinized every wobble of every pass this season, but somehow he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. And wobbles or not, Manning has not been sacked and the Broncos have punted only once in this postseason.

In the Seahawks' defense, Terry, how big of an impact did signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency have on that group?

Blount: It's this simple: The Seahawks would not be playing in the Super Bowl without them. Seattle's big weakness last year was the lack of a consistent pass rush and a lack of depth on the defensive line. Not anymore. Along with those two, Seattle also signed veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, a mountain of a guy who has been a disruptive force inside. Bennett may be the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. He has been everything the Seahawks hoped for as a hybrid down linemen who can play end or tackle effectively. He is a relentless, high-motor guy who never takes a play off. Avril is a gifted speed-rusher whose claim to fame is his uncanny ability to knock the ball out of a quarterback's hands and force a fumble, something he has done five times this season and 13 times over the past three years.

Jeff, everyone talks about the matchup between the Seahawks' No. 1 defense against the Broncos' No. 1 offense, but how do you think Denver's defense matches up against Seattle's offense and its power-running game with Lynch?

Legwold: Since Champ Bailey's full return from a left foot injury he originally suffered against the Seahawks in the preseason -- Bailey played in just five games in the regular season and was shut down for several weeks after a failed return in early December -- the team has played far better. It's surrendered 17 or fewer points in each of the past four games, including both playoff wins. And while Denver's numbers, as well as its play at times for that matter, haven't always been pretty, the Broncos do play better out of their base defense.

They will be in their base defense against the Seahawks if Seattle chooses to pound Lynch out of a two-tight-end or two-back set. They inserted a veteran, Lenon, into the middle linebacker spot down the stretch in the base to add some bulk. With Lenon, Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan at linebacker, they have speed to the ball if their defensive end can consistently set the edge. Against some of the power teams they have faced this season, including those with some read-option things in the offense such as Washington and Oakland, the Broncos showed a little more of a 3-4 look on early downs. It will be intriguing if the Seahawks -- seeing the Broncos have done far better in the heavier looks -- try to run against the nickel and dime packages and how the Broncos respond.

Terry, if the Seahawks win, what players beyond Wilson will have had the biggest roles to make it happen?

Blount: Probably the defensive linemen we mentioned earlier: Bennent, Avril and the defensive tackles getting pressure on Manning. If they do, the Legion of Boom will shine and come up with an interception or two that could change the outcome. No matter how well this rugged defense performs, it won't matter unless Wilson can throw effectively. Having receiver Percy Harvin on the field could help, but it really comes down to the same story all season. If Lynch has a punishing day running the ball, someone will be open for a big play in the passing game.

Jeff, if you had to pick one thing that Denver must do to win this game what would it be?

Legwold: Overall, they have to manage the moment. Teams don't win the Super Bowl as they go through all the build-up, but plenty have lost it when they got distracted by the bright lights and attention only to forget why they were in the Super Bowl city in the first place. As Phillips put it: "If guys want to party in New York, New York will still be there next week." But on the field, they have to keep Manning clean, give him some space to work in the pocket and with that their receivers have to play with an edge, fight for both their real estate and the ball.

How the Broncos handle trash talking

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
12:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's a free country, sure. Free speech is certainly covered in the Constitution and all.

Robinson
Del Rio
But if the line is crossed and a player wanders into the too-much-free-speech, too-many-bad-decisions zone -- the kind that draws a penalty or negates a quality play -- there is a principal's office of sorts for the Denver Broncos. Most often a player's position coach is the first one on the scene, scowl at the ready, and that is the time when the bench becomes a powerful teaching tool.

Because the player is headed for it and likely won't find his way off it until there is some sort of mea culpa.

For defensive players, in particular, the hot zone is the few feet of gameday real estate next to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. As linebacker Danny Trevathan said, "Coach Del Rio will let you know. He's not always out there, right up on you, but when he does you know, you probably need to listen."

Trevathan got his nationally televised earful from the former linebacker in the regular-season opener. It came in the seconds that followed Trevathan dropping the ball too early as he celebrated an interception he would have returned for a touchdown had he simply hung on to the ball. Instead, the Baltimore Ravens got the ball on the 20-yard line after a touchback.

For the Broncos, there may be no better example of their enforcement policy than a second-quarter play in the team's Nov. 17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Denver. With the Chiefs facing a second-and-8 play from the Broncos' 12-yard line, Denver forced an incomplete pass. But after Alex Smith's pass had sailed past Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho, with an official standing roughly two feet away, got right in Charles' face.

The trash talk quickly drew a taunting penalty that gave the Chiefs a first-and-goal at the Broncos' 6-yard line. The Chiefs scored a touchdown three plays later.

The penalty got Ihenacho on the express lane to the sideline, where Del Rio screamed "get him out of there" just seconds after the flag was thrown. Ihenacho was immediately taken out of the lineup and found himself in Del Rio's sphere of influence for a while instead of in the defensive huddle.

"I don't like seeing it," is how Del Rio described it. "... That's just silly. It's not necessary. Unsportsmanlike is what was called and it's unnecessary. He's a young player; we want to help him learn from that and hopefully we never have it ever again."

Added Broncos head coach John Fox: "Football is an emotional game, played by passionate people. But we also want our guys to understand the situation and that, at the end of the day, the object is winning and we need to do the things necessary to win. Winning is what's fun in this league and if something keeps you from winning, then that's not fun."
Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesTerrance Knighton (94) and the run defense may dictate how often Peyton Manning has the ball.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In many ways his signing was simply caught in the vapor trail of the other work the Denver Broncos did in the opening hours of free agency last March.

After the Broncos jumped into the checkbook pond to give guard Louis Vasquez the longest deal they handed out this past offseason, after they tipped the balance of power in the AFC at least a bit by signing wide receiver Wes Welker, the Broncos made a two-year deal to an under-the-radar guy who might be the most important piece of the Broncos' defensive puzzle in Super Bowl XLVIII. That would be one Terrance Knighton, a 335-pound (or so) space-eating interior defender who is going to have to figure prominently in the Broncos' plan to deal with the Seattle Seahawks' punishing run game.

The Seattle Seahawks finished second in the league during the regular season in rushing attempts per game (31.8) and were fourth in rushing at 136.8 yards per game. Most folks who have faced the Broncos believe the best defense against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is to not let him have the ball. So the Broncos figure to get a heavy dose of running back Marshawn Lynch as well as quarterback Russell Wilson working out of an option look in the title game.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Terrance Knighton
Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)Terrance Knighton gets one of the Broncos' two sacks on Tom Brady.
"We know people don't want to give Peyton the ball," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We know that means they are going to come after us if they think they have a chance to make some yards. We always want to stop the run games because the more we get the ball back for Peyton and our offense, the better it will be."

The Broncos faced four teams during the regular season that finished in the league's top 10 in rushing. Denver was 4-1 in those games, including two wins over Kansas City (No. 10 in rushing). The Broncos also defeated Philadelphia (No. 1) and Washington (No. 5).

The Broncos lost to the New England Patriots (No. 9) during the regular season -- the Patriots rushed for 116 yards on a frigid November night -- but held New England to just 64 yards rushing in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. Overall, the Chargers recorded the most rushing yards against the Broncos this season -- 177 yards in a Dec. 12 San Diego win -- in the same game that Ryan Mathews became the only running back this season to top 100 yards against the Broncos with 127 yards on 29 carries.

"But our guys up front take it kind of personally if you try to run," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "They don't like it."

Well then, there will be plenty not to like against the Seahawks. Lynch is a yards-after-contact hammer, and defensive coaches in the league who have charted the Seahawks see an offense that has had quality production running through gaps across the front.

Seattle has run the most often this season over left tackle and center, averaging more than 4 yards a carry in both spots, 4.8 yards per carry over the center. But the Seahawks get more than 5 yards a carry over the right tackle and around the right end.

This puts Knighton and the strongside defensive end, usually Malik Jackson, in the crosshairs when the Broncos are in their base defense. For his part, Knighton will battle Pro Bowl center Max Unger for much of Super Sunday. Knighton played three seasons for Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville when Del Rio was the Jaguars' head coach. And when the Broncos made their roster plans this past offseason, Del Rio had hoped to add more bulk in the middle of the formation.

"I went through the whole process and chose the best fit for myself and my career," Knighton said. "I mean, a fresh start is always good. Most players want to stay with one team, but it worked out better for me being here, and I hope that I'm here for a long time.”

Knighton had one of his best all-around games Sunday with a sack and two tackles for loss among his four tackles against the Pats. On his sack, Knighton beat Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins with a quality first step and some savvy work with his hands. Woodyard has joked that he knew things would be different for the Broncos' defense when he couldn't get around Knighton while lined up behind the massive defensive tackle.

"He can do it all," defensive end Robert Ayers said. "He can rush. He's a big guy. He can stop the run. He brings a lot to the table -- he brings leadership and he commands double-teams on the run."

Teams gained just 2.84 yards per carry on runs over the center this season -- lowest in the league -- and had most of their success against the Broncos taking plays wide around the left or right end, averaging more than 6 yards a carry in both spots. The Broncos tweaked the lineup in the base defense coming down the stretch. They moved veteran Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot, and during the past four games -- two regular-season and two playoff games -- the Broncos have surrendered only 87, 64, 65 and 64 yards rushing.

Against teams that have the read-option element, as the Seahawks do with Wilson, the Broncos have played more of a 3-4 look on defense, using three down linemen to go with Shaun Phillips and Ayers standing up at the outside linebacker spots. The Broncos used it for 20 snaps earlier in the season against Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin Jr.

Denver figures to show that once again against the Seahawks.

"I think it's a chip," Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "I think as long as we step up to the challenge and accept that stuff, a lot of people are going to talk. But our key is just to play our game, stay within our scheme, and go out here and win games. Play 60 minutes. Like I said, a lot of people are talking, but you've got to come out here and you've got to perform. That's what it's about. ... A lot of people said [New England] could run the ball, all this and that. But you've got to be well-rounded. You've got to be a pro, handle that stuff as a challenge, take it upon yourself to go out there and perform and show them what's up."

Broncos quick to defend Welker

January, 20, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Privately, Denver Broncos officials and players were more than a little taken aback by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's critcism of Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker Monday. They were also suprised Belichick questioned Welker's motives for an on-field collision with Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

Belichick brought up the second quarter injury to open his season wrap-up news conference Monday morning, calling it "a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open. I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It's one of the worst plays I've seen."

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesWes Welker said he did not intentionally injure Aqib Talib during the AFC Championship Game.
No penalty was called and Talib left the game with what the Patriots announced as rib and knee injuries.

Later Monday the Broncos publicly defended Welker. While head coach John Fox, who had been in meetings about "the logistics" of the team's trip to the Super Bowl site, said he had no question about Welker's intentions.

"I haven't seen the tape, I haven't seen his comments," Fox said. " ... I know that Wes Welker is a great player, high integrity. We were not doing anything with intent."

On Belichick's charge that Welker did not try to get open on the play, Fox said; "I'll say I think on most pass routes that we run, there is intent to get open."

"Like I said, I've got a lot of respect for Bill," Fox said. "I've not seen the comments so it's really hard for me to stand up here and comment on comments I haven't seen, so I'll leave it at that ... . We're not the only team by any stretch. In fact our opponent Sunday did the same thing."

Two of Welker's teammates were quick to defend their teammate as well.

"I've known Wes for a while now and he's definitely not that kind of guy," said tight end Julius Thomas. "Things happen in football and sometimes people get hurt, but I don't believe Wes would intentionally try to hurt anybody out there."

"You can't control everything, slant routes have happened since I've been playing football -- Pee Wee league, you know?" said Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan. "A lot of people are saying little incidents -- I haven't seen it, I don't know ... it's all be routes all around going there. You've got to keep your head up, keep your head on a swivel."

The Broncos also pointed to the fact Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman leveled Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a similar play earlier in the game. Privately those with the team also simply questioned the logic of a player like Welker, who missed three games this season after suffered two concussions in a four-game span, intentionally plowing into a defender for any reason.

Following the game Welker said he had no intention of injuring Talib.

"Yeah it was one of those plays where it's kind of a rub play and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided," Welker said. "It wasn't a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that, I hope he's OK, he's a great player and a big part of their defense.”

Welker played six seasons for Belichick with the Patriots before signing with the Broncos in free agency last March. The player Belichick signed, to a five-year, $28.5 million deal, to replace Welker, Danny Amendola, did not have a catch in Sunday's game. Amendola caught just five passes in the Patriots' final two regular-season games and two playoff games combined.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Even as two teams that won 12 and 13 games in the regular season fell all over themselves to try to be the underdog this week -- even John Elway offered that “no one thought" the Broncos would “get by" San Diego to even get this far -- the topic of the Denver Broncos' Nov. 24 trip to Foxborough, Mass., has come up more than once in recent days.

Come up in the framework of whether the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime victory in a game the Broncos led 24-0 at halftime has any bearing on Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

The Broncos rushed for 280 yards in the game and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 344 as both teams played half a game that was decided when a punt hit Tony Carter's leg and put the Patriots in position for the game-winning field goal.

[+] EnlargeManning/Brady
AP Photo/Steven SennePeyton Manning, front, and the Broncos would just as soon forget their overtime loss against Tom Brady's New England Patriots on Nov. 24.
“Again, just like I’m sure they’re doing, you look at things, you look at matchups, you look at schemes," Broncos coach John Fox said. “But that game will have little to nothing to do with this game. Typically, they’re always different."

Well, yes and no.

Certainly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is known for rarely attacking a problem the same way twice. Or at least twice the same way in such a short period of time. And some of the names have already changed in the weeks since.

Whether it was the frigid conditions -- 22 degrees at kickoff with wind gusts of up to 40 miles an hour -- or Belichick’s usual crafty ways, the Patriots held Peyton Manning to 150 passing yards.

That was by far a season low in a game in which the Broncos spent virtually the entire game in their three-wide-receiver look -- every snap but two. The Broncos did not have tight end Julius Thomas in the lineup that night -- it was one of two games Thomas missed this season with a knee injury -- and the Patriots did well in doubling Wes Welker and forcing Manning away from his usual favorites.

Eric Decker finished that game with just one reception, and Demaryius Thomas and Welker, who had three drops in the game, had four receptions each. Overall, it was the worst outing of the season for the Broncos' pass-catchers as they finished with a season-high seven drops.

“And you have to clean those things up," Decker said. “If you have opportunities to make plays, you have to make them."

Defensively, the Broncos will not face do-it-all tight end Rob Gronkowski this time around -- he’s now on injured reserve -- so the Patriots' offense will look vastly different, at least as far as intent. The Patriots have been far more run-first in their approach in recent weeks as Brady has completed 14, 14 and 13 passes in the past three games, respectively.

In the last meeting, Brady used Gronkowski to get back in the game -- Gronkowski had seven receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown -- and Julian Edelman finished with 110 yards on his nine receptions, including two touchdowns. The Broncos figure to use veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, who did not play in the Nov. 24 game, at least some against Edelman.

“They came out and played a great second half of football, there is no doubt about that," said Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan. “There is nothing else to say. They just came out and played -- they fixed what they needed to fix, and we didn’t adjust well to what they fixed. We have to be able to, when we’re up, stay up, and, if we’re down, get up on them and keep them down.”

The Broncos also fumbled five times in November, losing three on a night when the teams lost a combined six fumbles.

But, in the end, the Broncos closed out the week wanting neither to remember that sliver of history all that much nor be doomed to repeat it. They have chosen to look at Sunday’s game as its own set of circumstances with a chance at the Super Bowl at stake.

“Every game is a learning experience, but that one really taught us something," Trevathan said. “It is a different day, a different attitude and a different mindset. We’re going to go out here and do what we have to do to get a win."

“You look at it, but they’ve been through a lot to get this far, we’ve been through a lot to get this far," Bailey said. “And a month is forever, and that was a month ago, almost two months. We’re on to this one, and you don’t need any more than that."
DENVER -- Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will have an MRI exam Monday morning on his injured knee and ankle, and privately some team officials are not optimistic about what they will hear from the medical staff.

Both injuries will be examined, but there was more concern late Sunday night about his knee. Harris Jr. left Sunday’s 24-17 victory against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter and did not return.

The Broncos led 17-0 when Harris Jr. departed and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers targeted Harris Jr.’s replacement -- Quentin Jammer -- often down the stretch as San Diego scored all 17 of its points in the fourth quarter.

“I have to be better,’’ Jammer said following the game. “There were some technique things I need to clean up.’’

Harris Jr. has been the Broncos' most consistent defensive back and because of his versatility he plays in all of the team’s packages. Harris Jr. played 1,042 snaps on defense in the regular season, the most of any Broncos player on that side of the ball. He was one of just two players -- linebacker Danny Trevathan was the other -- to even top 900 snaps in the regular season.

The Broncos will have to adjust plenty of things against the New England Patriots with Harris Jr. not expected to be available. The Broncos could leave Jammer in the base defense and keep Champ Bailey in the slot as the nickel cornerback.

They could move Bailey back outside if they think he’s ready after three games since his return to the lineup from a left foot injury that kept him out of 11 games this season. And the Broncos could simply use rookie Kayvon Webster, who is playing with a cast on his surgically-repaired right thumb, more as well.

W2W4: Broncos-Chargers

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
7:00
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have said many things this week as they moved toward Sunday's divisional round game against the San Diego Chargers. And they've tried not to say some things as well.


Words like "playoffs" or "postseason" have been replaced in and around the team's suburban Denver complex. Those words have been dumped, from head coach John Fox on down, in favor of something they believe fits the situation a little better.

The Broncos simply call it "the tournament."

"Because once you lose, you're out," running back Knowshon Moreno said. "It's a tournament. Once you lose, you're going home. No one wants to be that team to go home so you have to do everything you have to do throughout the week to make sure those things don't happen -- and see what happens on Sunday."

The Broncos' three losses this season have come to the three other teams remaining in the AFC bracket. That includes a Dec. 12 loss to the Chargers, the Broncos only loss in Sports Authority Field at Mile High this season. But to survive and advance in the tournament format, the Broncos will have to deal with important matchups.

First and everything: Last season's double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens came on Jan. 12, 2013, so the Broncos will have waited a year to the day for a second chance, an opportunity to make things right. For months, they have been asked to discuss, analyze, characterize and sift through that crushing loss.

And quarterback Peyton Manning's 9-11 playoff record has been the topic of the week, both near and far, as has the weather, the wind, the Chargers' defense and anything else that has caused the Broncos' faithful to commence the hand-wringing.

That all certainly brings a lot of pressure to bear over the course of a year. How the Broncos gather themselves and execute early on could have a lot to say about how things go.

If the Broncos are tight and feeling the heat, the Chargers will have an easier time getting the tempo they want. When the Broncos have been at their best this season, they have jumped all over opposing defenses and given their own defense the luxury of playing with the lead. They have to find a way to lock in and get it done in front of a crowd that will have last season's loss in front of its collective mind, at least until the Broncos get another postseason win to push it out.

Left has to be right: Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget repeatedly created problems against the left side of the Broncos' offensive line -- tackle Chris Clark and guard Zane Beadles -- in the Dec. 12 game, including hitting Manning's arm on an interception.

The Chargers used a variety of looks in the rush in that game, bringing defensive backs from off the ball and dropping front seven players into coverage, but in the end Liuget was the disruptive player in the San Diego front and made it all work. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano created enough uncertainty with the variety that the Broncos had uncharacteristic assignment mistakes.

Linebackers in the forefront: Yes, both of Chargers rookie Keenan Allen's catches Dec. 1 against the Broncos went for touchdowns, but for the Broncos defense to have the kind of night they want linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard will each need a quality day in coverage.

Allen is the only wide receiver among Rivers' top three targets this year. Tight end Antonio Gates was targeted 113 times by Rivers in the regular season -- the most on the team -- and running back Danny Woodhead was third, having been targeted 87 times.

But when Rivers throws to Woodhead, he gets a high percentage of completion with a double-take worthy 87.4 percent of those targets being caught. When the Broncos go to their nickel look -- and they played the nickel more than any other personnel grouping in the Dec. 12 game (34 snaps) -- that often puts Woodyard and Trevathan on duty in the intermediate routes.

To keep the Chargers from grinding out drives they have to keep the ball out of the hands of Gates and Woodhead.

Play big when small(er): When the Broncos are in those smaller personnel groupings, they also have to defend the run with an edge. In the Chargers win, San Diego held the ball for 38 minutes, 49 seconds, and limited the Broncos' offense to a season-low 54 plays, including penalty snaps.

And they did it, at times, by finding just enough room to convert third downs against the Broncos' specialty packages when they had to, including Ryan Mathews' 23-yard run for a touchdown in the third quarter when the Broncos were in the dime. Champ Bailey's return to the lineup as the Broncos' nickel cornerback gives the Broncos a far more versatile look, especially with Bailey's sure tackling around the line of scrimmage.

Knowledge is power: Certainly plenty has been made of Chargers head coach Mike McCoy's familiarity with Manning's game, offensive coordinator Adam Gase's philosophy and the Broncos' playbook as a whole because of McCoy's time in Denver.

But the Broncos know McCoy just as well and in the end these two division rivals won't have many secrets unless they break out something they haven't done much, or at all, already this season.

So how things get done will matter far more than who knew what before kickoff.

But the Broncos may need a little curveball to shake things loose and Gase has shown some precedent already this season to break out a little something new.

When Gase had the Broncos open the Dec. 22 win over the Houston Texans in a three-wide receiver, two tight end set -- no running back in the formation -- it was a look Denver had played for just once previously this season. The Broncos played the first six snaps of the game out of the look and effectively moved the ball against the Texans' base 3-4 defense.

With Wes Welker back in the lineup -- he did not play in the Dec. 12 game -- the Chargers will face more difficult choices in coverage and the Broncos will have more options, particularly with Welker and tight end Julius Thomas in the slot. The Chargers can't double both, and San Diego can't play safety Eric Weddle everywhere. So look for Pagano to try to muddy the water in coverage, dropping seven or even eight players into the passing lanes and look for the Broncos to turn up the heat on the Chargers cornerbacks, especially in the middle of the field.

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