NFL Nation: Demarcus Ware

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Another week, another marquee matchup for the Denver Broncos, a team that has already faced the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Now comes a prime-time Thursday night matchup against an AFC West foe in the San Diego Chargers (5-2).

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is 10-6 in his regular-season starts against the Broncos, which includes a 6-2 mark in Denver.

Some things to keep an eye on:
  • Rivers has always been a thorn in the Broncos' collective side, no matter who Denver's defensive coordinator has been. A big reason why Rivers has had the time in the pocket to do what he's done against the Broncos is because the Chargers have consistently been effective pounding the ball. In the last 16 games against the Broncos, the Chargers have topped 140 yards rushing 10 times, including both meetings last season. With injuries being an issue, the Chargers have been relying on undrafted rookie Branden Oliver, an undersized speed back with two 100-yard games in his last three outings. The Chargers are a little more traditional in their approach. They've run on 59.9 percent of their first-and-10 plays this season, 76.9 percent on second and 5, 60 percent on second and 4. That means the Broncos could be in their base defense more than they have been in previous weeks.
  • It will be a game to keep an eye on the interior of each offensive line. After center Nick Hardwick's season-ending injury in Week 2 and Doug Legursky's trip to injured reserve in early October with a knee injury, the Chargers have used four centers in the first six games -- Rich Ohrnberger has now started the last two weeks. Look for Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to flood the "A" gaps between the center and guards, even using edge rushers like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to do it from time to time. The Chargers, too, will look to press the issue in the middle as well with the Broncos having surrendered pressures on quarterback Peyton Manning in the middle of the field. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget has given the Broncos difficulties in the past, especially in pass-rush situations.
  • The shortened week will be a test on the Broncos' focus after what has been a tough opening two months. Last season when the Chargers won the Thursday night game, it was after Broncos players got a little too wrapped up in the difficulties of a short week and were not themselves for much of the December game. The Broncos have looked sharper in practice this week and from the top down the message was this: It's a short week, but it was on the schedule in April so play the game and move on. The Broncos tweaked their practice schedule compared to last year -- the players got Monday off before the Thursday game last season but not this year. Plus, the Broncos were coming off a game against the Tennessee Titans last December when the offense ran 91 plays four days before the Chargers game. This time, the Broncos are coming off a game in which they gave several key players, including Manning, the fourth quarter off in the 42-17 victory over the 49ers.
  • The Broncos' revamped secondary will offer Rivers a stiffer challenge as well. Last December, Rivers consistently found Kayvon Webster in coverage, including on one of Keenan Allen's two touchdowns. It will be more difficult for Rivers to locate favorable matchups this time around. As cornerback Chris Harris put it, "This is a totally different defense this time." The Broncos have to find a way to limit Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, especially down the hashmarks with offenses having targeted Broncos safety T.J. Ward in coverage.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The numbers speak for themselves and they’re essentially shouting at everyone at the moment.

Shouting that Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller leads the NFL with eight sacks while defensive end DeMarcus Ware is among four players tied for second in the league with seven sacks. Miller’s eight sacks put him ahead of six of the league’s teams and those 15 sacks between the Broncos’ two marquee pass-rushers put the pair ahead of 14 teams.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDeMarcus Ware's ability to get to the quarterback has benefited the Broncos this season.
The Broncos’ 21 sacks also tie them for third in the league though they've played one fewer game than the other four teams with at least 21. But if sacks had assists, Miller and Ware know who would get them. Because while the glamour guys collect the highlights along the way, it takes a defensive village to raise a sack.

"And those guys in the middle, they make it go," Miller said. "It’s like I’ve said, they’re unselfish, they just get to work."

In the end, it’s simple math, really -- the smaller the pocket for the quarterback to move around in, the bigger the chance Miller or Ware will finish a play with a sack.

They are the UTR Club perhaps, an under the radar football thing they all understand. And Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Marvin Austin Jr., Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson have done the roll-up-the-sleeves work on the interior that, both Miller and Ware say, has allowed the Broncos’ edge rushers to have exactly the kind of impact the team had hoped.

Knighton, in particular, has caught the eye of personnel executives around the league as one of the most disruptive players in the Broncos' defense, even in the mass of humanity along the line of scrimmage.

"We wouldn’t be able to have success that we’re having right now without Malik and Derek Wolfe and Marvin and all those guys," Miller said. " … It’s like in basketball when you’ve got Kobe and Shaq. Those guys really make it go and I’m not trying to be funny about it, but those guys -- if it wasn’t for what Malik and Derek do -- we wouldn’t be able to do what we do on the outside. … They’re very unselfish."

This all was part of the offseason plan. In a defensive overhaul where plenty of attention in free agency and the draft went to the secondary, the Broncos’ decision-makers hoped recovery from injuries would give them back the defensive front they wanted.

Wolfe had spent the back half of the 2013 season on injured reserve after suffering seizure-like symptoms as the Broncos prepared to go on a road trip. Miller had suffered a torn ACL in a December game against the Houston Texans and Ware was a player the Dallas Cowboys were prepared to cut loose because, "They felt like they had a decision to make and maybe I wasn’t the player I was."

The Broncos gladly dove in with a three-year, $30 million contract for Ware with the idea that a fresh start would be what was needed after he finished with six sacks in 2013. It’s what defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had been talking about for much of the offseason when he said that beyond the injuries that sent five defensive starters to injured reserve by the time the Broncos played in Super Bowl XLVIII, the fact the team wasn’t able to replace Elvis Dumervil’s impact last season impacted what the defense could do the most.

With Dumervil and Miller together in ’12, the two combined for 29.5 sacks as the Broncos tied for the league lead with 52 and the Broncos allowed just five rushing touchdowns.

"I think it all goes together," Knighton said. "When we get the good push in there, don’t give quarterbacks room to move up and throw, with DeMarcus and Von coming from the outside, that’s what we want. Hopefully I get a sack or two with all that, but if they get a sack, if we see them with the quarterback, we know we did our job, too. Sacks make everybody feel good."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
12:11
AM ET

DENVER -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 42-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

What it means: When all was said and done, history was made and a football is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning set a new NFL record for career touchdown passes with his 509th, an 8-yard scoring toss to Demaryius Thomas with 3 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first half. Manning went on to throw his 510th as well, finishing with four scoring passes to power the Broncos to a rout on the way to a 5-1 record.

Stock watch: Manning, on a historic night in what is a historic career, was the headline, but the Broncos again flaunted an offense that features impact at every skill position. The guy to keep an eye on in the weeks ahead is running back Ronnie Hillman. Hillman, who has battled maturity issues at times in his first two years in the league, has finally shown his vast potential in this, his third season. Since Montee Ball's groin injury against the Arizona Cardinals, Hillman has been explosive and given the Broncos' run game a boost. He had his first career 100-yard game last week against the New York Jets and a career-long run of 37 yards for a touchdown Sunday night. He wanted to make the Broncos' decision a difficult one when Ball returned and he has already done that.

Blue crush: Decked out in their all-navy blue uniforms Sunday, the Broncos' defense kept 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick under wraps, especially in the run game. Kaepernick came into the game averaging 5.3 yards per carry as the 49ers' second-leading rusher, but the Broncos continually loaded the formation with speed, often with five, six and, on a smattering of snaps, seven defensive backs. Kaepernick found room to work hard to come by. He extended some plays to create some quality work in the passing game at times, but through three quarters he had just one rushing attempt for 7 yards and the 49ers' offense suffered because of it.

Game ball: Linebacker Von Miller deserved one, defensive end DeMarcus Ware deserved one, as did cornerback Chris Harris Jr., WR Demaryius Thomas and even perhaps a guy such as Paul Cornick, who made his first NFL start at right tackle. But history trumps all, as does a four-touchdown night with 318 yards passing. So Manning gets the nod. It was his 88th career 300-yard passing game and his 33rd game with at least four touchdown passes.

What's next: From one prime-time spot to another with a key AFC West matchup now on the docket -- the San Diego Chargers (5-2) are set to play at Denver on Thursday night. The Chargers handed the Broncos their only home loss of 2013, also on a Thursday night.

One has been a league power broker, one wants to be.

And when the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals get together Sunday afternoon in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos (2-1) will try to knock some of the rough edges off while the Cardinals (3-0), one of just two teams to arrive to Week 5 undefeated, will try to show they are ready to be at the front of the line.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the game.

Legwold: At 3-0, how do the Cardinals see themselves? Upstart in NFC? Or team that believes it should have made the playoffs last year and is ready to take the next step to be in this postseason mix this time around?

Weinfuss: If there's one thing the Cardinals don't see themselves as, it's an upstart team. That much was instilled in them by Bruce Arians last season. Especially after upsetting Seattle at home last December, this team believed it should've been in the playoffs. And with how they played in the second half of the season, it's hard to argue with them. But the Cardinals who returned this year learned a lot from last season's first half, most notably how important it is to win those early games. What they're doing now isn't a surprise to those who pay attention to this team, and a lot of it is a direct result of Arians' demeanor. His straight-shooting personality -- curse 'em out on the field but hug 'em off of it -- has rubbed off on everyone in the locker room. It has led to this team to believe it could win for the first time since Kurt Warner was here.

Speaking of learning from last year, what was the main thing the Broncos took away from last season's loss in the Super Bowl, and how have they used it in 2014?

Legwold: The main thing GM John Elway took away was he wanted far better personnel on defense and some more receivers who could battle their way through physical play from defensive backs. The result was an offseason spending spree that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also used a first-round pick in the draft on cornerback Bradley Roby and a second-rounder on wide receiver Cody Latimer. So, the 35-point loss certainly forced a roster makeover and for the holdovers it did provide plenty of incentive as they went through the offseason workouts. There is a feeling, after the overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs followed by the Super Bowl blowout, of trying to finally close the deal this time around.

In terms of roster makeover, with all that has happened to the Cardinals' defense with the injuries, etc., how have they pushed themselves into the league's top five?

Weinfuss: Nobody expected Arizona to be among the league's top five defenses this year after losing the likes of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington before the season and then Darnell Dockett during training camp and John Abraham in the first few weeks of the year. But credit must be given to the Cardinals' front office. The brain trust has done a good job of finding veterans who still have gas in the tank, such as linebacker Larry Foote and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. But the biggest reason for the defense's success is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His single-gap scheme revitalized this defense last year and all he has been doing is adding wrinkles here and there to adjust to his personnel. For example, Arizona is running a lot of nickel and dime packages because it gets rookie safety Deone Bucannon on the field. For as good of an offensive mind as Arians is, Bowles is his equal on the defensive side.

Have the additions to the Broncos' defense been paying off? Or is it too early to see a difference? Do you think they'll be the difference between another ring and a consolation prize?

Legwold: The new arrivals have all had impact in the season's early going. Ware leads the team in sacks (2.5), Talib has been every bit the No. 1 corner they hoped he would be and Ward is one of two players on defense who have played every snap in the first three games, having been used in a variety of roles. The Broncos have seen enough from Roby. They've tossed him into the deep end of the pool as the rookie and he has matched up with some of the league's front-line receivers. All of that said, however, the Broncos still haven't consistently shown the kind of play they'll need to hoist a trophy, particularly on third down. As linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who both had ACL injuries last season, continue to work back to full speed, the Broncos should continue to improve. Also, linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler last season and who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia in training camp, will play in his first game of the season Sunday. It will mean the Cardinals will be the first team to face the revamped defense with all of the starters in place.

Sticking to defense, Manning heads into this game with 499 career touchdown passes. Between the two of them, Cardinals' assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore and head coach Bruce Arians have seen many of those up close as former Colts assistants. To that end, with that kind of up-close-and-personal knowledge, how do you think the Cardinals will defend Manning and the Broncos' offense?

Weinfuss: One thing the defense has stayed consistent on this week is that they don't want to tip their hand to Manning before the snap. With that being said, I think they'll blitz him constantly -- all three of his sacks this season have come off the blitz, which, I can imagine, was good news to Bowles. But they won't blitz Manning like they'll blitz other quarterbacks because he's so good at adapting so quickly. Arizona plans on giving Manning the same look every snap. But guys who have played Manning know he'll wait until the very last second to make a decision because the defense will have to show their blitz by then, but the Cardinals will try to hold their disguise as long as possible.

With Manning coming up on such a historic mark, has it been a distraction for this team in the sense of more non-football attention has descended upon them? Are they ready for Manning to pass Brett Favre so they can just get back to focusing on football?

Legwold: One thing about this team is the swirl around them doesn't get to them very often. Last season they had Miller's suspension in training camp, John Fox's open-heart surgery during the bye week and five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they were preparing to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl loss may have been the first, and worst, time for the Broncos not to play to the level of a game's standing last season. Before the title-game blowout, they had handled everything that had come their way without losing their edge. This time around players here simply assume Manning will hit 500 and then go on and break the record through the natural course of things. The record is nice, but they want another shot at the title and, for the most part, they see whatever happens along the way as issues that must be dealt with to get that chance.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows all about bend-but-don’t-break defense.

It’s just he’s not all that interested in either.

“I’m not looking for any bend," Del Rio said this week. “But at the end of the day, we want to make plays. It just so happens that we’re giving ourselves a chance and then coming up with plays to stop people from scoring in key moments. So that’s the good part: The resiliency, the determination, those are the good things. And we want to clean it up and not let it get like that. But it’s a constant battle … So like I said, we’re hard at work. We’re aware of things that need to be better. We’re working hard to make sure they get better."

When the Broncos take the field Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the plan was for the Broncos’ remade defense to have shown itself ready for a Super Bowl rematch, for the defense to have shown it can be what both Del Rio and the players have said they believe it could be, and that’s a top-five unit. And two weeks into the regular season, the new faces have had plenty of impact, and the group has made a fourth-down, game-clinching play in each of the first two victories, over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Broncos also find themselves 28th in the league in yards allowed per game -- how the NFL ranks defenses statistically overall -- at 394.0 yards allowed per game and 14th in points allowed per game (20.5). The Broncos are tied for 10th in sacks (five), tied for ninth in interceptions (two) and have not yet recovered a fumble.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware and the Denver Broncos' defense are looking to make a bigger impact.
“I wouldn’t say we’re searching for anything," Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “I always say there is room for improvement. We have all the players here, and we’re playing good enough to win games. But you’ve got to have those shutout games, those games you want to have on defense -- those big turnover games, interceptions, getting more pressure on the quarterback, keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not having those big games."

Against the Seahawks, it means having all of the above. It’s about keeping quarterback Russell Wilson under duress, limiting his escape routes. It’s about keeping running back Marshawn Lynch from controlling the tempo with yard after yard after contact. It’s about, for the Broncos, being far better than they were in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The defense received most of the attention in the offseason with the signings of Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to go with first-round pick Bradley Roby this past May. But new faces, to go with the Broncos returning from stints on injured reserve -- linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe -- means the Broncos are still working to fit the pieces together.

That can be more difficult on defense, as teams rarely do in any practice what just might be the most important job on defense -- tackle at game speed. They can simulate, they can work on form and positioning, but they don’t get to see how they close the deal until the games get played. From the Seahawks' perspective, the group in front of them Sunday won't be close to the unit they faced in the Super Bowl, given at least seven projected starters on defense for the Broncos on Sunday did not play in the Super Bowl, and just two of the usual starters on defense -- defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams -- will be playing in the same spots as they did in the title game.

“We’re a real good unit," Del Rio said. “It’s early in the year. We’ve played well in spurts. We’ve played well in big moments. We’ve contributed to two wins. But we feel like there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and our guys all understand that. But we have a good group, and we’re working hard."

Said Moore: “We know what we have; we know what we can do. I’m not sure the last couple weeks we win both those games all the time in the past. We feel like we want to be on the field with the game on the line, we want that. We can play better, and we will. Every guy in here wants to show what we can do and keep getting the W's."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When some of the NFL’s officials rolled through the Denver Broncos complex during training camp to enlighten the team’s coaches and players on the rules changes for the season as well as the "points of emphasis," the Broncos saw one of their own on the training video shown to every team in the league.

In the portion of the video that discussed centers moving their heads or their hands too much before the snap in an effort to get defensive players to jump offside, it was the Broncos’ Manny Ramirez who was used as the example of what not to do.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Fox saw his defense commit five offside penalties on Sunday, matching its total for 2013.
And after five offside penalties on Broncos defensive players Sunday, head coach John Fox believes not everybody got the memo, citing some “abrupt’’ movements from Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson.

Asked Monday for the root of four different defensive players being flagged for five offside penalties in Sunday’s 24-17 Broncos win, Fox said:

"They might have been a little abrupt. [That’s] something we’re, of course, going to turn in. I can’t speak about it, but we’ll turn it in."

One of those penalties, from defensive end Quanterus Smith late in the fourth quarter, negated an interception return for a touchdown by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. Fox also didn’t let his own players off the hook, either, as defensive end DeMarcus Ware was flagged twice to go with one penalty each for Smith, Von Miller and Terrance Knighton.

Because of crowd noise at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Chiefs used a silent count for much of the game -- "There was no cadence," Fox said.

"After maybe one or two, think we probably should have adjusted a little better," Fox said. "[But] the squatting and turning of the head fairly abruptly, you know, was something that we’ll make sure the league knows about."

Asked about the team viewing the training video this summer, Fox added: "Yeah, something we made people aware of. It didn’t work out so good."

"They had a really good snap count," Ware said. "There’s no excuse, it’s watching the ball. But when you have a lot of movement before the snap of the ball, you get a little antsy."

Last season the Broncos' defense was flagged for five offside penalties all year.

Before the season, officials were told to flag centers under the guidelines that "prior to the snap, any quick, or abrupt movement by any offensive players, or several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of a play, is a foul."

The league's directive also said among the things to be penalized was to be "a center abruptly lifting or dropping his head not immediately followed by the snap."

In the league’s training video it was Ramirez who was shown quickly dropping his head without snapping the ball.

The NFL made it a point of emphasis given there were 33 neutral zone infractions by defenders flagged in 2005. Last season there were 132. Last year Broncos opponents were flagged seven times for neutral zone infractions and three for being offside.

John Fox: 'There are no cupcakes'

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
PM ET
DENVER – Observed and heard in the Broncos' locker room after their win 24-17 over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday:
  • The Broncos were left to explain what was on, at least some levels, an unsightly win. And while the scrappy, not-so-pretty wins were celebrated before Peyton Manning signed, the Broncos 11-penalty day where the Chiefs ran 29 more plays on offense than Denver did was not. It was enough to get coach John Fox’s hackles up . “We’re not going to win every game 58 to nothing,’’ Fox said. Fox later added: “There are no cupcakes, there never will be. They’re all tough and you feel good about all of [the wins].’’
  • The Broncos' defensive players all say they love the crowd noise, the thunder of stomping feet by those in the seats for their home games. But Sunday the Broncos struggled in their own stadium at times. The Broncos' defense had five offside penalties, including one by defensive end Quanterus Smith that negated what would have been a game-clinching interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “They had a really good snap count,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “There’s no excuse, it’s watching the ball. But when you have a lot of movement before the snap of the ball, you get a little antsy.’’
  • The Broncos' defense has made a play on fourth down in the closing minutes to preserve a seven-point victory in each of the first two games. Last week it was rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocking a pass away from Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and this week it was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knocking down a pass on fourth down with 15 seconds to play. “We just got to end the game there,’’ cornerback Aqib Talib said. “We saw the clock, we saw the down and distance, defense just had to end that game. We like being on field last.’’
  • The Broncos came out of the game with two injuries -- to linebackers Lerentee McCray and Von Miller. Initially McCray’s looks to be more serious. He was taken to the locker room in the first quarter with a right knee injury and did not return. McCray will have an MRI on Monday, but after the preliminary exam there was some concern he could miss some time. Miller, who was not in the game during the Chiefs’ final drive, will be evaluated more on Monday as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a business in which most anything can be considered some kind of competitive edge, signs posted outside the visitors' locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, in enormous lettering, remind teams the stadium indeed sits a mile above sea level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio sees room for improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

Broncos vs. Chiefs preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET

The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs don't have to wait long to open up AFC West play as they jump into a Week 2 matchup. The Broncos had one glorious half before they had to hang on in their season-opening 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Chiefs struggled in a 26-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium and will be without two regulars in defensive tackle Mike DeVito and linebacker Derrick Johnson, who both suffered season-ending Achilles injuries in the loss.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Adam, every training camp for every team ends with such high hopes and plenty of optimism. What is the Chiefs' mindset after such a tough opening week?

Teicher: There's not a lot for the Chiefs to be optimistic about right now. Since their 9-0 start last season they've gone 2-7, including their collapse in the playoffs against Indianapolis. Their offensive line is in tatters, quarterback Alex Smith is throwing interceptions in uncharacteristically high numbers, running back Jamaal Charles didn’t get the ball much against Tennessee, some of their best young players aren't contributing much, they lost two of their best defensive players for the season with injuries last week and their defense got pushed around by Jake Locker and the Titans. Then there's the upcoming schedule, which has the Chiefs playing road games against the Broncos, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and a home game against the New England Patriots in the next five weeks. Otherwise, all is good with the Chiefs.

What about the Broncos in this regard? The losing team in the Super Bowl often has a season-long hangover afterward, but the Broncos don't seem to be affected.

Legwold: When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he wanted not only Manning's play on the field, but also a player "who raises all boats." Manning and the other Broncos veterans attacked the offseason and a fairly young team overall has taken its cues from those hard-driving older players. When they brought in veteran players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, those guys saw this as a chance at a Super Bowl, so they have been no nonsense as they've gone about their business. That has kept things on the tracks. The suspensions handed down to wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater ended what had been a quiet summer for the team. But, overall, it's a locked-in group that needs to avoid injuries to key players to be in the title mix again.

In terms of offseason work, the Chiefs locked up Smith with a contract extension. What was the organization's plan and is there even more pressure on Smith now to lift them into the postseason?

Teicher: The plan with Smith all along, from the time they acquired him in the trade with the 49ers, was to lock him up for the long term. At no time did they consider him a stopgap or the bridge to the next quarterback. Those plans could have changed had they not been satisfied with Smith's play last season. But Smith last season was the guy the Chiefs thought they were getting. This new contract certainly increases the pressure on Smith to deliver. The Chiefs have committed to him in a big way, and he will be consuming a significant portion of the team's salary cap. Smith is by no means solely responsible for last Sunday's loss, but he didn't play well. He threw three interceptions, and two were bad decisions on his part, the kind of choices he doesn't usually make. The Chiefs are paying him a lot of money to make better decisions.

You mentioned Denver's offseason signings of defensive players in Ware, Talib and Ward. How has their presence changed the complexion of the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Elway spends a lot of time talking about "the mindset" and "the mentality to win a world championship," and when he was waving the team's checkbook around in free agency, he went looking for players with the mindset to remake the defense. There are just six players on the roster who started on defense in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos players voted Ware a captain and his straightforward, no-nonsense approach has made him an almost instant team leader. He also had 1.5 sacks in the opener, and while some in the league had labeled Ware a declining player in his 10th season, the Broncos think they can manage his snaps to get the most out of him. Ward and Talib bring an edge the Broncos wanted, and both were all over the field this past Sunday night. Toss in the first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby, and the Broncos will play with more aggressiveness and a bigger variety in personnel groupings than they did in last season's two games against the Chiefs.

Defensively, how will the Chiefs adjust to the injuries to DeVito and Johnson? Will it alter their approach dramatically, especially given what Johnson means to the group?

Teicher: I don't think the Chiefs will change their approach dramatically, but there's no question they will feel the loss of both players. Johnson will be replaced by James-Michael Johnson. The Chiefs went out in free agency and signed veteran Joe Mays, a former Broncos player, to fill one of their inside linebacker spots, an indication they didn't think Johnson was ready to be a full-time player. He got a long look in passing situations during the preseason, and the Chiefs are more comfortable with him playing in coverage than against the run. That said, he's no Derrick Johnson, who is superb against the run and versatile against the pass. DeVito was one of the Chiefs' better run defenders and was improving as a pass-rusher. His main replacement will be Jaye Howard, who had a promising preseason. Former Oakland Raider Vance Walker, and even the newly signed Kevin Vickerson, could get some playing time as well.

The Chiefs tried to sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency before he joined the Broncos. He looked like a good fit for the Broncos in the opener against Indianapolis. What are their expectations for him? And give us a little scouting report on Vickerson, a former Bronco.

Legwold: In terms of players on offense who were available in free agency, Sanders was the team's top target. The Broncos' offensive coaches, particularly offensive coordinator Adam Gase, like Sanders' versatility in that he can line up in the outside spots and in the slot to go with the fact he has quality short-area quickness to beat press coverage off the snap and top-end speed to run away from defenders in the open. Manning has worked extensively with him -- the two stayed after practice, often with rookie receiver Cody Latimer -- every day of offseason workouts, as well as in training camp. The work helped, and Sanders projects to a big season in this offense. Vickerson was likely the 54th player on this roster when the Broncos cut to 53. The Broncos liked his work on run downs and the physicality and ability take on double-teams. They did have some long-term concern about his hip -- Vickerson was kept on a limited schedule throughout much of training camp -- but they needed a little cap space and kept only eight defensive linemen, so Vickerson got caught in the squeeze.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- An examination of what the Denver Broncos must to after their win over the Indianapolis Colts:

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

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

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

DENVER -- After the Denver Broncos swept up the pieces of a 35-point Super Bowl loss, after they picked at the football scabs and said all of the uncomfortable things behind closed doors that needed to be said, John Elway took the team's checkbook into free agency in search of players.

At the top of the list he said he wanted "the right mentality" on defense, he wanted a defense to "develop its own personality, something to grab onto like we have on offense."

One game in for the Broncos, and it was money well spent. Because while it was quarterback Peyton Manning who took the knee in the victory formation to close out a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts with another three touchdown passes on his resume, it was the Broncos' defensive work in the third quarter that kept this game in the win column.

"That's it right there, if we don't get those, we would have lost," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. "That was a great job. … Communication was fantastic. Anything bad happened, we fixed it. That's what it's all about. But those goal-line stands were crucial."

After exploding from the gate for a 24-0 lead by the time the two-minute warning arrived in the first half, the Broncos suddenly saw the Colts pick away. Andrew Luck drove the Colts 80 yards in eight plays just before halftime to make it 24-7.

And then Luck took the Colts to the Broncos' 8-yard line in just four plays in Indianapolis' first possession of the second half. With a first-and-goal from the 8, the Colts pushed the ball to the 1, where, on fourth-and-goal, Colts coach Chuck Pagano tried to seize momentum with both hands.

Luck tried to sneak into the middle of the Broncos' defensive line but was stuffed by linebacker Brandon Marshall.

"Andrew Luck, you knew he was going to try to sneak the ball," Moore said. "But those guys in the middle, they're like vending machines, you can't move them. … Just clog the holes up front and everybody else comes swarming."

On their next possession, the Colts moved to the Broncos' 4-yard line in eight plays. Then Marshall tackled Reggie Wayne for a 2-yard loss, Chris Harris Jr. knocked a pass away for tight end Coby Fleener and DeMarcus Ware sacked Luck. The Colts came away with a 25-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri.

In all, the Colts ran eight plays inside the Broncos' 10-yard line on those two possessions and came away with just a field goal.

And with Marshall playing for the injured Danny Trevathan (fracture at top of tibia in training camp) and with Harris and linebacker Von Miller on a pitch count of sorts as they come back from ACL surgeries, the Broncos simply showed the depth on defense they didn't have last season.

New arrivals Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib had the desired impact with 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed and nine tackles combined. One of Talib's tipped passes turned into one of the Broncos' two interceptions.

And Denver felt good enough about rookie Bradley Roby, the team's first-round pick this past May, to lock him up on Wayne throughout the night. Roby would finish with seven solo tackles and three passes defensed, including the game-clincher in the final minutes. And it had been Roby and safety Quinton Carter, who had not played in almost two full seasons before Sunday because of knee injuries, who stopped Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks at the 1-yard line on the play before Luck was stuffed.

"The defense just came up with some big stops when we needed them," Manning said. "I thought it was a good, overall team win. The offense did some good things and then we were in a little bit of a rut [before] our defense picked it up for us."

New faces that, for one opening night, gave the Broncos just the kind of return on investment they had hoped for.

"We're a force to be reckoned with," Marshall said. "That's what all defenses want. We have a long way to go, we'll keep getting better. We'll be a great defense, definitely."

Broncos vs. Colts preview

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:00
PM ET

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

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

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday night’s game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when the clock struck the 4 p.m. ET roster deadline on Saturday, the roster in place wasn’t exactly the one some folks might have thought it would be.

First off, after their substantial plunge into free agency last March -- almost unprecedented for a Super Bowl team -- the Broncos have routinely been tabbed as “all in" or “win now."

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway, Peyton Manning
AP Photo/ Eric BakkePeyton Manning is the oldest player on the roster assembled by John Elway and the Broncos' front office. But the team as a whole has plenty of youth.
The career clock for quarterback Peyton Manning, at 38 years old, is certainly ticking, and they make no secret of their Super-Bowl-or-bust intentions. But the current Broncos roster has 13 players who are 23 years old or younger (24.5 percent) and seven rookies made a team in the Super Bowl conversation, including five members of a six-player draft class and two undrafted rookies.

Overall, there are 39 players entering their fifth NFL season or younger on this roster (73.6 percent). The Broncos will have three high-profile players start the season-opener next Sunday night -- Manning, DeMarcus Ware and center Manny Ramirez -- who are older than 30 and possibly a fourth if Wes Welker, who suffered a concussion in the preseason game against the Houston Texans, is in the lineup.

Some of the team's moves were motivated by the salary cap, to be sure. The Broncos have been nudged up against it since the free agency binge. But general manager John Elway has consistently maintained, even with the checkbook in hand at times, that he has more of a long-term approach than many believe he does. In fact, if you'd like to see the Hall of Fame quarterback get his hackles up, just ask him about a win-now approach.

“We were happy with the draft when we went through it in May and then they just proceeded to work hard and get better so, especially when you get deeper into this, as active as we were in free agency, to be able to keep our draft picks is something we want to do and continue to have that be our base," Elway said when discussing this year’s cuts. “We’re excited with the guys and they are, at this point in time, everything we hoped they would be.”

Among that youth is what is likely one of the youngest position groups in the league at running back. The four Broncos running backs include a rookie (Juwan Thompson), two players entering their second seasons (Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson) and a player entering his third season (Ronnie Hillman).

“I like them. I’ve said that all along," Elway said. “We feel good where we are at the running back position -- good, young guys that we feel are going to continue to get better."

Some other roster nuggets:

  • Of all the football-playing colleges and universities in the country, Kansas, Tennessee and Texas Tech lead the way on the Broncos' roster with three players each.
  • Manning is the oldest current Broncos player at 38. rookie receiver Cody Laitmer is the youngest, at 21. Hillman, at 22 and starting his third season, is the same age as four of the Broncos’ rookies and younger than two of the Broncos rookies. Michael Schofield and Lamin Barrow, who are both 23.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Often when Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is offering up something for public consumption, he will turn down the volume on the compliments.

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

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

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

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

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

ESPN used 85 voters from across its many NFL platforms, as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, to rank the league’s top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense, and Miller checked in at No. 11. That's still plenty of respect after what Miller called “not the kind of season I want,’’ but not what his standing would have been following an 18.5-sack season in 2012 when Miller was so disruptive, so game-changing, he was in the same top-shelf conversations as Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

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

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

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

“For all the chatter that they talk about Von not being the guy they want him to be, when I first got here, he was one of the first guys in the treatment room, working out really hard, over and beyond," Ware said. “You can see how he’s rehabilitated himself to be an even better player than he was. That comes with mental toughness. He’s doing really well. I was very surprised with how athletic he was. He’s very fast and agile. He’s a really quick guy. I thought I was quick, but he’s actually quicker than I am. … When you see a guy that uses the offseason to get himself right … I think that really shows he’s really focused this season."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used over seven dozen voters from the network's many NFL platforms, as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, to rank the league's top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense.

Talib
Talib
Ware
In the end, 85 voters turned in ballots on defense, 90 on offense.

Today, players ranked No. 30 down to 21 are featured, and in this segment, the voters certainly believe the Denver Broncos made a significant defensive upgrade for the coming season.

Cornerback Aqib Talib checks in at No. 30 while defensive end DeMarcus Ware is at No. 23 -- both players were signed in this past offseason's free-agency binge by the Broncos. Safety T.J. Ward, who was also in the shopping spree this past March, was earlier ranked No. 59.

"I think there's no question, players like Aqib, DeMarcus and T.J. change what your defense is," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "They're all good players, proven guys who have shown what they can do in this league. You bring them in because you think they have things to offer to help what you do. No question, we believe they'll help what we do."

Thus far, ESPN's ranking project has shown the Broncos' current regime is a little light on homegrown players on the defensive side when it comes to the upper crust in personnel. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, who just completed his fourth draft with the team in May and has consistently stated his long-term goal for the team is "to compete for world championships every year and we know the draft is a key part of that. We know that's our core."

And their hope is they see the fruits of those labors in the seasons to come. But in this year's rankings, between No. 100 and No. 31, the Broncos have had four players ranked with Terrance Knighton at No. 78 to go with Ward, Talib and Ware. All four of those players were signed in free agency -- Knighton last year to go with the three this past March.

One would expect linebacker Von Miller's name to appear in the coming days somewhere in the top 20 rankings, and as a whole the voters likely short-changed linebacker Danny Trevathan as well. Lead a 13-3 Super Bowl team in tackles with equal effectiveness along the line of scrimmage or in coverage and you are likely a top-100 player.

Both Trevathan and Miller are Elway draft picks and the team believes in the futures of players such as cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who were the team's last two first-round picks.

But it does show when the Broncos wanted to repair their defense this time around, they had to use their checkbook -- and not their depth chart -- to do it.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/23
Sunday, 10/26
Monday, 10/27
WEEKLY LEADERS