NFL Nation: Derek Wolfe

Broncos Camp Report: Day 9

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler will get a rather tidy training camp exam Saturday morning. The Broncos will hold their annual practice/summer scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And after some of their usual drills to open the workout they will send the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense for 12 plays of live tackling. And that means Osweiler and the No. 2 offense will try its hand against the No. 1 defense. "Brock is really going to have to be smart and moving the ball well against the 1s," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. The combination to keep an eye on, at least if the last few days of practice are any indication, is Osweiler and undrafted rookie Bennie Fowler. The two have connected on several big plays, including touchdown throws Thursday and Friday. Fowler has worked with the second-team offense lately and if he's on the field Osweiler will look his way.
  • The running back rotation in the scrimmage will bear watching, especially how things go with the second and third units. Montee Ball figures to get most, or all, of the carries with the starters with Ronnie Hillman working as his backup right now. C.J. Anderson is expected to run with the second team while Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay will likely mix and match with the third-team offense. Thompson, however, has taken second-team snaps in camp in short-yardage work.
  • Following Friday's practice, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had high praise for cornerback Chris Harris Jr.'s work in coming back from ACL surgery in February. Harris was cleared to return to practice this week, less than six months following his surgery. "I've been around guys that have rehabbed and come back from injury, but I don't know if I've ever seen a guy more determined every day with great energy attacking it the way he did," Del Rio said. "He's really stayed engaged mentally in the meetings. He's worked extremely hard and been very diligent, and it's gone well -- no setbacks or anything."
  • Linebacker Jamar Chaney, who started 23 games for the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in his career and had a three-interception season in 2011, had a leaping pick on a Zac Dysert pass in Friday's red-zone drills. Chaney leaped high to tip the ball up and then caught the tipped ball. Chaney, who has worked with the third-team defense the majority of the time, faces a tight battle at linebacker for the last few spots. The team kept seven linebackers in the cut to 53 players in 2011 and 2012 to go with six at the position last season.
  • The Broncos' practice/scrimmage at 11 a.m. at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be their only practice Saturday.
  • Odds and ends: Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who left Thursday's practice with stiffness in his lower back, was back on the field Friday ... Safety Quinton Carter, who is on track to make the roster after two missed seasons with knee troubles, finished his work in a team drill at one point in Friday's practice and jumped on a stationary bike to ride for a few minutes. He then returned to practice ... Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders reached high for a scoring grab in the back of the end zone in team drills, getting his feet down just before crossing the end line ... Hillman got a few carries with the starting offense in run-game work.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Defensive end DeMarcus Ware returned to practice Thursday after missing two days' worth of practice with a bruised lower right leg. Ware was limited some but participated in some drills.

Ware suffered his injury Sunday in the team’s practice at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and had not practiced since. He had done conditioning work and looked to be running without any problems during the team's stadium practice Wednesday.

Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who was pulled out of a practice earlier in camp with stiffness in his lower back, was taken out of Thursday’s practice as well.

"(He) should be fine, we’ll evaluate him day to day," Broncos coach John Fox said.

The Broncos also held defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee), defensive end Greg Latta (right hip) and cornerback Lou Young (groin) out of Thursday’s workout.

Safety John Boyett (back), who had not practiced this week, returned to practice as well. Boyett had a big hit in red-zone drills when he knocked rookie running back Brennan Clay off his feet.

Camp preview: Denver Broncos

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation’s Jeff Legwold examines the three biggest issues facing the Denver Broncos heading into training camp.

History: Say what you want about what the Broncos did in the offseason -- and there’s plenty of ground to cover because their haul in free agency was almost unprecedented for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance -- the simple fact remains they are swimming upstream against a powerful current of history. No team since the undefeated Miami Dolphins of 1972 has gone on to win a Super Bowl in the season after a loss in the league’s title game. On paper, the Broncos’ depth chart looks poised to be in the championship conversation again, but for the second consecutive season they carry the significant burden of unfulfilled opportunity along for the ride. A double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens ended their 2012 season and left them empty-handed on the Super Bowl front. That loss followed them throughout the 2013 season, even as they rewrote the record book on offense. For some, the regular season was little more than one long opening act for another Super Bowl chance. This time around, a 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVII will mirror their every move. How the Broncos deal with that and how successfully they roll up their sleeves to get to work on the new season will have a lot to say about how things go.

Get rugged: The Broncos’ 2013 season was a study in contrasts. On one hand, they were the highest-scoring team in league history, the first to score 600 points in a season. On the other, they were a drama-filled operation that featured two front-office executives arrested for DUI offenses and Von Miller’s six-game suspension to open the season. Toss in a pile of injuries on defense and the blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the final game, and the Broncos were left staring at the idea that they scored more points than any team that came before them but still didn’t win the title. So, although Peyton Manning and company figure to be fun to watch again, this team will earn its championship chops by what it does when Manning isn’t throwing the ball. By how it grinds it out in the running game from time to time to both protect the quarterback and close out games. And by how defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio implements players who were reeled in by the lure of owner Pat Bowlen’s checkbook and the Manning-led offense, such as DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, with those returning from injury, such as Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson. Scoring touchdowns shouldn't be an issue, but stopping others from scoring them can’t be one either.

Be right on Ball: There is no spot on the roster where the Broncos have put their faith in the most youthful of hands more than at running back. Ronnie Hillman is set to enter his third season, and he is the oldest player in the position group's meeting room. And if you’re looking for a player for whom the Broncos have cleared the way to shine most, it’s Montee Ball. Let’s be clear, though: Ball earned that optimism by how he played down the stretch last season. He was the most effective runner with the ball in his hands over the last six weeks of the season/postseason. He’s smart and has the requisite work ethic, and the Broncos have seen vast improvements in his work as both a receiver and blocker in the passing game. That gives him the gotta-have-it, every-down potential in their offense. The Broncos aren’t looking to run the ball significantly more than they did in ’13, but when they do, they want to move the chains more efficiently. And when it’s time to slam the door on somebody, they’d like Ball to be the guy to do it.
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.
If things were like they have been in recent years, the Denver Broncos would have wrapped up their 2014 draft last weekend.

But things are not that way, and in the NFL’s attempt to invade every page on the calendar, the Broncos are only in the homestretch of their preparation for the May 8-10 draft.

The Broncos are slated to pick 31st in the opening round. Their current regime of decision-makers, chiefly John Elway, has looked to trade out of that spot in the previous three drafts. But it all depends on how things go above that pick.

Often the thinking is to trade out of the lower end of the first round, get an extra pick or two and take a similarly graded player in the upper half of the second round. This draft, in particular, is considered deep throughout, so there are plenty of teams already looking to move in the opening round.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Paul SancyaWhile it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of draft day, John Elway and the rest of the Broncos' decision-makers would be better off exercising patience and waiting for a quality player to fall.
Sitting among the last eight picks of the opening round, Elway has lived in both schools of the stay-or-trade thought in the previous two drafts and ended up selecting players in the same position group each time -- defensive line.

In 2012, the Broncos made two trades to get all the way out of the first round. They initially moved from No. 25 to No. 31 in a trade with New England and picked up an extra fourth-rounder along the way. The Patriots selected Dont'a Hightower with the 25th pick, and he has started 27 games over the past two seasons, including a 97-tackle year in ’13.

The Broncos then torpedoed the local draft party scene when they traded that No. 31 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the fourth-rounder they got in the Patriots trade, for the No. 36 and No. 101 picks.

The Buccaneers took running back Doug Martin, who the Broncos also liked in the weeks leading up to that draft. When Martin plowed his way to 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, the trade looked fairly lopsided against the Broncos right out of the gate.

But in reality, the jury is still out with the major players each recovering from a stint on injured reserve. The Broncos selected Derek Wolfe at No. 36 that year. As a rookie, Wolfe had the look of a longtime starter. Last year at this time, many with the Broncos, including some of his teammates, were saying Wolfe had both the look and demeanor of a future captain.

Martin tore the labrum in his left shoulder last season -- rushing for 456 yards in six games before the injury -- and had surgery to repair it. Wolfe ended up on injured reserve after seizure-like symptoms on the team’s bus just before a late November road trip.

With the 101st pick in 2012, the Broncos selected Omar Bolden. He has already been moved from cornerback to safety and is still looking to find his niche in the defense.

Last year, with the No. 28 pick, the Broncos dabbled with the idea of making a move but in the end stayed put and selected defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He was a starter down the stretch as a rookie last season after Kevin Vickerson’s injury, and the Broncos see Williams as a potential impact player in the defensive line rotation this season.

In the end, many of the better personnel executives in the league -- the ones more proficient in the draft -- believe patience is indeed a draft virtue at the bottom of the opening round. They believe staying put, trusting their board and picking the guy they want will reap the best rewards. They don’t let the desire to get extra picks overshadow the ability to get a premium player.

Teams will make mistakes above you. A reach or two will be taken as the runs happen at one position or another. Some rush to fill needs they fear they won't find later. The result is often a highly graded player falling.

The Baltimore Ravens may have lived this life, with general manager Ozzie Newsome, better than most.

They selected linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26 in the 1996 draft -- side note: they selected Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at No. 4 that year, so the team’s first-round effort will have a nice slice of Canton in a few more years -- and picked tight end Todd Heap at No. 31 in 2001, safety Ed Reed at No. 24 in ’02, guard Ben Grubbs (one Pro Bowl) at No. 29 in '07 and safety Matt Elam (15 starts as a rookie in ’13) at No. 31 last year.

At the moment, the Broncos have seven picks in this draft, one in each round. The depth of the draft board would suggest their best play is sit, stay at 31 and take the highest-graded player on their board as the first round winds down.

Because that player is often one somebody else should, and could, have taken sooner.
When the Denver Broncos gathered this week for their first group workouts of the offseason, there were plenty of new faces on the roster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Everything is all about details when it comes to football," Ware said this week. "When you have everything in place, it really doesn't matter. It comes to the small things of guys really wanting it, the mistakes that you make and it starts this offseason with just working out and guys really giving it their all. That carries over into the season."
St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher often tells veteran players they will have to expend 10 percent more effort in an upcoming offseason than they did in the one before, if they plan to maintain their ability to compete for the same amount of playing time.

Essentially, the message is that the status quo can't be on the agenda, that every time you roll over and hit the snooze button, the guy who wants your job already is out of bed and has put the proverbial nose to the grindstone.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Hyoung Chang//The Denver Post/Getty Images"Just because you were there last year in the [Super Bowl], it doesn't guarantee you anything," Peyton Manning said.
And this week, sprinkled through Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's first public comments in Colorado since the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, it was fairly easy to discern Manning's theme for the coming weeks and months.

Manning has been known to rattle the cage of a teammate a time or two about what needs to be done, or surprise someone with a pop quiz in the hallway about their responsibilities on a third-and-long. He dropped the word “work" 10 times into his comments in the span of just a few minutes, and that included a couple of references to both “hard work" and “good work."

It was a preview of sorts, because the Broncos will open their offseason conditioning program Monday and the vast majority, if not all, of their healthy players are expected to take part. These are technically “voluntary" gatherings; the Broncos can only declare offseason workouts mandatory for a three-day minicamp in June. But this is "voluntary" -- as in, you "voluntarily waive your right to play any significant snaps when training camp rolls around."

Last season, the Broncos worked off the premise that the double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round would be the fuel for the offseason in 2013. That worked, at least until the season's last game, when the Broncos arrived at the Super Bowl seemingly without their mojo in their luggage.

They're hoping disappointment can once again help power them through spring and into summer.

“Just because you were there last year in the game, it doesn't guarantee you anything," Manning said. “It does take a lot of hard work and sacrifice."

Manning, certainly the analytical type when it comes to the game, is also still a big believer in the elusive power of football chemistry -- that somehow teammates who have invested time together will eventually also play better together, particularly when the ride gets bumpy.

“I think forming that chemistry takes time," Manning said. “Certainly working together in the weight room is part of it. [Aqib] Talib getting to know Chris Harris; DeMarcus [Ware] getting to know [Kevin] Vickerson and [Derek] Wolfe and Von [Miller] -- the guys he's going to be rushing with; for me, getting to know [Emmanuel] Sanders. It's not an overnight process. That's something that we have done in the past. I think that's been a big part of some of the wins we've had -- is our offseason work and how guys have spent time together and put the time in together."

In the post-spinal-fusion portion of his career, Manning has always said he would keep playing if he believed he could still compete at the level he wants, and as long as he still enjoyed the preparation as well as the effort it takes physically to get ready to play.

So while the regular season is still a long way off, Manning, having already worked with the team's pass-catchers while at Duke, has made it pretty clear he's ready to get back to business -- and that the expectation is everyone else will be, too.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Broncos 

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
Over the course of his work on this year’s draft, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has kept the Denver Broncos focused on defense, including last month’s mock draft when McShay had the Broncos selecting Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy with the 31st pick.

And in his latest effort -- a two-round mock -- McShay again has the Broncos opening their draft with a defensive player

An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

End of the line: The Broncos were obviously successful during the regular season in their three-wideout look as they rewrote the offensive side of the league’s record book, but the Seahawks offered an entirely different challenge across the line of scrimmage. The Broncos played in a three-wide-receiver look for all but two snaps in the game. And while the Broncos protected quarterback Peyton Manning well throughout the season when they played in that open look, they did not handle that business against the Seahawks. The Seattle defensive front repeatedly folded in the edges of the Broncos' formation, especially when Cliff Avril forced Manning into the interception that Malcolm Smith returned for a touchdown, and pushed the middle as well. The results were seen in Manning's numbers as he was under duress for much of the game and played like it.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Julio CortezEric Decker and the Broncos receivers found little room to operate within the Seahawks' suffocating secondary.
No freedom: The Seahawks' physical secondary won the close-quarters battles with the Broncos' receivers and won it by a large margin. Seattle's defensive backs were physical along the line of scrimmage and limited the Broncos' yards after the catch, which had been a staple of Denver's catch-and-run offense all season. Demaryius Thomas may have finished with a Super Bowl record 13 receptions, but he also finished with a season-low 9.1 yards per catch. The Seahawks also kept the ball out of Eric Decker's hands as he never quite worked himself free. Decker finished with one catch for 6 yards. Tight end Julius Thomas finished with just 6.8 yards per catch. In the first quarter when the game got away the Broncos had no yards gained after the catch.

Low pressure: This has been a recurring issue over the Broncos' last three playoff exits. To close out the 2011 season the Broncos did not sack Tom Brady as he finished with 363 yards passing and six touchdown passes. To close out the 2012 season the Broncos sacked Joe Flacco just once as he finished with 331 yards passing and three touchdowns. And Sunday night the Broncos did not sack Russell Wilson as he finished with 206 yards -- just seven incompletions -- and two touchdowns. The Broncos also had one interception in those three playoff games combined. Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe being on injured reserve certainly didn't help the Broncos' cause Sunday night, but by the time the game was deep into the third quarter the Broncos had hit Wilson just once on a dropback. The Broncos will have to give a long look toward addressing a defensive issue that has been a big part of their last three playoff losses.

Not special: After a spectacular start to the season -- two blocked punts, two touchdown returns by Trindon Holliday as well as a touchdown on one of the blocked punts over the first four games -- the Broncos' special-teams play slowly dissolved as the season wore on. Holliday didn't consistently handle the ball well and the Broncos didn't consistently play with discipline in coverage. It all showed up against the Seahawks as Holliday, who was inconsistent in his decision-making in the kicking game, almost lost a fumble. (He was ruled down before the ball came out.) The Broncos surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half and didn't give themselves a chance to recover a poorly executed onside kick in the fourth quarter.

Broncos' D will need an A effort

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
Wesley Woodyard, Danny TrevathanDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesHow will Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan and the Denver defense impact Sunday's result?

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The most prominent storyline of Super Bowl XLVIII, at least beyond what Richard Sherman said, what Marshawn Lynch didn't say and just how much wobble is in the average Peyton Manning touchdown pass, has been the Denver Broncos' No. 1 offense and the Seattle Seahawks' No. 1 defense.

It has been the classic matchup of league best on league best and the first of its kind since Super Bowl XXXVII, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the league's No. 1 defense, defeated the Oakland Raiders (the No. 1 offense) to close out the 2002 season.

But how a Broncos defense battered by injuries throughout the season responds against Seattle's power offense with Lynch at running back, the mobile Russell Wilson at quarterback and wide receiver Percy Harvin playing in just his third game of the season, will have a lot to say about how things go for the Broncos. In fact, it may have everything to say about whether or not the Broncos get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

"We feel like we need to be the defense we know we can be," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We've been better as the season has gone on, we've adjusted some, overcome some and now we feel like we're ready to play our best football."

The Broncos have four defensive starters on injured reserve -- cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker Von Miller -- and they have not always played with the consistency defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would have liked because of it. But after holding opponents to fewer than 17 points only once in 14 games, the Broncos have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in four consecutive games. The total includes both of their playoff wins -- 24-17 against the San Diego Chargers and 26-16 over the New England Patriots.

"In spite of all the things that could have derailed us, we stayed on point, stayed on message, continued to grind, continued to believe," Del Rio said.

Del Rio has used a variety of lineup combinations until settling on the current one that includes Woodyard, an every-down player for much of the season, now playing in the specialty packages. Del Rio also has put Paris Lenon at middle linebacker in the base defense to go with Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving at the other two linebacker spots.

The combination gives the Broncos a little more bulk against opposing run games, especially one such as the Seahawks'.

The return of Champ Bailey, who played just five games in the regular season because of a left foot injury, has given Del Rio more options of late in the coverages the team can play and stabilized things, even with Harris Jr. having torn an ACL against the Chargers in the divisional round. After initially returning to the lineup, playing in the slot as part of the nickel defense (five defensive backs), Bailey will likely start on the outside against the Seahawks and then move inside to the slot if Seattle goes to a three-wide receiver look. In the nickel, Bailey would likely face Harvin or Doug Baldwin.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images"I don't want to hear a reason that we can't," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I want to talk about how we're going to get it done."
And the Broncos have gotten enough from Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers, Malik Jackson and Terrance Knighton in the pass rush to at least try to work past Miller's injury, a torn ACL he suffered in Houston in Week 16.

"We think we can play the way we need to, we know we have to if we're going to win this game," Bailey said. "We don't think too much about the injuries. We would love to have those guys because you always want your best out there. But [Del Rio] isn't going to let you talk about that anyway and we wouldn't want to."

Said Del Rio: "I don't even want to hear it, I don't want to hear it from our staff, I don't want to hear a reason that we can't. I want to talk about how we're going to get it done. I don't spend a lot of time entertaining how we can't. I understand that we can and want to figure out exactly how we can get it done. It's a little bit of scheme, it's a little bit of technique, there's a little of mentality you've got to build. It can be pretty good if you put it all together and everybody buys in."

While the Broncos' record-setting offense and the Seahawks' bone-rattling defense have parked themselves in the headlines this week, Sunday's game may well be decided by what Seattle's offense does against Del Rio's defense.

"We feel underrated a little bit, but we've got to expect that," Broncos safety Mike Adams said. "I probably would say the same thing because we had a slow start as a defense early in the season. But one thing we did: We finished the season strong and we carried it on to the playoffs, and we're trying to continue that streak that we're on."

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Broncos

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
Even as the Denver Broncos continue to live their double life of Super Bowl hopeful as well as a franchise already working toward the 2014 season with scouts dispersed into the all-star game circuit, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Broncos looking for defensive help in the first round of May's draft.

In Kiper’s first mock draft Insider, he has the Broncos selecting Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton with their opening-round pick. The Broncos will always lean toward best available player rather than need with John Elway calling the shots in the personnel department, and Crichton would certainly be a high-value pick.

The Broncos believe Derek Wolfe, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday as a result of seizure-like symptoms he suffered in late November, will participate in their offseason programs as scheduled. Wolfe had practiced just twice since the incident and the Broncos still see him on schedule to be back to his usual workload by the time training camp starts.

But defensive end Robert Ayers is scheduled to head into free agency, Shaun Phillips’ one-year deal will have expired and linebacker Von Miller will be recovering from a torn ACL well into training camp and possibly early in the regular season. So defensive end will certainly be a position that will get a look, as will cornerback and wide receiver.

Crichton, who will come into the draft after his junior season, may not test as well in workouts as some others at the position in the weeks leading up to the draft, but he is a high-energy player who can fill multiple roles up front -- two things that will intrigue the Broncos. Despite a pile of double-teams and chips, Crichton still finished with 7.5 sacks this past season, battling through all of that attention.

He usually lined up at end, but a look at the video did show him at nose tackle against Oregon this past season. Malik Jackson had a similar profile before the Broncos selected him in the 2012 draft. He has found a home in the defensive line rotation, playing at both end and tackle in a variety of personnel groupings.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will look far differently, especially on defense, when they face the San Diego Chargers this time around.

Defensive end Derek Wolfe continues to be the only player on the 53-man roster who has not practiced this week. Wolfe was held out of Thursday’s practice and will not make his return to the playing field in Sunday’s Divisional-round game.

But everyone else on the roster is available and continued to work Thursday.

Wide receiver Wes Welker, who missed the last three games of the regular season, including the Dec. 12 loss to the Chargers, continues to be on track to play. With Welker out, The Chargers were able to limit Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's ability to get the ball to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas in last month’s game.

The two Thomas’ and Decker caught just three passes combined after halftime in the loss. That will be far more difficult to do with Welker in the lineup.

“I’m sure (Welker’s) missed playing," said Broncos coach John Fox. “ … He is an extreme competitor, I’d say it’s fair to say he’s pretty excited."

But defensively, the Broncos will also offer a different look. Cornerback Champ Bailey did not play in either game against the Chargers this season, and his presence has enabled the Broncos to have more variety in coverages and tighten things down of late. Bailey has played largely in the nickel (five defensive backs) since his return to the lineup in the regular season’s final two games.

“We’ll be ready to go," Bailey said. “ … I feel good about where we are, I’m just ready to get to this game."

The Broncos held the Texans and Raiders to 240 and 255 yards, respectively, in the last two games of the regular season with Bailey playing in that nickel role. It has enabled defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to have far more options in how he allocates the team's personnel. Bailey has received treatment for a left shoulder injury this week, but took part fully in Thursday’s practice.

Wolfe has practiced just twice since Nov. 29 when he suffered “seizure-like symptoms" on the team’s bus ride to the airport for a trip to Kansas City. He took part in the Broncos’ Christmas Day practice, missed the next day with the flu, then practiced on a limited basis Dec. 27.

He has not practiced since.

Safety Duke Ihenacho and center Steve Vallos, who have suffered concussions in the final weeks of the regular season, took part fully in Thursday’s practice, and both would be available for Sunday’s game.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Defensive end Derek Wolfe continues to be the only player on the Broncos’ 53-man roster to be held out of practice, and even with several players receiving treatment, the Broncos remain a healthy group overall as they work toward Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game against the San Diego Chargers.

Wolfe has practiced just twice since Nov. 29 when he suffered “seizure-like symptoms’’ on the team’s bus ride to the airport for a trip to Kansas City. He took part in the Broncos’ Christmas Day practice, missed the next day with the flu and then practiced on a limited basis Dec. 27.

He has not practiced since.

The Broncos issued their first injury report of the week Wednesday and the only slight surprise was cornerback Champ Bailey's appearance with a shoulder injury. Bailey was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and expected to play Sunday against the Chargers, but he has been getting treatment this week for a left shoulder injury.

Safety Duke Ihenacho and center Steve Vallos, who suffered concussions in the final weeks of the regular season, were cleared to fully take part in Wednesday’s practice and both should be available for Sunday’s game.

Defensive end Shaun Phillips, who was sent home Monday because he had arrived to work feeling ill and with a fever, practiced fully on Wednesday as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to the ebb and flow of an NFL season, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox likes to say people and teams deal with essentially two things.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos don't need a reminder of what happened to them as a top seed during the last postseason.
There's adversity. The Broncos have had, let's say, their share of that when it comes to the football variety.

And then there's prosperity, the kind the Broncos are enjoying right now as the AFC's top seed in the postseason.

There is the 13-3 record, a record-setting offense and a quarterback, in Peyton Manning, poised to win his fifth career MVP award, which was all good enough to get the Broncos a first-round bye this week in the postseason. It was all good enough to get them home-field advantage.

But whether it's good enough to get them more than that was a question they started to answer on the practice field Thursday. And make no mistake, Fox was already trying to shove aside any notion that this is a week of rest.

"[It's an] opportunity to get better," Fox said following Thursday's practice. "A lot of people on the outside call it a bye week. To me, it's a 'get better' week."

It is with that backdrop that the Broncos -- with more than a few bad memories in tow because of last year's double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens that shockingly ended a season in which they earned home-field advantage -- have already tried to hammer home the message of keeping their edge this week.

They won't know who they will face in the divisional rounds until the weekend's games are complete, just that they will face the AFC's lowest-remaining seed -- Kansas City, Indianapolis or San Diego. Fox was asked Thursday what the biggest challenge is in the balance between the benefits of a bye week and getting things dialed in for a postseason run.

"Challenge is it's a new season ... a whole new season," Fox said. "The key is not so much the bye, not the bye, all that stuff, it's playing the best football during this playoffs. It's a single-elimination tournament so you can't have a bad day."

"I think the main thing is still treat it like a game week, and still go out there and practice and execute the way you need to as if you were playing this week," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "Bringing that mentality each and every day."

After years' worth of domination by the teams that earned the week off, the pendulum has decidedly swung in recent seasons to favor those who get on a roll with a win in the wild-card round. Six of the least eight Super Bowl winners have played during the wild-card weekend, including the last three champions -- the 2010 Packers, the 2011 Giants and those 2012 Ravens that the Broncos knew so well.

That's after just two teams emerged from the wild-card weekend to win the Super Bowl in the first 15 years of the 12-team playoff format.

Many with the team say the veteran players, who know how rare it is for the Broncos to have followed last season's No. 1 seed with another this year, have pushed everyone in the locker room to avoid any sort of comfort level with the regular season.

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he believed this year's team was "better prepared" to deal with what's ahead. And there is the matter of the kind of eventful year the Broncos had from the offseason DUI arrests of two personnel executives -- Matt Russell and Tom Heckert -- to Von Miller's off-the-field travails that included a six-game suspension to an assortment of injuries to high-profile players like Welker and Champ Bailey to Fox's open-heart surgery.

All of those events will have calloused this team more than last season's, which rolled into the playoffs on an 11-game win streak.

"This has been a pretty mature bunch so far this season," Fox said.

"[I] think we have faced a lot, seen a lot, certainly we haven't seen it all, but hopefully we're more prepared," Manning said. " ... As painful as it was I think you can learn from it."

Overall, the Broncos on the current depth chart are fairly healthy at this point since Welker has been cleared to play in the Broncos' Jan. 12 game and went through Thursday's practice. The biggest question mark of any player on the active roster is defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has not played since suffering "seizure-like symptoms" Nov. 29 on the team's bus ride to the airport for a trip to Kansas City.

Wolfe practiced on a limited basis on Christmas Day, his first practice since the incident, then missed a day with the flu. Wolfe did not make the trip to Oakland for the regular-season finale and did not practice Thursday.

Fox would not say following practice what Wolfe's status is at the moment.

"We don't have to do that until next week," Fox said. " ... Won't comment on injuries, who's practicing until next week."

But in the end the Broncos know last year's loss would be a topic of conversation until they take the field in this year's postseason, but for most of the Broncos they said they didn't need a reminder this time around.

"It's unspoken," safety Mike Adams said. "Half of us were here last year. I'd be mad if you tell me what happened last year. I know what happened, I was there, so it's unspoken. We know what we've got to do. We're ready and I don't want to beat a dead horse."

Added Harris: "Last year at this time, I don't think we had the same amount of focus as we do now. It's more of serious tone, and we know what it takes."
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Denver Broncos wanted to end their workday against the Oakland Raiders with a victory to earn homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs, but they also wanted to stay as healthy as possible doing it.

They were able to do that for the most part in the 34-14 victory against Oakland. Safety Duke Ihenacho did leave the game with a concussion and will be evaluated on Monday as part of the league’s concussion protocol. Ihenacho would have to be symptom free Monday to take part in a full practice by Friday under the guidelines of the protocol.

It was the only injury the Broncos formally reported from the game.

With a bye week to open the postseason the Broncos still believe they are on track to get wide receiver Wes Welker back for their first postseason game, Jan. 12, in the Divisional round against the lowest seed remaining in the AFC’s playoff field. Welker made the trip with the team for Sunday’s game and practiced on a limited basis this past week.

Welker, who suffered a concussion just before halftime of the Broncos’ Dec. 8 victory over the Tennessee Titans, had not practiced since until this past Wednesday and has been held out of the last two games. Welker also suffered a concussion in the Broncos Nov. 17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Before he can play in a game Welker would have to be declared symptom free by both the Broncos’ medical staff as well as a designated independent physician who has been approved by both the NFL and NFL Players Association.

“I think we’re getting healthier,’’ said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. “We want everybody we can in the offense and you always want a player like Wes out there.’’

Defensive end Derek Wolfe is expected to practice at least some this week. The Broncos didn’t place Wolfe on injured reserve earlier this month when they added Jeremy Mincey to the roster and the Broncos have continued to express some optimism he could get back in the lineup in the postseason.

Wolfe practiced twice last week, Wednesday and Friday as he missed Thursday with the flu. Wolfe did not travel with the team for Sunday’s game. Wednesday’s practice was Wolfe’s first since suffering “seizure-like symptoms’’ Nov. 29 on the team’s bus ride to the airport in the days leading up to a Dec. 1 game in Kansas City.

Also, the Broncos held cornerback Kayvon Webster out of Sunday’s game, but expect to have him ready to go for the playoff game. Webster, who had surgery Dec. 13 to repair a fractured right thumb, practiced on a limited basis this past week.