NFL Nation: Jacob Hester

Broncos practice report: LB added

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
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Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has assembled an all-time football resume, piles of 4,000-yard seasons, four MVP awards and a Super Bowl win.

And yet, as he approaches his 16th season opener, he said he remains as excited as ever at what a new season might bring. Asked Sunday if he still gets butterflies before the opener, Manning said:

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesHe might appear calm under center, but Broncos QB Peyton Manning admitted that he'll be a bit nervous before Thursday night's season opener.
“I do, I do. I think if you don’t you probably ought to be doing something else. Sixteenth opening day, having played in this opening game three times. It’s got a little something extra to it … Healthy butterflies, it’s a good thing.’’

Some things to consider as the Broncos formally kicked off their practice week Sunday for Thursday night’s affair:

  • With a night to sleep on it, the Broncos came to the conclusion – as expected, perhaps -- that six linebackers wasn’t enough on the roster after the initial cutdown to 53 players. That was especially true since one of the players they formally list at linebacker – Shaun Phillips – lines up at defensive end for the majority of his snaps. So, the Broncos claimed second-year linebacker Adrian Robinson off waivers Sunday and he’s expected to practice with the team Tuesday. Robinson is a 250-pounder who made the Steelers roster last season as an undrafted rookie largely because of his special teams play. The Broncos are also his third team since Aug. 23. That’s when he was traded to the Eagles, for running back Felix Jones and the Eagles then waived him Saturday. He played at inside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 look and the Eagles tried them there in their new 3-4 as well. The Broncos use plenty of 3-4 principles in their defense, though their base look is technically a 4-3, but if his game video is any indication Robinson will have a chance to contribute quickly on special teams. To make room for Robinson, running back Jacob Hester was released.
  • The Broncos have obviously had their turn-the-page meeting leading up to Thursday’s season opener. Any and all questions about the crushing double-overtime loss last January, when the Broncos let the home-field advantage slip away, were met with some kind of what’s past is past response. That is Gameweek 101, to be sure, but those in the seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High may be a different matter entirely. Football fans in the region have done little else but re-hash the playoff loss, the kneel-down the Broncos took just before the end of regulation with two timeouts in hand and the Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Should the Broncos start slowly Thursday, it will be curious to see how those on hand respond. Asked Sunday if revenge played any part in the discussion about the game, from his perspective Manning said: “If people need that as extra incentive that’s fine. But I think there’s plenty, just with the schedule and the timing of when we’re playing.’’ Some players said thinking about the loss may have helped push them through offseason workouts at times, but that Thursday’s game is the fresh start for the 2013 season.
  • Hester’s release unquestionably makes Knowshon Moreno the most accomplished back in pass protection for the Broncos. Because of that, Moreno could see plenty of work in some longer down-and-distance situations in place of rookie Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Hester was signed last season, in large part, because the Broncos believed they needed help in pass protection at the position. Hester had spent most of this year's training camp and the preseason at fullback. And the Broncos will run the offense with three wide receivers or two tight ends in the formation far more than they will out of a traditional two-back look, so Hester’s spot became somewhat expendable given the numbers at linebacker. Tight end Virgil Green would line up in the backfield much of the time if the Broncos wanted a lead blocker in front of the running back. It also confirms how determined the Broncos are to keeping rookie quarterback Zac Dysert on the roster at the moment.
  • A look at the starting lineups for the playoff game last Jan. 12 does show how change arrives in the league. Nine players who started for the Ravens in that game are not on this year’s roster, including seven on defense. The Broncos weren't hit quite as hard by full-blown departures, but some things have changed. The Broncos had four starters in the game who are no longer with the team – Justin Bannan, Brandon Stokley, Keith Brooking and Elvis Dumervil. Also, Dan Koppen is now on injured reserve, Von Miller is suspended for the first six games of the season and neither Chris Kuper nor Joel Dreessen are expected to start Thursday. "Both teams have a lot of new guys,'' said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "They were other places for that game.''
  • Broncos safety Rahim Moore, when asked if he had won back the fans after last year’s playoff loss: “Camp is camp, there is nothing you can really tell by just practice. You can go out there and just show your hard work, but you’re judged by your games. What you’re doing week in, week out is how people judge you.’’
  • The Broncos signed seven players to their practice squad Sunday, including two draft picks from this past April they had released in tackle Vinston Painter and wide receiver Tavarres King, who were the team's sixth- and fifth-round picks, respectively. Also signed to the practice squad were wide receiver Gerell Robinson, running back Edwin Baker, defensive tackle Ben Garland, tackle Paul Cornick and defensive end John Youboty. Baker is the only player of the seven who was not in training camp with the Broncos. The 200-pound second-year back rushed for 1,201 yards as a sophomore at Michigan State in 2010.

Broncos like their multi-taskers

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
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There was a time or two during training camp when the guy behind the wheel of the John Deere pulling a mobile goal post toward a drill was none other than Broncos special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

As he’d drive from one field to the other, he’d simply say “the more you can do.’’

And the phrase is a common one throughout the league, said sometimes with more than a tinge of irony about doing the task that is presently at hand. But when the Broncos rolled out their first 53-man roster of the season, there were some more-you-can-do guys in there that affected some of the other decisions they made.

[+] EnlargeOmar Bolden
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsWith his versatility, Denver is expecting DB Omar Bolden to make a significant impact in 2013.
Second-year defensive back Omar Bolden was one. He spent his rookie season at cornerback in 2012 and the Broncos liked the way he handled his business, his mental toughness and the way he battled in man coverage. He fully expected to be at cornerback this year, especially when as the players went through check-out day last January, he promised he would compete for far more playing time on the outside.

He got it half right, at least the playing time part, anyway. Roughly two weeks ago Bolden started to show up at safety at times in practice. A snap here, a snap there and in the preseason finale Bolden started at safety against the Cardinals and finished with six tackles.

At 195 pounds he fits the mold of a coverage safety in these pass-happy times, and after watching Bolden's work on special teams the Broncos believed he was a player who can match up on a receiver or tight end down the field, but one who showed himself to be willing to stick his nose in run defense as well. The Broncos feel they could use him at either position in any of their defensive packages.

That swing job was supposed to be Quentin Jammer’s when camp opened, but Jammer is now solely a corner, having never looked all that comfortable at safety, while Bolden has snagged the cornerback/safety gig and the potential playing time that will come with it.

The Broncos will likely spend almost 70 percent of their defensive snaps this season in something other than their base defense, so they will feature more than two safeties in the formation for plenty of snaps, especially in the dime.

“We’re looking for flexibility at safety,’’ is how executive vice president of football operations John Elway put it. “Omar was a guy that does a tremendous job on special teams, so we wanted to look at him at [safety]. And also, with Jammer going back and getting a look at corner, we felt that Quentin is better at corner than he is at safety. So we wanted to look at Omar who has flexibility and is great on fourth down, so we looked at him at safety.’’

In the defensive line, Malik Jackson’s versatility has increased his value as Derek Wolfe’s backup in many of the defensive packages. Jackson, a fifth-round pick in 2012, can play at end on both run downs and pass-rush packages. Jackson also moved inside to defensive tackle in some of the Broncos nickel and dime looks as well.

Jackson played 113 plays on defense last season with 20 of those coming Dec. 2 against Tampa Bay, but he should up that total at least some this time around.

Kick returner Trindon Holliday showed enough at wide receiver in the preseason for the Broncos to go a little light at the position. They kept just five on the current roster, including Holliday. That, and an extra defensive back or two, likely cost rookie wide receiver Tavarres King, a fifth-round pick this past April, a spot. On talent alone, King was/is worthy of a slot on the Broncos roster, but he did not maintain his early momentum in camp and the team's decision-makers didn't believe he was consistent in his day-to-day work habits. King was signed to the team's practice squad Sunday, just before practice began.

And running back Jacob Hester, who had played in most any situation in the backfield when needed, was initially kept on the team's 53-man roster for his multi-tasking as well. He could be featured as a runner, work in the passing game, play fullback and special teams. But with just six linebackers and Von Miller suspended for six games, the Broncos released Hester Sunday morning and brought in linebacker Adrian Robinson.

“That is kind of what you live by, the more you can do,’’ coach John Fox said. “This league is about adjustments and the guys who give you options are always going to be valuable to your program.’’

Broncos' day plays out on Twitter

August, 30, 2013
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The Denver Broncos' top football executive, John Elway, has consistently preached the benefits of youth, homegrown players and in the era of the seven-round draft the importance of finding an undrafted rookie or two along the way who can help his team.

And as the Broncos made moves on the way to trimming their roster to 53 players, there was a little of each of those tenets.

The Broncos did not officially file most of their Friday moves to the NFL’s personnel department by the end of the day, meaning none of them are tabulated in their roster total until they do. (The only transaction they filed was an injury settlement with rookie wide receiver Quincy McDuffie.) But they did inform a small group of players that they were no longer with the team. Veteran running back Lance Ball was one of them, and he took to Twitter after getting the news:



Ball was always an "a-little-of-this, a-little-of-that" player for the Broncos over the last three seasons, a solid pro who played in 41 games for the team, including 15 last season and 16 in 2011. But as a vested player heading into his fifth season, Ball’s $1.323 million salary would be guaranteed if he is on the roster for the season opener. And with this move the Broncos appear to have cleared a spot on the running back depth chart for undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson.

At least that’s what Anderson believes, given that he took to Twitter to say "I'm a bronco." An hour or so, later Anderson followed with "Lets get 2 work."

It would mean the Broncos have had at least one undrafted rookie make the opening 53-man roster in 10 consecutive seasons. It would also mean the Broncos think enough of Anderson to keep him even though he could be three weeks away from being game-ready because of a sprained MCL suffered in practice following the Broncos’ first preseason game.

In that game, against the 49ers, Anderson finished with 69 yards on 15 carries. At 225 pounds, he also gives the Broncos' offense some short-yardage power, something they team has not always shown with the top three backs -– Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno. If the Broncos also keep Jacob Hester (he is the only back who has lined up at fullback for the team), that makes five running backs on the depth chart, the same total the Broncos kept last season when they made the cut to 53. The Broncos kept just four backs when they exited camp in 2011.

Anderson also sent a tweet to Hester on Friday that read (in part), "keep helping and being that great vet."

Also released Friday, according to several team sources, were wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Lamaar Thomas, cornerback Aaron Hester and linebacker Damien Holmes -- though again, none of those moves were formally filed to the league, and the Broncos could reverse field on Saturday. Of the four, Robinson would be the best candidate to land on the practice squad (that's where he was last season).

The Broncos can sign eight players to the practice squad beginning on Sunday.

The Broncos will have to make 17 more roster moves by 4 p.m. MT Saturday afternoon. They are expected to have made all of them by the time Elway is scheduled for a media gathering at 2 p.m.
The Denver Broncos, like the rest of the league, will tie a bow on the preseason Thursday night. Most of the team’s regulars will get the night off against the visiting Arizona Cardinals, but decisions still need to be made at a few spots at the back end of the roster.

With that in mind, some things to keep an eye on:

One of the most difficult spots for the Broncos to make cuts ahead of Saturday's deadline to pare the roster to 53 players -- the bulk of which will come Friday -- will be in the secondary.

The Broncos kept nine defensive backs on the opening-weekend roster in 2011 and 10 last season -- five cornerbacks and five safeties. The issue this year is that Denver has two young, homegrown cornerback prospects in Omar Bolden and rookie Kayvon Webster, who have shown themselves to be worthy of the roster and would raise the overall athleticism at the position.

With Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Rahim Moore, Duke Ihenacho, Chris Harris, David Bruton and Tony Carter having worked in the top seven slots all through the preseason, that doesn’t leave room for Webster, Bolden, Mike Adams and Quentin Jammer to all make it.

If the Broncos stick with nine players in the secondary, they are essentially choosing between youth and experience for those final two spots. If they keep an extra cornerback, however, it may be an indication they feel they need to open the season with some insurance for Bailey’s foot injury.

Unless Denver takes the uncharacteristic step and keeps 11 defensive backs, Bolden and Webster both figure to play plenty against the Cardinals to state their cases.

  • Brock Osweiler is slated to get the start at quarterback behind what is largely a backup line. That has been a tough combination thus far in the preseason for Osweiler, who has been sacked eight times in the three previous games behind the reserves. It makes it difficult for the Broncos to work out of the three-wide look as much as they’d like given that they haven’t consistently protected the quarterback in it -- even when the starters have been in the game -- this preseason. If things get dicey they might have to go big again, as they did last weekend against the Rams. After opening the game with three wide receivers and allowing too many rushers to get too close to Peyton Manning, the Broncos went to a two-tight-end look. They lined up in a two-tight-end look on 29 of the next 35 plays after the opening three-and-out, including all 12 in a drive that ended with a blocked field goal. The Broncos might feel like they need to give Osweiler a little more beef up front.
  • The last few rosters spots will be decided on special teams, and the Broncos could use a good showing there. In the past two games they have surrendered a 107-yard kickoff return for a score, a 33-yard punt return, an 81-yard punt return and seen a field goal blocked. Many of the Broncos' youngest players will have a chance to help their causes against Arizona, with Denver special-teams coach Jeff Rodgers looking for those who display speed and smarts.
  • [+] EnlargeKayvon Webster
    AP Photo/Eric BakkeCornerback Kayvon Webster, a third-round pick, gets a last chance tonight to show he deserves a roster spot.
    The Broncos have lost five fumbles in three preseason games -- two by Osweiler, two by Ronnie Hillman and one by Julius Thomas. Hillman is not expected to play Thursday, but things need to be cleaned up. Lance Ball and Jacob Hester figure to get some work as the Broncos face some tough decisions at running back as well. Hester has not had a carry in the preseason and is the only back that has lined up at fullback thus far.
  • The Broncos have to sort things out in the offensive line, where they kept nine players in both 2011 and last season. After the starting five -- Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin -- the Broncos need a swing tackle, likely Chris Clark, and a swing guard/center or two, with Ryan Lilja, Steve Vallos and Philip Blake in the mix. Blake, a fourth-round pick in 2012, has been headed the wrong way on the depth chart -- the Broncos didn’t even work him much at center in the preseason, a position he played in college and one they originally drafted him for. Blake is decidedly on the bubble -- a long way down for a player some believed was pushing to start before a thumb injury ended his rookie season. He has regressed since that point, so he's either not getting the message about the changes in the offense or is not reacting well to the coaching he's getting. Rookie tackle Vinston Painter has shown the kind of athleticism that deserves a roster spot, but the Broncos may be in a position where they have to hope he makes it through waivers so they can sign him to their practice squad. Lilja is a tough call, too. Denver certainly likes him in the offense, but he had microfracture surgery on his knee just a few months ago and has missed significant amount of practice time of late because of the knee.
  • Rookie quarterback Zac Dysert will likely get his most significant work of the preseason. Dysert has shown some quality scrambling skills in practice, so he could have an entertaining down or two if he gets loose. He projects to the practice squad, but the Broncos would like to see some better accuracy from the pocket, especially in the shorter and intermediate routes.
  • Linebacker Lerentee McCray and wide receiver Lamaar Thomas are the undrafted rookies with the best chance to make the final 53 -- especially McCray. If the Broncos don’t keep McCray, there are at least two other teams that would consider signing him. He’s a big-bodied linebacker who, while not always showing good instincts, has the ability to disrupt an offense and closes to the ball with speed and intent.

Broncos RBs have formed a committee

August, 28, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Look, folks can’t say they weren’t warned.

But the Broncos' depth chart at running back will be a fluid affair this season, until it’s not. It’s going to be a tough thing to pin down, that whole who’s-going-to-get-the-carries thing, and, truth be told, the Broncos kind of like it that way. This is a team which, after all, has had nine different running backs lead it in carries for at least one season since 1999.

“We don’t have a guy that’s going to be a 30-carry guy and we pretty much said, 'Hey, this is going to be a committee-type backfield’,’’ said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “And we’ve never shied away from that.’’

Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have gone back and forth, splitting reps with the starters on offense throughout training camp and the preseason. While Hillman had the upper hand, albeit slightly, through offseason workouts and three preseason games, two fumbles in the past two games combined -- both of which were returned for touchdowns -- have now jumbled the order a bit. Ball got some additional work with the starters this week, but neither is expected to play much, if at all, in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesMontee Ball (38), Ronnie Hillman (21) and Knowshon Moreno (27) will all see time in Denver's backfield.
Then there is the matter of Knowshon Moreno. Because he is more proficient in pass protection than the other two, Moreno has gotten some premium snaps with the starters of late, including in the two-minute drill to close out the first half against the Rams on Saturday night. And that's no small item, given that Ball missed a block in Seattle that resulted in quarterback Peyton Manning taking one of the hardest hits in his time with the Broncos, a play Ball called the "worst feeling, seeing a future Hall of Famer get hit like that.''

All of which only makes the committee a little bigger. Toss in the fact that Jacob Hester can play fullback -- he's the only fullback on the roster at the moment -- and is a quality receiver out of the backfield, and things get even a little muddier.

Asked about the speculation about who will start and be the main guy, Broncos coach John Fox said, “Well, I don’t even know yet, so I don’t know how you all know. … We have good feelings about both (Ball and Hillman). As I mentioned … they’ll both carry a big load for us this season … they’re both very capable and we’re pleased with both of them.’’

Asked about Moreno, Fox added, "He’s high up there, too. If you look over my last two years, or my tenure here, we’ve leaned on a lot of different guys … whoever we keep we feel good about.’’

In terms of skill sets, you could make the argument that Ball, with a bigger frame, is the best first-down back in traditional run-game situations; that Hillman’s versatility and speed as a runner and receiver make him a good pick on those second-down plays of mid-range down and distance; and that Moreno, because he consistently makes the right choices in pass protection as well as when to release from the backfield and go into the pass pattern, makes the most sense on third down.

And in this age of specialization in the NFL, the Broncos runners could potentially take it one step further.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos wrapped up the public portion of training camp Thursday morning and quarterback Peyton Manning finished his day on the field by tossing a pass or two to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

In all the Broncos set an attendance record at their practice complex with 41,925 fans over the 15 open workouts held at their Dove Valley complex. The total surpassed the previous record of 41,304 over the 15 open workouts in last summer’s training camp, which was also Manning’s first year in Denver.

The Broncos do not have bleachers next to the main practice fields, so fans simply sit on a grassy hillside to view the action. The Broncos also drew a crowd of 44,439 to a rain-soaked scrimmage Aug. 3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

“[The fans] are unbelievable,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “The epitome of that was our practice down at the stadium when it poured rain and they stuck around to see us play.’’

[+] EnlargeC.J. Anderson
AP Photo/Eric BakkeC.J. Anderson, who has had an impressive training camp, could now be out for as much as six weeks.
• Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, an undrafted rookie who led the team with 69 yards rushing in the preseason opener in San Francisco last week, severely sprained his right MCL during Thursday morning’s practice.

Anderson, who was taking snaps with the second-team offense because Knowshon Moreno is currently sidelined with a bruised right knee, was helped to the locker room with just more than 20 minutes remaining in the workout.

Depending on swelling and how Anderson’s rehab goes in the coming days he could miss as much as six weeks in all. The Broncos must cut to 75 players on Aug. 27 and to 53 players on Aug. 31.

"It's awful, just awful," Manning said. “ … It surely did not look good. You could hear him out there grimacing, which is not a sound any player likes to hear."

“He’s having such a great camp,’’ said cornerback Champ Bailey. “ … I just hope he can bounce back faster than normal.’’

With Moreno not expected to play in Saturday’s preseason game in Seattle after being held out of practices Wednesday and Thursday, Lance Ball figures to get plenty of work in the second half of the game against the Seahawks.

Anderson has made a significant jump on the depth chart with his work thus far in camp. At 224 pounds he is also the team’s biggest back and has looked like a potential fit for one of the reserve spots when the roster choices get made.

Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have split work with the starters all the way through camp -- Hillman has been the No. 1 -- with Moreno working as the No. 3 and Jacob Hester the No. 4. Hester can play at running back when needed and at fullback when the team uses a two-back set. He is also one of the team’s most consistent pass protectors at the position and has a full docket of special teams work.

MCL sprains as severe as Anderson’s routinely take a minimum of four weeks to heal and players, particularly skill position players, usually are not ready for a full return until six weeks have passed.

The Broncos will likely have to consider Anderson’s progress when they make their roster decisions.

• Linebacker Von Miller was excused from practice for personal reasons -- he was in Washinton D.C. meeting with officials from the NFL Players Association -- so the Broncos offered a glimpse of how the defense would look to open the regular season if the All-Pro selection does not win his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

As they have shown in recent days, Stewart Bradley would play the middle in the base defense while Nate Irving, who was the starting middle linebacker through all of the offseason program, lined up on the strong side. When the Broncos went to some of their specialty packages in passing down work, times when Miller moves to defensive end or another rush position, Shaun Phillips played in Miller’s usual spots.

“Shaun Phillips was in there playing linebacker and playing defensive end some on third downs and you had Nate Irving in there as well with Stewart Bradley,’’ Manning said. “Any time you have a player injured or a player that is not able to go, somebody else has to step up and that’s what teams have to be able to do.”

Miller is expected to start and play in Saturday’s game in Seattle.

• Broncos director of pro personnel Tom Heckert, who had been suspended without pay for a month in the wake of a drunk driving arrest in June, returned to the team Thursday. Heckert will travel to Seattle with the team Friday and has resumed his normal duties. He was arrested June 11 in Parker, Colo., just 36 days after he had been hired by the team.

“I walked by his office and he was all smiles,’’ Fox said. “It was good to see him back and we support him.’’

With Broncos’ director of player personnel Matt Russell also suspended indefinitely for a separate drunk driving arrest, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway had not elected to hire an outside consultant or former general manager to help with player evaluations during the suspensions. Instead the duties were divided among other members of the Broncos' personnel department such as Lenny McGill, the team’s assistant college scouting director, and assistant pro personnel director Anthony “Champ” Kelly.

• Odds and ends:

With just more than 2,000 fans on hand Thursday, the Broncos still used a speaker system to simulate crowd noise when the offense had the ball in team drills … The starters are expected to play most, or all, of the first half Saturday night against the Seahawks … Bailey intercepted Manning in the endzone during team drills. When asked if he will enjoy watching it later on the practice video, Bailey said; “Oh yeah, love watching that. When Peyton throws it, it’s even more meaningful.’’

• In addition to Moreno, running back Jeremiah Johnson (knee), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring), wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle), wide receiver Lamaar Thomas (concussion) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were held out of practice. None are expected to play against the Seahawks unless they show significant improvement in Friday’s short workout before the team leaves. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) is still expected to miss the preseason.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 13, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Live on Colorado's front range long enough, and you live with an unshakable, that's-the-way-it-is truth. That most days, as in 300 or so a year, the sun shines brightly and the skies are blue.

But when the storm clouds come rolling down the mountains, it's an ambush -- they come fast and with menacing intent. And that, really, is the story of the Broncos' offseason.

"Hey, you have to deal with all kinds of things along the way," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, now entering his 10th season with the team. "And we've had plenty of things to deal with around here over the years; sometimes we've done a good job with it, sometimes we haven't. I tell the young guys all the time, we'll see how we handle things. We can be good, but we have to get to work, because thinking you're good and being good are always two different things."

The Broncos entered free agency as Super Bowl favorites, then they signed Wes Welker to a Peyton Manning-led offense that had already been good enough to be No. 2 in scoring in 2012. They drafted well, and filled some other needs with veteran signees Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Stewart Bradley and Shaun Phillips.

Yep, football sunshine and blue skies.

Then there was Faxgate and Elvis Dumervil's rather messy exit from the team that drafted him in 2006.

Then two high-ranking front-office executives -- director of pro personnel Tom Heckert and director of player personnel Matt Russell -- were arrested on drunken driving charges a month apart. Heckert was eventually suspended a month without pay -- he's due to return to the team Thursday -- and Russell was suspended indefinitely.

Then defensive playmaker Von Miller was slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, a revelation that came with the rather troubling fact that Miller had previously violated the policy to get to the suspension phase.

Miller's appeal will be heard Thursday by league officials, and a decision is expected before the regular-season opener against the Ravens.

Toss in a pile of injuries, especially to the offensive line, and it's clear coach John Fox's task will be to keep a talented team on track as it wrestles with the expectations around it, as well as the pothole-filled road it has already traveled.

"It's been my experience if you don't expect a lot, you don't get a lot," Fox said. "Keep the bar low, and that's where people go. We're going to keep the bar high -- I don't mind expectations -- and I think the guys have had good focus. They know the work that has to be done, and I know they'll do it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Deal with it. Former Broncos defensive end Alfred Williams might have said it best. Williams said the Broncos are the only team in the league "with 20 preseason games."

So true. After a 13-3 finish that included an 11-game winning streak dissolved into a crushing playoff loss to the Ravens, the team's fan base essentially sees the coming regular season as little more than an inconvenience before another postseason chance.

That can be a lot to handle for a team, especially if players and coaches get too focused on the potential lack of appreciation from the outside world for anything that happens along the way. More than one person inside the team's Dove Valley complex has expressed frustration in the past six months over the fact that few folks bring up the 13-3 record, the win streak or the division title, and that it is all Ravens, all the time in any discussion about the 2012 season.

Frustrating indeed, but the Broncos have to find some peace of mind somewhere as they move through the next four months.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
Harry How/Getty ImagesWhile the Broncos wait for star left tackle Ryan Clady to return from shoulder surgery, the team has many questions on the offensive line.
2. Front-line issues. Left tackle Ryan Clady, a newly minted five-year, $52.5 million contract in hand, is still working back from offseason shoulder surgery and is not yet 100 percent.

Center J.D. Walton had ankle surgery just before minicamp and isn't expected back in the lineup until late October or early November at the earliest. He was just seen at the Broncos' complex this past week without a walking boot on for the first time since the operation.

Walton's backup, Dan Koppen, tore his ACL in the first week of training camp and is done for the year.

It leaves Manny Ramirez, who just started his first career game at center in the Broncos' preseason opener in San Francisco, and 31-year-old Ryan Lilja, who was signed out of retirement after two surgeries (knee, toe) earlier in the offseason, as the options in the middle.

Given that defensive coordinators routinely believe the best way to pressure Manning is through the middle of the formation, the Broncos will need an answer to protect him.

3. Defense will tell the tale. We get it, it's a quarterback league. The rulebook essentially begs/demands that people put the ball in the air almost nonstop in any situation. Offense puts people in the seats.

Whatever. Remind me, but wasn't the Super Bowl -- a Super Bowl played by the two teams that ran the ball the most during the playoffs -- won on a goal-line stand when an offense couldn't/wouldn't punch it in from the doorstep?

The Broncos put up 35 points this past January and were sent home to the collective couch. And when you get right down to it, in back-to-back playoff losses, the Broncos have surrendered 694 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns with just one interception and one sack combined against Tom Brady to close out the 2011 season and Joe Flacco to close out 2012.

So, Manning to Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker looks nice on a magazine cover, but how the guys on the other side of the ball do will have plenty to say about how far this team goes.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

It's a talented roster with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time behind center and a remember-when defensive talent bursting with potential in Miller. Denver is a balanced team that finished in the top five in both offense and defense last season with one of the great home-field advantages in the league. Oh, and the guy running the team is a Hall of Fame quarterback who knows a thing or two about what a title-winning locker room should look like.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

There are some in the league who looked at the Broncos' drama-filled offseason and said they had the tumultuous profile of a team that had won the Super Bowl instead of losing two rounds before the title game. The Broncos have had the infamous fax issues, the off-the-field troubles, a reality show, a looming suspension of a superstar and more than their share of injuries. Maybe when the games count, none of that will matter, but history is littered with teams that put the championship cart before the horse, content to enjoy the fruits of potential rather than the actual title.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeWes Welker
    Marc Piscotty/Icon SMIThere will be plenty of opportunities for Wes Welker in Denver's offense.
    Welker's signing is going to work out -- barring injuries, of course -- exactly the way everybody wanted it to, including Welker. He fits the offense. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase will even expand Welker's reach in Denver's playbook compared with what Welker did in New England, and Welker has worked hard to fit in. There has been some hand-wringing both near and far about where the "catches" were going to come from for a guy with five 100-reception seasons. The answer is that the catches are already in the offense. Working mostly out of the slot last season, tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Brandon Stokley combined for 97 receptions, 1,099 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers from Welker would fit quite nicely.
  • The offensive line is an issue to keep an eye on until the Broncos prove it's not. Getting Clady back in the lineup -- he's still on track to start the opener -- will help greatly, but they've struggled to protect the quarterbacks in practice against their own high-end defense, as well as in the preseason opener. If things don't improve, the Broncos will spend an awful lot of time tossing dump-offs to the hot receiver or shallow crosses because they can't protect long enough to go down the field.
  • Miller's potential and ability are almost limitless. Former longtime Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier, the guy who called the shots for the Orange Crush defense, has said Miller has the potential to be the franchise's best-ever defensive player. But Miller, the results of his appeal of his four-game suspension notwithstanding, has to hold up his end of the bargain, both on and off the field, to make that happen. And the Broncos will have to decide over the next season or so -- his contract is up after 2014 -- just how high they'll want to go on an extension and whether the investment will be worth it over the long term.
  • Folks can wish it were different, especially as they wrestle with their fantasy lineups each week, but every indication on the practice field -- as in EVERY indication -- is that Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball are going to share the workload in a variety of down-and-distance situations. And Knowshon Moreno and Jacob Hester figure to at least be in the third-down mix as well at times.
  • Hillman, however, should benefit from Gase's concerted effort to create more impact in the run game outside the hashmarks. The Broncos weren't all that good, or committed, to the outside runs last season. And if Hillman runs with decisiveness and the Broncos can get it done up front -- they brought longtime assistant Alex Gibbs back to help with the zone-run game -- there are some big plays waiting.
  • The games will ultimately be the gauge, but safety Rahim Moore has had a quality camp in an offseason in which many wondered how he would bounce back from the ill-fated leap in the playoff loss to the Ravens. But the bottom line is Moore played more snaps (1,044) than any other player on the defense last season with substantial improvement over his rookie year in 2011, and if everyone else had played their assignments on the Jacoby Jones touchdown, Joe Flacco wouldn't have even thrown the ball that way in the first place. So, those guys should buy Moore a nice dinner for taking the heat and watch him in the starting lineup again.
  • Thomas sported a heady 15.3 yards-per-catch average on the way to 1,434 yards receiving last season. But that per-catch average should go up given the choices defenses are going to have to make with Welker in the formation. If defenses double in the short and intermediate area to deal with Welker, the Broncos' tight ends and Thomas can overpower most defensive backs down the field.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has consistently said, since the team made him the 18th pick of the 2009 draft, that he has far more to offer when the opportunity comes. And the opportunity has arrived with Dumervil's departure. Ayers has just 6.5 career sacks in his four seasons and has played for four defensive coordinators along the way, each of whom wanted something a little different from him. But Jack Del Rio is back for a second consecutive year, and Ayers is the starter at rush end. Now's the time.
  • Reports of Bailey's demise are exaggerated, but he is certainly a 35-year-old entering his 15th season. Or as he put it: "I had some plays in the playoff game I should have made, pure and simple. I didn't, but I can let it drag me down or just get back to it. I still think I can play and I think I have shown I can still play at a high level." The Broncos will pick their spots more when they single him up, but he has been top-shelf throughout training camp while running stride for stride with the Broncos' best receivers.
  • The Broncos have an awful lot riding on how Gibbs and offensive line coach Dave Magazu get things worked out on the offensive line. If the Broncos can add some pop out of the play-action run game and consistently protect Manning out of a three-wide receiver set, the points should follow.
  • Some say Welker's presence in the offense means the Broncos will throw more in '13. However, Manning's 400 completions last season amounted to the second-highest total of his career, and his 583 attempts were the third-highest. In a perfect world, the Broncos would like those totals to be slightly lower this time around -- Manning himself has said "we'd like to run it more" -- because it would mean they simply ran the ball to close out games in which they already had the lead.
Peyton Manning Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsFor Denver rookie Montee Ball, protecting Peyton Manning is a higher priority than taking handoffs from him.
Since Terrell Davis powered his way to the 1998 NFL MVP award to go with 2,008 rushing yards in the Broncos' second of back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, since he was the unquestioned stopping point for a handoff in the offense, Denver has, by both necessity and choice, led the mix-and-match movement in the league's backfields.

Since the start of 1999, nine different running backs have led the Broncos in carries for at least one season. Over that 14-year span Denver has not had a running back lead the team in carries in three consecutive seasons.

And a team that once churned out 1,000-yard rushers like Apple products coming off the assembly line has now had just one back -- Willis McGahee in the read-option season of 2011 -- in the past six years finish with 1,000 yards.

What gives?

"It's probably a combination of things," said Broncos coach John Fox. "There are injuries, changes in the offense, changes in your personnel and just the nature of the job. That's a high-impact job in a bigger, faster, stronger league. I'm not sure anybody really sits there these days -- unless you have one of the top, top guys -- and thinks one guy is going to get you through."

And fantasy football owners be damned, the Broncos stand poised to break out the committee to run the ball once again in 2013. But how those carries will be divvied up might surprise some who watch a group that includes Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Jacob Hester.

Because while running the ball is great -- it's in the position's name after all -- for the Broncos' backs to get the ball, they're going to have to be good when they don't have it.

"I've said, whenever a young guys asks me, everybody who gets to the league can run, everybody can catch, but here, the way the game is played right now, you have to block," said Davis, a Broncos Ring of Fame member. "So, learn how to block, do the work and block. That's what I tell them, even if they haven't done it before because they were the main option, because that's what will get you on the field in this league and here, with this team."

Or as Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville said, "Bottom line: The better you do in pass protection, the more run opportunities you’re going to have. That's it. You aren't going to get the ball if we don't take care of the quarterback. They all know that, they are all aware of that. They don't get to run until we see the rest of it."

The Broncos certainly fit the league's profile for a passing team in a pass-first league. They have Peyton Manning at quarterback, they signed Wes Welker in free agency and their favorite formation on offense as the games grew in importance in 2012 was a three-wide receiver look.

They know defenses want to rush Manning in the middle of the formation, a formation they have to open up when they go to three wide receivers. That often puts the running back in the role of last man standing in pass protection, the guy who has to pick the most dangerous rusher who has broken free from the guys up front.

Make the right choice and there's a big play waiting in the offense. Make the wrong one and the quarterback will take a hit that almost always joins the list of biggest hits of the year and always carries the potential to crater a season.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Hillman
AP Photo/Jack DempseyRonnie Hillman is Denver's most explosive runner, but his ability to block will determine how much he'll get on the field.
So, open-field speed is great, vision in traffic a must, but the Broncos' runners know their to-do list has another rather large item on it that has nothing to do with any runs to glory. It's also why the committee appears to have formed again.

"We all know we have to keep Peyton from getting hit," Hillman said. "If you can't make the right choices in there blocking, you're probably not going to get the ball."

To that end, Hillman has put on about 15 pounds from last season and hovers closer to the 195-pound range, far better than the 178 pounds or so he came in at when the Broncos faced the Ravens in the playoffs in January. Hillman, entering his second season, is the most explosive runner the Broncos have, the big-play threat in an offense that wants more big-play runs this time around.

Ball, a rookie, spent plenty of extra time with Manning during offseason workouts in post-practice discussions about the nuances of protection schemes and the fine line between knowing when to stay in and block and when to leave the backfield to be the hot-read option.

Moreno, because of his knee troubles of recent seasons, and Hester have not shown the run skills in workouts the two youngsters have, but they are more proficient in those long-yardage responsibilities. Hester has appeared at both running back and fullback in practices, while Moreno, now up to 220 pounds, has also shown a proficiency in pass protection.

There is also the matter of audibles. Perhaps the biggest of Manning's many gifts at quarterback is his ability to change the play just before the snap to get his guys in the look that is the biggest problem for a defense.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who faced Manning twice annually in Fisher's long tenure with the Titans, said, "He knows your intentions and he knows what to do, all before he snaps the ball. ... So even when you're right, there's a good chance you're wrong."

But for Manning's audibles to work, everybody else on offense has to be ready to make the changes as well. It's another hurdle for Hillman and Ball in their effort to be at the top of the rotation (when the Broncos released their first "official" depth chart of the preseason Sunday, Hillman was the No. 1 back).

“So, I always keep in my mind that they’re two young guys, but we have to age them, in terms of their knowledge of the offense, rapidly," Studesville said. “The reality of our offense is we do what the quarterback can do, so they have to catch up, they’ve got to get it. We're not going to put people out there who slow the quarterback down. If they don't understand that and don't get it, they won't play."

It's all important because the Broncos know people defend them with Manning as a passer at the top of the list. So, against a vast array of nickel, dime and other specialty defenses designed to stop problems in the air, the Broncos have to find a way to wind the clock, convert first downs, pound it in the end zone from in close and create explosive runs.

And while one back used to be enough for the job, Denver is more than comfortable using several once again in 2013.

"When we get those friendly boxes because of the way people defend Peyton, we have to feel comfortable with whoever we put back there to run it," Studesville said. "And when we get to the season, I think we will. We like this group."

And that's group, as in more than one.

How Denver can improve in 2013

February, 16, 2013
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The winter doldrums of a football-less mid-February are taking over in the Rocky Mountains. The days are a little colder and a little darker as the Denver Broncos come to grips with what could have been.

Watching confetti fall on the jubilant Baltimore Ravens after their Super Bowl victory Feb. 3 had to further damage the Broncos’ collective psyche -- part of a haunting winter theme of “it could have been us.”

The Broncos saw their Super Bowl push end in a 38-35 double-overtime defeat to the visiting Ravens in the AFC divisional round. Denver was 13-3 in the regular season, had the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and entered the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak in which it won every game by at least a touchdown. Its early exit from the postseason was stunning -- and particularly painful for Denver because it knows it was so avoidable.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesFilling a few holes, including at receiver, could give Peyton Manning and Denver a better end in 2014.
Baltimore sent the game to overtime on a 70-yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a play in which Denver safety Rahim Moore inexplicably allowed Jones to get behind him in the final seconds of regulation. Countless former players said they had never seen an NFL defensive back make that type of play before. Had Moore simply have done his job, Denver would have advanced.

Instead, the Broncos will try to regroup and move forward. Despite the sobering end of the season and its painful aftereffects, the Broncos should feel good about themselves heading into the 2013 season as NFL Comeback Player of the Year winner and MVP runner-up Peyton Manning prepares for his second season in Denver at age 37.

“There’s a lot of young players in this locker room that need to use this as motivation, as a spark to have that fire burning inside of them this offseason and come back stronger,” veteran middle linebacker Keith Brooking said shortly after the season. “This is a great locker room. The Denver Broncos are really close.”

The Broncos are not alone in building high expectations for the immediate future. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Broncos the early favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl. In an Insider piece, ESPN.com pegged them as a strong early contender for next season Insider.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. had this to say about the Broncos heading in next season: “I think their roster is exceptional.”

Still, it would be inaccurate to say this is the perfect roster. The Broncos, two years removed from a 4-12 season, need to upgrade at certain spots. With the No. 28 pick in the draft and expected room under the salary cap, Denver should be able to improve. Let’s take a look at some areas the Broncos should look at as they aim for a long Super Bowl run next season:

Running back: The Broncos have the making of a decent stable of running backs, but could use another pair of legs. I think Denver needs to find a bigger back to help in short-yardage situations. Jacob Hester did a nice job at the end of the season. But Denver might want to find a better back. Again, with Willis McGahee, a revived Knowshon Moreno and young Ronnie Hillman, there is a lot to like in the immediate future. But another talented runner wouldn’t hurt.

Receiver: Brandon Stokley did a nice job at age 36 as the slot receiver, but I could see Denver looking for a younger, more special option. There will be some interesting options available, including Wes Welker in free agency and perhaps Percy Harvin in a trade. Denver could even try to go big and add a player like Mike Wallace. If Denver’s brass decides it can afford to make a big splash, this could be an area where Manning can take advantage. The truth is that the future is now in Denver. Manning only has so many years left, so Denver could be intrigued by striking big at this spot.

Defensive tackle: Denver’s defense made huge strides in 2012 under first-year defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Veteran defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan were good in their roles. But both are free agents and Denver might want to get younger. There could be some solid options in the first round at this position such as Purdue’s Kawann Short and Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins. Denver should find a good, young run-stuffer to plug in the middle of an explosive defense.

Middle linebacker: Brooking played well last season, but he was 37 and Denver needs to find a better starting option, whether via free agency in the form of someone like Baltimore’s Dannell Ellerbe, or in the draft if Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter is available. Denver has a lot of young pieces on defense. Adding another one at this position wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Secondary: The last time we saw the Broncos, it wasn’t a great day for Denver’s secondary. In addition to Moore’s last-second gaffe, future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey was torched. But Bailey, who will turn 35 in June, had a good season and the Broncos will keep him for another year with the young, promising Chris Harris and Tony Carter. As at receiver, though, Denver could be tempted to go big and try to get into the Darrelle Revis trade talks if the Jets make a move. I could also see Denver looking to upgrade at safety. Moore, a second-round pick in 2011, made strides in 2012 and the team will likely not give up on him because of the one bad play. But adding another safety might be smart.

Wrap-up: Broncos 38, Chiefs 3

December, 30, 2012
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A look at the Denver Broncos' 38-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in a meaningful AFC West finale:

What it means: It was a monumental day for both franchises, for very different reasons. After the Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans earlier Sunday, the Broncos did their job by dismantling the Chiefs. Thus, Denver is the No. 1 seed throughout the AFC playoffs. Denver finished the regular season 13-3 and has won 11 straight games. It is the seventh time since the merger a team has ended the season with an 11-game win streak. All 11 wins came by seven points or more. Kansas City, meanwhile, ended its miserable season at 2-14. It earned the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. Denver ended 6-0 in the AFC West. Kansas City was 0-12 against the AFC.

Firings in Kansas City? The end is probably near for first-year Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel. There are conflicting reports on general manager Scott Pioli's status. I think both will be gone.

Manning sets mark: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning made his final push for the NFL MVP award with a brilliant regular-season finale. Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdown passes. He threw 37 touchdowns passes this season. He set the NFL mark for quarterbacks 36 years or older for the most touchdown passes in a season.

Miller joins rare company: Denver linebacker Von Miller had a sack and finished with 185 sacks. He has 30 sacks in two NFL seasons. He became the fourth player in NFL history to register 30 sacks in his first two seasons.

Group effort on the ground: Denver running backs Lance Ball, Jacob Hester and Knowshon Moreno combined for 165 yards rushing. While Moreno had just 44 yards, the Broncos will take the group effort headed into the postseason.

Charles doesn’t do much: Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles had just 53 yards on 14 carries. But he did set a career high with 1,509 yards for the season. It was a brilliant campaign for a player coming back from a torn ACL.

What’s next: The Chiefs prepare for big changes and the top pick in the draft, while Denver takes a week off.

Broncos in control at the half

December, 16, 2012
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BALTIMORE -- We call that the old 14-point swing.

The Denver Broncos are beating the Ravens, 17-0, at halftime. The Ravens finally showed life in the final two minutes and were poised to go into the end zone in the final seconds of the first half. But Denver cornerback Chris Harris -- who has been fantastic this season -- stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass and went 98 yards for a touchdown. It was Denver’s longest interception return for a score in team history.

This is the first time the Ravens have been held scoreless at home at halftime in five years.

Denver’s defense has been terrific. The Ravens didn’t get a first down until their sixth drive.

Denver running back Knowshon Moreno continues to play well in Willis McGahee’s absence. Moreno has 74 yards on 13 carries, including a run in which he hurdled a Baltimore defender.

Running back Jacob Hester is active for the first time since he was signed last month. Hester scored Denver’s first touchdown.

Denver’s offense has been good, but not great. It has punted five times.

Denver has gotten better in the second half this season. If that trend holds true, the Broncos will end up winning their ninth straight game.

Chris Kuper out for Denver

December, 16, 2012
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BALTIMORE -- The Denver Broncos will be without standout guard Chris Kuper again Sunday against the Ravens.

He missed the Oakland game with an ankle injury and he was questionable to play in this pivotal AFC game after being limited in practice all week. Manny Ramirez will play for Kuper. The Denver offensive line struggled at Oakland without Kuper.

Denver did get some good injury news Sunday. Linebacker and leading tackler Wesley Woodyard is active and he is expected to start. He missed the Oakland game with an ankle injury and he was questionable to face the Ravens.

In an interesting move, running back Jacob Hester is active for the first time since signing with Denver last month, and running back Lance Ball is inactive for the first time this season.

Broncos WR Brandon Stokley inactive

December, 2, 2012
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DENVER -- Receiver Brandon Stokley, who is enjoying a career resurgence at the age of 36, will be inactive Sunday for the Denver Broncos.

Stokley is out with wrist and hip ailments. He has been one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets this season. Andre Caldwell will get a chance to be in the receiving rotation Sunday with Stokley out.

Denver cornerback Tracy Porter will miss his seventh straight game. He has been dealing with the affects of a seizure he had in the summer. Defensive end Robert Ayers is inactive. He missed the week because he was with his family after the sudden death of his father last week.

Newly signed running back Jacob Hester is inactive.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson (ankle sprains) and defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee/hamstring) will miss their fourth straight game Sunday. Also, as expected, No. 3 quarterback Terrelle Pryor is active.
Click here for the complete list of San Diego Chargers' roster moves.

Most significant move: The Chargers cut former starting fullback (and special-teams ace) Jacob Hester and fellow running back Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick. The Chargers will go with the likes of Ronnie Brown, Le’Ron McClain, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley early in the season if starter Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) can’t play in the first couple of games. It was a no-brainer that the team kept kicker Nate Kaeding over Nick Novak. Kaeding, who was replaced by Novak after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 last year, was better than Novak in camp and in the preseason.

Onward and upward: The Chargers cut undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee. The team was high on him, but once again, the team is going with just two quarterbacks: starter Philip Rivers and backup Charlie Whitehurst. Lee is a likely candidate for the practice squad. I can see receiver Mike Willie being put on the practice squad as well. He has potential, but he lacked consistency. I could see Baker as a practice-squad candidate as well. I’d think Hester will get looks elsewhere because of his special-teams availability. Longtime defensive tackle Jacques Cesaire could potentially get looks as the season progresses; there is always a need around the league for a veteran big man. If the Chargers get in a bind, I could see them turning the popular Cesaire, who was a locker-room favorite.

What’s next: Because of injuries, expect the Chargers to look for help at cornerback, tackle, safety and perhaps receiver and running back. Because left tackle Jared Gaither and several cornerbacks are hurt, San Diego could be on the lookout for players who could actually be active in Week 1 at Oakland. One player I fully expect San Diego to target is cornerback Drayton Florence. He’d fit right in as a nickel. Denver cut Florence on Friday. He is a former Charger and San Diego tried to sign him before he went to Denver.
Here are some thoughts on the San Diego Chargers signing former Kansas City Chiefs' fullback Le'Ron McClain to three-year deal and on the team setting up a visit with Denver Broncos free agent receiver Eddie Royal:
  • The McClain addition could be a sign that the Chargers are out of the Mike Tolbert talks. He is visiting in Kansas City. Tolbert wouldn’t necessarily be replacing McClain in Kansas City and the same could be true with McClain in San Diego. UT San Diego reported this week that practice squader Frank Summers would replace free agent fullback Jacob Hester. If Hester is brought back it would be as a backup and as a special teamer.
  • McClain, who is a cousin of Oakland middle linebacker Rolando McClain, is a tough leader and a good blocker. He played in all 16 games last season as a Chief. He had 15 carries and 14 catches. The former Raven had 902 yards on 232 carries in Baltimore in 2008. But he has had a total of 89 carries in the past three seasons combined.
  • Either way, McClain is a solid, tough addition to San Diego’s offense.
  • As for Royal, I can see why San Diego is interested. It needs another receiver and the pickings are getting slim. Royal, who was reportedly close to signing with Washington to reunite with former Denver coach Mike Shanahan earlier in free agency, can help as a slot player and as a returner.
  • Royal excelled under Shanahan as a rookie and I think Norv Turner would find a way to make him useful. A rotation of Malcom Floyd, Robert Meachem, Vincent Brown and Royal would be a pretty nice group for Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers to work with.

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