NFL Nation: Juwan Thompson

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Things could still change if the Denver Broncos look at the hundreds of players who were sent into the open market in recent days and see a name or two they like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other roster nuggets:

  • Of all the football-playing colleges and universities in the country, Kansas, Tennessee and Texas Tech lead the way on the Broncos' roster with three players each.
  • Manning is the oldest current Broncos player at 38. rookie receiver Cody Laitmer is the youngest, at 21. Hillman, at 22 and starting his third season, is the same age as four of the Broncos’ rookies and younger than two of the Broncos rookies. Michael Schofield and Lamin Barrow, who are both 23.

Denver Broncos cut-down analysis

August, 30, 2014
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Most significant move: There were not many roster spots to be had when the Denver Broncos opened training camp, but right from the start it was clear their depth on the defensive line was far better than it was in 2013 and that a player who was previously a starter could certainly get caught in the squeeze. That player was Kevin Vickerson, who started 11 games last season for the Broncos and 41 games in his four seasons with the team. But the Broncos had at least some salary-cap concerns this time around and Vickerson’s $2.266 million cap figure to go with the play of Mitch Unrein, Marvin Austin and youngster Quanterus Smith cost Vickerson his spot. Unrein also played some at defensive end in the preseason, showing a little more versatility and the Broncos will save about $1.766 million against the cap with Vickerson’s release. The Broncos also had at least some long-term concerns about Vickerson’s hip, which he injured last Nov. 24 before going to injured reserve.

Undrafted not unwanted: Running back Juwan Thompson made it 11 years in a row the Broncos have had an undrafted rookie make the cut to 53 players. Thompson, part of a platoon system at Duke, consistently showed the well-rounded game the Broncos want from their backs throughout offseason workouts and training camp. At 225 pounds, he is the team’s biggest back, has lined up at both fullback and running back, shown good instincts in pass protection and catches the ball. He's just the kind of guy the Broncos want at the position, and he gives them quality special teams ability as well.

Stick to it: Ben Garland, after two years on the Broncos’ practice squad, a two-year active duty stint in the Air Force and a position switch from defensive tackle to the offensive line this past offseason, made the Broncos’ initial cut to 53. Garland is always the first volunteer for off-the-field community appearances and routinely has lined up on both sides of the ball for the scout team. He steadily worked his way up the depth chart to second-team guard by the end of the preseason. He played every offensive snap in the Broncos’ preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

What’s next: Because of their Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos sit at No. 31 in the waiver claim order. It means, save for a cursory look at a returner or a kicker -- they worked out Andrew Furney on Satuday -- they will likely go with what they have.

Broncos moves: K Matt Prater placed on reserve/suspended. DE Kenny Anunike placed on injured reserve. LB Shaquil Barrett, RB Kapri Bibbs, S John Boyett, QB Zac Dysert, LB L.J. Fort, WR Bennie Fowler, DT Sione Fua, S Duke Ihenacho, TE Jameson Konz, G Ryan Miller, TE Cameron Morrah, CB Jerome Murphy, T Vinston Painter, WR Nathan Palmer, C Matt Paradis, TE Gerell Robinson, DE Brian Sanford, DB Jordan Sullen, DT Vickerson and CB Lou Young were waived or released, depending on their experience level.

Denver Broncos cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
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Most significant move: There may be no more difficult place on the roster for a young player to earn the trust of the coaching staff than on the offensive line. So much so that Orlando Franklin is the last Broncos' offensive linemen to start as a rookie, and he did it in 2011 -- John Fox's first season as the team's coach. But rookie Michael Schofield, a third-round pick in the May draft, and Paul Cornick, who spent the 2013 season on the team's practice squad, have shown enough to convince the Broncos to part ways with Winston Justice in the first round of cuts. Justice went through much of the early work in offseason workouts as Ryan Clady's backup at left tackle and got plenty of snaps in an audition as the starting right tackle as well. But the Broncos chose youth, and Justice, who is headed into his ninth season, was sent on his way.

Wild card: Often when the Broncos make this first round of roster cuts, there are actually players they want to bring back for the practice squad on the list. But to do that, the players must clear waivers, so sometimes the thinking is with rosters still at 75 around the league, teams may be less inclined to claim one of those players on waivers. Running back Brennan Clay, wide receiver Greg Wilson, wide receiver Greg Hardin and defensive tackle Will Pericak certainly fit that profile. Clay's play tapered off slightly as camp wore on, but during offseason work there were some with the Broncos who believed he had the best hands as a pass-catcher of anyone at the position. But he wasn't always assignment sound in recent days and wasn't going to get past fellow undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson on the depth chart.

Broncos' cuts: LB Jamar Chaney (moved to injured reserve), RB Brennan Clay, WR Greg Hardin, LB Jerrell Harris, T Winston Justice, defensive tackle Cody Larsen, S Charles Mitchell, WR Jordan Norwood, DT Will Pericak, quarterback Bryn Renner, DE Chase Vaughn (waived injured), RB Jerodis Williams and WR Greg Wilson. Norwood was a good bet to make the roster as a sixth receiver and punt returner until he tore his left ACL last week.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – While it would be nice for the Denver Broncos to get running back Montee Ball into a preseason game for a few snaps, get him a carry, see him run through some contact, his real target date to be ready to go is still Sept. 7, or the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

Ball, who had an appendectomy Aug. 4, returned to the practice field Tuesday and did a little more on Wednesday, but as it stands now the Broncos’ top running back is not expected to play in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Houston Texans. And since the Broncos usually play few, if any, starters in the fourth preseason game, Ball’s most likely return date is still the regular-season opener.

“Honestly, I don’t know,’’ Ball said after Wednesday’s practice. “We literally play it by ear when the day comes as to how I feel in the morning, and [there's] no reason to rush right now. The most important thing I’m doing is staying in the playbook, listening to Peyton’s adjustments, all that, staying in tune with everything and then contributing as much as possible.’’

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsMontee Ball is working to gain weight he lost after having an appendectomy earlier this month.
Ball has been tabbed as the Broncos’ lead back since the start of offseason workouts and quarterback Peyton Manning has consistently said the second-year back is ready for a far larger role in the offense than Ball had as a rookie in 2013. Last season, after being the Broncos’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Ball finished with 559 yards rushing on 120 carries.

This year, the Broncos have big plans for Ball, so much so he might be the first Broncos back to top 250 carries in a season for the team since Reuben Droughns lugged it 275 times in 2004. So the practice rotation changed significantly when Ball felt abdominal pains in the early-morning hours just over two weeks ago.

With Ball out, Ronnie Hillman has taken most of the snaps with the starting offense, but C.J. Anderson and undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson, who has made a quality case to make the roster with his all-around work, also getting a selection of snaps with the regulars as well.

Given Ball’s work in the rest of the offseason program, as well as early on in training camp, the Broncos do not feel compelled to rush him back into the lineup now when he is expected to be such a big part of their offense later.

“I don’t know where he’s really at right now,’’ said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “The trainers just let me know.’’

Ball did some individual drills with the other backs Tuesday, but did not participate in much else during practice, the first of three this week with the Houston Texans. On Wednesday, Ball did slightly more, doing individual drills as well as a few snaps in 7-on-7 drills with the starters. Broncos head coach John Fox said the team would “continue to upgrade’’ Ball’s participation in practice during the remaining preseason practices, including one Thursday with the Texans.

Ball said Wednesday he had lost some weight during his recovery from the appendectomy and is working his way back to 215 pounds, where he was before training camp opened. That, too, is a factor in his full return to the lineup, but again, the Broncos' focus for Ball is not Saturday, it’s the opener.

“[The weight] is slowly, slowly coming back,’’ Ball said. “I actually like it. I feel a lot faster, a lot more agile. So I’m going to play around with it a little bit, see how it is.’’

One offshoot of Ball’s absence is it has allowed the Broncos to give a long look at the other backs on the roster in some first-team or second-team situations in team drills, carries those backs might not have received had the Broncos simply been working Ball with the starters much of the time.

The Broncos opened camp with a young group at the position – Hillman, entering his third season, is the most experienced – and with roster cuts looming, the team faces a decision about how many backs they will keep and who those backs will be after Ball and Hillman.

For his part, Ball said he’s pointing to a full-speed start of the season, even though the waiting is indeed the hardest part.

“It’s frustrating, just because it’s a job that I love doing. It sucks — sitting on the sideline watching everybody else play and you’re not contributing like you want to. We have a great training staff and they’re doing a great job of bringing me along. … There’s no pain at all. It’s just now we’re going to see how it is to take contact. We’re going to see how it is. I’m sure we’re going to do some things with that. … It’s time to go. I’m here to play football, not to sit on the sideline.’’

Observation Deck: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2014
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Sure, it’s preseason, and sure it’s like football base jumping to make too many lasting judgments on what happens in August games, but the Denver Broncos have gone toe-to-toe in back-to-back weeks with NFC powerhouses and fared like a Super Bowl hopeful should.

With starters against starters, the 2s against the 2s and the 3s against the 3s, the Broncos have defeated the Seattle Seahawks and then simply overpowered the San Francisco 49ers 34-0 on Sunday in Levi’s Stadium. The Broncos' top two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, were a combined 22-for-27 passing for 207 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers.

Here are some other thoughts on the Broncos’ second preseason game:

  • More than the obvious efficiency Manning has shown thus far is the willingness of offensive coordinator Adam Gase to work on a few things without revealing some of the new wrinkles in the playbook. In the Broncos' two preseason games, Gase has run the starters through some power looks to go with their bread-and-butter, three-wide receiver packages. Sunday, Gase flashed some two tight-end looks, including one with Julius Thomas and running back Ronnie Hillman bracketing Manning in the backfield. The Broncos also emptied out the backfield at times and later showed a four-wide receiver set. Late in the third quarter, Gase even put No. 3 quarterback Zac Dysert in a pistol set. They have put a lot out there for defensive coordinators to study without really showing the details of what’s to come.
  • The Broncos starting offensive line has performed well against two of the league’s most physical defenses; both the Seahawks and the 49ers finished in the league’s top five last season. Manning has not been sacked in four possessions and has thrown just five incompletions. Orlando Franklin continues to settle in at left guard, and the Broncos have kept Manning clean in the pocket and carved out some room in the running game.
  • As Hillman has continued to reconstruct his role in the offense after losing the starting job and dropping far enough down the depth chart to be a gameday inactive four times in the regular season and all three playoff games, one of the big items on his to-do list was to be more decisive with the ball in his hands. Sunday, Hillman showed that one-cut quickness on a selection of inside runs. On a 6-yard reception in second quarter, Hillman caught the ball between the hashmarks and turned immediately up the field. Hillman hasn’t yet broken off the big run the Broncos keep hoping to see, but if he continues to maintain that north-south work, he’ll keep getting some carries.
  • The Broncos might have to take a look at adding a linebacker in the coming days. On Tuesday, Danny Trevathan suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia that will keep him out six to eight weeks. On Sunday, rookie Lamin Barrow suffered a lower right leg injury. With Trevathan’s injury, Barrow was already working in one of the linebacker spots in the starting nickel at times and has been Nate Irving’s backup at middle linebacker. Barrow will be evaluated more, including an MRI, on Monday.
  • Odds and ends: The play of the day might have been rookie running back Juwan Thompson catching a ball off of his shoe-tops and then barreling over a 49ers safety to take the ball to the 49ers 1-yard line. … Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer caught a touchdown pass from Osweiler. … Cornerback Kayvon Webster (ankle) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (thigh) were held out.

W2W4: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2014
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The Denver Broncos (1-0) meet the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) on Sunday afternoon (4 ET) at Levi’s Stadium.

Three things to watch:

1. The "other" Brandon Marshall: It will be the first glimpse of the Broncos without linebacker Danny Trevathan in the lineup. Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler in 2013, is expected to miss up to eight weeks as he recovers from a fracture at the top of his tibia in his left leg. Marshall has worked in Trevathan's weakside spot this week. Trevathan is difficult to replace because of the variety of roles he fills in the defense, playing in the base as well as all of the specialty packages in the nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six) as well. Marshall worked in the base, the nickel and the dime in practice this week, showing good speed to the ball. Against the 49ers he will get to show whether he can hold up against a power offense that also likes to push the ball to the tight ends in the passing game.

2. Return policy: The Broncos are three weeks of practice into the preseason and don't appear much closer to choosing a punt returner or kickoff returner. So consider those jobs still open for a worthy candidate or two to step forward. The fallback choices are not the ones the Broncos would prefer -- Wes Welker returns punts, Emmanuel Sanders kickoffs -- given the injury potential. Welker had two concussions last season alone and Sanders had been limited for much of camp with a thigh injury. Keep an eye on Omar Bolden in the kickoffs return role and Jordan Norwood on punt returns. Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer has also taken some kickoffs in practice, and the potential kickoff returners have all had some ball security issues at times in practice.

3. Work fast: With the starters set to gobble up the most playing time entering the third quarter of next week's game -- Aug. 23 against the Houston Texans -- this one will be a good opportunity to see those who have pushed themselves up a crowded depth chart get some quality work. Wide receiver Norwood continues to show an understanding of the team's offense and has consistently been in the right place at the right time with catch after catch. Juwan Thompson, as the biggest back on the roster, gives the offense something the other backs can't in the run game. He has also shown good hands as a receiver and even a little more speed carrying the ball than the Broncos may have expected. Also, undrafted rookie linebacker Shaquil Barrett got some snaps with the starting defense this week and figures to get a long look as well.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 23

August, 15, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:

  • The Broncos "broke" camp after their walk-through late Friday afternoon, though things will look largely the same for players Tuesday when they return to the practice field. Because of construction at their complex, including that of a new indoor practice facility, fans have not been able to attend training camp practices that have routinely been open to the public in previous years. As a result Friday's two practices had much the same setting as Tuesday's will. That's when the Broncos begin three days of work against the Houston Texans. As of Friday, however, the Broncos' veterans no longer have to stay at the nearby hotel and can commute from home the rest of the way. "Camp's over, but we're still in camp mode because we're not in the regular season yet," safety T.J. Ward said. "We get to get out of the hotel and it's not as long of a day, but we're still preparing in that mindset. I'm just glad I get to go home and sleep in my own bed."
  • Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was held out of Friday's morning practice with a thigh injury that has limited him over the last two weeks. Sanders had practiced Tuesday and Thursday but was also held out of Monday's practice. He did participate in the evening walk-through, which forced the Broncos to adjust things with the starting offense earlier in the day as they went through red-zone work and end-of-game scenarios. The biggest beneficiary was Jordan Norwood, who got a selection of snaps with the regulars, including back-to-back receptions from Peyton Manning in a two-minute drill. Norwood, who is also getting a long look as the team's punt returner, would solidify his ability to gain a roster spot if he can consistently show he can give the team something at receiver. The fifth-year player has just four career starts -- all in 2011 with the Cleveland Browns.
  • Rookie running back Juwan Thompson got additional work with the starting offense and also continues to show he's up to the mental challenge. "You just want to be prepared at any given time when Peyton throws anything at you. At the end of the day, I can just ask him, so that I can feel 100 percent guaranteed about what I'm doing out there." Thompson figures to get plenty of work Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers since Montee Ball won't play (appendectomy) and C.J. Anderson just returned to practice Thursday after suffering a concussion. The Broncos believe Ball will return to practice on at least a limited basis next week, possibly as early as Tuesday's practice.
  • Von Miller's mother, Gloria, has been a regular visitor to training camp practices. After Friday's morning workout, Von took defensive end DeMarcus Ware over the meet her. "That's the first time she's met DeMarcus," Miller said. "DeMarcus is her second favorite player in the league, and she wanted to meet him ... She's a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, too." As Miller does more and more in practices in his return from ACL surgery, he and Ware have shown more of their potential in the pass rush. Friday, with Manning under center on one play, Miller launched himself around right tackle Chris Clark and got to Manning before Manning had even finished his dropback.
  • Odd and ends: Aqib Talib intercepted Manning in the end zone in a red-zone drill, a pass intended for Andre Caldwell ... Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler had a difficult sequence in end-of-game work against the second-team defense with what would have been a sack/fumble if defenders were allowed to hit the quarterbacks, to go with an interception by rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow on the next snap.

 

Broncos Camp Report: Day 22

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • C.J. Anderson, who had suffered a concussion in the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks, was back on the practice field Thursday morning, a week after leaving the Broncos' 21-16 victory. The Broncos will steadily work him back in, but Anderson did take a smattering of snaps with the starting offense while sporting a new type of helmet, similar to what Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker wears. With Montee Ball still working back from an appendectomy, Ronnie Hillman took most of the work with the starters. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson also got snaps as well. Asked how he felt Thursday, Anderson said he was sluggish. "I mean, I've been off as far as conditioning. Headache and all that, all that's done. I've got a new helmet. It's brand new, so I'm trying to break it in. Kind of tight at times, but I feel fine and you don't miss a beat."
  • The Broncos haven't been able to allow fans to watch their training camp practices this year because of construction in and around their complex, but folks would have enjoyed a highly entertaining set of 1-on-1s Thursday between the wide receivers/tight ends and the defensive backs in the red zone. Quarterback Peyton Manning was at his best, consistently throwing the ball into the tightest of windows with the defensive backs doing quality work of their own to try to prevent it. In one quality battle after another, Manning dropped scoring passes worthy of GPS, especially those into back corners of the end zone, to Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Andre Caldwell. Cornerback Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby had interceptions in the drill and Chris Harris Jr. knocked away a pass.
  • As expected, Brandon Marshall lined up at Danny Trevathan's weak-side linebacker spot in the base defense. Marshall, who spent most of the 2013 season on the team's practice squad before being signed to the active roster last December, showed he was prepared. He practiced with decisiveness in his movements in both the base defense as well as the specialty packages. "He is athletic," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I am excited to get a chance to really evaluate him in a more prominent role." Trevathan is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a fracture at the top of his left tibia.
  • Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer showed his ability to snare passes in traffic -- one of the things the Broncos' evaluators liked best about him before the team selected him in the second round of the draft -- when he leaped between cornerback Tony Carter and safety Duke Ihenacho up the left sideline to reel in a pass from Brock Osweiler. With Demaryius and Julius Thomas as well, the Broncos will have plenty of potential size to put in red-zone formations with the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Latimer as well.
  • With the second preseason game looming Sunday, the Broncos are still not consistently fielding punts as well as they're going to need to once the regular season begins. Wide receiver Jordan Norwood has looked the most consistent so far. Isaiah Burse bobbled a punt in a special teams period. The Broncos have been spotty at times in kickoff return work as well so far in camp. Both return jobs are open and could be an avenue for a player to make an established roster where there may not be room for him at a position alone.
  • Odds and ends: Rookie tackle Michael Schofield has worked at right tackle with the second-team offense of late ... Safety John Boyett, who is trying to carve out a spot in a crowded secondary, had two interceptions in Thursday's practice -- one on backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, the other on No. 3 quarterback Zac Dysert in a 7-on-7 drill.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 20

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • When the Broncos starting offense opened team drills in Tuesday’s first practice, it was undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson at running back as the group went though some situational work. It was a product of two running backs currently being sidelined, as Montee Ball recovers from an appendectomy and C.J. Anderson from a concussion, but also a sign of Thompson’s progress since training camp opened. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said Tuesday he was familiar with the Duke running back’s work long before Thompson was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in May. Manning and the Broncos' pass catchers have spent parts of the last two offseasons working at Duke. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is also a trusted Manning confidante and his former offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Thompson has earned raves from the Broncos for his ability to adjust on the fly and get the play right when Manning or backup Brock Osweiler make changes before the snap. Ronnie Hillman is still working at Ball’s primary backup, but Thompson, who is also the biggest back on the roster, is making a serious case to be among the final 53.
  • Tight end Jacob Tamme was back at practice Tuesday. He was excused for Monday’s practice as well as the team’s second practice this past Saturday night, as his wife just gave birth to the couple’s second child last week. Tamme, who has consistently made impact plays thus far in camp, created space to get the ball time and time again Tuesday, including a long completion from Osweiler toward the end of the workout. He will get plenty of snaps in some of the team’s two-tight end looks when the Broncos pair him with Julius Thomas. But Tamme's play has been top tier, starting with his one-handed touchdown reception in the team's first stadium scrimmage.
  • One overriding theme in this training camp as compared to last year's is the ability of the team’s defense to make life more difficult for the offense in team drills. In one team period Tuesday, had defensive players been allowed to hit the quarterback, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller would have each had sacks when it was starters against starters. Ware beat left tackle Ryan Clady to the corner one play, and Miller then beat right tackle Chris Clark later in the same drill.
  • The Broncos will have combined practices with the Houston Texans next week as both team prepare for an Aug. 23 preseason game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. However, it won’t be full-go in practice with the regular season being two weeks away. Broncos head coach John Fox said the two teams will practice at “thud" tempo, which means defenders and offensive players will make impact on plays but will not tackle to the ground.
  • In addition to Ball and Anderson, defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee) and defensive end Greg Latta (right hip) were again held out of practice. Ball and Anderson did take part in the team’s walk-through Tuesday evening. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had been held out of three straight practices because of a thigh injury -- though he did play 20 snaps in the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night -- returned to practice. When the Broncos starters lined up in a two-tight end set with two wide receivers in the formation, it was most often Sanders and Demaryius Thomas at wideout.
  • Odds and ends: Wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who caught a touchdown pass from Osweiler in the preseason opener and continues to push for a roster spot, got some work with Manning and some other starters in a 7-on-7 period Tuesday ... An end-of-game, end-of-half practice period featured a couple penalties, with defensive tackle Marvin Austin jumping offside on a third-down play that gave the offense a first down. The offense later had a false start penalty in the same period.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos continue to grind through their preseason work, and as they get set to roll through their third week with Monday morning's practice, here’s are some things to consider:
  • Nate Irving has shown the coaches he intends to be the team’s middle linebacker, and it would take some unexpected events at this point for Irving not to be the guy in the middle of the base defense. Now, that is certainly a specialty package of sorts given that the Broncos line up in the nickel more than twice as often as they do in base, but Irving has done everything the team wants him to do. And more importantly, he has improved his game since the last time they tried him in the middle before eventually moving him out of the job. So far he has been consistent in his run fits, quick to the ball and reliable in finishing tackles.
  • The Broncos are a deep team, one that’s finished 13-3 in back-to-back seasons and retained a fairly youthful roster. With that said, there aren’t all that many roster spots in play. Still, two players who arrived a bit under the mainstream radar are making pushes to star. Rookie running back Juwan Thompson, if he maintains his current momentum, is a viable option to get snaps in the offense with the proficiency he’s shown in pass protection and the athleticism running the ball. Toss in his special-teams abilities and he should make it. The tougher question will be fifth-year wide receiver Jordan Norwood. Norwood, who has started four games in his previous four NFL seasons combined, has shown he fits the offense and could contribute as a receiver -- there are several rosters in the league he could make -- so if he can win the punt returner job, the Broncos will have to make room.
  • Rookie tackle Michael Schofield didn’t get a snap on offense in the preseason opener -- he did play six snaps on special teams -- but in looking at practice it’s clear the kid still deserves a chance at the right tackle spot. Sure, he’s going to make a mistake or two, but he looks to have the goods and will bear watching in next Sunday’s preseason game in San Francisco.
  • One of the best things the Broncos did in the preseason opener was to give backup quarterback Brock Osweiler a chance to rebound from an interception. He’s in his third season of one of the more odd apprenticeships the league has to offer. He knows the playbook, but he still needs to play. And if that means he gets more snaps than the usual No. 2 in a preseason, so be it. But the fact the Broncos let him play through three quarters last Thursday night is time well invested. Osweiler rebounded from his mistake to later make a touchdown throw -- a 34-yard rocket to Norwood down the hash -- that showed why he clearly has starter potential. Plenty of surviving as a quarterback in the league is bouncing back from a mistake to play with confidence. The Broncos need to know Osweiler can do that, and the only way to find out is to give him preseason snaps.
  • It will be a surprise if the Broncos don’t consistently create pressure on opposing passers. Their specialty packages -- nickel and dime -- will be intriguing once they unveil what they will do in the regular season. But having Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Quanterus Smith and Malik Jackson all in some kind of a front-seven mix gives defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio plenty of options.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 17

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
7:30
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Linebacker Lerentee McCray, who has worked at Von Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot as the Broncos weave Miller into practice on a graduated basis after Miller’s ACL surgery, continues to flash in practice. In Saturday morning’s workout, McCray returned a Peyton Manning pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage for a touchdown. “It was a pretty good feeling to get my hands on the ball and go the other way.’’ McCray, Brandon Marshall and rookie Lamin Barrow are poised to be the fourth, fifth and sixth linebackers who will make the roster behind the starters when cuts come. The Broncos could have room for one more if they keep seven – they did in 2011 and 2012. The Broncos kept six last season.
  • Emmanuel Sanders, who played 20 plays in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks after being held out of practice Tuesday, was again held out of Saturday morning’s full practice – he took part in the Saturday evening walk-through. The Broncos lined up Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell with the starting offense in the two outside spots. At one point in team drills, Manning tried to power a ball up the right sideline to Caldwell, but cornerback Aqib Talib closed the gap and knocked the ball away.
  • Much like Thursday’s effort when backup quarterback Brock Osweiler rebounded from an interception to throw a touchdown pass, the third-year passer rebounded from a rough set of drills to far better work later in practice. Osweiler had a tipped pass intercepted by Omar Bolden and had another pass intercepted deep down the field in the same drill by John Boyett. But Osweiler recovered quickly and later hooked up for a touchdown with Cody Latimer. On Osweiler’s progress overall, Broncos coach John Fox said Saturday; “He’s just gotten better … how he functions under pressure, I think, continues to improve and I think he took a big step Thursday night,’’
  • With Montee Ball coming off an appendectomy and C.J. Anderson recovering from a concussion, undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson continues to make his presence felt. Thompson got some snaps with the first-team offense Saturday. With the second-team offense later, he broke off the biggest run of the day, out-running safety Duke Ihenacho the final 25 yards or so to close the deal. Thompson, who played for David Cutcliffe at Duke, is well-versed in pass protection and has shown consistent hands. But in the run game he has shown quality decisiveness -- he squares his shoulders and hits the hole -- and more top-end speed than perhaps the Broncos' believed he had.
  • Odds and ends: Rookie Michael Schofield was the right tackle with the second-team offense in Saturday’s practice. Schofield did not play on offense in the preseason opener, but did play six snaps on special teams … Will Montgomery took a smattering of snaps at center with first-team offense … Cornerback Kayvon Webster was doing extra sprints after practice, running a hill adjacent to the team’s fields.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball wouldn’t exactly say he’s happy he had appendicitis.

But he is happy he had it in August.

"[It’s] great that we caught it now, obviously it’s great that it happened now than in September," Ball said. "Very unfortunate situation for me, but right now I’m looking up. Feeling great and getting to some running next week. I’m excited."

Ball, who had an appendectomy Monday, was back at the Broncos’ suburban complex Saturday. He won’t be ready to start doing some light running for another week or so, but he attended practice, jersey on, as the Broncos had their first on-field work since Thursday night’s 21-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in their preseason opener.

In Ball’s place, Ronnie Hillman has taken most of the snaps with the starting offense. There is a chance, in a small never-say-never sort of way, Ball could participate in the Broncos’ third preseason game -- Aug. 23 against the Houston Texans -- but at the moment Ball is not expected to play in any of the three remaining preseason games.

"Of course I want to play," Ball said. "I want to play against San Francisco in, what, a couple days or whatever. But obviously that’s not going to happen. But like I said, it’s just gradually going along, listening to my body and listening to our great training staff in there. They’re doing a great job bringing me along."

When Broncos head coach John Fox was asked after Saturday’s practice about Ball’s status for preseason games, Fox laid the groundwork for Ball’s next game being Sept. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season opener.

"We’ll just play it by ear," Fox said. "I think we saw plenty of him a year ago, we saw plenty of him in the offseason."

Ball, who has been the team’s top back all through the offseason and into training camp, said Saturday he was awakened with stomach pain on Monday and contacted Broncos head trainer Steve Antonopulos. He had surgery Monday afternoon and Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis and running backs coach Eric Studesville were among those to visit Ball at the hospital.

Because of Ball’s injury, as well as C.J. Anderson’s concussion in Thursday night’s game, the Broncos have some of their youngest players getting plenty of work in the practice rotation. Juwan Thompson, an undrafted rookie who led the team in rushing with 59 yards on six carries against the Seahawks, even got some snaps with the starting offense in Saturday’s practice.

"It’s an unfortunate situation for me," Ball said. "But the running backs are looking good right now. Looking great. The competition is most definitely there. They’re most definitely making me work for that spot. They’re working for it and doing a great job. I’m excited to see them play."

Ball will be the workhorse in the run game for the Broncos this season. Studesville, Fox and quarterback Peyton Manning have all said the second-year back is ready for the job and big things are expected from Ball in the offense.

The Broncos have not had a running back top 250 carries since Reuben Droughns had 275 carries in 2004.

"I’m listening to the training staff, and obviously we’re going to do some tests to see if I’m capable of coming back, which I’m sure I will be," Ball said. "I’ll be even stronger and ready to go."
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks had a marathon affair Thursday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High that included a 45-minute lighting delay, a player ejection and two teams that combined for 20 penalties through three quarters.

All in all, the Broncos' 21-16 win was a rather ugly affair overall involving last February's Super Bowl teams, but also one in which the Broncos showed the kind of impact some of their new additions can have.

Here are some other thoughts on the Broncos' first preseason game of the year:


  • The Broncos have made their run game a priority throughout their offseason work as well as early on in training camp. No, they don't want to become some run-first outfit, but they do want to be able run the ball with efficiency when the game situation presents itself. To that end they have worked heavy packages in camp and broke one out on their first possession when they used three tight ends in addition to backup tackle Paul Cornick as a fourth tight end on consecutive snaps. There are rough edges to smooth as Ronnie Hillman went 2 yards and minus-1 yard on the two plays.
  • It is often logically hazardous to take a few preseason snaps and use them as a template to project anything to come in the regular season. Preseason football is routinely littered with August heroes. But DeMarcus Ware offered a glimpse of what he has left in his football tank. He blew up the Seahawks' first play from scrimmage -- a run in which Nate Irving tackled Robert Turbin for no gain -- and sacked Russell Wilson two plays later. No surprise for those who have seen Ware go about his business at Broncos camp, but put Von Miller back in the defense and the Broncos are going to be able to create plenty of pressure.
  • The Broncos had the officials in for a smattering of training camp practices. They saw the video on the "points of emphasis" on illegal contact and defensive holding. Consider them very much a work in progress there. Among the starters alone cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward were each flagged for defensive holding while Irving and fellow linebacker Danny Trevathan were flagged for illegal contact and pass interference, respectively. Ward also was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty.
  • Running back Juwan Thompson, an undrafted rookie from Duke, did what undrafted rookies need to do: He got noticed. Thompson had 59 yards rushing on his six carries, including a 20-yarder on a third-quarter touchdown drive. Thompson was a rotation back at Duke, but the Broncos liked what they saw from him in David Cutcliffe's offense -- the Blue Devils coach was Peyton Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee and remains a close confidant -- and the rookie hasn't disappointed throughout the offseason. He has a good feel in pass protection, runs with purpose and catches the ball smoothly. At 225 pounds he's also the biggest back on the roster and a former special teams captain at Duke. He's also the No. 4 back right now for a team that routinely keeps four.
  • After tinkering with the heavy formation, the Broncos' starting offense went back to its reliable three-wide set. Thirteen of the 14 plays in the unit's touchdown drive came in three-wide, the scoring play -- a 1-yard run by Hillman -- was in two tight end.

W2W4: Denver Broncos

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
12:00
PM ET
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos (0-0) and the Seattle Seahawks (0-0) open the preseason Thursday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

1. Hard feelings: Everybody with the Broncos has stuck to the script; they've said what they believe to be the right things, it’s only the preseason, there are still bigger fish to fry in the coming months and what's done is done. Super Bowl XLVIII is over and the Broncos are simply going to have to live with the result. And it’s all true to be sure, but in the brief moments the starters are in this game for Denver -- 10-12 plays or so -- they figure to come with an edge. They have been called out for months, on most fronts, for their Super Bowl effort, including by Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner in recent weeks, and are more than a little steamed about the whole thing. The teams meet for real in the regular season in six weeks or so, so nobody will be looking to get all that creative, but there figures to be some testiness all around.

2. Security issues: The Broncos led the league in lost fumbles last season -- one of the few things that didn’t go right in a season for the ages on offense -- and they have made ball security a major theme of the offseason into training camp. Hence the appearance of a green, and now blue, ball that those who have fumbled must carry around the facility. It will be something to keep an eye on all through the preseason, especially against an aggressive defense like the Seahawks. The Broncos also have not handled the ball well on special teams for much of camp’s early going -- most of the players getting a look in the return spots have bobbled the ball.

3. Run it: Other than returner, there is no place on the Broncos' depth chart with more room for new names than at running back. With Montee Ball out after having an appendectomy earlier this week, the Broncos’ youngest position group will get an opportunity to show what they’ve got from the first carry of the game, when Ronnie Hillman is in with the starters to the last carry of the game. Other than Ball, there is room for at least three other backs to plow their way into the depth chart. Hillman and C.J. Anderson have looked good in camp, but these in-game carries are going to carry a lot of weight in the decision. Also, rookie Juwan Thompson, who has separated himself at least some from the other undrafted rookies at the position because of his added abilities as a receiver and in pass protection, will get at least some chance to show what he can do.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' annual summer scrimmage is a good time to gauge where things are with the team’s depth chart. The first of four preseason games is closing in on the horizon and choices will soon be made.

The Broncos, however, didn’t have many available spots on the depth chart when training camp began. Like many teams with the pieces in place to be in the postseason conversation, their personnel folks could have likely quickly listed 46 or 47 names of what will eventually be a 53-player roster even as camp opened.

So, this isn’t some scrape-it-to-the-foundation effort. This is a team that’s gone 26-6 in the last two regular seasons, with a Super Bowl appearance. The Broncos don’t have what-to-do questions in tow. They have is-it-enough questions. And after their first real live tackling effort this weekend, there are a few things for them to consider.
  • Running back is one of the few places where multiple spots on the depth chart are still in play. C.J. Anderson, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last summer, was on the shakiest of ground when OTAs and minicamp ended and his weight was up over 230 pounds. He was sluggish and lacked the spark he had shown in his 2013 training camp. The team’s decision-makers loaded up on undrafted rookies at the position and Anderson had been moved from good-depth-player status to may-not-make-it status. But after he lost almost 20 pounds before camp, he has shown a little more pop and has consistently worked as the No. 3 back so far behind Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. He needs some quality preseason work to keep that spot. Juwan Thompson has clawed his way to the front of the line among the undrafted rookie runners. But other than Ball and Hillman, things are still undecided there, especially if the Broncos see a name on the waiver wire that intrigues them in the coming weeks.
  • Somebody in the return game is going to have to catch the ball with some consistency -- rookie Isaiah Burse mishandled a punt in Saturday’s scrimmage, and overall the team has bobbled far too many kicks and punts so far. The Broncos have fallback options at kickoff returner and punt returner, most of which involve using a starter like Emmanuel Sanders or Wes Welker in some way. Omar Bolden and Andre Caldwell could offer workable options as a kickoff returner, but the Broncos need a player to latch on to the punt return role. Otherwise, the Broncos project to pile up fair catches as they reluctantly accept whatever field position comes with them.
  • It is to be expected, at least some, given how training camp and offseason workouts are structured now, but the Broncos' tackling in many of the 43 plays (including penalties) they ran in Saturday’s scrimmage was choppy at times. Now, nobody should advocate a return to football cave painting and put teams in full pads for six hours every day. Those days are done and aren’t coming back. But several defensive players acknowledged things need to be better in the coming weeks -- an honest assessment about something that needs attention. Or as safety Rahim Moore put it, “We’re holding each other accountable. We understand our system, too, and what Coach (Jack) Del Rio preaches and where we fit in the run, where we are in the pass, how we challenge the throws. Our defense can be very special, but you don’t play defense on paper. You’ve got to go out there and make plays on the field."
  • They’re working at crowded spots, but among the team’s undrafted rookies, Thompson, defensive end Kenny Anunike and linebacker Shaquil Barrett have made the most of their time with the team. All three are getting quality snaps and are just the kind of players to keep an eye on through the preseason games to keep the Broncos' streak of an undrafted rookie making the roster alive.

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