NFL Nation: Juwan Thompson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Whatever becomes of the Denver Broncos offense is still under construction as Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff begin to create the framework of what things will look like with Peyton Manning at quarterback this fall.

Kubiak said at the scouting combine this week that he’s already begun to create the terminology for the playbook, “meshing" what Manning has used with the Broncos and what Kubiak’s teams have used in his career.

But Kubiak also made a couple of philosophical things clear.

“If you run the ball well offensively in this league, it opens up some other avenues," Kubiak said. “ … We’re going to run the ball and we’re going to be physical."

[+] EnlargeC.J. Anderson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNew Broncos coach Gary Kubiak wants running back C.J. Anderson to act like the starter this offseason.
And on the prospect of a fullback, which the Broncos didn’t have this past season, Kubiak offered: “That’s a topic, obviously I’ve had one on my team all the time, it’s something we’ve discussed, that we’re going to have to find, or have to build."

In the end, a productive running game might offer the biggest challenge to the new staff. The Broncos offense became somewhat disjointed down the stretch, from a Nov. 16 loss at St. Louis when the Broncos had 10 rushing attempts through the loss in the playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts as the Broncos tried to combine a more committed approach in the run game to what they could do, and were already doing, in the passing game.

Toss in some struggles on the offensive line -- Broncos running backs had first contact with defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage on 33 percent of their carries this past season -- and the attempt to weave it all together will get plenty of attention in the weeks and months ahead. For his part, Manning said in Phoenix, two days before the Super Bowl, that he would be "comfortable" in any offense Kubiak and the Broncos created. Manning also endorsed the benefits of play-action inside a productive run game.

During his time as an NFL play-caller, Kubiak has had a player lead the league in passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards at some point. He obviously likes the prospect of Manning at quarterback, coming off a 39-touchdown season, as well as the team’s running backs, starting with C.J. Anderson.

Asked Wednesday if Anderson should be considered the starter, Kubiak said, “He’s got to go earn that. I think when he walked off the field last year he was playing that way. … When I talked to him, I said, ‘C.J., when you come back to the offseason, you need to walk in here handling yourself like a starter. I think he’s ready to do that. … I’m very excited about the young running backs we have."

The group includes Montee Ball, who was the starter when last season opened, along with Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson, who could be one of the initial candidates to play fullback.

Last season, in Kubiak’s only year as Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, the Ravens finished among the league’s top 11 in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. The Broncos have not had a season in which the team finished in the league's top 11 in those three categories since 2005, when they were second in rushing attempts, second in rushing yards and third in rushing TDs. That was the last year Kubiak was the Broncos offensive coordinator before he accepted the job as head coach of the Houston Texans.

“It’s something I believe in, something I think you need to do as an offense," Kubiak said. “ … It will be part of what we do."
INDIANAPOLIS – Coach Gary Kubiak met with the media Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine, here’s what we learned about the Denver Broncos:

1. Let Peyton be Peyton: Kubiak said he likes to call plays and run the scheme he always has, but he’s prepared to put verbiage in the play-calls that quarterback Peyton Manning is familiar with. Kubiak said the coaches already are “in the process’’ of “meshing’’ what Manning has used with the Broncos and what Kubiak has used in the past. And when it comes to running the no-huddle, he’s ready to let Manning do that as well. “He’s, obviously, at the line of scrimmage, as good as there has ever been in this game,’’ Kubiak said. “You don’t ever take that away from your players and it’s something I look forward to talking with him about, his mindset, his philosophy.’’

2. Job opening at fullback: Kubiak was clear the Broncos are on the hunt for a fullback, a position they did not stock on the roster last season. The Broncos used tight end Virgil Green at times as a lead back, as well as reserve guard Ben Garland. They did line up in a two-back look on a smattering of snaps this past season, usually with three tight ends in the formation as well in short-yardage situations. Of the current backs on the roster Juwan Thompson is the most likely candidate, but Kubiak added a "smaller tight end’’ might fit the job description as well. “Obviously I’ve had one on my team all the time, it’s something we’ve discussed, that we’re going to have to find, or have to build,’’ Kubiak said. He added players who fit the bill would be reviewed over the next week at the combine as well as in the weeks leading up to the draft.

3. Come ready to work C.J.: Running back C.J. Anderson, whose roster spot was on shaky ground last spring when he showed up to the start of last year’s offseason workouts a little heavier than the Broncos coaches wanted and looked sluggish in that early work. But through training camp and into the season Anderson rebounded for 648 yards rushing over the last six regular-season games. And from a football perspective Anderson is considered a quality, potentially immensely productive fit in the run game Kubiak will install. Kubiak said he confirmed that in a conversation with Anderson shortly after Kubiak was hired. Asked Wednesday if Anderson would be the starter, Kubiak said; “He’s got to go earn that. I think when he walked off the field last year he was playing that way … I told that when I talked to him, I said ‘C.J., when you come back to the offseason, you need to walk in here handling yourself like a starter.’’

4. Grow up fast: Of the Broncos' draft class of 2014, only the defensive players selected got any significant playing time, especially first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby. But of the offensive players in the class – wide receiver Cody Latimer, tackle Michael Schofield and center Matt Paradis – only Latimer played in a game and he played only 37 snaps on offense all season. Kubiak said he has looked at practice video of that group, from both OTAs and into the season, and believes all three will be in the mix to be considered for far bigger roles this time around. Kubiak said he liked Schofield leading up to last year’s draft and that he liked what he has seen from Paradis as well. On Latimer he said; “I spent a whole day with him in Baltimore [before the ’14 draft], we really, really liked him. I think a lot of his ability.’’

5. On the nose: Kubiak said the Broncos would like to retain as many of their pending unrestricted free agents as possible, including defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Knighton would be one of the best fits to be the nose tackle in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, but Kubiak said the Broncos could adjust to the personnel they have. “Wade has played with both, Wade has had the huge guy [at nose tackle] and … Wade has played with the small guy – Earl Mitchell in Houston.’’ Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson are expected to move smoothly into the two defensive end spots in the three-man front, and Kubiak said he liked the potential of both players.
DENVER -- After saying running back Ronnie Hillman looked “very good’’ in practice Friday, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox followed through Sunday by putting Hillman in uniform for the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

It will be Hillman’s first game back in the lineup since he suffered a left foot injury Nov. 9 against the Raiders. Hillman had been a full participant in all of the team’s practices this past week.

Before his injury, Hillman had taken a turn as the Broncos’ lead back earlier this season with 100 yards rushing in the win over the New York Jets and 109 yards rushing in an Oct. 23 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos will be happy to have his speed back in the lineup. Of the team's eight runs of at least 20 yards this season, Hillman has three – all three came in a three-game span in October. He’s also had two of the team’s three runs of at least 30 yards.

Hillman’s return comes at a good time since Juwan Thompson (knee, hip) was one of the Broncos’ seven game-day inactives, so Hillman is expected to be the No. 2 back behind C.J. Anderson.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a left foot injury in the Broncos’ win in San Diego, did not practice this week and, as expected, was also one of the inactives. Marshall did work with the strength and conditioning staff this week and would certainly benefit from the bye in the wild-card round the Broncos would earn with a win Sunday.

Safety T.J. Ward, who suffered a neck injury in Monday night’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, was limited in Friday’s practice and was also one of the Broncos’ inactives. Ward will be available for the Broncos’ first playoff game.

Also among the game-day inactives for the Broncos were: tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield, tight end Dominique Jones and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
CINCINNATI -- With running backs C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and Juwan Thompson (knee, hip) having missed some practice time this past week, the Denver Broncos had some initial concerns about their depth at the position.

But with an extra day of rest leading up to Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Anderson and Thompson were both ready to play in Paul Brown Stadium.

And with Jeremy Stewart serving as the No. 3 back in the game, the Broncos made Ronnie Hillman (left foot) a gameday inactive and did not move Kapri Bibbs up from the practice squad, a move they likely would have made if Thompson had not been ready to play. Hillman has practiced the last two weeks, but he is still not all the way back from his injury and has now missed the last six games.

Also among the Broncos gameday inactives for the first time this season was defensive end Quanterus Smith. Smith, who is still looking for his first career sack, had played in the previous 14 games.

Mitch Unrein was kept active for Monday’s game with the Bengals expected to try and muscle up on offense and run the ball plenty at the Broncos' defense. The Broncos had four defensive tackles in uniform Monday -- Unrein, Terrance Knighton, Marvin Austin Jr and Sylvester Williams -- when they often go into a game with three.

Also among the gameday inactives for the Broncos were: cornerback Tony Carter, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield and tight end Dominique Jones.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was sent home Saturday from the team’s complex because he suffered from what head coach John Fox called "flu-like symptoms."

Sanders did not participate in the team’s practice and was officially listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Bengals. However, Fox said Sanders will make the Sunday afternoon trip to Cincinnati with the Broncos and is expected to play in the game.

Sanders is the team’s second-leading receiver with 89 catches and 1,261 yards.

Quarterback Peyton Manning was limited in Saturday’s practice because of a right thigh injury he suffered in this past weekend's win against San Diego, and also listed as questionable. However, Manning, too, is expected to start. He threw in drills during the workout after participating in the team’s walk-through.

Other than when he missed the 2011 season following spinal-fusion surgery, Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons. Asked about Manning’s workload in Saturday’s practice, Fox said:

"(It was) fairly normal to the rest of the season ... He looked good in practice."

Manning also participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday. On Thursday, Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment.

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

Manning stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half before Manning played the entire second half.

Also Saturday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice and will not play Monday night. Marshall is the Broncos’ leading tackler.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) were also limited in Saturday’s practice and officially listed as questionable for the game. Clady is expected to start at left tackle, and Thompson and Hillman are expected to be available to play.

Hillman has not played since he suffered his injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Center Will Montgomery (knee) and tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) participated fully Saturday and will play. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle), and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Saturday’s practice as well and will play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning participated in Thursday's practice on a limited basis, then left the field for the bulk of the main practice in order to get some treatment on a right thigh injury he suffered late in the first half of Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning took part in the team’s walk-through and team stretch, then returned to the locker room once the main practice began. After taking most Wednesdays off in the second half of the 2013 season, this was the first time Manning had left the practice field this season.

The 38-year-old is expected to practice Friday and was walking without a limp when he left the field to go to the locker room as well as following practice. Because the Broncos play on Monday night in Cincinnati, the players did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, so Thursday’s practice mirrored what the team would have normally done on a Wednesday.

“He’s day-to-day," said Broncos head coach John Fox, who is routinely reticent on any injury. “Tomorrow’s a new day, we’ll keep you posted."

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms and received four IVs on Saturday night and Sunday morning, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half; Manning played the entire second half.

“I feel OK," Manning said following practice. Asked if he would be ready to play Monday night, Manning said; “I certainly hope so."

Manning also said after practice that his illness was behind him and he was simply receiving treatment on his leg at the moment to go with his usual work with the strength and conditioning staff, which Manning does each week to prepare for games since he returned from spinal fusion surgery that kept him out the entire 2011 season. And because he's always ready with a quip, Manning gave a nod to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Manning answered a smattering of questions with "we're on the Cincinnati."

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) and running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee) were also held out of practice.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who has missed the last five games, took part on a limited basis Thursday as the Broncos continue to hope he will soon be ready for some situational work in the offense.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) all participated Thursday on a limited basis. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) took part fully in the practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When they trimmed the roster to 53 players as the preseason drew to a close, the Denver Broncos understood there could very well be days like these because of it.

When the Broncos face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the three available running backs figure to be three undrafted players who have been in uniform for 24 games combined in their careers.

“I guess I didn’t really think about it until now," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase with a smile when asked about the prospect earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeCJ Anderson
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIn his second season, C.J. Anderson is suddenly the veteran running back on the Broncos roster.
Running back was already the youngest position group on the roster when the regular season began, as 23-year-old Ronnie Hillman was the most experienced running back, entering his third season. But with Hillman (left foot) and Montee Ball (right groin) now injured, the Broncos have second-year running back C.J. Anderson as their primary back, with rookie Juwan Thompson and third-year back Jeremy Stewart behind him on the depth chart.

Anderson and Thompson were undrafted rookies. Stewart was with the Raiders in the preseason and signed to Broncos' practice squad on Oct. 8.

“I think, during the course of preparation, when you have injuries, you have a pretty good idea some guys aren’t going to play," said Broncos head coach John Fox. “You’re able to practice and prepare guys much better than, for instance, in a game when you have a tight end or a receiver go out, those guys are now playing with a whole lot of reps in preparation for that opponent. So those guys have practiced all week, got reps -- we have our test on Sunday."

The Broncos, from Fox to quarterback Peyton Manning to Gase, have all openly discussed the importance of running the ball with more consistency against the Dolphins on Sunday. The Broncos had just 10 rushing attempts, one of those a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime, in the 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.

Anderson had 163 total yards in the Broncos’ victory over the Oakland Raiders, a total that included a 51-yard catch-and-run reception when he made a one-handed catch and then broke several tackles for a game-changing score. Thompson has had 30 carries this season to go with three touchdowns.

Sunday figures to be the first game for Bibbs to be in uniform. He has been a gameday inactive for four games since being signed off the team’s practice squad on Oct. 20, but the Broncos like what he's done and Bibbs spent some time after Friday's practice talking to Manning.

“You feel good with C.J.," Gase said. “He’s shown the last couple of weeks what he can do and just him getting in the rotation has been eye-opening. We might have something good and you just don’t know because he hadn’t had an opportunity. He’s taken most of the opportunity he’s had and the rest of these guys it’s just going to be, ‘make sure I know who’s in the game and help them as much as possible,’ whether it be in the protection game or in the run game."

“All of the guys in the running back room are ready to play," Anderson said. “[Running backs coach Eric Studesville] gets us ready to play; he expects us to be ready."

For the most part, it isn’t carrying the ball in the Broncos offense that is the adjustment. It’s everything the backs have to do to earn the ability to carry the ball. It’s handling all of the audibles at the line of scrimmage in what is primarily a no-huddle offense and it’s getting it right in pass protection.

As Studesville has consistently said: “If you can’t do the right thing in pass protection, you can’t play … you don’t get to run the ball."

The Dolphins have an active defensive front – Miami is tied for fourth in the league with 30 sacks – and they blitz plenty to unsettle opposing quarterbacks.

“I would say the protections are a challenge, but at the end of the day, when they run the ball, it’s just natural instinct," Gase said. “So they just know once you give them the ball, they are just going to find the open hole and hit it. The good ones seem to develop quickly."

“Our job is to do the right thing when we’re in there," Anderson said. “We’re prepared to do that."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Other than running back Montee Ball, the Denver Broncos had full participation at Thursday’s practice.

Ball, who suffered a groin injury Oct. 5 against the Arizona Cardinals and was expected to miss at least three weeks, was the only Broncos player on the current roster held out of Thursday's workout.

Running back Juwan Thompson (knee) was held out of Wednesday’s practice but practiced fully Thursday. With Ball’s injury, Thompson has been working as the team’s No. 2 back behind Ronnie Hillman.

The Broncos had a season-best 138 yards rushing in this past Sunday’s victory over the New York Jets as Hillman finished with 100 yards on 24 carries -- his first career 100-yard game.

Thursday, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said he likes what he’s seen from Hillman since Ball’s injury.

“Ronnie has unusual speed, he gets through the hole quickly," Gase said. “And all of a sudden he’s on the secondary. If we get to a point where we can actually make a safety miss one of these days, it’s probably going to be more. ... Just his speed is different than what we’ve had in the past, and if we can keep him going it should be good for us."

The Broncos have 14 runs of at least 10 yards this season, and Hillman has six of them in the last two games.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

October, 12, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos’ 31-17 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: Although it became more of a struggle than it should have been, the Broncos continue to grind their way through the array of physical defenses that have dotted the opening half of their 2014 schedule. The Broncos sit at 4-1, with their only loss coming in Seattle in overtime in Week 3. They certainly didn’t have their best fastball Sunday and looked out of sorts at times on offense to go with far too many penalties (10 in the first three quarters), but they had just enough for the struggling Jets.

Stock watch: With linebacker Danny Trevathan having left Sunday’s game with a left knee injury after the Broncos’ second play from scrimmage on defense, the Broncos again turned to Brandon Marshall to work in the weakside linebacker spot. Marshall had started the Broncos’ first three games in place of Trevathan, who had suffered a fracture at the top of his left tibia in training camp. Marshall was the team’s leading tackler when Trevathan returned to the lineup in last Sunday's game against the Cardinals, and the Broncos expect to need that kind of production from him moving forward as well.

Hillman, Thompson the 1-2: With Montee Ball out of the lineup because of a right groin injury, Ronnie Hillman started at running back for the Broncos, and Thompson worked as the No. 2. Both flashed some quickness to the hole against a physical Jets front, as Hillman finished with a career single-game high of 100 rushing yards. The Broncos had particular success when they moved into a two-tight end set in the third quarter, often using reserve tackle Paul Cornick as the second tight end.

Game ball: You likely could hand one to Peyton Manning each week, including after this game. But with Ball out, the Broncos needed Hillman to be the kind of back they’d hoped he'd be when they selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft. Although he did fumble once -- after a 26-yard third-quarter run, and Andre Caldwell recovered it -- Hillman finished with his first career 100-yard game. The Broncos had moments when they still looked unsure of what they want in the run game, such as when they kept Hillman in with just over six minutes remaining in the game and he was stuffed on a third-and-short, but they needed some impact from Hillman in this one, and they got it.

What’s next: The Broncos have what is likely their toughest turnaround of the season. They will face the run-heavy, pound-it-out San Francisco 49ers next Sunday followed by a now-key AFC West matchup with the San Diego Chargers a week from Thursday. The Chargers, on a Thursday, were the only team to defeat the Broncos at home last season.
DENVER -- Somewhat lost in a 21-point win when the Denver Broncos rolled up 568 yards worth of offense, were two injuries that could affect how the team does its business when they have the ball in the coming weeks.

Running back Montee Ball, who finished just 7 yards on his six carries in the 41-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, left the game early in the third quarter with a groin injury and did not return. Wide receiver Andre Caldwell also left the game with a knee injury and did not return.

Both players will be evaluated more on Monday, but following Sunday’s game there was some concern among Ball’s teammates and others in the organization that the running back's injury could cause him to miss significant time.

“My prayers are with Montee,’’ said quarterback Peyton Manning. “He just looked like he was in a lot of pain down there on the field, so I hope he’s OK.’’

For Ball, an avulsion fracture would be one of the worst case scenarios in what appeared to be an injury to his right groin. An avulsion fracture occurs when the muscle is pulled with such force that the tendon or ligament it’s connected to tears a chip away from the bone as well.

For the Broncos any missed time from Ball would move Ronnie Hillman into the lead role at running back. Hillman rushed for 64 yards on his 15 carries Sunday. Rookie Juwan Thompson finished with 15 yards on his three carries, including his first career touchdown -- an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter.

C.J. Anderson was a game-day inactive Sunday, so he was not in uniform against the Cardinals.

If Caldwell, who has played as the team’s No. 4 receiver, were to miss time, it would move rookie Cody Latimer into the lineup. Latimer has played 10 special-teams snaps this year, but has not yet appeared on offense.
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
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
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

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.