NFL Nation: Quinton Carter

DENVER -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after the team hung on Sunday night for a 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts:
  • Safety David Bruton's was the most significant injury for the Broncos. The special teams captain suffered a left shoulder injury covering a second-quarter kickoff. Bruton suffered the injury on what was a touchback. He received treatment following the game and will undergo an MRI on Monday. Just before he left the locker room, Bruton said he still held out hope he wouldn't miss much time. Linebacker Nate Irving left the game in the third quarter with a lower right leg injury, but he did re-enter the game in the fourth quarter. Irving will be examined again Monday.
    Carter
  • Broncos safety Quinton Carter waited almost two seasons, after multiple knee surgeries, including a microfracture procedure, to play in another regular-season game. Carter finished with five tackles on defense to go with two more on special teams and forced a fumble. "It was very emotional, truly blessed to be back out there," he said, "... but you know you look hard at it, a little disappointed too, left a couple plays out there, dropped a pick for sure. But definitely some gratification to be back out there. There were plenty of days I wasn't sure if I would ever play again."
  • With cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller having had ACL surgeries in February and January, respectively, the Broncos played it safe at times in the players' first full game since their injuries. Miller played just nine snaps in the preseason; Harris not at all. The Broncos used rookie Bradley Roby and Tony Carter to spell Harris at times while Lerentee McCray got plenty of work in Miller's strongside linebacker spot. "I'll be all right," Harris said. "I just need to get my wind back." For his part, Miller said, "I was more thinking about breathing. The knee wasn't an issue, it was more conditioning. I haven't played a full game in I don't know how long."
  • Broncos tight end Julius Thomas had his first three-touchdown game Sunday night, but there may have been more out there for him. "On Wednesday you're always saying 'Man, look at this game plan, there's five touchdowns'," Thomas said. The Colts tried to cover Thomas with a linebacker early in the game and then tried safety LaRon Landry as well. When all was said and done, Thomas had seven receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns, with five of those catches for 90 yards and all three touchdowns in the first half. Colts coach Chuck Pagano called him "a monster."
  • And this from quarterback Peyton Manning on becoming just the second quarterback to defeat all 32 teams in the league as a starter -- Brett Favre is the other; "I think it means you have to be old. You have to be 38 years old probably, at least, to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I will have that one up on my mantel or anything like that -- put it that way."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos take the field against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night, the team’s defense will feature several players who have come all the way back from injury to regain their spots in the team’s rotation.

Linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., safety Rahim Moore and safety Quinton Carter, who were all on injured reserve last season by the time the Broncos had reached Super Bowl XLVIII, all continue to be on track to take their places back in the defense.

"There’s so much to be excited about," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said following Thursday’s practice.

Carter spent two years coming back from knee troubles, while Harris, Miller and Moore all spent time on injured reserve in 2013. But as the Broncos move into the final days before their regular-season opener Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, they continue to be healthy and ready.

Harris has declared, "I’m a 100 percent, ready to go."

Del Rio said Harris, who did not play in the preseason and is still less than seven months removed from ACL surgery, will be monitored, but Del Rio expects no issues.

"We’ll work through it," Del Rio said. "We have an idea of what we would like to have happen and we’ll adjust if we need to. He’s anxious and ready to go. He’s been terrific. The guy is the ultimate competitor."

Overall the Broncos continue to have a light showing on the injury report.

Guard Ben Garland (ankle) and linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia early in training camp, were again the only players held out of practice with injuries.

Guard Louis Vasquez (back) and wide receiver Isaiah Burse (heat related), who left Wednesday’s practice and did not return, practiced fully on Thursday.

Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson was excused for personal reasons.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Broncos work through their coming roster decisions, a big part of the process will be the recovery of their injured players.

Clady
And both head coach John Fox and executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said at the NFL scouting combine they are optimistic on all fronts that those players are on track to not only bolster the depth chart, but several are in line to have prominent roles.

“It was fun putting the magnets back on the board, taking them off [injured reserve] and putting them back on the board," Elway said.

Leading the way is left tackle Ryan Clady. The former All-Pro recently had all of the screws and pins inserted into his surgically repaired foot removed, and Elway said Clady has stepped up his workouts.

“[Clady] is good," Elway said. “He finally got all of the hardware out of his foot."

The Broncos also believe defensive end Quanterus Smith, who tore his ACL during his senior season at Western Kentucky, will be at full speed during the team’s offseason work. After participating in training camp last summer, Smith spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

With Von Miller in the early stages of his own recovery from ACL surgery – he suffered the injury in the Broncos’ Week 16 win in Houston – and Shaun Phillips an unrestricted free agent, the Broncos will need Smith to contribute in the rotation in the defensive front as quickly as possible.

“The offseason helped him,’’ Fox said.

Fox said at the combine he also was hopeful that safety Quinton Carter can be in the mix in the secondary after spending almost two full seasons on injured reserve. The Broncos have six defensive backs who will be restricted or unrestricted free agents in the coming weeks.

Carter has had multiple surgeries on his troublesome left knee, including a microfracture procedure. Carter started 10 games as a rookie in 2011, finishing with 49 tackles and had interceptions in back-to-back playoff games.

He played in just three games in 2012 before he headed to injured reserve and was placed on injured reserve again last August.

“He was a pretty good player as a rookie -- [some] people don’t remember that,’’ Fox said. “No swelling, which is a big thing for that procedure. He’d be a real bonus if he comes through it.’’

Fox also said the nature of cornerback Chris Harris Jr.'s injury could help Harris’ return to the field, as well. Harris suffered a torn ACL in the Broncos' divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers, but Fox said the ligament wasn't completely torn.

“One thing about Chris is a little bit unique because it wasn't torn all the way," Fox said.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos saw what they were looking for in Derek Wolfe Tuesday.

As in the versatile defensive lineman was back in practice and on track to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 5 against the Ravens. Wolfe was sidelined since Aug. 17 after being taken from the field by ambulance after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson during a preseason game in Seattle.

[+] EnlargeDerek Wolfe
AP Photo/ Eric BakkeDenver will likely have versatile defensive lineman Derek Wolfe in the lineup for Week 1.
But the Broncos have been hopeful he would be ready for the opener.

“I was just waiting for the pain to go away,’’ Wolfe said following the workout. “Zero pain, zero weakness, so that’s all good.’’

Wolfe may not be the first name off people's tongues when they talk about the Broncos elsewhere, but he is a key piece of the defensive game plan for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. That's because Wolfe is strong enough to play on the interior in the defensive line and athletic enough to play at end, as well. The Broncos list him as an end, but Del Rio has estimated that he asks Wolfe to do things defensive tackles do about “80 percent of the time.’’

And while Del Rio is constantly using different sets of players for a variety of situations in games, Wolfe is one of the innings eaters as it were. He plays in them all and if he isn’t in the lineup against the Ravens, it would affect how the Broncos do things.

Wolfe played 903 defensive snaps last season as a rookie -- 84.4 percent of the defensive plays -- and the only defensive lineman who played more in 2012 was Elvis Dumervil with 922. Wolfe is expected to play even a little higher percentage of snaps this time around if things go the way the Broncos hope they will.

Coming into the 2012 draft, Wolfe was a rarity among the defensive line prospects that year in that he won matchups all across the defensive front, including at nose tackle and at rush end. Del Rio has been quick to ask him to do many things including as a stand-up rusher when the Broncos go to a sort of whirlpool look with one player in a three-point stance and the other defenders moving around the formation.

“He can do a lot of things, so we’re going to ask him to do a lot of things,’’ Del Rio said.

In other Broncos news:

  • When the Broncos make the bulk of their roster cuts Friday to get to the league-mandated 53 players by Saturday afternoon’s deadline, some of their most difficult decisions will come with players who aren’t quite healthy enough to practice yet but may not be injured enough for injured reserve. The Broncos can only designate one player for return from injured reserve when those final decisions are made. But they also can’t afford to take up three, four or even five roster spots with players who may, or may not, be available any time soon. Guard Chris Kuper isn’t full speed after almost two years of dealing with multiple ankle surgeries and an infection, linebacker Stewart Bradley has not returned to practice because of wrist surgery following the preseason game in Seattle, tight end Joel Dreessen is still coming back from an offseason with two arthroscopic surgeries on his knee and guard/center Ryan Lilja had offseason knee and toe surgeries and was recently held out of several practices because of knee pain/swelling. The Broncos still hope Dreessen will be ready by the opener. That’s all in addition to cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), who is still a question mark for the opener. Bailey is not yet practicing, and he needs a roster spot as well. Suddenly the Broncos are poised to use almost 10 percent of their roster space on players who may or may not be at full speed if they keep all of those players. It’s a calculated risk and could cost the team a young, developmental player along the way.
  • Safety Quinton Carter, who started 10 games as a rookie in 2011, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of knee troubles, ending his season. Carter played in just three games last season, having spent the remainder of 2012 on injured reserve as well. He’s had multiple surgeries on his left knee, including a microfracture procedure in the days following his third of three games he played last season. The Broncos still believe the former fourth-round pick can get back on the field or they wouldn’t have kept him on injured reserve again. Carter last played Sept. 23 last season against Houston, but did not have a tackle. “It’s an unfortunate injury,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “It’s really nobody’s fault. … We think with time he can come back completely.’’
  • The Broncos are expected to start QB Brock Osweiler in Thursday night’s preseason finale, but Osweiler is expected to start behind the second-team offensive line. He has been sacked eight times this preseason behind that group.
  • Center J.D. Walton, who battled an infection in his surgically-repaired ankle this offseason and had another procedure to repair the joint as well before training camp opened, was moved to reserve/PUP. It means Walton can return to practice in Week 6 and the Broncos would then have three weeks to watch him work in practice before having to make a decision to add him to the active roster or place him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. If he moved to the roster, it would be for Week 10 -- Nov. 10 at San Diego.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos wrapped up the public portion of training camp Thursday morning and quarterback Peyton Manning finished his day on the field by tossing a pass or two to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Odds and ends:

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

• In addition to Moreno, running back Jeremiah Johnson (knee), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring), wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle), wide receiver Lamaar Thomas (concussion) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were held out of practice. None are expected to play against the Seahawks unless they show significant improvement in Friday’s short workout before the team leaves. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) is still expected to miss the preseason.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Quarterback Peyton Manning has often spoken about how the Broncos' defense, with its speed all over the formation, can make the team's offense better during training camp.

That the first-team against first-team work -- the kind that rarely, if ever, is done during the regular season as a team gets ready for an opponent each week -- can be revealing for a playoff hopeful.

"Because you've got a lot of talent over there [on defense] and they compete hard on every play, they don't give you anything,'' Manning said. "That's what you want.''

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Marc Piscotty/Icon SMICompeting against the likes of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker during camp has benefited Denver's defense, safety Rahim Moore said.
Safety Rahim Moore believes turnabout helps just as much. That a Broncos defense good enough to finish second in the league in points allowed last season, is getting as much, or more, from dealing with Manning every day.

"Wes Welker is a great receiver, I believe he will be a future Hall of Famer one day, [Demaryius Thomas] is a rising star, Eric Decker is a rising star and Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback to ever touch a football to me,'' Moore said. " ... You feel like you go against those guys every day, makes you ready for anything.''

It doesn't always go without the rough spots at times, however. Wednesday Moore and running back Ronnie Hillman got into a brief post-play scuffle in a particularly heated set of team drills.

"I look at it like if you're not really out there fighting, having some kind of controversy, you're not really playing,'' Moore said.

"It's like two brothers fighting ... you slap 'em on the side of the head and move on,'' coach John Fox said.

In other Broncos news:

  • Broncos rookie running back C.J. Anderson, who led the team in rushing in the preseason opener in San Francisco last week, believes he got an advance look at what an NFL no-huddle offense looks like in his last season at California.Anderson, who was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted rookie immediately following the draft, rushed for 790 yards in his senior season with the Bears. And in the summer before the 2012 season began, former Cal coach Jeff Tedford spent a week with the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.

    Tedford, at the time, said he was looking for some inspiration to use tight ends and running backs more ways out of a spread look.

    "I think it gave me a glimpse of what that kind of offense would like in the NFL,'' Anderson said. "It gave a feel for what it looks like on Sunday. ... I think it's helped me some here.''

    Anderson got a few additional plays in Wednesday's practice because Knowshon Moreno was out with a bruised right knee. It meant Anderson got to run a few plays with the second-team offense. The Broncos have liked Anderson's work with the ball in his hands, but want to see him far more consistent in his assignments and avoid the concentration lapses he's shown at times.
  • At times Manning takes practice to the next level when it comes to trying to cover every scenario in training camp. the Broncos will, despite the expected presence of a few thousand fans at the last open-to-the-public practice of camp Thursday morning, likely break out the jumbo speakers for the workout.The Broncos use the speakers to pump in crowd noise during the regular season -- when the offense has the ball in the days leading up to road games and when the first-team defense is working in the days leading up to home games. The Broncos want to give the offense a little taste of a road atmosphere before the team heads to Seattle Friday afternoon for Saturday night's preseason game.
  • In the bad is good department, Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman made a big play out of a botched one during team drills. Hillman fumbled the ball forward as he tried to turn the corner around the right end and the ball bounced twice before he scooped it up on a dead run. Hillman then outraced all of the defenders, including safety David Bruton, for what would have been a scoring run.
  • Rookie wide receiver Lamaar Thomas, who left Tuesday's practice after a blow to his helmet in a red zone drill, is being treated for a concussion. He was held out of Wednesday's practice. ... In addition to Moreno, safety Quinton Carter (knee), running back Jeremiah Johnson (toe), wide receiver Quincy McDuffie (hamstring) and wide receiver Greg Orton (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. ... Former Broncos coach Red Miller, who guided the team to its first Super Bowl appearance to close out the 1977 season, was at Tuesday's practice. ... NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch is expected to visit Thursday's practice.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each AFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Denver Broncos: The Broncos are set in the secondary. Denver added key pieces throughout the roster as it girds for a Super Bowl run. It signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- who joins a strong group of cornerbacks -- and former San Diego standout Quentin Jammer, who will be moved from corner to safety and play sort of a roaming role. Denver believes Champ Bailey, who turns 35 Saturday, can still play at a high level. Helping Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie are the underrated Chris Harris and Tony Carter. The team also has third-round pick Kayvon Webster and 2012 fourth-round pick Omar Bolden. That’s a pretty deep group. Right now, the starting safeties are Rahim Moore and Mike Adams. But in addition to Jammer, Denver has David Bruton, who was getting first-team work in the offseason, and Quinton Carter. As with the cornerbacks, this is a deep group. Overall, the entire unit gives Denver great flexibility for different packages and in case of injury.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs boast one of the best secondaries in the NFL. It starts with the cornerbacks, who form arguably the top unit in the league. The new Chiefs regime went to work in free agency, adding Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith, two of the better cornerbacks available. Combine Robinson and Smith with incumbent Brandon Flowers -- known around the scouting community as one of the NFL's better corners -- and it’s a powerful group. Expect all three to be on the field often. The Chiefs aren’t too shabby at safety, either. They have Eric Berry, one of the best in the game, who came on strong at the end of last season after missing virtually all of 2011 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Kendrick Lewis is injury-prone but solid; any team where a player like Lewis is the weak link in the secondary is in pretty nice shape. The Chiefs also expect fifth-round pick Sanders Commings to play a big role, likely at safety.

Oakland Raiders: Last season, Oakland had perhaps the worst secondary situation in the NFL, especially at cornerback. That is no longer the case: The rebuilding Raiders are significantly better there in 2013. Oakland added Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter via free agency and D.J. Hayden with the No. 12 overall pick in the draft; they figure to be the Raiders' top three cornerbacks, with Hayden and Jenkins the starters. Hayden, though, must show he can stay healthy after a life-threatening heart surgery last November. He missed the past few weeks of the offseason program after undergoing a procedure to repair scar tissue in his stomach, a side effect of the heart surgery. The team expects him back for training camp in late July. Jenkins and Porter fell out of favor in recent seasons and are not upper-level cornerbacks -- but they are professionals and will help. The safeties have a chance to be strong. Tyvon Branch is a very solid player, and Oakland’s shining moment of the offseason was when it brought back Charles Woodson. Yes, he turns 37 in October, because he can still help this team. This unit may not be elite, but it will be competitive and not hamper Oakland’s defense.

San Diego Chargers: This is probably the thinnest group in the AFC West -- but it is top-heavy. Safety Eric Weddle is an elite player and a tremendous anchor for this unit. San Diego let 2012 starters Jammer and Antoine Cason walk via free agency without a fight -- but did a nice job in bringing aboard former Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, a scout favorite. Young Shareece Wright has a chance to start at the other cornerback spot. Opposite Weddle could be 2012 third-round pick Brandon Taylor, if he recovers from a torn ACL, or Darrell Stuckey. Marcus Gilchrist could also be in the mix. This unit has a chance to be competitive as the season goes on and has some interesting youth. For now, though, there are probably more questions about it than any of the division's other secondaries.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?

Denver Broncos: Glover Quin, S, Texans: Sure, I could see the Broncos making a big splash at a high-profile position like receiver in the form of someone like Mike Wallace or Wes Welker. I wanted to focus on a position that may not get as much thought in Denver, but where the team is interested in getting better. The Broncos are interested in adding to the secondary. A player like Quin would be a great fit. The team likes Rahim Moore (despite his playoff gaffe against the Ravens) and they have high hopes for Quinton Carter. But Quin can come in and help these guys and provide an upgrade from Mike Adams. Getting a tough player in the back of a strong defense would only help Denver.

Kansas City Chiefs: Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins: The Chiefs are an interesting team. Despite being 2-14 in 2012, they don’t have a ton of screaming needs. Getting a quality cornerback to team with Brandon Flowers may be just the thing this defense needs. The Chiefs tried it with Stanford Routt last season (to replace top dollar Dallas free-agent signee Brandon Carr), but it didn’t work. Yes, the Chiefs could use the No. 1 pick on Alabama's Dee Milliner and I still think a trade for Darrelle Revis would be worth exploring. But adding a tall, athletic corner like Smith could be the ticket as well. He won’t be cheap, but he has skills and a Smith-Flowers pairing would be interesting.

Oakland Raiders: Cary Williams, CB, Ravens: The Raiders won't have a ton to spend and they have a lot of positions that need help. But I’m going with a cornerback, because I think it is the team’s greatest need. Really, name a legitimate starting in-house candidate in Oakland that is not an emergency option. Williams may be too sought-after for Oakland to afford. But he is a solid starter who has been through the wars. If the price is right, he’d fill a big need for Oakland. A more affordable option will be former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter. I think Oakland -- coach Dennis Allen was Porter’s position coach in New Orleans -- will be interested, but if Williams fell to Oakland, I think it would be worth considering.

San Diego Chargers: Andy Levitre, G, Bills: Levitre is one of the best guards in the league. He will be sought after in free agency. But if the price is not through the roof, I think the Chargers will be a player for his services. The Chargers’ primary task this offseason is to improve the offensive line. Levitre would be a great start. Levitre, who is from California, likely would be interested in signing and reuniting with former Buffalo offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who was just hired by the Chargers. He has a zone-blocking scheme. San Diego coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers will run the scheme that best fits the players, and I'm sure D’Alessandris would like to reunite with Levitre to help introduce his system. The Chargers’ best offensive lineman, guard Louis Vasquez, is also free. In the best-case scenario, San Diego would be able to keep both players, but it’s difficult to put top resources into two guards, especially with the team needing a left tackle. But because Levitre has experience in D’Alessandris’ system, I could see him being a more valued target than Vasquez.
The Denver Broncos are reportedly going to investigate former Jets’ safety Jim Leonhard.

CBS Sports reported that Leonhard will visit the Broncos on Saturday. He completed a visit with Buffalo on Friday. The report said Leonhard is keeping his options open.

Clearly, so are the Broncos. Denver has been impressed with second-year safety Rahim Moore. He had been competing with fellow second-year player Quinton Carter, who has been injured. Mike Adams is the other starter. Leonhard has a reputation for being a tough player. He could add good veteran depth at the spot if Denver signs him.

In other AFC West news:

I’ve been asked often if I think former Carolina tackle Jeff Otah could end up in Denver with former coach John Fox. Well, if he can pass a physical, I think there could be some interest, but Otah might need some time before he is ready to sign with a team. Everybody could use a talented backup, and Fox is familiar with Otah. I think it’s a wait-and-see situation.

Oakland running back Darren McFadden, in a radio interview, discuses the changes in Oakland.

Instead of practicing with the Arizona Cardinals twice next week at the Chiefs’ camp, the Chiefs will work with Arizona just once, on Tuesday.

Oakland receiver Denarius Moore was back practicing Friday after taking Wednesday off because of a lingering hamstring issue.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A veteran Denver Bronco was relaxing after the first training camp practice of a monumental season for the franchise.

He shook his head.

“When was the last time we had something like this here?” he asked. “This is something.”

This is No. 18. This is Peyton Manning.

Everything has changed for the Broncos.

With one phone call from Manning to Denver leader John Elway in March, the landscape of the organization changed. The Broncos are no longer a league curiosity caused by Tim Tebow-mania. They are now relevant because Manning, who missed last season with a neck injury, is the story in the NFL.

The Broncos, though, aren’t consumed by being a popular story. They are focused on the impact Manning, at age 36, will have on the team. In public and in private, the Broncos are not worried about Manning’s health. They are simply in awe that he is on their side.

The organization feels it’s time to make a major push because of Manning.

“It’s very similar to the Super Bowl year we had in New Orleans," said new Denver cornerback Tracy Porter, a former Saint. "We have extremely high expectations on this team, starting with Peyton, all the way down to the last guy on the roster. Our expectations are not just to hopefully get to the playoffs. Our expectations are to get back to New Orleans to play for the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. ”

THREE HOT ISSUES:

1. Manning’s health: The Broncos operate as if Manning will be ready for the Sept. 9 opener against visiting Pittsburgh, but they won’t know if he will be fully healthy until he takes a few hits. Again, all indications are that Manning should be fine. He is throwing well, he hasn’t suffered a setback and he is practicing at a strong tempo. He is on pace to be ready for the season.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Peyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/US PRESSWIREThe Broncos won't know exactly what they have with Peyton Manning until he starts taking some hits.
2. Defensive readiness: The Broncos’ defense is still a work in progress. It went from No. 32 to No. 20 in the NFL last season under the guidance of head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Allen parlayed the success into the Raiders' head coaching job. Former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio, Fox’s defensive coordinator in Carolina in 2002, stepped in to replace Allen. The Fox-Del Rio pairing is strong, but this unit must continue to improve. It will have to play the first six games of the season without weakside linebacker D.J. Williams because of an NFL suspension, and pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil could face a short suspension for a recent gun arrest. So, the team will have to get a lot of players ready during camp as the Broncos try to continue the upward defensive swing.

3. Young receivers: Third-year receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will be in the spotlight throughout camp. Both are talented players who have a lot of promise. Playing with Manning should hasten their learning curve. But there is not a quarterback in the NFL who is as particular about his receivers as Manning, and both must adjust to Manning’s game. The early word is that both players are earning Manning's trust.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Broncos have a terrific head coach in Fox, whose presence and impact should not be discounted. He is an upper-echelon coach who has a firm grip on this program. His players love him and the overall spirit of the franchise is probably as high as it has been since the back-to-back Super Bowl-winning years in the late 1990s. Fox did a wonderful job last season turning a 4-12 weakling into an 8-8 team that won a playoff game. In Fox’s second season in Carolina, he led the team to the Super Bowl. Will it happen again in Denver? We’ll see, but his players fully believe in him, and that’s a huge head start.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

We do not yet know if the Broncos are loaded enough with talent to make a long playoff run. There are a lot of questions.

Will the team be able to run the ball enough to help Manning now that the Broncos aren’t using the Tebow-led option? Are the youngsters on the offensive line ready to protect Manning? Will they be good enough at defensive tackle and safety?

This team is far from a finished product and it faces a brutal schedule. Still, expectations are high because of Manning. But the truth is, Denver must build itself around Manning very quickly -- the chief challenge of training camp.

OBSERVATION DECK:

  • Players rave about Del Rio. They love his toughness and the fact that he is a former NFL player. Many players said Del Rio understands what they are going through and they feel they are on the same page with him already. The word around Denver’s camp is that the Fox-Del Rio relationship has taken off where it left off in Carolina.
  • [+] EnlargeDenver's Jack Del Rio
    AP Photo/Eric BakkeNew Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio held the same position for John Fox in Carolina.
    Watch for rookie running back Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick, to get plenty of chances to prove himself. Denver sees him as an explosive threat as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield.
  • Former Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie has the inside track to be Manning’s backup. Still, Adam Weber or rookie Brock Osweiler could pull off the surprise and beat him out.
  • The Broncos are high on undrafted rookie linebacker Steven Johnson. The Kansas product could get some looks at middle linebacker in the preseason.
  • The Broncos will look at a lot of punt return options. Having Decker do it may be risky. I think it is an area Denver will look to upgrade on the waiver wire.
  • While guard Chris Kuper is slowly coming back from a severe ankle injury suffered in Week 17 in 2011, the Broncos expect him to continue to make progress.
  • Running back Knowshon Moreno, the No. 12 overall pick in 2009, is back after suffering a torn ACL last season. Still, he has an uphill battle to impress this staff.
  • Keep an eye on fourth-round pick Omar Bolden, a cornerback. He was highly rated out of Arizona State, but he missed all of last season with a knee injury. He looks like a keeper.
  • The Broncos rave about linebacker Von Miller, the 2011 NFL rookie of the year. The pass-rusher is working diligently to improve his overall game. Coaches and teammates laud Miller for his desire to improve.
  • The Broncos would like to see middle linebacker Joe Mays shore up his tackling in camp. He is a solid player, but he whiffed too many times last season.
  • The Broncos love what they see in Porter. Because of his talent, experience and confidence, Porter should be able to handle the pressure of playing opposite Champ Bailey, according to the Broncos. Second-year safety Rahim Moore opened with the first- team defense. He will compete with fellow second-year safety Quinton Carter.
  • Veteran defensive tackle Ty Warren was working with the first-team defense. Before Warren re-committed to the team in June, Sealver Siliga worked with the first team. Mitch Unrein got some work with the first-team defensive line early in camp as Denver looked for the right rotation.
  • Defensive lineman Ben Garland is making an impression. He is athletic and has great feet and could make the team.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It appears Denver Broncos fans are over the loss of Tim Tebow.

Manning-mania is bubbling over in the Rockies.

The Denver Broncos opened training camp Thursday morning to a fan reception never seen before in these parts. An estimated 4,000-plus attended the opening day of practice to welcome Peyton Manning to Denver in his first public appearance in a Broncos helmet. The word is that late-arriving fans were having a difficult time getting into the practice.

The main parking lot adjacent to the practice field was full well before practice begin and people were forced to park a mile away from the facility.

The previous record for training camp at the team’s facility was just over 3,000. Yes, even Tebow-mania couldn’t attract this type of crowd.

Manning received a huge reception when he hit the practice field and his every completion spurred wild applause. Several fans were wearing Manning Denver jerseys; some were wearing Manning Indianapolis jerseys.

Meanwhile, in other Denver camp news, second year safety Rahim Moore opened with the first team defense. He will compete with fellow second-team safety Quinton Carter. Also, veteran defensive tackle Ty Warren was working with the first-team defense. Prior to Warren re-committing to the team in June, Sealver Siliga worked with the first team.
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

DENVER BRONCOS

Safety: Quinton Carter versus Rahim Moore

The two 2011 draft picks will fight it out to play along with free-agent pickup Mike Adams. Carter and Moore rotated in the offseason. If draft status is an indication, Moore will have the inside edge. He was a second-round pick and Carter was a fourth-rounder.

However, if their short NFL careers are a factor, Carter will have the edge. He was better than Moore as a rookie. Still, the team likes Moore’s long-term potential. His biggest issue appears to be confidence. He made some mistakes and he didn’t recover from them last year. He has vowed to work on his mental game. No matter who wins the starting job, I expect both players to see the field often.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Backup quarterback: Brady Quinn versus Ricky Stanzi

This is one of the more intriguing battles in Kansas City. Quinn was signed to be the backup to Matt Cassel because of his experience. He played for Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. It appeared that Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011, was earmarked for another year as the third-stringer.

However, Stanzi was impressive during the offseason and he and Quinn rotated as Cassel’s backup during organized team activities. It seems Quinn still has the edge, but Stanzi will get a fair shake. If he shows he has big potential in camp and in the preseason and Quinn is below average, I can see Stanzi overtaking Quinn.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Right tackle: Khalif Barnes versus Joe Barksdale

There are a few battles to watch in Oakland (including at tight end and at a cornerback spot), but this is a position to keep an eye on. Oakland’s offensive line is improving, but this is the weak area. Barnes has had his struggles, and some were surprised when he was re-signed. Oakland paid him enough to make it appear he will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Barksdale is a player the previous regime traded up to take in the draft last year. He has to show the new staff he can play in the zone-blocking scheme, which Barnes has some experience in. I think Barksdale will eventually take this job, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnes begins the season as the starter.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Kicker: Nate Kaeding versus Nick Novak

The Chargers decided early in the offseason they would let Kaeding and Novak engage in a good, old-fashioned kicking battle in training camp and the preseason. It should be fascinating to watch. These are two good kickers. I don’t think there is a favorite.

You’d think Kaeding would be the favorite because of his pedigree. However, after Kaeding went down for the season in Week 1 with a knee injury, Novak was terrific. If Kaeding can show he is fully healthy and he looks good, he could retake the job. But Novak will not give in easily. This battle should go the distance.
Brian Dawkins will be remembered as one of the few strong moves of the Josh McDaniels era in Denver.

Dawkins was signed by McDaniels on the first day of free agency in 2009. It was McDaniels’ first major move in Denver and it worked out well.

Just as he was in Philadelphia, Dawkins instantly became Denver’s spirited and vocal leader. He was the most respected player in Denver’s locker room for the past three years.

Monday, as expected, he announced his retirement. On the field, this move really won’t impact the Broncos. Dawkins is 38 and he had a serious neck injury last season. The Broncos didn’t expect him to be back.

When they brought him back for the 2011 season, the in-house thinking was that it would be for one more year. The Broncos drafted Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter last year and signed Mike Adams as a free agent this year. They could draft another safety in the mid-rounds this week.

The Broncos had moved on from Dawkins.

Still, he will be remembered for his impact and zeal he brought to Denver.

Dawkins will very likely end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he deserves to be inducted. Ultimately, Dawkins will be remembered for his special 13-year stay with the Eagles. But there is no doubt he made an impact in Denver.
MillerRon Chenoy/US PresswireSure, the Broncos have Peyton Manning, but their success may rest on Von Miller and the defense.

Barring a setback from the neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, Peyton Manning has the Denver Broncos’ offense covered. That side of the ball will be fine and will be in playoff form.

But what about the defense?

That side of the ball will be a key to Denver's season. If the 2012 Denver defense can make the strides it did in 2011, the Broncos have a chance to be a serious contender.

Bill Polian, who knows Manning well, has said he thinks the potential of the Broncos' defense is one of the reasons Manning chose to play in Denver. Polian, the Colts’ former general manager who brought Manning to Indianapolis and who is now an ESPN analyst, said last week he thinks the Denver defense could be a spark for the Manning-led offense.

“John Fox is going to coach up that defense and it has a chance to play great defense,” Polian said. “That will only help Peyton.”

However, I believe the Broncos have work to do before they can start playing great defense.

Tracy Porter
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireTracy Porter joins the Denver secondary and will pair with Champ Bailey.
This unit is a work in progress. It went from No. 32 in 2010 prior to Fox’s arrival to No. 20 in 2011 under the guidance of Fox and coordinator Dennis Allen, who is now the head coach in Oakland. The 2011 Denver Broncos will be remembered for the wild days of Tim Tebow, but it was the defense that rose up and solidified the team. With Manning running the offense and former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio running the defense, the team has a chance to go to the next level.

The defense in Denver starts with pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The pair combined for 21 sacks last season and they should be one of the most dynamic pass-rush duos in the NFL for years to come. Polian called the pair special and an anchor for the defense.

Denver upgraded at cornerback by signing Tracy Porter of New Orleans. He is a solid No. 2 cornerback and will make a strong pairing with the aging, but still dominant Champ Bailey. Porter, who has had challenges staying healthy, is an upgrade from Andre Goodman. Underrated safety Mike Adams was signed from Cleveland. He will pair with second-year player Quinton Carter, who made strides as the season went on. The team will give 2011 No. 2 pick Rahim Moore a chance to rebound from a rookie season in which he regressed. But Adams and Carter should be a serviceable pairing.

There are some problems, though. Outside linebacker D.J. Williams, one of the better defenders on the team, is facing a six-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance. He is fighting it in the form of a lawsuit. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley signed with New Orleans. Bunkley was a tone-setter, and even though he played only 43 percent of the snaps, he will be missed.

Denver has a major void at defensive tackle and it probably will take advantage of a strong draft class at the position and use the No. 25 pick on a player such as Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, Penn State’s Devon Still or LSU’s Michael Brockers. They also want to re-sign Marcus Thomas and hope 2011 free-agent signee Ty Warren is healthy after missing the past two seasons.

There is no doubt this is still a building project and that concerns Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

“I was very worried about this defense, but now I feel a little better about it after it signed Porter, who is a very solid No. 2 behind Bailey,” Williamson said. “But I still have my worries about the defense up the middle. Losing Bunkley hurts quite a bit, but maybe Ty Warren can help out this year. The safety position worries me. But they can sure rush the passer. The question is will be they be able to handle a physical offense.”

After being the bright spot of a surprise team in 2011, the Denver defense must take the next step in a year when, suddenly, much is expected from this team.

2011 AFC West draft rewind

February, 14, 2012
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As each team in the AFC West prepares for the NFL scouting combine next week, let’s review the AFC West 2011 draft classes:

DENVER BRONCOS

First pick: Linebacker Von Miller , No. 2 overall

Total picks: Nine

Stars: Miller was the shining star of this class. He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and he looks like he will be a dominant pass-rusher for years to come. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, a second-round pick, performed well as a starter and safety Quinton Carter really came on toward the end of the season. Carter was a fourth-round pick.

Dud: There is concern over safety Rahim Moore who regressed as the season went on. The second-round pick was not nearly as far along as Carter at the end of the season. Moore is a hard worker and there is hope for him, but the Broncos expected more from him.

Good start for Elway era: This was the first draft class under new Denver leader John Elway. The Broncos made some good draft decisions and the process seemed very organized. It was the first sign that Elway was prepared for his new role.

What’s the future of this class? This was a good class. Third-round pick Nate Irving will compete to start at middle linebacker and the Broncos are excited about tight ends Julius Thomas (fourth round) and Virgil Green (seventh round). Regardless of what happens with the rest of this class, Miller himself makes this group a winner.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

First pick: Receiver Jon Baldwin, No. 26

Total picks: Nine

Star: The player who created the most excitement was third-round pick Justin Houston at linebacker. He had first-round talent, but character issues dropped him to no. 70 overall. He was a playmaker, had 5.5 sacks and looks like he can be a major star.

Duds: Baldwin wasn’t terrible, but he was a disappointment because he suffered a broken thumb in a camp fight with veteran Thomas Jones. Baldwin didn’t debut until October. He showed flashes and I think he will be a fine player, but he hurt the team by fighting with Jones. It was a terrible start to his career.

Character questions? Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli had a reputation for steering clear of players with character issues. He changed course by taking Baldwin and Houston because of their draft value. It worked with Houston but the Baldwin fight raised more concerns. It will be interesting to see if Pioli takes any chances this year.

What’s the future of this class? I like it. Third-round pick Allen Bailey has a real chance to shine at defensive end and second-round pick Rodney Hudson may have a chance to start at either guard or center this season. Fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi had a chance to be the backup quarterback this year. It was a good group.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

First pick: Guard Stefen Wisniewski, No. 48

Total picks: Eight

Stars: Wisniewski and fifth-round pick Denarius Moore at wide receiver. Wisniewski looked like an eight-year veteran. The nephew of former Raiders’ star offensive lineman and assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski was born to be a Raider and he looks like a future star. He’s bright, athletic and he has a mean streak. Moore opened eyes in camp and made a lot of plays during the season. There were plays when he simply took over and he ended up with 33 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns. I wouldn’t be shocked if he doubles those totals in 2012.

Duds: It would be unfair to call the Raiders' third-round picks -- cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and offensive lineman Joseph Barksdale (who Oakland traded its 2012 second-round pick to get) -- duds. But neither player made any real impact. They are projects and they have a chance to be good in the future, but they just weren’t standouts as rookies.

End of an era: This was the final draft selected by the legendary Al Davis. I have a feeling Moore may be Davis’ final gift to the Raider Nation.

What’s the future of this class? If Van Dyke, Barksdale, defensive back Chimdi Chekwa and running back Taiwan Jones can become major role players, this will be a great class. If not, Wisniewski and Moore will carry a class that didn’t feature a first-round pick. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor technically wasn’t part of the Raiders’ 2011 class because he was taken in the supplemental draft later in the summer. Drafting him cost Oakland a third-round pick in 2012. He was a rookie last season and it will be interesting to see how he develops. He was a Davis pick and the new regime may or may not like him. Either way, he is still a project.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

First pick: Defensive end Corey Liuget, No. 18.

Total picks: Eight

Stars: Liuget wasn’t great in a class that featured several impact defensive players. But he did look like somebody who will make an impact down the road. Third-round pick, receiver Vincent Brown, also showed nice progress. I think he could end up having a very solid career.

Duds: Second-round pick Marcus Gilchrist struggled at cornerback when he started. Still, his future is not lost. He could be moved to safety or perhaps he could be a nickel. The Chargers waived running back Jordan Todman. The team hoped the sixth-round pick could become the next Darren Sproles. Todman is now with Minnesota.

Back to the future? The Chargers surprisingly took Liuget even though many observers thought that San Diego would take an offensive lineman or a pass-rusher. Now, a year later, the Chargers are looking at offensive linemen and pass-rushers with the No. 18 pick.

What’s the future of this class? I think the other three classes in the division all have better potential. I’m not sure if this will ever be a great class, but Liuget and Brown can really help it. Linebacker Jonas Mouton (second round) missed the entire season with an injury. He will get a chance to play this season.

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