NFL Nation: Terrance Knighton

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For all of the time and verbiage expended on the discussion of quarterbacks in recent meetings between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, the bottom line has often been found, not in well-constructed spirals thrown from here to there, but at ground level.

Yes, since the start of the 2006 season, these two teams have played eight times, including twice in the playoffs, and the team that has pounded out more yardage in the run game has won six of the games.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsAqib Talib and the Broncos will need to rely on its top-ranked run defense to beat the Patriots.
"Doesn't surprise me," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "Not at all. I think people on offense know every defense wants to stop the run, make you do one thing because then you go after the quarterback. If people run the ball on you, then the quarterback stays clean and he gets do what he wants when he wants. And with Tom Brady that's never a good thing."

There was the Patriots' 257-yard rushing day in 2008, their 251-yard rushing day in 2012 -- both wins for New England -- to go with the quirks as well. The read-option Broncos of 2011 ran for 252 yards on the Patriots' defense, but lost when Patriots head coach Bill Belchick's plan stymied Tim Tebow into an 11-of-22 passing day with no touchdowns.

Or the 280 yards rushing the Broncos pounded out in last year's regular-season meeting when the Broncos launched themselves to a 24-0 halftime lead before losing 34-31 in overtime. But, in the end, the rushing numbers have been a quality crystal ball for how this rivalry between AFC power brokers has gone over the past 13 seasons even with Peyton Manning behind center for the Broncos since 2012 and Brady behind center for the Patriots in all but one of those games (the Patriots' win in '08 when Brady was recovering from season-ending knee surgery).

The Patriots have often pounded out game-changing running room against the Broncos' lighter defensive formations, in the nickel and dime, when New England spreads the field, forcing the Broncos to respond with additional defensive backs. The Broncos, with rookie cornerback Bradley Roby having added the athleticism and the willingness to tackle in the run game as the nickel corner to the already physical tandem on Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, tackle better on the outside than they have in recent seasons.

"I think at the end of the day there's no doubt that they've had some great battles, had great success over time, both of them," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "In Peyton's case (with) two different teams. Obviously with Tom (Brady), one team. But I think so much more -- it's a team game. That doesn't get a lot of publicity but at the end of the day it's going to be the Broncos versus the Patriots."

This past Sunday, even with Brady having thrown the ball 35 times in his five-touchdown blitz of the Chicago Bears, the Patriots still ran the ball 32 times -- for 122 yards -- including an 86-yard day from Jonas Gray. Gray is a player who has already spent time on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad in his career and been cut by the Miami Dolphins.

The Broncos enter Sunday's game with the league's top run defense, with opponents having rushed for an average of 72.4 yards per game. Since the Kansas City Chiefs pounded out 133 yards in Week 2 to go with 129 yards by the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3, the Broncos have surrendered 37, 31, 62 and 61 net rushing yards.

And 23 of the San Diego Chargers' 61 rushing yards last Thursday night came on the game's final play with the Chargers running out the final 18 seconds of the game from their own 31-yard line.

"It's the same mindset every week," said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. "We don't want people running the ball on us. We want to get to all of the things we can do with our packages in the pass rush. To do that we have to stop the run."

"We've had a good start, but each week we want to get that number lower and lower," Knighton said. "Two specific categories we look at in our D-line group and that's run defense and sacks. We put a lot of emphasis in that. We talk about it off the field, it's on our minds all the time. When you have corners like Aqib and Chris coming in and making tackles, safeties like our safeties, that means everybody on the field is committed. And the number shows how you swarm."
DENVER -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after the 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers:
  • Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. had a good start to what he said would be a "great weekend" when he nabbed his second interception of the season with 13:35 to play in the second quarter. Harris' wife Leah is also scheduled to give birth to the couple's first child and was being induced late Thursday. "We were in the second half, and in first half my mind wasn't really in the game to me, and I just told Coach [John Fox] that I was going to turn up and make a play for us, and I did that."
  • Running back Ronnie Hillman now has two 100-yard games in this past three starts since Montee Ball suffered a right groin injury Oct. 5 against the Arizona Cardinals. Hillman finished with 109 yards on his 20 carries against the Chargers and has had 37-yard runs in back-to-back games. He has averaged 4.2, 5.3 and 5.5 yards per carry in those three starts. "I feel like I can do a lot more," Hillman said. "... I just plan on getting better every week, and if getting better every week helps this offense, I'll do my best. ... When you understand the offense, you understand what's going on, the angles, you start to realize it gets easier, you see the play."
  • Broncos linebacker Lamin Barrow, a regular on the special-teams units, suffered a concussion and did not return to the lineup. Barrow is now under the guidelines of the league's concussion protocol.
  • The Broncos like how the defense has played in recent weeks, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is still looking for the complete game, as it were. "We just have that one series [every game] where it looks like we don't know what we're doing," Knighton said. "And our coaches are putting us in good position to make plays, and we just have to make them."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The numbers speak for themselves and they’re essentially shouting at everyone at the moment.

Shouting that Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller leads the NFL with eight sacks while defensive end DeMarcus Ware is among four players tied for second in the league with seven sacks. Miller’s eight sacks put him ahead of six of the league’s teams and those 15 sacks between the Broncos’ two marquee pass-rushers put the pair ahead of 14 teams.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDeMarcus Ware's ability to get to the quarterback has benefited the Broncos this season.
The Broncos’ 21 sacks also tie them for third in the league though they've played one fewer game than the other four teams with at least 21. But if sacks had assists, Miller and Ware know who would get them. Because while the glamour guys collect the highlights along the way, it takes a defensive village to raise a sack.

"And those guys in the middle, they make it go," Miller said. "It’s like I’ve said, they’re unselfish, they just get to work."

In the end, it’s simple math, really -- the smaller the pocket for the quarterback to move around in, the bigger the chance Miller or Ware will finish a play with a sack.

They are the UTR Club perhaps, an under the radar football thing they all understand. And Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Marvin Austin Jr., Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson have done the roll-up-the-sleeves work on the interior that, both Miller and Ware say, has allowed the Broncos’ edge rushers to have exactly the kind of impact the team had hoped.

Knighton, in particular, has caught the eye of personnel executives around the league as one of the most disruptive players in the Broncos' defense, even in the mass of humanity along the line of scrimmage.

"We wouldn’t be able to have success that we’re having right now without Malik and Derek Wolfe and Marvin and all those guys," Miller said. " … It’s like in basketball when you’ve got Kobe and Shaq. Those guys really make it go and I’m not trying to be funny about it, but those guys -- if it wasn’t for what Malik and Derek do -- we wouldn’t be able to do what we do on the outside. … They’re very unselfish."

This all was part of the offseason plan. In a defensive overhaul where plenty of attention in free agency and the draft went to the secondary, the Broncos’ decision-makers hoped recovery from injuries would give them back the defensive front they wanted.

Wolfe had spent the back half of the 2013 season on injured reserve after suffering seizure-like symptoms as the Broncos prepared to go on a road trip. Miller had suffered a torn ACL in a December game against the Houston Texans and Ware was a player the Dallas Cowboys were prepared to cut loose because, "They felt like they had a decision to make and maybe I wasn’t the player I was."

The Broncos gladly dove in with a three-year, $30 million contract for Ware with the idea that a fresh start would be what was needed after he finished with six sacks in 2013. It’s what defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had been talking about for much of the offseason when he said that beyond the injuries that sent five defensive starters to injured reserve by the time the Broncos played in Super Bowl XLVIII, the fact the team wasn’t able to replace Elvis Dumervil’s impact last season impacted what the defense could do the most.

With Dumervil and Miller together in ’12, the two combined for 29.5 sacks as the Broncos tied for the league lead with 52 and the Broncos allowed just five rushing touchdowns.

"I think it all goes together," Knighton said. "When we get the good push in there, don’t give quarterbacks room to move up and throw, with DeMarcus and Von coming from the outside, that’s what we want. Hopefully I get a sack or two with all that, but if they get a sack, if we see them with the quarterback, we know we did our job, too. Sacks make everybody feel good."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a team captain, was notified by the NFL on Wednesday that he has been fined $11,025 for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.

The penalty was assessed on an extra-point play following a 22-yard scoring pass from Peyton Manning to Julius Thomas with 27 seconds remaining in the first half. Knighton, who is not expected to appeal the fine, plays on the interior of the offensive line on extra-point attempts.

In Knighton’s letter from the league, the fine was assessed for "abusive language," which is a point of emphasis for NFL officials this season. During the league meetings this past March and with Michael Sam vying to make an NFL roster as the league’s first openly gay player, the NFL’s competition committee made it clear to owners and coaches that the rules for abusive language would be enforced for racial slurs, comments about sexual orientation or other “verbal abuse."

Knighton told some of his teammates Wednesday the fine was for directing a racial slur at another player.

Knighton’s fine won’t be the only one for the Broncos this week. Linebacker Lamin Barrow was ejected from the game with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter when he threw a punch at a Jets player following a Broncos kickoff return.

The league’s fine schedule shows a $27,562 penalty for a first offense for “fighting," but there also is a smaller $5,512 fine for “unnecessarily entering fight area (active involvement)."

That incident came when Thomas was caught by network TV on-field microphones firing off a profanity after his 4-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Thomas was heard screaming, “It’s so f---ing easy. It’s so easy."

Had Thomas been facing a Jets player at that moment -- he was facing the crowd in the back of the end zone -- he could have been flagged for taunting or unsportsmanlike conduct and been subject to a $8,268 fine for taunting or the $11,025 unsportsmanlike conduct fine.

“I can’t really tell you what I’m going to scream when I’m out there on the field, that’s a different guy," Thomas said when asked about the play Wednesday. “He gets a little excited out there, hopefully the mics won’t be turned up as high and you can just scream whatever you want like you’ve been doing since you were a kid and you don’t have to go home and hear about it.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A day after a gritty overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos coach John Fox said good isn't good enough and close isn't close enough.

That, when all was said and done, the 26-20 overtime loss in CenturyLink Field wasn't redemption, revenge, or even all that acceptable, as the Broncos entered their bye week.

"Do you mean is there a moral victory? The answer to that would be no," Fox said Monday. "But like all games, you have things you do well and things you don't do well. We call it the good, the bad and the ugly. We ended up on the short end of the stick. It was our first loss of the season. We're disappointed about that but we'll look at it."

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports"Do you mean is there a moral victory? The answer to that would be no," Joh Fox said of the overtime loss in the Super Bowl rematch with the Seahawks.
Monday, the Broncos players went through the game video from Sunday's loss and while the team made a significantly better showing than it did in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, a little time to sleep on it didn't make anyone in the Broncos complex feel any better about how things went.

"That's important every week, regardless of who you play, it's a physical, combative game every week," Fox said. "I think to go on the road in an environment that's proved to be tough to win at over the course of three years, yeah I think that's always important. It's going to be important the next time we go on the road. Did we have a chance to win the game? Yeah, but we didn't finish it and we need to figure that out. We're going to be doing everything we can to do that, regardless of who it's against."

"We played better, we did some good things, but it wasn't what we wanted," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We didn't play to be close, be better than the last time. We always want to win. We'll go through things and get it right."

The Broncos will do some on field work this week -- Fox said Monday the team would likely practice in some fashion Tuesday and Wednesday -- before giving the players four days off for the bye weekend. Some of that time will be used to try find some solutions in the run game -- the Broncos are averaging just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt -- and to get things a little more dialed in on offense as a whole.

Quarterback Peyton Manning's eight touchdown passes put him second in the league, to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, but Manning has thrown just one of them to any of the team's wide receivers (Demaryius Thomas). Tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme have five and two touchdown catches respectively.

And while there is some take-what-the-defense-gives-them at work there, it is also a sign things are not running quite as smoothly as the Broncos had hoped.

"I know everybody in there, coaches included, need to improve," Fox said. " ... I don't know that it's really people doing a lot of things differently (against the Broncos). I think it's fair to say that we might be more balanced now. That's really kind of how I'd say it. I think it's important in football to have that balance and not be one-dimensional. That's what I'd say up to this point. I don't think our offense has been lacking. We're just trying to win games. Right now, we're 2-1."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows all about bend-but-don’t-break defense.

It’s just he’s not all that interested in either.

“I’m not looking for any bend," Del Rio said this week. “But at the end of the day, we want to make plays. It just so happens that we’re giving ourselves a chance and then coming up with plays to stop people from scoring in key moments. So that’s the good part: The resiliency, the determination, those are the good things. And we want to clean it up and not let it get like that. But it’s a constant battle … So like I said, we’re hard at work. We’re aware of things that need to be better. We’re working hard to make sure they get better."

When the Broncos take the field Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the plan was for the Broncos’ remade defense to have shown itself ready for a Super Bowl rematch, for the defense to have shown it can be what both Del Rio and the players have said they believe it could be, and that’s a top-five unit. And two weeks into the regular season, the new faces have had plenty of impact, and the group has made a fourth-down, game-clinching play in each of the first two victories, over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Broncos also find themselves 28th in the league in yards allowed per game -- how the NFL ranks defenses statistically overall -- at 394.0 yards allowed per game and 14th in points allowed per game (20.5). The Broncos are tied for 10th in sacks (five), tied for ninth in interceptions (two) and have not yet recovered a fumble.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware and the Denver Broncos' defense are looking to make a bigger impact.
“I wouldn’t say we’re searching for anything," Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “I always say there is room for improvement. We have all the players here, and we’re playing good enough to win games. But you’ve got to have those shutout games, those games you want to have on defense -- those big turnover games, interceptions, getting more pressure on the quarterback, keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not having those big games."

Against the Seahawks, it means having all of the above. It’s about keeping quarterback Russell Wilson under duress, limiting his escape routes. It’s about keeping running back Marshawn Lynch from controlling the tempo with yard after yard after contact. It’s about, for the Broncos, being far better than they were in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The defense received most of the attention in the offseason with the signings of Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to go with first-round pick Bradley Roby this past May. But new faces, to go with the Broncos returning from stints on injured reserve -- linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe -- means the Broncos are still working to fit the pieces together.

That can be more difficult on defense, as teams rarely do in any practice what just might be the most important job on defense -- tackle at game speed. They can simulate, they can work on form and positioning, but they don’t get to see how they close the deal until the games get played. From the Seahawks' perspective, the group in front of them Sunday won't be close to the unit they faced in the Super Bowl, given at least seven projected starters on defense for the Broncos on Sunday did not play in the Super Bowl, and just two of the usual starters on defense -- defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams -- will be playing in the same spots as they did in the title game.

“We’re a real good unit," Del Rio said. “It’s early in the year. We’ve played well in spurts. We’ve played well in big moments. We’ve contributed to two wins. But we feel like there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and our guys all understand that. But we have a good group, and we’re working hard."

Said Moore: “We know what we have; we know what we can do. I’m not sure the last couple weeks we win both those games all the time in the past. We feel like we want to be on the field with the game on the line, we want that. We can play better, and we will. Every guy in here wants to show what we can do and keep getting the W's."

John Fox: 'There are no cupcakes'

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
DENVER – Observed and heard in the Broncos' locker room after their win 24-17 over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday:
  • The Broncos were left to explain what was on, at least some levels, an unsightly win. And while the scrappy, not-so-pretty wins were celebrated before Peyton Manning signed, the Broncos 11-penalty day where the Chiefs ran 29 more plays on offense than Denver did was not. It was enough to get coach John Fox’s hackles up . “We’re not going to win every game 58 to nothing,’’ Fox said. Fox later added: “There are no cupcakes, there never will be. They’re all tough and you feel good about all of [the wins].’’
  • The Broncos' defensive players all say they love the crowd noise, the thunder of stomping feet by those in the seats for their home games. But Sunday the Broncos struggled in their own stadium at times. The Broncos' defense had five offside penalties, including one by defensive end Quanterus Smith that negated what would have been a game-clinching interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “They had a really good snap count,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “There’s no excuse, it’s watching the ball. But when you have a lot of movement before the snap of the ball, you get a little antsy.’’
  • The Broncos' defense has made a play on fourth down in the closing minutes to preserve a seven-point victory in each of the first two games. Last week it was rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocking a pass away from Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and this week it was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knocking down a pass on fourth down with 15 seconds to play. “We just got to end the game there,’’ cornerback Aqib Talib said. “We saw the clock, we saw the down and distance, defense just had to end that game. We like being on field last.’’
  • The Broncos came out of the game with two injuries -- to linebackers Lerentee McCray and Von Miller. Initially McCray’s looks to be more serious. He was taken to the locker room in the first quarter with a right knee injury and did not return. McCray will have an MRI on Monday, but after the preliminary exam there was some concern he could miss some time. Miller, who was not in the game during the Chiefs’ final drive, will be evaluated more on Monday as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The bottom line in any NFL season will always be what happens in the season's final game.

The champs are the champs and everybody else is not. Or as Denver Broncos coach John Fox has put it: "There's only one happy team at the end of every season. Everybody else is mad they weren't that team, living with that bitter taste and thinking about how good an opportunity they gave themselves to be that team."

[+] Enlarge Peyton Manning
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyPeyton Manning threw 10 completions for 78 yards in the Broncos' 21-16 preseason win Thursday night.
So, what happened in Super Bowl XLVIII will always be what happened for the Broncos. And what happens in any of their four preseason games in the new season can't wash that away, no matter how much August optimism is wrapped around it all.

Still, for a team that watched its title hopes swept away in back-to-back seasons in that final game, the Broncos are going to take a little solace when they show bounce-back ability at any time, even in a preseason game like Thursday night's.

"We are just trying to have a different mentality this year," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "Running the ball, defense, be physical to go with everything else this team can do."

The high-flying Broncos at times have wrestled with the "finesse" label since quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in 2012, but scoring a single-season record 606 points will do that in the second of back-to-back 13-3 seasons. Especially when most of those touchdowns came out of a three-wide-receiver formation with Manning in the shotgun and the Broncos working at warp speed.

But against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason opener, the Broncos showed a little get-up-off-the-mat personality.

They rolled the dice a bit, using a preseason game for what a preseason game is for -- to work on stuff -- when they opened their first possession on offense in power looks. They got one first down, but didn't move past their own 37 before their first punt.

They came back on their next possession, using their favorite look on offense -- three wide receivers -- for a 14-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that took 9 minutes, 9 seconds off the clock. That touchdown drive was longer in elapsed time than any such drive the Broncos had in all of 2013.

The Broncos also had four penalties on the drive to go with a bad snap on a second-and-goal from the Seahawks' 2.

"I've never had an 18-play drive in the preseason, I've never had anything like that," Manning said. "I know the coaches will probably be pleased that it's a lot of plays to learn from on the film. All I can say is that it's good we overcame some things. The flags were out tonight. I think that was clear. The fact that we were able to overcome some penalties and still get a touchdown drive -- I always talk about getting situations to occur in the preseason -- that's something that you want to be able to overcome in the regular season. You get a penalty, 'Hey, it's bad, but let's try to find a way to overcome it.' "

Backup Brock Osweiler ended the third quarter with a wish-he-could-have-it-back interception, but rebounded to throw a 34-yard touchdown on the team's next possession.

Early in the third quarter, the Broncos also overcame a sequence of penalties on four consecutive plays, a feat that would have been far more difficult, facing a first-and-35 situation, had they not been bailed out by a pass interference penalty on Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane in the fifth play of the sequence.

"We know the season is where we'll show what we can do, but still you always want to be a team that can overcome things, in any game, starters and backups," Knighton said. "That's always going to help you. Things are going to happen, football is one of those games, it's not always going to be pretty. The good teams overcome the things that happen to it in a game. Just line up and play the next play."

Said Osweiler: "You've got to erase. You've got to move forward."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Many of the prime-time players who had a role in Super Bowl XLVIII this past February won't make more than a cameo in Thursday night's preseason opener for the Denver Broncos.

There is a chance, though, that the opening few plays of Thursday's game with the Seattle Seahawks could offer a brief, yet intense batch of plays, all these months after the Seahawks' 35-point win over the Broncos.

"We won't need any more speeches," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "They are the champs, and they get the last word. But ultimately our goal is to get back to the big show and win it this time. I think that playing them in the preseason and the regular season will show if we're ready or not to take that next step. I'm just looking forward to it."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Evan VucciPeyton Manning and the Broncos have been answering questions about the Seahawks since the embarrassing loss in the Super Bowl. The Broncos and Seahawks meet this week in the preseason opener for both teams.
"Even though it's a preseason game, you know it's going to be physical," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. "We're looking to be physical. You know they're already physical. It's going to be a head-knocker. The first preseason game, regardless, we're both looking to set the tone for the rest of the season."

Backups will account for most of whatever becomes of Thursday night's affair at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And given the two teams will face each other, for real, in the third week of the regular season, it's unlikely either of them decides to show much to the other.

But given this is the Broncos' first opponent since the Super Bowl blowout, it does offer something to consider. Especially since some in the league quietly agree with what Bobby Wagner said on ESPN -- that the Broncos were intimidated by the Seahawks' defense in the title game.

Wagner even used the word "timid." The Broncos have been answering questions about how they lost the Super Bowl and about the way in which they lost it every day since it happened. Even as recently as after Saturday's scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, quarterback Peyton Manning was asked about the Seahawks, as well as the Super Bowl loss, and if that loss motivates them in the season to come.

"I think the entire team has been motivated," Manning said at his deflecting best. "We're trying to get better, trying to be a better team than we were last year but that started back in April though when we got back on the offseason program. We have worked hard every day and as a veteran player, I certainly appreciate that.”

Broncos coach John Fox has tried to turn down the hype burner a bit on the whole thing when he offered this weekend: "It's the preseason, not a lot of people remember the preseason."

And it should be noted Manning played all of seven snaps in last year's preseason opener -- in San Francisco -- and he was 2-of-4 passing for 13 yards. This won't be a long night for anybody's regulars, but there should be some quality entertainment on the smattering of snaps the starters do play on both sides.

And given the preseason meeting and the regular-season meeting with the Seahawks are just more than six weeks apart on the football calendar, and the fact all of the rugged NFC West teams are on the Broncos' schedule this season, the Broncos' on-field response to the Super Bowl loss figures to be a topic for much of the season.

"Of course it means something," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has been indoctrinated since his arrival in free agency this past March. "That's a defense that beat us in the Super Bowl -- and I'm going to say ‘us' because now I'm a Denver Bronco -- but it's one that beat us in the Super Bowl. So we've got to go out, we've got to make a statement. There are a lot of guys who are hungry and a lot of guys that are excited that we do have the Seattle Seahawks the first preseason game and in the regular season."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is the meal and there is the parsley that simply rides along on the plate.

Whatever becomes of the 2014 season for the Denver Broncos, the team's offense, coming off the highest-scoring season in the league's history, will fuel much of the discussion as well as the team's fortunes along the way.

But as the Broncos get down to some of their offseason business this week, the team's defensive players have decided they don't want to just be ornamental. They want to have an impact.

"We just don't want to be that defense that does enough to get by and the offense is putting up 40 points," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "We just want to be that defense that goes out there and dominates and be talked about."

[+] EnlargeDenver's Terrance Knighton
Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)"We just don't want to be that defense that does enough to get by and the offense is putting up 40 points," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
On the way to their second 13-3 season in a row, their third consecutive AFC West title and a Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos offense scored a record 606 points and quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL single-season records for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477). And the defense? Well, five starters finished the year on injured reserve as the unit finished 19th in the league in yards allowed per game (356.0) and 22nd in points allowed per game (24.9).

When all was said and done, 10 opponents scored at least 21 points and the Broncos surrendered 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards.

"I think last year we made a mistake of just having the guys we had thinking that was enough and not putting in the effort to be great," Knighton said. "That's something we're not talking about this year, the talent we have. We just want to go out there and put out the work. Like I said, just be a top defense and not be dominant in certain spots."

The Broncos lost three defensive starters in free agency -- linebacker Wesley Woodyard, cornerback Champ Bailey and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- but they responded with urgency, signing cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward. They used a first-round pick on cornerback Bradley Roby. And the players themselves, the new arrivals and the holdovers, have kicked around the idea of being more than some high-profile passengers on the Broncos express.

So much so that when the Broncos' strength and conditioning coach, Luke Richesson, gave the players a day off Tuesday from the usual conditioning sessions, the defensive players all showed up for work any way.

"Everybody has that mindset," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We thought we had better talent than how we played sometimes last season and we think we have a lot of talent this year."

"It's always exciting to start over," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "When you have a collection of guys coming back like we do -- a very talented group returning from injury, we also have a very talented group that we brought in -- free agency and draft picks. So getting all of those guys back out on the field, it's an exciting time of year."

When the Broncos sifted through what went wrong with the defense, the injuries to linebacker Von Miller, Harris, Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe certainly played a part. But executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has also consistently referenced a hole in last year's roster-building.

"We never really replaced Elvis [Dumervil]," Elway said.

Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks in 2009 with 17 and had 63.5 sacks in six seasons with the Broncos, signed with the Baltimore Ravens last season after a fax fiasco forced the Broncos to release him to avoid paying him a bonus. It's why the Broncos were so persistent in their pursuit of Ware, who got a three-year deal worth $30 million, because they wanted the same kind of pressure package Dumervil and Miller provided when the Broncos were a top-five defense -- second in yards allowed per game and third in scoring defense.

They believe a nickel package with Ware and Miller rushing the passer -- in which offenses have to decide where and how to slide their protection plans -- with Talib, Harris and Roby at cornerback is faster and more athletic than last season's defense. The defensive players have already shown more edge as they work through the non-contact portions of the offseason program.

"The biggest way is as coaches, we provide a blueprint, we provide kind of a map for them," Del Rio said. "But then [the players] have to take it and make it their own. So the interaction they have, the time they spend lifting weights and running, different guys emerge. Guys earn the respect of their peers and I think as you play and you're here and as you show you're a guy that can be counted on, then your voice becomes a little more important. So that's how I think you kind of grow into it. Very rarely does a guy just plug himself and say, 'Hey I'm the leader.' So as coaches that's something that we encourage obviously, for guys to step up and take charge and be accountable and take responsibility for each other ... I feel good about our group."

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Broncos 

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

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

No compensatory pick for Broncos

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Denver Broncos had held out a small hope to get at least one compensatory pick for the annual selection weekend, but the league did not agree with that math.

The NFL released its list of compensatory draft picks Monday -- 13 teams were awarded 32 picks in all -- and the Broncos didn’t make the complicated mathematical cut. This year’s compensatory picks were awarded based on signings and losses in free agency before the 2013 season.

Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were among the players signed by the Broncos a year ago with Vasquez having been named an All-Pro this past season and all five going on to be starters. Cornerback Tracy Porter, who went on to be a 16-game starter for the Oakland Raiders, and safety Jim Leonhard were among the team’s biggest free agency losses.

The team's biggest departure was defensive end Elvis Dumervil, but since he was under contract when he was released by the Broncos following the well-publicized fax fiasco, he does not count as a loss in free agency. Players whose contracts have expired are considered in the math.

At the moment the Broncos have seven draft picks, one in each of the seven rounds.
When he was behind center for the Denver Broncos, John Elway was a 30-something player, was one for quite some time in fact. He was a Super Bowl starter as a 37- and a 38-year-old as the Broncos won back-to-back titles in the final two years of his playing career.

So he knows the value a productive, respected, proven veteran player can bring to a team, on the field and in the locker room.

But as an executive charged with spending Pat Bowlen’s money wisely and keeping the Broncos relevant in the Super Bowl chase every season, Elway has been particular about handing out the team’s biggest checks in free agency to the over-30 crowd.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/James D. SmithJohn Elway on signing pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware: "We feel like he's got a lot of football ahead of him."
In fact, three trips into free agency in his current job, the list is essentially two -- Peyton Manning and now DeMarcus Ware -- and Elway is pretty clear on why he made them exceptions to the rule.

“I like to get Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders," Elway said.

In 2011, Elway’s first year in his role as the team’s chief football decision-maker, the Broncos only dabbled in free agency, sticking with short-term deals for the likes of Marcus Thomas, Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario.

In 2012, the Broncos dove in for Manning for a $96 million deal that included a pile of guaranteed money when Manning was ready to turn 36 following four neck surgeries. That has worked out with back-to-back 13-3 seasons and back-to-back division titles with some NFL single-season records tossed in.

The rest of the deals in 2012 were largely short-term, low-impact contracts. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen received three-year deals. Tamme turned 27 just after signing his deal, and Dreessen was 29 when he signed. The 30-and-over crowd of Keith Brooking, Jim Leonhard, Dan Koppen and Brandon Stokley received one-year deals.

Safety Mike Adams was 30 when he signed and received a two-year deal. Adams, however, had played in at least 15 games in five of the previous six seasons before arriving in Denver. The rest, players such as Shaun Phillips and Quentin Jammer, both 30 or older, received one-year deals without signing bonuses.

In 2013, the Broncos’ biggest contract in free agency (four years, $23.5 million) went to guard Louis Vasquez, who was 25 when he signed his deal and went on to be named All-Pro. Terrance Knighton received a two-year deal, as did Wes Welker.

This past week, the Broncos were one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, but they still largely stuck to the younger-is-better plan when the big money was in play. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward are 27 (Sanders turned 27 this week), and cornerback Aqib Talib is 28.

“It’s not [win] for now. We want young football players who are going to be here for a long time," Elway said. “... The age thing is big."

But in Ware, the Broncos saw a durable, high character player with 117 career sacks who has been a team captain and performed over the long haul. Ware, who soon will be 32, received a three-year, $30 million deal from the Broncos.

For that deal not to sting the salary cap, however, Ware simply has to play at least two of those seasons and be a major contributor. But the Broncos like that Ware’s preparation is unquestioned and that he has missed just three games in his career -- all in 2013.

“With 117 sacks, yeah, we feel like he’s got a lot of football ahead of him," Elway said. " ... We think he's going to perform at a high level, and with the way he practices, prepares and his knowledge of the game, he's going to help us on a lot of levels."

Elway the player made a career of taking risks with the ball and often turning those opportunities into history. Elway the executive has been more prudent -- a guy looking down the road, avoiding the franchise-crushing confines created by a we'll-worry-about-it-later approach to the salary cap.

“You have your wish list," Elway said. “We’re fortunate enough on our wish list we were able to X off a lot of guys on our wish list and [they] were able to come here. ... We want to plug in the right guys, the guys that make sense for us as an organization and guys who can be here and help us win for a long, long time."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Elway said "everything in my power," he meant everything.

Everything as in Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen’s checkbook and incessant desire to win. Everything as in Elway’s legacy as a Hall of Fame player. Everything as in a presumptive Hall of Famer currently at quarterback, and everything as in one of the most favorable salary-cap positions among the 2013 playoff teams.

Yes, the Broncos, still bruised in many ways from a 35-point Super Bowl loss last month, have rampaged through the opening hours of free agency with some specific goals in mind. They wanted to get nasty, wanted to have the elusive Plan "B" for when their next-level offense doesn’t have the kind of day it’s used to.

And the result has been a 24-hour defensive binge that now includes defensive end DeMarcus Ware (three years, $30 million, $20 million guaranteed); cornerback Aqib Talib (six years, $57 million, $26 million guaranteed); and safety T.J. Ward (four years, $23 million, $14 million guaranteed).

"That’s why me, Talib and Ware were brought in, three physical players. ... It’s going to help this defense, it’s going to help this team," Ward said in his first appearance at the Broncos' complex.

But Elway made Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning a promise as he recruited him in the days that followed his release from the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. When Manning arrived at the Broncos’ complex for a visit, he was still stunned the Colts had actually released him, still reeling with all of the uncertainty in front of him.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAqib Talib said that signing with the Broncos gives him the best shot at reaching the top of the NFL.
"I wasn’t sure what the future was going to look like. There wasn’t a map for me to follow," Manning had said.

But at that time, Elway’s pitch was a promise that Elway, as Bowlen’s chief football decision-maker, would "do everything in my power" to make sure Manning retired from the NFL as Elway did, with Super Bowl titles in those final seasons.

The Broncos made history on the way to last season’s 13-3 finish, set scoring records and raced into Super Bowl XLVIII using the fastest of fast lanes. Then the Seattle Seahawks pushed Denver down, and the Broncos simply never got up in one of the worst title-game losses of the Super Bowl era.

Manning didn’t play well, the receivers didn’t play well, the linemen didn’t block well and a defense that was the biggest question mark heading into the Super Bowl actually answered the bell until the game got out of hand.

But Elway has since talked of creating "the mindset" to win a championship, has talked of being more physical on both sides of the ball and has talked about if they saw the opportunity to sign any player the team believed could be better than the ones they had, the Broncos would do it.

They also had managed their salary cap well enough to have $28.7 million or so of cap space last Thursday morning. They then released cornerback Champ Bailey that day and guard Chris Kuper retired Monday. With those two events the Broncos gained roughly another $14 million in cap space, and with that cap space and the bulk of a roster good enough to have finished 13-3 in back-to-back seasons, the Broncos went to work.

Ware, who will turn 32 in July, is now in the fold, but the Broncos can still project a potential starting lineup with 15 players 28 years old or younger, and seven players 25 years or younger. The team isn’t really in as big an “all-in" mode as their monetary festivus would seem to indicate.

Certainly, Manning is still the centerpiece of all this -- so much so that when Talib was asked Wednesday why he chose Denver, he quickly pointed to the 37-year-old quarterback.

"We just kind of looked at the best package," Talib said. "I do have a family, I have kids, I have a wife that I got to take care of and it was Peyton Manning, you know? It was just the total package. Denver was the best place."

Elway has been a no-nonsense, grassroots executive right from the start. He grinds the video on draft prospects, he goes to the Senior Bowl, he has made the pro day rounds and he makes decisions based on the long term "because my job is to be two steps ahead."

But after three trips through the opening of free agency, he has to be considered one of the league’s best closers as well, and closers get the coffee and former Pro Bowl selections, it seems -- Manning, Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Talib, Ward and now Ware.

So it seems the Broncos really didn’t just go all-in this year. They’ve just kind of had that mindset all along.

Dropping $57 million in somebody’s lap means never having to say you're sorry.

So while New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick may have thought receiver Wes Welker's collision with cornerback Aqib Talib in the Denver Broncos win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last January was “one of the worst plays I've seen," apparently, with a couple months to think about it, Talib had no such hard feelings.

But a blockbuster, perhaps THE blockbuster, deal as the first day of NFL free agency drew to a close will provide a rather tidy balm. Talib was the Broncos’ big catch Tuesday with a six-year, $57 million deal that had folks raising eyebrows all over the league.

Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway once again flashed a little of his wild side, the side that could gain 98 yards with a playoff game on the line as a quarterback, that rears its head from time to time in Elway the executive. Talib just turned 28 last month, so he fits the age profile Elway likes in free agency.

But the general consensus late last night among the folks with the checkbooks in hand around the league is any player you sign on free agency’s first day is getting overpaid. Talib got more from the Broncos than many in the league expected he would from any team.

To put that into perspective in 2011 the Broncos signed Champ Bailey to a four-year, $42.5 million deal when Bailey already had been named to 11 Pro Bowls. Certainly times change and so do salary caps, but the Broncos were aggressive with this one as they gave their secondary a major makeover before free agency was even 12 hours old.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesSafety T.J. Ward got a four-year deal worth $23 million ($14 million guaranteed) with the Broncos.
Safety T.J. Ward also signed in Denver for four years, $23 million, with $14 million guaranteed. Add in Talib’s $26 million guaranteed and the Broncos dropped some serious coin on a position in which the depth chart was wafer thin when the day began.

The Broncos had six defensive backs from last year’s roster who were either unrestricted or restricted free agents and then they released Bailey last week. Ward is the physical, versatile safety the Broncos wanted, tough enough to play down toward the line of scrimmage in the run game with the athleticism to play in space as well.

Ward is also just 27 and won’t turn 28 until December, so he too fits the age profile Elway has tried to keep in free agency in his tenure.

To make potential reality, to turn risk into reward, the Broncos need Ward and Talib to stay healthy and to be on the field. That is always the crux of the high-priced opening week of free agency, it's always the difference between the deal gone bad and one that gives an equal return for the investment.

The Broncos did better on Ward’s contract than many in the league said his asking price was when free agency opened. Talib’s deal, however, has almost as much guaranteed money as the total deal for Alterraun Verner ($26.5 million), who was also one of the top cornerbacks on the market and is heading to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Talib has not started 16 games in any season. He had 13 starts in 2013 for New England and nine games combined for the Patriots and Buccaneers in 2012. The closest he has come to a 16-game season was 2009 when the started 15 games in his second season in the league.

Last month, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was asked during a radio appearance why Talib wasn’t slated to get a big contract from the Patriots. Kraft said “he wasn’t on the field a lot of the time since he’s been with us." Ward, too, has had some injuries. He missed the last two games of the 2012 season because of a bone bruise on his knee and missed the last games of the 2011 season with a foot injury.

But Ward is coming off a 112-tackle season in 2013 to go with an interception for a touchdown. And that’s the kind of presence the Broncos are paying for right now.

Still, when Elway took the job with the Broncos, two of the league’s general managers he consulted were Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers and Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens. Both have built Super Bowl winners by emphasizing the draft and largely sitting out free agency, especially Thompson. And Elway, too, has consistently declared the draft the most important part of building the Broncos’ depth chart, but it seems he likes to throw long ball in his executive role as well.

He dove in to the tune of $96 million on an MRI and prayer for Peyton Manning in 2012 and that resulted in back-to-back division titles to go with a Super Bowl trip. Last year he went early in free agency for Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker and Terrance Knighton.

Vasquez went onto an All-Pro season, Welker had a career-best 10 touchdowns and Knighton was the Broncos’ best defensive lineman down the stretch.

So, if Elway is right on Ward and Talib, the Broncos are in the hunt once again. If not, the salary cap pinch will follow at some point.

But with DeMarcus Ware, owner of 117 career sacks, now scheduled to visit the Broncos in the coming days, Elway likely has enough cap room -- they opened free agency with just less than $32 million to spend after Chris Kuper's retirement -- to sell Ware on a chance at a Super Bowl. And Elway will have to be at his closing best to do that for the soon-to-be 32-year-old Ware.

Elway, the guy who once consistently showed he knew the art of the comeback, is getting it done with the art of the deal as well. When he said earlier this year “if we can find somebody better than we have, we have to find them, and if they’re out there then we’ll sign them" he meant it.



Thursday, 11/20
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