AFC West: Denver Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos haven’t had the usual throngs of their faithful waiting for them when they arrive at the practice field.

They've had no roars of approval for long passes completed or the customary oohs and ahhs for interceptions, forced fumbles and Peyton Manning being Manning.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesMontee Ball seems to have Denver's starting tailback job wrapped up, but who will back him up?
As Manning put it, “It’s kind of going to be on us to keep ourselves going."

The Broncos, who will hold the second of three open-to-the-public practices at Sports Authority Field at Mile High as the $35 million makeover continues at their complex, are a deep team with very few roster spots truly in play. Still, after the first week of training camp, there are some questions they still need to answer in the coming weeks, including:

Depth chart at running back: Montee Ball was handed the starting job in the offseason, much like Ronnie Hillman was a year ago. Hillman didn’t keep the job, but Ball clearly will.

He’s shown vision in the run game, decisiveness in his cuts and consistent, quality work in the passing game. He’s poised for a big season and perhaps even the first 250-carry season for the Broncos since Reuben Droughns had 275 carries in 2004. Knowshon Moreno had 247 in 2009 and 241 last season, while Willis McGahee had 249 in 2011.

Hillman has also responded after a listless 2013. He’s been a little grittier in pass protection and seems to have learned the sometimes painful lesson that he has to stay on his toes to have a chance to stay in the lineup.

C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and Brennan Clay will hash it out for the other spots. Anderson was sluggish in OTAs and minicamp at 234 pounds. After his performance in those offseason workouts, there were plenty of folks with the team who were not confident he would keep a roster spot at that weight.

But he’s about 215 pounds in camp and looks more like the guy who made the roster last season as an undrafted rookie. But all three of those backs should be camped out at special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers’ door because the No. 3 running back got all of 55 carries a year ago and might not get anywhere close to that this time around.

Right tackle: Chris Clark has worked with the starters thus far, but the decision hasn’t been made. He has struggled at times with some of the power moves from the Broncos’ defensive linemen in pass-rush drills and hasn't always gotten his hands in the right spots on initial contact. He played well in place of an injured Ryan Clady at left tackle last season, but the strong side is a different deal and he hasn't yet slammed the door on the competition for the job.

The Broncos can help the right tackle with a tight end if they need to, but would prefer not to have to. So, consider auditions still open, and the position will bear watching in preseason games.

Returner(s): There are some candidates who have flashed some explosiveness such as Hillman, rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer, undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse, Omar Bolden and Andre Caldwell, among others. But none of them has consistently caught the ball well enough in practice so far to be considered the front-runner.

At least one of them has to step forward in the coming weeks in the return game and handle the ball consistently. Otherwise the Broncos will be faced with eschewing the idea of an impact return in lieu of simply fielding the ball without a bobble.

That would be an awful lot of field position left unsecured before the Broncos' offense takes the field.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you sifted through all of the words both the Denver Broncos’ football decision-makers and players have already said a week into training camp, there are three that have routinely been peppered into the conversations.

Toughness.

Attitude.

Mentality.

If you’re looking for a theme, a mantra, a way of doing things in the 2014 season for the Super Bowl hopeful on the Front Range, there it is.

“No question,’’ safety T.J. Ward said. “They already had a great team here, Peyton Manning, they won a lot of games. Some of us came in new and we just want to help, add a little thump if we can. I know I wanted to be a part of a team like this.’’

The Broncos are a week into training camp, and as we work through the hope-for-the-best stories about better leadership, depth and the luxury of the fresh start each summer gives to every NFL team, they are working to clear their own hurdle to go from last February’s Super Bowl loss to what they hope this season will be.

There was plenty good about what they did last season as the highest-scoring team, with the highest-scoring quarterback in league history. They can’t just abandon that because of one dismal February night. But for all of the records, fireworks on offense and piles of touchdowns, it wasn’t enough to win the title.

So, hence the search for toughness, for attitude and for what the team’s football boss John Elway has consistently called that “championship mentality.’’

Elway has said “it’s hard to win a world championship. Nobody just waves you by so you can walk up and have it handed it to you. You have to go get it.''

A few days into camp and it’s already clear, moving Orlando Franklin to guard should help. In live run-game drills, the Broncos showed the ability to move people in the middle of the field. They still haven’t found a right tackle -- Chris Clark has taken most of the snaps with the regulars -- to play as well as Franklin did.

But the Broncos want, and need, to be tougher on the interior, to run better inside, to protect Manning more consistently from inside rushers. Franklin can aid that cause.

Then there’s the defense, which got most of the attention and money in the offseason. And their progress, which includes the return of some players who were on injured reserve last season, can be measured in how much better they have stared down Manning and Adam Gase’s high-flying offense in their own practices so far. It isn't as if there is a more proficient offense waiting on the schedule.

It’s been far more difficult for the Broncos' offensive starters to move the ball on the defensive starters already. And it’s not because the Broncos have lost traction on offense, it’s because to 11 players across from it are better than they were in 2013.

DeMarcus Ware has the look of a team captain a few months into his tenure with Denver, and he physically looks as if he will make a high-profile team to the East feel some regret about losing him. And while the preseason figures to be two scoops of vanilla from Jack Del Rio and his cast, this defense should be top 5 if it’s healthy.

In the end, the games decide how much improvement was really made. Through the years, the league has been littered with team who are happy in the summer only to miss the playoffs when December rolls around. But if people believe they will see a shell-shocked Broncos team, still limping after a 35-point title game loss, they won’t.

They think that one is so last year.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 5

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
10:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • In what was the third practice in full gear, the Broncos went through several run-game situations in the red zone. They covered several short-yardage scenarios including third-and-goal on the 1-yard line. "We are introducing it as far as our installation and I think it builds a little toughness and it is a good way to start your live contact," said Broncos head coach John Fox. The starters were split fairly evenly, with the offense winning some, the defense others, but the second- and third-team defenses got the better of those drills this time.
  • Linebacker continues to be a spot where the Broncos have shown some quality competition and the kind of potential depth the team did not have last season after some injuries set in. Brandon Marshall, who spent the majority of the 2013 season on the Broncos' practice squad before he was signed to the active roster in the last week of the regular season, has made an early push for a roster spot. Marshall, with Von Miller still being held out of team drills, has even taken some snaps with the starters in some of the Broncos' specialty packages. Marshall has also been regular on the front-line special teams' units thus far. The Broncos kept just six linebackers on the roster when they cut to 53 players last season after they had kept seven in both 2011 and 2012.
  • The Broncos held DeMarcus Ware out of Monday's practices because of a bruised lower right leg. As a result Quanterus Smith lined up with the starters for much of the morning workout at Ware's right defensive end spot. In both one-on-one drills in camp's early going and in the team drills, Smith has shown he has the knack for finding a sliver of room to get to the quarterback. He also varies his looks and has shown more proficiency working to the inside than many young pass-rushers do, who often spend their entire college careers simply beating slower tackles to the corner. Potentially -- and again the games will tell the real story -- defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will have a quality mix-and-match in rush situations with Miller, Ware, Smith, Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe.
  • The starters behaved for the most part, but things down the depth chart got testy as several dust-ups between the team's reserves broke out during practice. Players were separated quickly in each case, but those players searching for ways to climb the depth chart a bit were obviously trying to play with a bit of an edge. At one point head coach John Fox simply called it "wasted energy."
  • Second-round draft pick Cody Latimer, who missed most of the offseason work recovering from a fractured foot he suffered in a January pre-draft workout, has shown a little more each day of what he can potentially bring to an already high-powered offense. He had a quality catch-and-run score through the second-team defense on a throw from Brock Osweiler in team drills. Later he made a leaping catch on the sideline and almost made a diving grab on a deep ball Osweiler had put between safeties Duke Ihenacho and Quinton Carter. Latimer got his hands on the ball, but could not retain possession as he hit the ground.
  • Odds and ends: Undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson got some carries with the second-team offencse in the morning practice. … Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had been excused since Wednesday night after the death of his grandmother, arrived back at the team's complex with about 30 minutes remaining in the morning practice and he took part in the evening walk-through. … Rookie cornerback Louis Young had some situational work in short-yardage with the second-team defense.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Just a few days ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said because no fans have been able to attend the team’s training camp practices this year due to construction at the Broncos' complex, that the players might need something to boost them "especially when you get into that third or fourth padded practice and it’s kind of the dog days of training camp."

Well, Monday morning marked the team’s third padded practice of training camp and Manning took it upon himself to give the workout a little kick start. The Broncos routinely play music out of a speaker roughly the size of a Smart Car while the team stretches.

Each day brings a different musical selection from a different player or coach, ranging all over the genre map. Monday’s offering was "Rocky Top," a remember-when country song played at almost every play stoppage and/or touchdown by the University of Tennessee marching band – Manning’s alma mater.

So, as the song played Monday, Manning offered up the dance steps to go along with it. Punter Britton Colquitt, also a former University of Tennessee player, joined in as well.

The video of the five-time NFL MVP is already making the social media rounds.

"I love it," said defensive end Malik Jackson, another former Vol on the Broncos’ roster. "They need to play it every day. ‘Rocky Top’ is awesome. Go Vols."

"It was his day to pick the music so it wasn’t a surprise to me what it was going to be," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A day after being pulled from practice due to a lower right leg bruise, Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware missed Monday's morning practice, too.

The injury isn't significant, but the Broncos were in full pads so they simply held the 10th-year veteran out as a precaution.

"Just a leg bruise; he’ll be fine," said Broncos head coach John Fox.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who has been excused since Wednesday night after the death of his grandmother, arrived at the Broncos’ complex with about 30 minutes remaining in practice, but did not participate. The Broncos do have a walk-through practice Monday evening.

The Broncos' players have Tuesday off.

Cornerback Chris Harris was also not at practice after he traveled to see Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon who repaired Harris’ ACL. Harris said this past weekend he believed the visit with Andrews was a formality and that he expected to be cleared to participate in practice at some point this week.

The Broncos will have to move Harris off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list before he can participate in practice.

Also not practicing Monday morning were: defensive end Greg Latta (right hip), safety John Boyett (back), tight end Jameson Konz (left hip) and defensive end Chase Vaughn (right knee).
Examining the Denver Broncos' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

The Broncos carried three here last season and thought enough of Dysert to keep him despite a long list of injuries on defense that eventually saw five starters on injured reserve. It could be more difficult to use that third spot on Dysert again. The Broncos would like to, but it might be a luxury they can’t afford this time around, especially if they want a return specialist.

Running backs (4)
The Broncos kept five at this spot as recently as 2012, but this position shapes up to be a quality camp battle, and last year’s rookie to make it -- C.J. Anderson -- could certainly hold off this year’s crop. It would be a rarity to have two undrafted rookie running backs make the final 53, but Clay’s pass-catching ability is intriguing, and the 225-pound Thompson would give the Broncos a bigger back with an understanding of pass protections to go with some special-teams ability. Anderson has worked as the No. 3 for the most part in the first days of camp, but Clay has taken some snaps with the second team offense and Thompson has worked with the 3s as well.

Receivers (5)

The Broncos have two undrafted rookies at this spot who have turned some heads already -- Isaiah Burse as a returner and Bennie Fowler at wideout -- but Latimer will be the youngster on the depth chart barring an unexpected injury. Latimer and Caldwell give the Broncos some insurance against any potential concussion issues for Welker. Latimer figures to get plenty of quality snaps. The Broncos have kept five here for the past three seasons, although last year's five included returner Trindon Holliday.

Tight ends (3)

The Broncos kept four last season -- they kept three in 2011 and three in 2012 -- and Dreessen's knee troubles and his release just before camp opened means three is still the most likely number.

Offensive line (9)

The Broncos have kept nine players at this position for the opening week roster in all three previous seasons of the John Fox/John Elway regime, but with all of the shuffling in the search for swing players, they may feel the urge to add one here just in case. But the starting group up front looks to be Clady, Franklin, Ramirez, Vasquez and Clark. However, Montgomery could push hard at center and Justice got a long look at right tackle in offseason workouts and rookie Schofield should get a shot there as well. Perhaps Ryan Miller or Ben Garland could earn the extra (10th) spot.

Defensive line (9)

The Broncos kept 10 here in '11, kept nine in '12 and had eight on the opening night roster last season. They could trim to eight again if they have a glaring need elsewhere, but Vickerson and Smith are both coming back from stints on injured reserve.

Linebackers (7)

The workouts when the pads go on will mean plenty for this group, and there is room here for a wild card, including a late roster pickup, to make the depth chart. McCray likely would have made it as an undrafted rookie last season had he not been injured in the preseason. As it stands now, the final slot may be a battle between Brandon Marshall, who spent much of ’13 on the Broncos’ practice squad before being promoted to the active roster, and Chaney, who was a 16-game starter for the Eagles as recently as 2011.

Cornerbacks (5)

Last season, the Broncos kept seven cornerbacks on the opening night roster, including the injured Champ Bailey, but this time around Carter will enter camp squarely on the bubble, especially if one of the younger corners with some additional size, like rookie Louis Young, shows promise and some special-teams chops. But the top four spots are solidly in place, and the Broncos can sport the four-cornerback look they’d like to in the dime.

Safeties (5)

If Carter’s knee holds up in camp as it has through the team’s offseason workouts, he should be among the final group. Duke Ihenacho made the roster last season but will have a tougher road this time around. Bolden’s ability to be a swing player at corner and safety as well as having some potential as a returner gives him the edge as well.

Specialists (3)

The only question here is if a returner such as Burse or a player to be named later can show enough pop to lure the Broncos into keeping a return specialist.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have a loaded roster with a future Hall of Fame quarterback and a revamped defense talking like it believes it can be every bit as good as the team's historical offense.

The defense has star power and big plans. They also had one major, front-burner goal for this training camp.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesPeyton Manning played with his children, Marshall and Mosley, after the fourth day of training camp.
"No news, man," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "No news, get to work and just start the season."

Plenty of folks come to the mountains to get away from it all but it isn't a stretch to say the Broncos, after last year's tumultuous offseason/summer of headline grabbers, are looking to produce a six-week snooze-fest.

And after their first week of camp they have succeeded. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is back on the field, New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner says he's the league's best at his position, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games and Johnny Manziel is the most chronicled backup quarterback since Tim Tebow.

The Broncos? They are conducting training camp as an invitation-only affair this year. Fans have had to take a rain check of sorts on the annual rite of summer on the Front Range as a massive construction project at the Broncos complex has forced the team to keep fans away for all but three practices inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"It makes it easier when they're around, for sure," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. "So it's a little weird this year. But, man, we want to just get to work and get to the season. I think a lot of guys have thought that all offseason, get to work, grind it, keep our head downs, get through it and go play ball."

Last summer the Broncos had two front-office employees arrested on DUI offenses. The revelation of linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension to open the regular season came down as camp got underway. Toss in some additional traffic violations to go with Miller's potential suspension appeal and last year's training camp was anything but quiet.

This year the snapshot of camp is not an intense position battle or a player wrestling an impending suspension from the league. Instead the 1,000-yard picture of camp's early going may be quarterback Peyton Manning's children -- twins Marshall and Mosely -- tackling Manning with smiles all around following Sunday's stadium practice.

What it all means is a discussion for another day perhaps, like say sometime in February. Last year the Broncos fought through the waves of events that followed them through the season, including coach John Fox's heart surgery eight games into the season, and ended up rewriting a section of the league's record book on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.

Granted the title game is an evening they'd rather forget for the most part and the Broncos have both noted, and publicly dismissed Seahawks' linebacker Bobby Wagner's claim they were "intimidated" and "timid" in Super Bowl XLVIII.

But in the end the Broncos have been boring thus far. Or just the way they wanted it until the games get played for real.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
6:19
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DENVER -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • The Broncos took to their home stadium Sunday for a practice that was open to the public. There were 21,993 folks on hand at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for what would have the same kind of workout the team would have done at its facility. The players genuinely liked getting away from the relative peace and quiet, at least when it comes to crowd noise, and from the construction going on at the team’s complex. Because of that construction, no fans will be able to attend the Broncos’ practices there during this year's camp. “They do miss the fans on a daily base there at Dove Valley,’’ head coach John Fox said. “I know they appreciated it and enjoyed it.”
  • It was the second consecutive day the team practiced in full gear and Sunday’s practice was choppy at times because of it. But Fox’s practice plan gave fans plenty to look at as the team put a heavy emphasis on red-zone drills. Those on hand got to see a variety of plays featuring the first-team offense against the first-team defense inside the 10-yard line. Quarterback Peyton Manning was ruthlessly efficient, in 7-on-7 and full team drills in the red zone. Manning connected on scoring passes to Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and Jacob Tamme in one 1-on-1 drill between receivers and defensive backs alone.
  • The Broncos have shown already they are going to continue to expand tight end Julius Thomas’ role in the offense. So much so, that even in the sunshine and rainbows environment that is the routinely the optimism that surrounds training camp, Thomas continues to show he’s in line to improve on the 65 catches and 12 touchdowns of last season. Sunday, Manning threaded a ball in between Kayvon Webster and T.J. Ward to hit Thomas for a score just minutes after Manning had put a ball up high in the back of the endzone for Thomas to snag for a score. On the play in the back of the endzone, Thomas reached over the Broncos best coverage linebacker, Danny Trevathan, for the touchdown. Trevathan was in good position, but the ball placement was right on and Thomas, a former basketball player at Portland State, knows how to work in traffic.
  • Given that running back is a crowded position with plenty of youth -- Ronnie Hillman, entering his third season, is the most experienced of the group -- those looking for a spot may want to take a page from Hillman’s work Sunday. The Broncos didn’t tackle live on special teams, but Hillman returned some kickoffs and showed good burst doing it. And with the kickoff return job wide open, some of the running backs looking for a roster spot may be wise to lobby for their chance to return kicks in the coming weeks.
  • Some of the Broncos players lost their footing at times early in practice, especially closer to the sidelines at the south end of the stadium. But several people with the team, including Fox, attributed it to how the field was prepared for the Manchester United-AS Roma soccer game at the stadium Saturday afternoon. “It wasn’t bad, they cut it a little shorter than we’re accustomed to, we had some slippage outside the numbers a little earlier.’’
  • Odds and ends: Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler hit two long throws during the stadium practice, the first to a diving Greg Hardin in 7-on-7 drills early in practice and another to tight end Gerell Robinson in team drills later in the day. ... Hardin made another diving grab, on a throw from Zac Dysert later in practice. ... Webster may have had the biggest hit of the practice when he plowed into running back Montee Ball as Ball reached high for a swing pass from Manning. ... Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who has been excused since Wednesday night due to his grandmother's death, was slated to return to the team Sunday night and be on the practice field for Monday morning's workout.
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos went public Sunday as they held their first training camp practice of the season in front of their loyal followers.

They escaped a fully-padded workout of two hours without any significant injuries and the 21,993 fans on hand got their first up-close look at the changes the team made following the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Ware
'It was exciting to out there in front of them,’’ said linebacker Von Miller. “ ... We all like to show what kind of team we have."

One of those highly-anticipated free-agent signees, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, was held out if the second half of the practice with what Broncos head coach John Fox called a lower leg bruise.

“It doesn’t appear to be serious, but we did hold him out,’’ said head coach John Fox.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin looked to have suffered a right hand/thumb injury during the workout as well. Austin has his hand taped and did return to the practice, but it appeared to still be bothering him following practice.

Because of the $35 million construction project currently underway at their suburban Denver complex, which includes an indoor practice facility, the Broncos could not have fans at their training camp practices this year. So, Sunday’s practice at the stadium was the first time they had an open practice for fans to see.

They will also have their Wednesday practice inside the stadium and Saturday will hold their annual scrimmage at the stadium. Last summer 44,439 fans attended the team’s scrimmage.

Broncos Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
9:15
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Denver Broncos training camp:
  • Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who is slated to return to practice Monday after spending the first four days of training camp in Georgia after the death of his grandmother, will be eased into drills upon his return. Or as offensive coordinator Adam Gase put it; “He has got a great grasp of our offense. There is no concern with me. Once he gets back, he will just jump right in. We will probably be smart with him, make sure that we don’t do anything crazy. He is not going to come out here and just run all go routes -- none of that on the first day. We will work him back in, we will be smart, make sure he gets caught up to speed with his conditioning, but then he will slide right in.’’
  • Another day, another reason the Broncos signed Aqib Talib. The Broncos practiced in full gear for the first time in this camp Saturday morning. As a result, they did plenty of work in the run game, including some one-on-one drills when the team’s wide receivers were asked to block the cornerbacks as if it were a running play. Talib was easily the toughest cornerback to block in the group as he repeatedly tossed aside the receiver who had tried to block him. The Broncos believe safety T.J. Ward and Talib will significantly improve the Broncos’ ability to pressure the line of scrimmage in run defense behind the team’s front seven.
  • In the usual ebb and flow of training camp, the defense tipped the scales its way much of the time Saturday. That figures to change a bit as the offense continues to dial in over the coming days and weeks. But as the offense went through some of its offerings in the run game, but Broncos' defensive front was stout and aggressive, particularly in the middle of the field. Ward also was easy to find, arriving first on many run plays outside the tackles. “I like what I’ve seen in the meetings. I like the way he conducts himself,’’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “He’s going to bring some toughness to our defense, and we’ve got some tough guys on our defense so he’ll fit right in with that. A welcomed addition.’’
  • During Elvis Dumervil’s time with the Broncos, he routinely credited his work against Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady on a day-to-day basis as a big reason Dumervil became a Pro Bowl player. And while those battles were always of high quality, Saturday gave a quality glimpse into one that could be even better as Clady and DeMarcus Ware went at it both in one-on-ones and when the Broncos' starting offense went against the starting defense. Ware, who said he has dropped some weight this season, was consistently quick off the ball and repeatedly tested Clady’s ability to get into his pass sets. The work will certainly benefit both players.
  • Chris Clark, who is getting the first look at right tackle with the starters, had some tough moments in the one-on-ones as well as on some two-on-twos, when the Broncos offensive linemen were working on their footwork against a variety of stunts. Guard Louis Vasquez spent some time off to the side with Clark, going over hand placement to maximize the first contact on the opposing rusher.
  • Odds and ends: Ward forced a fumble on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the morning practice … Ben Garland, who has spent two years on the Broncos’ practice squad as both an offensive and defensive lineman after completing his service commitment in the U.S. Air Force, has been at the left guard spot with the second-team offense. … Paul Cornick, who was on the Broncos’ practice squad last year, has worked as the No. 2 right tackle, behind Clark in the early going … Quote of the day fromlinebacker Danny Trevathan on Ward and Ware: “Those guys are savages.’’ ... The Broncos moved their second practice of the day indoors because of lightning in the area. They held a walk-through on an undersized field adjacent to the team's weight room.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have made no secret they want to be more physical on defense in the coming season.

They want to do a better job slowing down opposing receivers, they want to disrupt the timing of opposing offenses and they want to get opposing pass-catchers out of their routes.

And yet they’ll have to do all that with the NFL’s officials looking, under the “points of emphasis’’ edict from the league, to tighten things up even more on defenses when it comes to illegal contact on receivers and defensive holding.

[+] EnlargeTony Carter
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsPenalties were a problem for Tony Carter and Denver's defensive backs last season.
“It’s hard on defense these days, man,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “They want scoring, they want touchdowns, you just have to see how they’re going to call things and go from there.’’

It is certainly a potential issue for the Broncos because when you combine defensive holding and illegal contact penalties the Broncos were tied for the league lead last season – with the Kansas City Chiefs – for those two fouls combined. Harris, who plays both on the outside and in the slot in the Broncos defense had four of the team’s 13 defensive holding penalties while Duke Ihenacho had three and Tony Carter had two.

In all it does mean a Broncos defense that is looking to be more rugged will have to find the line about how far it can go.

“My biggest thing is to really understand how they’re trying to emphasize and call it and make sure we’re teaching our guys, so we can play within the rules,’’ Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “I don’t waste a whole lot of energy worrying about whether I like it or don’t like it. To me, it’s about helping our guys understand what they have to do to play well and spending your energy on that and teach and instruct. Hopefully, they get an understanding of how we can play within the rules and make sure we’re prepared to do that.’’

As part of the effort to show players and coaches what the officials will be looking at on that front, officials will visit each team in the preseason. Several of the league’s officials will be at the Broncos complex next week to break it all down during video sessions as well as on-field during several practices.

But the Broncos didn’t sign the likes of cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in the secondary because they’re interested in playing back on their heels. Denver is looking to make life far more difficult for opposing receivers, who were too often allowed to get free releases off the line of scrimmage and run free beyond the coverage.

Some of the issues were traced directly to injuries – five defensive starters were on injured reserve by season's end, including Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore in the secondary alone. But many personnel executives around the league simply believed the injuries showed the Broncos didn’t have championship level depth and lacked team speed at the defensive skill positions once the second- and third-teamers were forced into the lineup.

Overall the team was 27th in pass defense in the regular season, surrendered an alarming 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards – an enormous jump from 38 such plays surrendered in the 2012 season – and data from ESPN’s Stats & Information group shows the Broncos allowed 58 completions on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air before being caught, tied for fourth most in the league.

The Broncos believe a healthy Von Miller to go with free-agent signee DeMarcus Ware in the pass rush will help significantly, given the best pass defense is often played by those defenses that are the most proficient at preventing the quarterback from throwing the ball.

Del Rio, however, said he believes the Broncos' defensive coaches have a good idea on what the boundaries are going to look like in pass coverage in the coming season. Asked Saturday if he felt like he had a good understanding of what would constitute illegal contact or defensive holding, Del Rio said, “I do, based on what I heard when they came through [earlier in the offseason]. [The officials will] be in next week, and we’ll get a better feel for it as they work with us in practice. It’s always beneficial for us.’’

Del Rio added: “You know there are things that are going to be emphasized. Depending on how that goes—if the emphasis results in a five hour game, then they probably would de-emphasize it. Again, I don’t think I need to worry about that kind of thing. It typically takes care of itself. We just make sure, as coaches, that we instruct the best we can so guys are well-prepared.’’

But it’s an issue that’s going to come up, and come up quickly, with quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady all on the Broncos’ schedule in the season’s first eight games.

Broncos camp report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
8:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Highlights from the Denver Broncos' training camp on Friday.
  • One of the major objectives this offseason was to not only get a little more nasty on defense -- "that championship mentality," John Elway has called it -- but to get bigger in the secondary as well. They signed cornerback Aqib Talib (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) as well as safety T.J. Ward (5-10, 200) and then used a first-round pick on cornerback Bradley Roby (5-11, 192). Just two days into camp and Talib’s reach -- "length" in scouting terms -- and his comfort level in both man and zone looks have been on display plenty. He makes it difficult for quarterbacks, including the ultra accurate Peyton Manning, to fit the ball in, and has forced several over-throws and knocked down more than his share of passes from all of the Broncos' quarterbacks already. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio figures to match Talib on No. 1 receivers throughout the season no matter where those pass-catchers line up. "I definitely checked out the defensive scheme and knew a little about Del Rio’s scheme before I made my decision to come here. It’s perfect for me."
  • The Broncos are approaching a crossroads with tight end Julius Thomas, who is in the last season of his rookie deal. They’d like to sign him long term, but could also use the franchise player tag next season if they do not get a deal done. Either way, Thomas has done his part so far to build on his 65-catch, 12-touchdown season in 2013. Thomas has shown a comfort level in the offense, working on the line, out wide and in the slot. He also spent some time with Tony Gonzalez this past offseason for a little guidance as well. "For me, it was understanding how you continue to play at a high level," Thomas said. "What do you do to prepare for games? What do you do to get the most out of practice? Just some things that only a future Hall of Famer and a 17-year veteran would know."
  • Shortly after Orlando Franklin was moved from right tackle to left guard this offseason, he said he really wouldn’t know how good he could be at his new position in the NFL until "the pads go on." Saturday morning will be the first time the Broncos work in full gear. The Broncos moved Franklin, who started more games at guard than tackle in his college career at Miami, inside to try and beef things up on the interior after Zane Beadles' departure in free agency. The Broncos don’t want to necessarily run the ball more than their 461 carries last season (11th in the league), but they want to be far more productive when they do choose to run. Saturday will be the first of several preseason tests of the plan, including preseason games against San Francisco and Seattle. Or as Talib put it Friday; "That’s when the real football starts. This is like pajamas or whatever you want to call it. It’ll get a little more live [Saturday]."
  • Montee Ball had just 59 receptions in his four seasons combined at Wisconsin and many in the league said working in the passing game would be the most difficult part of his transition to a potential No. 1 back. Last August he did miss a blitz pick-up in Seattle when Manning took a huge hit from Bobby Wagner, a hit that paved the way for Knowshon Moreno to work his way back up the depth chart last fall. But Ball has looked steady catching the ball thus far, including a nice back-shoulder grab in team drills Friday.
  • Odd and ends: Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe briefly left Friday’s practice as trainers worked on his right leg/hip. Wolfe then returned to drills. … Running back Brennan Clay, who did take some snaps with the second-team offense at times Friday, suffered a right thigh bruise, but head coach John Fox said it was "nothing serious." … Best catch of the day went to Greg Wilson, who was on the Broncos practice squad briefly this past January, who reeled in a scoring grab from Brock Osweiler deep up the right sideline in team drills. … Safety David Bruton also picked Osweiler off in team drills, taking it in for a touchdown, adding a flip at the goal-line for good measure.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The proof will always be in what happens in the weeks, months and seasons to come, by how he conducts himself, but Broncos linebacker Von Miller says 2014 is a new season and that he, in most ways, is a new guy.

"I'm a way different person from what I was five years ago, a year ago," Miller said. "I'm definitely different, more mature. I'm one of the oldest guys in the linebacker room now. I was talking to Wesley [Woodyard] the other day, and I was like 'Bro, I'm one of the oldest guys in here right now,' and we started laughing so it's just part of it. Just have to grow up."

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey"I'm definitely different, more mature. I'm one of the oldest guys in the linebacker room now," Von Miller said.
The Broncos certainly want to leave the Super Bowl behind, to turn the page on the 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks to close out the 2013 season and move on to the business of 2014. But Miller would like to box up most of what the '13 season had to offer -- a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy to open the season, a torn ACL to close it and largely up-and-down play in between -- and lock it away.

But by most accounts Miller has done what's necessary since the Super Bowl loss. He has worked judiciously through his rehab and, as Broncos executive VP/GM John Elway has put it, Miller "looks ready to put last season behind him and get back to being the Von we know he can be."

Miller will always have a special spot in whatever becomes of Elway's tenure as the Broncos' top football executive. Miller was the first draft pick after Elway was hired for his current job, the first-round pick of the 2011 draft (second pick overall).

He's also a key piece in what the Broncos hope will be a defense that does far more than ride along in the slipstream of one of the league's highest-scoring offenses. And though training camp is just two days old, it's smooth sailing thus far for Miller.

The Broncos are easing him back into action; he is limited to essentially individual work and 7-on-7 drills right now. Elway said he expects Miller to be cleared for full contact by the time the Broncos get to their third preseason game.

"I've been on a great game plan with Greek (Broncos head trainer Steve Antonopulos) and the guys and they have me on a very good schedule and I'm just following those guys," Miller said. "... I think it's a mission every year. I want to be the best and that's my mission and I'm aiming for it and I'm working hard for it and that's where my head's at right now."

But the Broncos like what they've seen from Miller, especially since there is less of him to see. The fourth-year linebacker made it a point after his surgery to drop the weight he added during the 2013 offseason and while he was suspended.

Miller is far closer to the 255 pounds he said he weighed during the 2012 season when he had 18.5 sacks than to the 270 pounds he said he weighed when he returned from his suspension in his quest to play with more power.

Even in limited duty during OTAs, minicamp, and the opening practices of training camp, Miller has looked far quicker and more explosive than he did in practice last November and December. And those who know him say Miller has been helped on all fronts by DeMarcus Ware's arrival.

"And we all feel good when we see [Miller] like that," said linebacker Danny Trevathan. "That's a big part of our defense, what those guys can do in the pass rush."

"I think it just made me a better person," Miller said. "Adversity reveals character and I think all the stuff that happened, I handled it well and I'm in a blessed situation to be where I'm at today. I'm not looking at all that stuff ... I'm looking forward and just grinding it out."

Broncos camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • When the Broncos selected wide receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the draft in May, they did it knowing full well Latimer had suffered a fracture in his left foot in a pre-draft workout, much like Demaryius Thomas had before the Broncos made him a first-round pick in 2010. "I think they're like experts when it comes to that because it's worked out for them before," Latimer said. The Broncos dialed Latimer back for much of the offseason -- he did some limited team work in the team's three-day minicamp in June and the final set of organized team activities -- but looked just fine Thursday as he consistently flashed top-tier speed throughout the practice. He will get some premium snaps this season.
  • With Demaryius Thomas excused until Monday, Andre Caldwell took plenty of reps with the offensive starters. Caldwell, who signed a two-year deal to stay with the Broncos just before free agency opened in March, watched the team draft Latimer and sign Emmanuel Sanders. But quarterback Peyton Manning trusts Caldwell and showed even in Caldwell's limited playing time last season he was willing to throw to Caldwell in tight situations. And Thursday Manning made it clear people shouldn't be quick to dismiss Caldwell just yet in the wide receiver rotation, offering, "Caldwell will have a more significant role this season."
  • In the wake of the team's announcement that Pat Bowlen was stepping down as the team's owner this week, team president and CEO Joe Ellis met one-on-one with three players -- Manning, special teams captain David Bruton and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Ware just signed in March, but this, as well as how Ware has conducted himself in offseason workouts, shows his standing in the locker room already. He spent time with almost every pass-rusher on the practice field Thursday, offering tips during drills, including to Derek Wolfe, Von Miller and Quanterus Smith. It will be absolutely stunning if Ware is not one of this team's five season-long captains.
  • The issue is a long way from being decided, but, as expected, Chris Clark is getting the first look with the starters at right tackle. The Broncos figure to do at least some mix-and-match at the position over the next couple of weeks with Clark and Winston Justice having received the bulk of the work in minicamp and OTAs. But if they stick to the plan to take a look at all of the possibilities, rookie Michael Schofield has shown enough in offseason work to get a look as well.
  • The Broncos lost 16 fumbles last season, the most in the league, and lost three more fumbles in the playoffs. So, safe to say ball security has been a front-burner issue for the Broncos all through the offseason with the appearance of a green ball that has been carried around by the likes of Manning and Thomas. But the fumble reminder is blue for training camp and Manning was toting it around Thursday. Things still need attention as the Broncos put the ball on the ground twice in team drills, both on strip plays by the defense.
  • Some odd and ends: With Chris Harris Jr. on the physically unable to perform list, Kayvon Webster got some work in the base defense in the two practices. ... Linebacker Von Miller, who isn't expected to be cleared for full contact until the Broncos' third preseason game, took part individual drills with the linebackers and some 7-on-7 drills. Asked about his knee he said "it feels good for today."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The last word rings the loudest, and when it comes to all the Denver Broncos accomplished last season, the Seattle Seahawks got the last word.

It came in the form of a 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

For many, that nationally televised cave-in wiped away all of the touchdowns, league records and remember-when plays that the Broncos had assembled along the way. Because of that, the Broncos have moved through the offseason with questions about their mettle swirling around them.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware, Von Miller
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesAdding DeMarcus Ware, left, and getting Von Miller, right, back from injury has the Broncos excited.
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner went on ESPN and dropped the words "scared" and "timid" when asked about the Broncos and the title game. Others around the league have done the same in private -- asked the same questions, wondered the same things. How can the Broncos navigate a tougher schedule than they had last season and do it as they try to bounce back from the kind of high-profile loss that is often difficult to shake?

That's what everyone wants to know, and it's a burden the Broncos carried as they took the field Thursday for their first training camp practice.

Make no mistake -- the Broncos like the team they have. And why not? Peyton Manning is back, as are the coaching staff and the guts of a roster that has gone 13-3 in back-to-back seasons.

As cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it, "Guys know what kind of team we have."

John Elway, the Broncos' general manager and executive vice president of football operations, was busy this offseason, signing high-profile free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders.

"Are we a better football team on paper?" Elway asked. "I think we are. I feel good about the fact that we're a better football team with free agents that we signed, as well as the draft, as well as the young guys taking steps from last season."

Ware arrived from Dallas with 117 career sacks. Talib and Ward were named to the Pro Bowl last season.

"DeMarcus came in and walked in like he'd been here for 10 years, because that's the kind of guy that he is," Elway said. "You know the way that Aqib practices and the competitive nature that he has, and the mentality, the toughness that he brings."

The Broncos also have the likes of Harris Jr., Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Rahim Moore -- defensive players who finished the season on injured reserve -- back on the practice field. They've seen Manning look as good as ever, with his receivers saying the future Hall of Famer has had a little more on his fastball this spring.

They see a deep team with impact players they believe is tougher, a little more calloused by what has happened. But training camp is the season of sunshine and rainbows in the NFL. Always has been, always will be. Everyone arrives to camp happy and optimistic, touting the offseason changes in players or attitude, the new day or new era.

"I'm never getting too optimistic, because this thing changes so fast, and things can change on a dime," Elway said. "But I am excited about the team that we have on the field, I'm excited about the coaching staff that we have.

"So we're excited about getting started -- plus we can put last year behind us. As tremendous as last year was, obviously there's always a bitter taste in your mouth when it ends the way it ended. When we get out on the field, that officially ends the 2013 season. We can now get going on the 2014 season."

It's a season where the Broncos hope they can be the team that hands out the exclamation point.

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