AFC West: Denver Broncos

PHOENIX – Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning said Thursday that he expects Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, one of his three sons, to decide on whether he plays in 2015 “maybe in the next week or two."

Archie Manning made his comments during an appearance from the Super Bowl media center, aired by a Nashville, Tennessee, radio station, and touched on Peyton Manning’s impending decision as well as the quarterback’s right thigh injury he suffered in December.

“He’s given a lot of thought to it," Archie Manning said. “My advice for him is to go through the process, get away a little bit, let your leg heal, give it a lot of throught and decide what you’re going to do … [I] think he’s taken a good evaluation of where he is physically."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning missed the Pro Bowl because of a lingering thigh injury.
Peyton Manning skipped last week's Pro Bowl because of the injury. At the time, Manning issued a statement that he was “disappointed that I'm just not healthy enough this year to be part of it."

Manning suffered the injury just before halftime of the Broncos' Dec. 14 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Manning had suffered flu-like symptoms the night before the game and had four bags of fluids administered by IV in the night before the game and the morning of the game.

He has said he believed dehydration contributed to the leg injury, which he suffered trying to roll out to throw to Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

After missing some practice time the week following the injury, Manning had his first four-interception game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals and he did not throw for a touchdown pass in the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.

Manning had said on Christmas Eve that he intended to return for the 2015 season, but then backtracked Jan. 11 following the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s divisional round. Manning finished 26-of-46 passing for 211 yards and a touchdown in the playoff loss as several Colts defenders said they wanted to put the game’s in Manning’s hands and force him to throw the ball toward the sidelines.

Following the game, Manning said he could not say with any certainty if he would be back for the 2015 season. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway met with Manning the day after the season-ending loss and Elway said he told Manning to take at least four weeks to make a decision.

Manning’s salary for the 2015 season -- $19 million – is guaranteed on March 9, which is the last day of the league year, if Manning is on the roster. Manning was signed to a five-year, $96 million deal in 2012 that has been tweaked since he signed it.

If he returns to play in 2015, his cap charge is scheduled to be $21.5 million -- his base salary and a pro-rated charge for bonuses.

Asked Thursday if he expected Manning to return for the 2015 season, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said: “What a great player he’s been for this league? He’s a great competitor, and I’ve been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back because the league will miss him if he doesn’t. Those decisions are up to him. I’m sure it’s up to him whether he’s [ready] mentally and physically, if that’s what he wants to do. I certainly hope he’s back."
PHOENIX -- Occasionally, in walking around the events that surround the Super Bowl, you’ll spot a forlorn-looking soul in a Broncos jersey. A No. 18 here, a No. 58 there, a No. 10, maybe a No. 88 or two.

The Broncos opened their offseason workouts last April with the idea they would be one of the two teams in Super Bowl XLIX, that they would be the AFC team working out of a snazzy resort hotel. They said it, stood up for it and lived with that thought for most of the season that unfolded.

“That was the goal all year long," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. after his first Pro Bowl appearance earlier this week. “We didn’t step back from that. That was our goal; we believed we had that kind of team. We still believe we have that kind of team. We’ll take some time and come back to work. But when you’re here and see all the Super Bowl stuff, it’s right there in front of you, most anywhere you look you see something that has the Super Bowl on it with those Roman numerals, right there. Of course, you want that to be you, you want to be playing for the championship."

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders is among the Broncos players participating in Super Bowl festivities this week.
These Broncos have felt the sting in each of the last three seasons. They have exited the divisional round as the AFC’s No. 1 seed (2012). They have exited the divisional round as the AFC’s No. 2 seed (earlier this month). And they have lost a Super Bowl, by 35 points last February as the AFC’s top seed. It was the team's first title game appearance since it closed out the 1998 season as the champion.

As the eight Broncos players went through the Pro Bowl practices last week, they were surrounded by communities doing a Super Bowl countdown, with Super Bowl banners hanging over calendars of Super Bowl events. They continue to be a part of things, as Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was on the autograph schedule at the NFL Experience Tuesday and Wednesday, and linebacker Von Miller was on the docket Wednesday.

That, too, is a Super Bowl phenomenon. For players good enough to draw a crowd in the Super Bowl mayhem, it is an odd existence. You’re at the Super Bowl, just not in the Super Bowl.

“You know you had a good season; you were in the playoffs and it’s hard to get in the playoffs," said Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who played in this past Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “But the goal was to get to where we wanted to go all season and that’s the Super Bowl … It’s why it’s a little different to play [the Pro Bowl] where the Super Bowl is. You see Super Bowl stuff everywhere, kind of reminds you a little every time."

The Broncos have continued to go about their business in the last week as Gary Kubiak fills out his coaching staff. But there may be no bigger crossing of paths between the Broncos and the Super Bowl than Friday when quarterback Peyton Manning is scheduled to be in Phoenix to accept the Bart Starr Award for his community work.

It will be Manning’s most public appearance since the Broncos’ Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Manning said following that game he was uncertain if he would return for the 2015 season.

Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway met with Manning the day after the loss and told Manning to take several weeks to make his decision.

“It’s hard for the season to be over," said Miller, one of the other Pro Bowl Broncos. “All you can do is get ready to get back to work when it’s time. We wanted to be here for the other game, be in the last game. You’re going to remember that no matter how many banners we see here."
PHOENIX -- It's been just more than four years since Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen decided he couldn't wait any longer, that he couldn't look at any more losses or empty seats in the team's home stadium, and fired Josh McDaniels in December of 2010, just 38 games into McDaniels' tenure as the 12th head coach in franchise history.

Now the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and preparing for Super Bowl XLIX, McDaniels said he's learned some things, understands what happened and he hopes for another chance to be a head coach again.

"I think I know now, each team is different, each player is different, I don't believe everybody has got to be the same," McDaniels said. "I think I'm a better listener than I was then. I was young, made a lot of mistakes, learned from them -- hopefully -- try to be a better person, a better coach.

[+] EnlargeNew England's Josh McDaniels
Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesPatriots offensive coordinator and former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels says he would be "a better listener" as a head coach now.
"I learned every day from it," he added. "The players on the team are the reason why we win, you don't have to treat them all identically, they're not going to be all the same, your ability to lead and motivate those guys differently is important."

McDaniels' tenure with the Broncos started in flamboyant fashion -- 6-0 in 2009, including a win over the Patriots -- but things unraveled from there as the Broncos went 2-8 the rest of the way and started 3-9 in 2010 before McDaniels was fired. There was a Spygate scandal in 2010, when a former Broncos employee took video of a portion of the San Francisco 49ers' practice in Wembley Stadium during a London trip, and plenty of grumbling in the Broncos' locker room from players who believed McDaniels wasn't responsive to their questions or concerns.

In all, he was 11-17 as the Broncos' head coach. While he oversaw the drafts that included Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Zane Beadles and Tim Tebow, there were plenty of draft misses. He also traded quarterback Jay Cutler before he had coached Cutler in a single practice and then traded wide receiver Brandon Marshall the following year.

McDaniels said on multiple occasions in Tuesday's media day that he believes he would be "a better listener" in the job now.

"When you do something like that for the first time you feel like you have to run through everything and be in charge of too many things and sometimes that is a significant negative," McDaniels said. "I have tried really hard in St. Louis and then here back in New England. We really gather ideas, we listen to one another and try to do the best thing for the offense in this particular case and it has really been a great thing. Our atmosphere on our staff has been very healthy and a big part of that is that we have a lot of guys that can contribute and it doesn't come from one source. I made a lot of mistakes there and you know that."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday why things didn't work out for McDaniels with the Broncos.

"I mean, Josh did a great job for us, he's always done a great job for us," Belichick said. "... [He] does a great job with the offense, works hard, very well prepared, great rapport with the quarterbacks and the entire offensive staff and the players, and I love having Josh on our staff. Really, I mean, I'm lucky to have a great staff and very fortunate to have Josh. You'd have to ask Josh about what his experiences were somewhere else. I don't know."

"He's a great coach, a great friend," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "... I hope he's my coach for as long as I keep playing."

McDaniels did receive interest in recent weeks for head-coaching jobs in Atlanta, Buffalo and San Francisco. But all but one of the open jobs have been filled already this offseason with the Falcons job expected to go to Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in the days following Sunday's game.

Following the 2013 season, McDaniels did turn down the opportunity to interview with the Cleveland Browns. Tuesday, he made no secret he would like another chance to be a head coach "for a team that sees it as the right fit, for them, and that it's the right fit for me."

"... Yeah, I would love to do it again," he said. "I think the most important thing to me is to just be in the right situation and just be in a place where I feel good about being. There are a lot of great teams and great places out there. I happen to be in a good situation for myself right now and for my family. If it comes up again and it is like there it is, that is the right spot, then I would love to do it again and give it another shot."
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Just minutes after Sunday's Pro Bowl had concluded, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller said he hoped to know “pretty soon," how the Broncos defensive staff would look for the coming season.

Then Monday the Broncos formally finished a up deal with their second defensive assistant as linebackers coach Reggie Herring joined defensive line coach Bill Kollar on Gary Kubiak's staff. Herring replaces Richard Smith, who had been strongly considered to be retained from John Fox's staff, but who told team officials this week he has accepted a job to be the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator.

The Broncos continue to search for a defensive coordinator and need a secondary coach as well. Around the league former Broncos defensive coordinator and head coach Wade Phillips continues to be considered a primary candidate to call defensive plays for the Broncos in the 2015 season.

Phillips was the defensive coordinator on Kubiak's staff in Houston and is expected to visit the Broncos complex in the coming days, possibly as soon as Tuesday. The Broncos have also been rebuffed by the Cincinnati Bengals in attempts to consider Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph for the coordinator job.

According to multiple team sources, the Bengals have blocked Joseph's attempt to take the job because he is under contract with the team. The Broncos interviewed Joseph earlier this month for the team's head coaching job, two days before they met with Kubiak.

The Broncos did continue their efforts to hire Joseph over the last week, but the Bengals have held the line to this point, despite the fact the Broncos' position would be a promotion for Joseph, who was also an assistant coach on Kubiak's staff in Houston. Internally the Broncos held out some hope earlier this week if the Bengals could find an assistant coach who could conceivably replace Joseph -- former Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was one name that kept coming up around the league -- perhaps the Bengals would change their approach.

However, the Broncos have now picked up their efforts with Phillips as well. Phillips took over as Texans interim head coach 13 games into the '13 season after Kubiak was fired. The Texans were 30th in total defense in 2010, 29th in scoring defense and last in the league in pass defense when Kubiak looked to Phillips to repair the unit.

The team drafted defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round of the '11 draft and Phillips pushed the improved unit to No. 2 in total defense in 2011, No. 4 in scoring defense. The Texans were also No. 7 in total defense in 2012 and were No. 7 in total defense in 2013 even as the team finished 2-14.

Phillips was the Broncos head coach in 1993 and 1994 and was fired after a 7-9 finish in 1994 when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Mike Shanahan. Phillips was 16-16 in his two seasons with a loss in the wild-card round following the '93 season.

Phillips had been the Broncos' defensive coordinator 1989-1992.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he accepted good wishes from some of the NFL’s biggest names Sunday night, Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. took a moment to reflect on the season that was now officially over.

Yes, his first Pro Bowl appearance was a nice parting gift to end of the season, but it was not the game Harris or his seven Broncos teammates in the league's all-star game wanted to be playing in University of Phoenix Stadium, not with Super Bowl XLIX to be played on the same field this Sunday.

“Just to leave the year with a win somehow, it feels pretty good,’’ Harris said following his work in Team Irvin’s 32-28 win over Team Carter. “But we know what we wanted all year, we didn’t get there, so it won’t be everything we wanted. But it still was a big year for me.’’

Harris returned to the Broncos’ starting lineup in the regular-season opener just seven months after ACL surgery. He earned his first Pro Bowl spot, and changed from a player overshadowed by others with bigger reputations to one who is now considered one of the best at what he does.

The Broncos rewarded Harris with a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension in the season’s stretch run as GM John Elway offered that Harris "is everything we want in a Denver Bronco.'' And while the Pro Bowl is an oft-criticized affair for its less-than-average tempo when the game is played, the players who go often speak of the week’s practices being of particular interest.

“It definitely makes me more hungry to get back and try to get in again,’’ Harris. “I wasn’t drafted, a lot of these guys have gotten to meet me, see how I play, see how I practice. Like I said it’s been one of my favorite things is just getting with these guys, sharing ideas. All of the corners, pretty much everybody in the secondary, it was great to meet them. Playing by Joe Haden, Brent Grimes, Vontae (Davis) -- we just hung out all week. It’s been fun. And Joe Haden, getting to know him, that’s one person that I’ll stay in touch with for sure.’’

Like he did much of the season, Harris played all over the defensive formation, covering all manner of receivers either in the slot or on the outside Sunday night.

The Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff, which directed Team Irvin, moved Harris all over the formation, left and right, inside and outside -- “I mean, has anybody else done that? It was fun.’’

In the end Harris said he will now take a little time off, his first since the offseason following the 2012 season. Last year, coming off his surgery, Harris remained in Denver for the entire offseason, rehabbing his knee.

“I’m going to take a month, maybe a little longer off,’’ Harris said. “Last year, it was my knee, I didn’t want to miss a minute, not a day, because I didn’t want anything to keep me from getting back out there. I’ll be back in a little bit, ready to go, get to work. Because we still want to get in that last game and win it.’’
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He has already accepted his new job, but freshly minted Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison hasn’t actually started his new job.

But within minutes of the final play of Sunday’s Pro Bowl -- Dennison called the plays for Team Carter in his final official duty as part of the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff -- he said he was more than ready to begin the second tenure of his coaching career on the Broncos staff.

Dennison was a Broncos assistant coach beginning with Mike Shanahan’s first season as Broncos head coach in 1995 through the end of Josh McDaniels' first season as head coach in 2009. Within days of Gary Kubiak being hired as head coach last week, Dennison was named his offensive coordinator.

But Dennison had to finish out his duties as Ravens wide receivers coach, a stint that ended in the Pro Bowl when Baltimore's staff replaced Denver's staff after the Broncos and John Fox parted ways Jan. 12, the day after Denver's playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

[+] EnlargeRick Dennison
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsRick Dennison returns to Denver, where his history with the Broncos as a coach and a player stretches nearly 20 years.
“This past year in Baltimore was awesome," Dennison said. “John [Harbaugh] does a great job, Ozzie [Newsome] was great, everybody in the building was great."

Dennison's history with Kubiak is extensive. He was on a Broncos coaching staff with Kubiak for 11 seasons and on Kubiak’s coaching staff in Houston for four seasons. Dennison was on the Ravens staff with Kubiak this season. He was Kubiak’s teammate -- and Broncos executive vice president and general manager John Elway's -- for eight seasons.

So when Kubiak offered Dennison a chance to return to the Broncos, he quickly agreed, with Harbaugh’s blessing.

“It was a chance. It was time to go back," Dennison said. “I’m a Colorado guy. I’ve spent all my summers there even after I left [the Broncos after the 2009 season]. It’s easy to go back to that building, easy to go back to that team and be a part of it."

Kubiak has said he expects to have plenty of the play-calling duties on game day, but Dennison is a valued strategist with a varied background that includes coaching special teams and the offensive line. When the Broncos were at their best running the ball in Shanahan’s tenure, both Shanahan and Kubiak said plenty of that success could be traced back to Dennison’s work.

Dennison said after Sunday’s Pro Bowl he was ready to get to work in his new duties with the Broncos. This past week in Arizona, he had an up-close look at some of the players he will now see in practice each day in the coming season.

Offensive tackle Ryan Clady was on the Team Carter squad the Ravens' staff was coaching, while wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and running back C.J. Anderson played for Team Irvin. Sanders finished the game with 70 yards receiving and two touchdowns as the Broncos had eight players in the game overall, including five on the two teams' defenses.

“I haven’t looked too much at the roster," Dennison said. “But I was part of drafting Ryan and I spoke to C.J. a little bit as well. Emmanuel showed some of the things he can do. … I know there’s a lot there."

The Broncos led the league in scoring with a NFL single-season record 606 points in 2013 and were second in the league, behind Green Bay, in scoring this season. Quarterback Peyton Manning, however, has not formally announced whether he intends to return for the 2015 season.

“I’ve spent a lot of my career in that building, been there for a lot of years," Dennison said. “I’m excited to see some familiar faces and excited to get started."
With an opening still available to run the team’s defense, new Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak is still attempting to hire Cincinnati Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph for the job.

To this point, according to multiple team sources, the Bengals have blocked Joseph’s attempt to take the job because he is under contract with the team. The Broncos interviewed Joseph earlier this month for the team’s head-coaching job, two days before team officials met with Kubiak in Houston.

However, the Broncos have continued their efforts with the Bengals to hire Joseph in recent days, and now there is a feeling within the Broncos’ front office that if the Bengals believe they can find a replacement on their defensive staff for Joseph, they would be more inclined to let Joseph take the promotion with the Broncos.

One name that has surfaced in the league for the Bengals is former New York Giants defense coordinator Perry Fewell. Fewell, who was fired by the Giants shortly after the season, interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers this past week to be the defensive backs coach.

The Broncos believe that until Fewell is hired somewhere he will be considered by the Bengals as well, and that if hired by Cincinnati it would free Joseph to run the Broncos’ defense. By league rules the only time an assistant coach under contract cannot be prevented from taking a new job is if the move is from coordinator to head coach.

The Broncos have tried to prepare themselves if they can’t secure Joseph, a former assistant coach on Kubiak’s staff with the Houston Texans from 2011-13, and the team reached out to former Broncos head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips last week.

Phillips took over as Texans interim head coach 13 games into the 2013 season after Kubiak was fired. The Texans were 30th in total defense, 29th in scoring defense and last in the league in pass defense in 2010 when Kubiak looked to Phillips to repair the unit.

The team drafted defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round of the 2011 draft and Phillips pushed the improved unit to No. 2 in total defense and No. 4 in scoring defense in 2011. The Texans were No. 7 in total defense in 2012 and were also No. 7 in total defense in 2013 even as the team finished 2-14.

Phillips was the Broncos' head coach in 1993 and 1994 and was fired after a 7-9 finish in 1994, when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Mike Shanahan. Phillips was 16-16 in his two seasons, with a loss in the wild-card round following the 1993 season.

Phillips had been the Broncos’ defensive coordinator from 1989-1992.

Kubiak has hired Bill Kollar, another former Texans assistant, to be Denver's defensive line coach, and Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith is expected to be retained in the same job.

With Kubiak having already filled out the team’s offensive staff -- with Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator, as well as Joe DeCamillis as special-teams coordinator -- that leaves the defensive coordinator spot and defensive backs coach as the only two major openings that remain.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos, given they are not one of the two teams that will get down to their Super Bowl work in Arizona next week, are in the business phase of the offseason.

They have a substantial list of 17 prospective free agents, restricted and unrestricted combined, to work through. That includes some of their front-line players -- nine starters -- and two of the five team captains in wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

But the big picture shows that the Broncos have plenty of core players, including all of their players in Arizona for the Pro Bowl, under contract well beyond next season.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesDemaryius Thomas is a free agent, but the Broncos could still put a franchise tag on him.
None of the Broncos’ eight players taking part in the Pro Bowl practices this week leading up to Sunday’s all-star game are prospective free agents. Demaryius Thomas (ankle, toe), tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) and quarterback Peyton Manning (thigh) were also selected for the Pro Bowl, but elected not to participate because of injuries.

Of those three, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas will be free agents while Manning, signed through the 2016 season, has not stated whether he will return for the 2015 season.

Of the other Broncos in the Pro Bowl:
Of the Pro Bowl group, only Manning (38) and Ware (32) were older than 28 this season. So if the players stay reasonably healthy, it means the Broncos have several key players locked up for two or more seasons, before most become 30-somethings. Demaryius Thomas will almost certainly get the team’s franchise player tag if no long-term deal is worked out this offseason, so that’s another player to mark down for 2015.

Julius Thomas’ representatives have made it clear they’re interested in negotiating in the highest-paid-player-at-the-position area, as you would expect, and that might prove too daunting for a Broncos front office that is already planning for a potential salary-cap squeeze in 2016. And, as the Pro Bowl list shows, Miller will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2015 season and Anderson will be a restricted free agent, free to get offers that the Broncos can match, if they wish.

Miller and Anderson are both players the Broncos are going to want to keep, but they'll have to open the checkbook to do it.

The Manning question looms as well on the business side with a $19 million salary that is guaranteed if he’s on the roster on the last day of the league year, March 9.

Another business item that will bear watching among the Pro Bowl selections is if the Broncos will take a look at Clady’s contract for a future reduction. Tight end Jacob Tamme, a prospective free agent in the coming weeks as well, took a contract hit before this past season.

Clady, who struggled with groin and thigh injuries this season and hasn't yet shown his form of 2012 since a season-ending foot injury early in 2013, is slated to count $10.6 million against the cap next season, $10.1 million in 2016 and $10.6 million in 2017. He also has already received the bulk of his guaranteed money, with a $3 million signing bonus in 2013 to go with a $10.5 million roster bonus in July 2013.

That combination always puts a player in the crosshairs for a re-do. Clady’s base salary for 2015 -- $8 million -- is also guaranteed in the fifth day of the new league year, which will be March 14.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – By the time this past season was over, the Denver Broncos' 2014 draft class had been split down a very easy-to-see line.

If you were a defensive player, you were in uniform on game day, you were on the field, you contributed in some way. And if you were an offensive player in that draft class, you practiced a lot. But play in games? Not so much.

And when Mel Kiper Jr. re-graded the 2014 draft for every team in the league, it was a distinction he made as well as he dropped the grade from the C-plus he gave the Broncos this past May.

Cornerback Bradley Roby (first round) gave the Broncos all they hoped for as he quickly became a regular and a player the Broncos trusted enough to lock up in man coverage against some of the league’s more accomplished receivers.

Roby, who played 805 snaps in regular season on defense, was also a willing participant in run fits as well, as he finished as the third-leading tackler on the team with 64 tackles, including five tackles for loss. He looks every bit a future starter and will likely play even more next season if he makes the expected jump from his rookie season to Year 2.

Linebackers Lamin Barrow (fifth round) and Corey Nelson (seventh round) played sparingly in situational roles on defense – 49 snaps and 109 snaps, respectively – but both were regulars on special teams, with Barrow playing 74.4 percent of the snaps on special teams and Nelson 65 percent.

On offense, however, the rookies had mostly a watch-and-learn year. Wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round), despite his potential to contribute in red-zone offense because of his size-speed combination and willingness to win a contested ball, could not overcome the Broncos’ desire for him to be able to handle all of the fine points in a complex offense with a highly-productive position group that included two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Latimer played just 37 snaps on offense all season.

But that was far more than tackle Michael Schofield (third round), who was a game-day inactive for every game of the season and center Matt Paradis (seventh round), who spent the season on the practice squad.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In all the words that have been written or spoken about friendship, the simplicity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend," might be the bottom line.

And in the NFL, people hire their friends all of the time, familiarity being a powerful lure for folks trying to make high-risk decisions into low-risk ones. But those who hire a friend must also be prepared to fire a friend.

Which brings us to John Elway and Gary Kubiak. Elway is the Denver Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager who hired Kubiak as the 15th head coach in the franchise’s history. The two really didn't need an interview to get the lowdown on each other.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak
The Denver Post/AP ImagesJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak have known each other for over 30 years.
They have been friends for more than three decades, since both were rookie quarterbacks for the Broncos in 1983. They’re former roommates and Kubiak was Elway’s offensive coordinator for four seasons. Elway, many who know him believe, has wanted Kubiak to be the coach since Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis hired Elway in 2011 to resurrect the Broncos.

If it goes well, it is the kind of homecoming, put-the-band-back-together story Bowlen always endorsed when he ran the day-to-day operations of the team. If it doesn’t work out, well …

“We don't talk about risk," Kubiak said this week. “We understand the business. We understand it's a battle every day and it's stressful. But we have great respect for each other. We know it's going to be tough. But it's going to be fun being tough with somebody with that you know he had so much confidence in, so much trust in, as a football mind. And what John's done here in a brief period of time with this organization has been tremendous for me."

Since the Broncos and John Fox "parted ways" the day after the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Elway has said he and Fox disagreed on how the team would take the next step, from playoff contender to title winner. And while Fox did not address that thought in his news conference in Chicago on Monday, there are those who believe he wanted a little more say on personnel matters, or at least be kept in the loop. Fox also balked at potential coaching staff changes.

Of all the things Elway said following Fox’s departure, the phrase "like-minded," might have been one of the most important. In short, there may be no more like-minded person for Elway when it comes to football than Kubiak.

“Gary’s done it, he’s seen it. He understands, he’s been there; he’s won a world championship with Mike [Shanahan]," said Elway, when asked why Kubiak is the right coach to take the Broncos to the next level. "And so he’s seen it. He’s been with the Baltimore Ravens, who have won several world championships. He’s seen how they do it. ... We talked about comments that this is a place that it’s win a championship or nothing. That’s how it’s always been. Nothing’s changing there. That’s what Pat Bowlen wants. And that’s why it’s great that Gary’s experience here being a Denver Bronco, he understands that."

And there you have it. Kubiak understands that Elway’s goal and the Bowlen family’s goal is to win a Super Bowl. Sure, that’s everybody’s stated goal in the NFL, but to state the goal is one thing, to part ways with a coach who won four consecutive division titles to go with 46 regular-season games in four years is another.

Still, like a lot of things you ask Kubiak about, he is unfazed by that thought. And when you’ve spent as much time with Elway as Kubiak has, he knows it’s just a given with his boss.

“John's the most competitive human being I've ever been around, whether you're playing cards or ping pong, it doesn't matter," Kubiak said. “And that's not going to change. I think I'm very competitive, too. That's probably why we're still standing in this league because if you're not, you're not going to hang out for very long. I think this will be 31 or 32 years for me in the National Football League and I'm sure it's the same, well, it would be the same for John. So, just to get together and battle together every day is something that is very special and something I look forward to."

The jury is out, until games get played and seasons go by, as to whether it works the way Elway and Kubiak want it to -- long-time friends help win Super Bowl trophy for Bowlen -- but Kubiak, more than anyone else the Broncos could have hired, knows exactly what he has signed up for.

As he said: “I want to be part of expectations."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There could be times Sunday night when the Pro Bowl actually feels like August for a few Denver Broncos players.

When, much like a training camp practice, cornerback Aqib Talib could be locked up on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders or left tackle Ryan Clady could trying to slow down Von Miller in a third-and-long situation.

When the Pro Bowls rosters were completed Wednesday night, Talib and Clady were on a team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin while the other six Broncos who are slated to play in the all-star game, including Sanders and Miller, will be a on team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

The team Irvin selected will be coached by the Dallas Cowboys’ staff and will also feature Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle, toe) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) had been selected for the game, but elected not to play because of injuries. Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas are each scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 10.

Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Gary Kubiak said Tuesday he wants to finish out his coaching staff "as soon as I possibly can."

As Tuesday drew to a close, Kubiak had completed his staff on offense to go with the hiring of special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, but was still looking to finalize deals for his defensive assistants. DeCamillis, who was the Chicago Bears' special teams coach last season, had an entry-level coaching position with the Broncos in 1990 and 1991, Kubiak's last two seasons as the team's backup quarterback.

In terms of his staff on offense, Kubiak retained three coaches from John Fox's staff in running backs coach Eric Studesville, wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert and tight ends coach Clancy Barone, who will coach the offensive line for Kubiak. Kubiak has also added Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Brian Pariani -- both were on the Baltimore Ravens staff with Kubiak this past season.

Dennison is a former Broncos player and was an assistant coach on both Mike Shanahan's and Josh McDaniels' staffs with the Broncos. Pariani is a former Broncos' assistant as well.

Defensively many in the league believe Kubiak would like to hire Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph as the Broncos' defensive coordinator. Joseph, who was an assistant on Kubiak's coaching staff with the Houston Texans, interviewed with Broncos officials this past week, but as of Wednesday morning the Broncos had been informed the Bengals would not let Joseph out of his current contract despite the Broncos' job being a promotion.

At that time, the Broncos were still hoping to get a reversal of fortune and be able to hire Joseph, but they were also moving forward with other possible candidates for the job.

"The wheels are turning," Kubiak said Tuesday. "But I really think we stay away from that right now. I'd hate to jeopardize anything we have going on. I do want to get it done as quickly as I possibly can."

Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith is expected to be retained. Smith was an assistant coach on Kubiak's Texans' staff.

As of late Tuesday night, the Broncos were believed to be sorting through candidates from around the league to coach the defensive line and the secondary. One of the Broncos' defensive backs coaches -- Cory Undlin -- accepted a job with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.

The Broncos also retained strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson and his staff.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Over 17 games, five months and more than a few bumps, injuries and dilemmas along the way, the Denver Broncos discovered some things about themselves and why they didn't earn a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Today is the fourth installment of a week-long look at those lessons, both good and bad, as the Broncos began with such high hopes in September only to be so cruelly disappointed in January.

And while the team's executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said he likes the roster, there figures to be more change than usual this offseason.

[+] EnlargeGary Kubiak
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesNew coach Gary Kubiak could be the first of many changes for the Broncos this offseason.
The Broncos are still pretty young overall with 24 players on the season-ending roster who were 25 or younger and 38 players who were 27 or younger. But on the contract side, the Broncos -- with a new coaching staff in place -- will have plenty of decisions to make.

The team has 17 players who are scheduled to be either restricted or unrestricted free agents. And part of the list reads like a who's who of the starting lineup: wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, guard Orlando Franklin, tight end Virgil Green, linebacker Nate Irving, center Will Montgomery, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Rahim Moore.

That's not even the entire list, but those are eight players who started games this past season for the team and it doesn't even include tight end Jacob Tamme, who is slated to an unrestricted free agent as well and played 24.5 percent of the offensive snaps this season.

Toss in a new head coach in Gary Kubiak, the potential for new playbooks on both sides of the ball with two new coordinators, and uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning, and there is potential for plenty of change.

Still, Elway said: "I like this roster. … We've got a good base of guys for the most part … so I feel great about our football team."

Because of last season's spending binge in free agency -- the Broncos signed four players selected to this year's Pro Bowl in Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders -- and a watchful eye that the Broncos already have on their tightening salary cap situation in 2016, expect them to stay in-house this time around.

Most of their attention and any money spent will be on their own players. If no long-term deal can be worked out with Demaryius Thomas, it is expected the Broncos would use the franchise player tag on him for a one-year deal that would be guaranteed for the average of the top-10 salaries at the position.

Last year the franchise player tag for a wide receiver meant a one-year deal for $12.312 million. That number is expected to rise a bit this time around.

"You hope they can keep things together," Knighton said. "This is a good group … you want it to be together. I believe the grass isn't always greener and I want to stay. But John Elway is building a team and they're going to make decisions they believe are right, the decision on me included."

The offensive line, with two free agents among the starters, figures to get a long look as well. The line struggled to consistently keep pass-rushers off Manning and the running backs faced first contact at or behind the line of scrimmage on about a third of the team's rushing attempts this season.

Elway said this week that Kubiak would have at least some say on personnel matters as the team formulates its offseason plan in the coming weeks.

"We're going to go through all those meetings, we're going to have all those meetings, and I guarantee, Gary and I are going to come out of the room with the right decision for the Denver Broncos," Elway said. "Gary's going to have a great influence on this team and how we shape this team. So yeah, Gary's going to have a huge influence on that. We'll get through it. We haven't had time, it's been a whirlwind. But we'll get into the meetings and look at the things, what he's looking at as far as offensive linemen, defensively, and we'll get into all those meetings with the coaches. So that'll be coming up."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Yes, John Elway was going to always keep Peyton Manning apprised of the Denver Broncos' search for a new head coach.

Yes, Elway is going to give Manning plenty of room to make a decision about whether the quarterback does, or doesn’t, play in 2015.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Elway has to make decisions on 17 Broncos scheduled to become free agents this offseason.
And yes, the Manning decision is certainly the team’s biggest question at the moment, at least in the public domain. But Elway made it clear Manning is not the only player the team is thinking about right now.

“I’m not talking to Peyton about what his plans are because I don’t think he’s ready to talk about it,’’ Elway said Tuesday as the Broncos formally introduced Gary Kubiak as the team’s new head coach. “ … I will say this: I talked to Peyton Saturday and said we were going down to talk to Gary on Sunday and it’s been a whirlwind since then. I also want to emphasize there’s 52 other guys we’ve got to worry about here. And I think we build this thing as a team. … Sure, we do want Peyton’s input, I do want to understand Peyton’s side of it, what he wants to do, but really there is 52 other guys on this roster, 10 guys on the practice squad and now guys we’ve signed to future contracts. And those guys are really, really important, too. This organization is important.’’

Following the Broncos’ Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional round game, Manning said he could not say if he planned to return for the 2015 season. It was a departure from his statement Christmas Eve that he did plan on coming back next year “if the Broncos will have me.’’

Manning and the Broncos do face at least one deadline in the decision. Manning’s $19 million salary for the 2015 season is guaranteed if he is on the roster on the last day of the league year, which is March 9. Free agency opens and the new league year begins March 10.

Beyond Manning’s decision, the Broncos also have 17 players scheduled to be free agents -- unrestricted and restricted combined.

“So my job, as I say, sure I want to try to help and do everything I can to help Peyton with his decision. But it’s also very important that we take care of those other guys that are under contract with us that are on this football team because they’re just as important,’’ Elway said.

Kubiak said he, too, would be looking to put a hard sell on Manning, but to let the 14-time Pro Bowl selection make his decision.

“Yes, we have talked. We talked a couple of days ago at length,’’ Kubiak said. “We talked a little bit [Monday] night via text and those type of things. We talked about a lot of stuff. But the bottom line is we’ve basically come to the conclusion that -- I know he’s got some things going on, family things right now, and obviously I’ve got a lot going on here the next couple of days -- we’re going to get together and sit down. The thing I want to do, I want to be the best support system I can be for Peyton.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was a strange few days for Gary Kubiak.

One moment he had just finished his first season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, offering it was “flattering and humbling" to be considered as a head coach after the end of the Ravens’ season -- a divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots -- and Kubiak said he had “decided to stay with the Ravens."

That was before the Denver Broncos job was open, which came the following day, and Kubiak said it brought a change of heart.

“I had a couple opportunities come up real, real quick," Kubiak said Tuesday just after he was introduced as the new Broncos head coach. “Rhonda [Kubiak’s wife] and I talked about it, you now, what I went through the year before, I thought I was in a good place, I liked what I was doing, I knew I was learning a great deal. And I just kind of said to myself, ‘hey Rhonda I’m going to make this decision, we’re going to stay (with the Ravens). We’re going to go take a vacation, take a break. Obviously there’s been no vacation."

Kubiak played for the Broncos for nine seasons as the backup quarterback to his current boss -- the team's executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway -- and was an assistant coach for the team for 11 more years, including the team’s back-to-back Super Bowl winners to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

Kubiak said when the Broncos job opened after the team "parted ways" with John Fox after Denver's 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and the Broncos had expressed interest, that he met with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and other team officials, including general manager Ozzie Newsome.

“Just a game-changer," Kubiak said. “This place is special to me, I started my career here and hopefully this ia chance -- I think I have a lot left in me -- to hopefully end my career here ... Just a totally different scenario for me and I know the Ravens understood that."

And it’s why nine days after saying he planned to stay with the Ravens as offensive coordinator, Kubiak was officially named the 15th head coach in Broncos’ franchise history.

“Tremendous motivation for me to come here and work for [the Bowlen] family, be a dream come true for them to hold that trophy again," Kubiak said. “[I] hope to get a chance to visit with Pat [Bowlen] here shortly."