About the fact that, after a concussion in the Broncos’ Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans, Welker had suffered three concussions in a three-month span of playing. Welker has returned to the Broncos after being reinstated in the wake of the NFL and NFL Players Association finishing negotiations on a new drug policy that has been enacted immediately.
He was asked following practice if he understood why people were concerned about his well-being and why some have questioned publicly whether he should return to the field.
“I appreciate their concern, I do," Welker said. “But at the same time, I feel great. I feel sharp and ready to go."
Welker was held out of the final three games of the regular season in 2013 after he suffered a concussion in a Nov. 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs and another in a Dec. 8 game against the Tennessee Titans.
He returned to play in all three of the Broncos' postseason games, including Super Bowl XLVIII. Wednesday marked the first time -- the Broncos had a fully padded practice -- Welker had been a full participant in practice since the days before the Aug. 23 concussion.
After Welker’s suspension was announced, Broncos head coach John Fox said the time away, from a health perspective, might be a “blessing in disguise" for Welker.
“Maybe a little bit, you always hate to miss any time at all," Welker said. “But especially with head injuries and different things like that, every week and every day is a good thing for it. Not the way I wanted it to happen, but it is what it is."
Under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol to return to play, Welker had to be cleared by an independent physician, designated by both the NFL and NFL Players Association.
Welker, who was formally re-instated Wednesday morning as a result of the NFL's new policy on performance enhancing drugs, attended team meetings after getting a call from Broncos officials he was cleared to return to the building and then participated in Wednesday's practice.
"It feels great, it feels great,'' Welker said. " ... You really realize how much you miss it.''
Welker was originally suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and already served the first two games of the suspension, missing the Broncos' wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos had kept a roster spot open for Welker for over a week in the belief the new drug policy would be enacted.
The Broncos cut wide receiver Nathan Palmer on Sept. 9 and remained at 52 players since. Asked what he had done during his suspension, Welker made it clear his mind was being read for his return.
"Working out, doing honey-do chores, not very well, [but] just working out and staying [in Denver],'' Welker said. "It seemed like every other day, I was kind of going back and forth about whether I was coming back or not.''
Trevathan, who was the team’s leading tackler last season and an every-down player in Jack Del Rio’s scheme, suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia on Aug. 12. Though he did not take part in the Broncos' practice Wednesday -- he stretched with the team -- Trevathan’s work was his first appearance on the field in a practice jersey since the injury.
Trevathan said last week, "I’m getting there, I’ll be ready to get back in there soon."
Trevathan is five weeks out from the injury. The Broncos have been optimistic throughout Trevathan’s recovery that he would need six to eight weeks before a return to the lineup.
The Broncos face Seattle this weekend, but then have a Week 4 bye, so Trevathan, if he continues at his current pace, may be available for the Broncos’ Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Broncos will likely practice at least twice during their bye week.
Linebacker Von Miller, who left the Broncos' win over the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday with a groin injury, practiced Wednesday.
Linebacker Lerentee McCray (knee) and defensive tackle Marvin Austin (excused) did not practice. Austin’s father, Marvin Sr., was involved in an automobile accident Sunday.
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks shut down the Broncos ability to run after the catch in last year's Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl winners hold the slight 3-2 advantage in the rematches, but Manning & Co. will look to create more space for the offense to shine this Sunday in Seattle.
Breaking Free (After the Catch)
During Denver’s historic regular season in 2013, the Broncos led the league with 2,583 yards after the catch.
But as the Broncos short-passing game went to work during Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks secondary shut down all running lanes after the catch.
Denver was limited to 3.6 yards after the catch on short throws (10 yards or fewer downfield), its lowest total of the season.
Seahawks Starvin’ for More Harvin
After Seattle gave a healthy Percy Harvin 11 touches on opening night (on which he averaged 9.1 yards per play), Harvin only saw three touches in Week 2, including his disputed 51-yard touchdown run.
In Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin only needed four plays to terrorize the Broncos. His kick-return touchdown to open the second half stretched the score to 29-0. His other three touches in the half netted 50 yards.
Peyton Poise vs. Potential Pressure
Manning excels against the blitz. Since 2006, when ESPN began video tracking, only Aaron Rodgers has a higher Total QBR against the blitz than Manning (74.2).
The Seahawks, who are usually great at forcing pressure without the blitz, struggled to get to the quarterback in San Diego last week. Seattle pressured Philip Rivers on only 12 percent of his dropbacks, by far the Seahawks’ lowest pressure percentage since last season.
Since the start of 2013, no defense has pressured the quarterback more than the Seahawks (31 percent of opponents’ dropbacks).
Searching for a Running Game
Last February, neither team’s running backs found much success, as they combined for a measly 2.5 yards per rush in the Super Bowl (highlighted by 0.2 yards per rush for the recently-promoted Montee Ball).
Unfortunately for Ball, not much has changed this season as he's had little room to run. Among 48 qualified running backs, Ball’s 1.26 yards before contact per rush ranks 43rd this season.
The Seahawks stumbled upon similar rushing problems in San Diego. After Marshawn Lynch unleashed Beast Mode for 110 rushing yards and two scores in Week 1, the beast went into hibernation. He ran only six times in Week 2, despite a strong 6.0 yards per rush average.
Takeaways the Turning Point
Since the start of last season, the Seahawks lead the league in both takeaways (40) and turnover margin (+19). During that span, Seattle is 13-1 (including the playoffs) when winning the turnover battle.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are one of four teams yet to commit a turnover this season. Those teams are a combined 7-1 through two weeks.
In last year’s Super Bowl, the Seahawks dominated thanks to a plus-4 turnover margin as they intercepted Manning twice and recovered two fumbles.
The NFL and its union announced agreement Wednesday on "improvements" to the policy on performance-enhancing drugs that includes testing for human growth hormone and neutral arbitration for appeals, and will make three previously suspended players eligible to play this weekend.
The NFL announced that it will implement HGH testing by the end of this month, and information on the testing procedures will be sent to teams this week. Testing for HGH was originally agreed upon in 2011, but the players had balked at the science in the testing and the appeals process for positive tests.
In addition, the NFL and NFLPA are near agreement on changes to the substance abuse policy, which will be announced when it is completed.
Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick and St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey are now eligible to return for Week 3 as a result of the new policy. All three players had received four-game suspensions for testing positive for substances that now will be eligible to return under the substance abuse policy.
Appeals of positive tests under the PED policy, including HGH, will be heard by a third-party arbitrator whom league and union officials will choose jointly. The statement promises that appeals will be heard more expeditiously because of improved procedures under the policy.
A first violation of the PED policy will result in a suspension without pay for up to six games depending on violation:
ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the NFL had begun to inform players who would be reinstated once representatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association had signed a term sheet on the new drug policy.
Welker, who suffered a concussion in the Broncos’ Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans, has been cleared medically, so he would take part in practice as soon as he is formally moved from reserve/suspended to the active roster.
Following Broncos practice last Friday, coach John Fox said the team was ready to welcome Welker back whenever an agreement was in place. But earlier this week, Fox wasn't prepared to publicly say when he thought that would be.
"I know we get Wes back for sure after four games," Fox said Monday. "Anything other than that, that’s somebody else’s decisions.”
Welker was originally suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and already has served the first two games of the suspension, missing the Broncos’ wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. However, Broncos officials and players have believed that a new policy would change the criteria of Welker's suspension and allow for the reinstatement of Welker and several others players around the league.
Welker had been limited in practice at the time of his league-mandated punishment because of the concussion he suffered against the Texans. The concussion was Welker's third in a 10-month span.
Welker has taken part in just one practice -- he was limited in the team’s Labor Day workout -- since the injury.
Welker's chance at reinstatement came because, under the new policy, Welker's positive test for amphetamines would now fall under the league's policy for substance abuse because it occurred during the offseason. Under the guidelines of the substance abuse policy, a player enters the treatment program with the first positive test, a program that includes meeting with counselors. The player is also subject to increased testing each month.
It takes multiple positive tests under the substance abuse policy before the suspension phase is reached. Welker's positive test had fallen under the PED policy, which put players into the suspension phase with the first positive test.
Under his original suspension, Welker would not have been eligible to return to the team until Monday, Oct. 6, and then would have played for the first time in the Oct. 12 game against the New York Jets.
In Welker's absence, the Broncos have run far more plays out of a two-tight end set than they did down the stretch last season or in the playoffs. Of quarterback Peyton Manning's league-leading six touchdown passes, five have gone to tight ends: four to Julius Thomas and one to Jacob Tamme.
Welker, who was in uniform at practice, originally was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on PEDs, but he was made eligible to return to the team this week after the NFL and the players' union on Wednesday finalized the drug-policy changes.
Under the new policy, Welker's positive test for amphetamines falls under the league's policy for substance abuse. Under those guidelines, a player would enter the treatment program with the first positive test, a program that includes meeting with counselors; the player also would be subject to increased testing each month.
It would take multiple positive tests under the new substance abuse policy before the suspension phase is reached. For Welker's suspension, his positive test had fallen under the PEDs policy, which puts players into the suspension phase with the first positive test.
Now, in the weeks to come, the group is hoping to do a little better in the minutes that come before that.
And after a long look at the video here are some thoughts on the team’s defense and special teams:
- At times the Broncos have crossed the fine line between hard-charging and aggressive unit and being a unit that commits too many ill-timed, unforced errors. In the win over the Chiefs alone they had five offside penalties by four different players, a roughing the passer, and a flag for 12 men on the field. After two games the Broncos are tied with Chicago and Washington for fifth in penalties, having been flagged 23 times. The team’s defense has accounted for 13 of those flags, with only one of those having been declined. The offside penalties particularly stung this past Sunday, as one negated an interception return for a touchdown by Aqib Talib. The Broncos have surrendered six first downs by penalty as well in the first two games.
- In 2012, the Broncos struggled covering opposing tight ends for much of the season. That year tight ends caught 81 passes against the Broncos for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns. The current group hasn’t reached that level of difficulty yet, but opposing tight ends have had some impact. This past Sunday the Chiefs’ two -- Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano -- had a combined seven catches for 120 yards. Kelce did particular damage in the Broncos’ specialty looks on defense. Kelce had a 20-yard reception on a third-and-18 in the third quarter to go with a 20-yarder with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Both catches came with the Broncos rushing just three and dropping eight into coverage. That’s going to get a long look from the offensive coordinators still on the docket, unless the Broncos deter them in the coming weeks.
- The Broncos have made it clear where they stand on the recoveries of Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore from their stints on injured reserve last season. Moore has played more total snaps than any player on the team, having been on the field for 159 of the Broncos 160 defensive snaps to go with 12 plays on special teams in two games. Harris Jr., just seven months removed from ACL surgery, played 80 of 86 defensive snaps against the Chiefs this past Sunday. That was after he had played 39 of 74 snaps against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1. “I just felt like my conditioning was better, I felt better after working on it more last week," Harris Jr. said. “It just keeps getting better and better."
- Whether it’s finding one undrafted rookie after another good enough to make their roster or signing somebody else’s castoff for a 1-year deal to get a player who ends up starting, the Broncos continue to pick players to help in specific roles. The swapped a conditional seventh-round draft pick for kicker Brandon McManus so McManus could fill in for Matt Prater, who is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. And while McManus hasn’t been asked to kick with the game on the line -- he’s 2-of-2 on field goal attempts from 20 and 21 yards -- he has shown an NFL-worthy leg. With two home games in Denver’s altitude, he’s tied for the league lead in touchbacks (10) and tied for the league lead, with Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, for touchback percentage with both players at 10-of-11.
Yet the feeling around the team, and certainly among the team's faithful, is they’ve left some points on the table and the second-half lull in each of the first two games will need some attention.
After a long look at the video, here are some thoughts on the team’s offense:
- With wide receiver Wes Welker's time in suspension limbo expected to end this week -- he would join the Broncos roster as soon as the league’s new drug policy is formally agreed to by both the NFL and NFLPA -- it will be intriguing to watch if the offense drifts away from what it’s done well in the early going. Five of Peyton Manning's six touchdown passes have gone to the team’s tight ends so far -- four to Julius Thomas and one to Jacob Tamme. And four of those scoring plays have come in the two-tight-end set with Welker out of the lineup. The Broncos have also spent far more time in the two-tight-end set, including all but one snap this past Sunday. And they are consistently creating matchup problems with it all over the field. If Welker isn’t ready for full duty -- he’s only practiced once, on a limited basis, since Aug. 23 -- or the Broncos want to limit his snaps since he has had three concussions in 10 months, it’s clear they have a viable option that’s more than a change of pace. Last season they used a variety of offensive sets early, but down the stretch they were almost exclusively in three wide.Welker
- The Broncos went into the offseason to try and squeeze more out of the team’s running game without losing their throw-first edge. And the Broncos have flashed some potential -- like Montee Ball's 23-yard run on a third-and-24 in the third quarter Sunday -- but they have spent almost 90 snaps in the first two games in a two-tight-end formation and have more runs by running backs or wide receivers for no gain or negative yardage than they did in last season's first two games, when they played out out of largely three-wide-receiver sets. They’re leaving gaps on the interior, both in the zone run game and when they pull one of the interior linemen to cross the formation. But overall they’ve had nine carries already for no gain or negative yardage (other than kneel-downs), and seven of those have come on first down. No surprise the Chiefs were involved in that already, though; last season the Chiefs stopped Broncos ball carriers for 15 runs of no gain or negative yards, with 11 of those in the Broncos’ Dec. 12 win. But add in the fact the Broncos have had seven additional carries for 1 yard each, and 34.8 percent of the rushing attempts the Broncos have had from plays other than Manning kneel-downs have gone for 1 or fewer yards.
- Can’t say Ball isn’t willing to stick his nose into the action in pass protection. Tamba Hali did have the Chiefs’ only sack Sunday, and he did overpower Ball to get it. But Ball threw himself at the much bigger outside linebacker for what was perhaps the biggest collision in the game.
- Many years ago Ron Erhardt, a longtime NFL assistant to go with a brief stint as Patriots head coach, said “throw to score, run to win." That was long before receivers were set free down the field by the rules makers and quarterbacks were more accurate overall than they’ve ever been. But the Broncos are living the throw-to-score mantra. They have touchdown passes of 3, 5, 4 and 4 yards already this season.
- Of the Broncos pass catchers, Emmanuel Sanders played 48 of the team’s 49 snaps Sunday, while Julius Thomas played 46 and Demaryius Thomas 45. Tamme, who was in the formation for all three Broncos touchdowns, finished with 37 snaps.
Well, things change and often that change comes quickly. Just two games into this regular season and the Broncos are facing a far different look on the depth chart at linebacker and it may affect how they can line up Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
"We know some guys have some things," said middle linebacker Nate Irving. "Our job to pick it up, whoever is in there has to get the job done. We don’t make excuses."
It started in training camp when Trevathan suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia. The team’s leading tackler in 2013, and the starter on the weak side, did not play in the preseason as a result of the injury and is not expected to play in the regular season for a few more weeks.
Then Sunday against the Chiefs, the Broncos took a hit on the strong side of the formation when Von Miller suffered a groin injury after his backup Lerentee McCray had suffered a right knee injury earlier in the game when former Broncos tackle Ryan Harris hit McCray low in pass protection.
Miller played on in the game after it appeared his legs were pinned awkwardly as he made a tackle earlier in the day. In the end, Miller ended up leaving the game in the fourth quarter -- he played 57 of the team’s 86 plays on defense.
The Broncos were already using McCray to spell Miller at times as Miller is just eight months out from ACL surgery.
Those two injuries forced the Broncos to alter things in their base defense. They moved Irving, who was Miller’s backup last season and started late in the year -- including the Broncos' three playoff games after Miller’s ACL surgery -- into a more strong-side role with Steven Johnson in the lineup as well. Brandon Marshall, already filling in for Trevathan, stayed on the weak side.
Asked Monday if he was concerned Miller could miss time, Broncos head coach John Fox said; "I get concerned about all the players."
McCray, who spent the 2013 season on injured reserve with an ankle injury, underwent an MRI for was described as an injury that would cause him to miss some time.
Fox said "it’s not season-ending or anything of that nature.”
But it could force the Broncos into some decisions as they are poised to face the Seahawks’ power run game. The Chiefs found some success against the Broncos by running the ball against the Broncos’ nickel package (five defensive backs).
So, if the Broncos find themselves in a nickel look against the Seahawks’ three-wide set that includes wide receiver Percy Harvin as a potential runner, with two linebackers in the formation, they’re going to have to get off blocks in a lighter formation in the front seven than they did in the first half against the Chiefs.
If they line up in their base look, with three linebacker, if Miller doesn’t play Sunday the Broncos will have backups in two of the three linebacker spots.
The Broncos could also use safety T.J. Ward, who often lines up as a linebacker in some of the specialty looks, in a bigger variety of roles and play Quinton Carter at Ward’s strong safety spot as well. But keeping the Seahawks from setting the tempo with physical play in the run game has to be Job 1.
"Again whoever is in there has to play," Irving said. "Nobody on the outside is going to care what you have to go through. We just have to go out there and get it done, whatever it takes."