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.

Harris
“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.’’
Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the latest in "deflategate" and the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by two other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the big game.

Kevin Seifert (NFL Nation writer) takes us behind the multi-step process that goes into the pregame checking of football inflation, and the impetus behind the league allowing quarterbacks to play with their own footballs. He also chats briefly about the Super Bowl's head referee, Bill Vinovich, and what we might be able to expect from his mixed crew.

Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) shares his thoughts on covering the Super Bowl after having been in the press box of each championship game since Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta in 1994.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com this Friday at 1 p.m./10 a.m. PT as we catch up with Legwold and ESPN Insider's Mike Sando, who will fill us in on the Hall of Fame selection process that will occur this weekend.

Also, be sure to give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.

Listen to this week's podcast here.

Raheem Morris, Smith to join Falcons

January, 26, 2015
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Former Washington Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris has agreed to a position with the Atlanta Falcons as assistant head coach in charge of defensive backs, a source confirmed Monday.

The Falcons also will hire Denver Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith as defensive coordinator, a source confirmed to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold.

Smith had been linebackers coach for the Broncos since 2011 and a former Gary Kubiak assistant in Houston with the Texans. Had been expected to be retained as Denver's linebackers coach under Kubiak until the opportunity in Atlanta came up.

Morris spent the past three years as the secondary coach in Washington but was passed over for the defensive coordinator position. Washington hired Joe Barry last week but did interview Morris for the job. The Redskins and former coordinator Jim Haslett agreed to part ways after this past season. 

Morris' deal with the Falcons was first reported by NFL Network.

Morris' role in Atlanta represents a promotion because of the title. The Falcons reportedly will hire Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as coach after the Super Bowl. Atlanta fired Mike Smith as its head coach after this season.


(Read full post)


Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT, for a special ESPN NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast as episode No. 41 will review Deflategate and look ahead to what the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots can expect heading into Super Bowl XLIX.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by EPSN NFL Insider Kevin Seifert and Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter).

Seifert, who has covered the world of NFL officiating with aplomb, will break down the process of inflating and inspecting footballs and how officials are involved in the process. He’ll also give us a scouting report on the officials assigned for Sunday.

Legwold, who covered the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, will then give us a day-by-day breakdown of the week and how teams attempt to stay focused with so many outside distractions.

Also, the crew will discuss the Pro Football Focus project that examined how many above-average players each NFL team was from contending for this year’s Super Bowl.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

NFL Nation TV will have a second show this week on Friday at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT.

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.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It may not be as warm as Hawaii or have an ocean for players to frolic in, but Arizona will host this year’s Pro Bowl, marking the second time since 1980 that the game won't be played offshore.

While most of the attention this week has been paid to the deflation controversy, there have been plenty of Pro Bowl storylines in the desert leading up to the 8 p.m. ET kickoff Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium (ESPN). For the second consecutive year, the game won’t feature an AFC vs. NFC format. This year’s teams will be led by a pair of Hall of Fame wide receivers: Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.

Here are five things you need to know about this year’s Pro Bowl:

Watt
Watt
Watt could win offensive and defensive MVPs: While there may not be an official line on whether the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt wins the defensive MVP, he is the perceived favorite. Watt may also be the most versatile player at this year’s game. He had the second-most sacks in the NFL this season with 20.5 and scored two defensive touchdowns. But he also scored three offensive touchdowns, and there’s this: Watt kicked at least one field goal during Friday’s Pro Bowl practice. He was also seen catching passes in the end zone.

Kickers will have to be more precise: One of the more significant changes at this year’s Pro Bowl will make both kickers -- the Philadelphia Eagles' Cody Parkey and the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri -- work harder. The NFL narrowed the uprights from 18 feet wide to 14 feet wide for the game. The goal is to make extra points and field goals more challenging since kickers made about 84 percent of their field goal attempts this season. And as the NFL did during the first two weeks of the preseason, it is moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard attempt instead of a 20-yard kick.

Pro Bowl is the NFL’s laboratory: Not only will the league experiment with the goalposts and extra points, the NFL will also implement changes for instant replay. Instead of going under the hood to review plays, the referee will watch replays on a Microsoft Surface, the same tablet teams have been using all season to review plays. The replays will be streamed to the tablet.

Hilton
Luck
QBs will see familiar WRs: Of the six quarterbacks at the Pro Bowl, four will have a teammate lining up at wide receiver or tight end on their team. The Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo will throw to Jason Witten and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford will have Golden Tate as one of his receivers for Team Irvin. On Team Carter, the Colts' Andrew Luck will have T.Y. Hilton, while late addition Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals will have A.J. Green. The four quarterback-receiver tandems combined for 22 touchdowns this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Luck and Hilton had the most with seven, followed by Dalton and Green with six, Stafford and Tate with five, and Romo and Witten with four.

Stats and facts: Of the 115 players selected for the Pro Bowl this season, 88 will play. This is the sixth consecutive season 100 or more players were chosen. ... Last year, Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21 with the fewest points scored by a winning Pro Bowl team since 1996. ... Members of the winning team, including coaches, earn $55,000; those on the losing team get $28,000. ... Each team has the same number of AFC and NFC players this season. ... The Denver Broncos had the most Pro Bowl selections with 11, while three teams -- the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings -- didn’t have a selection. ... There are 36 first-time Pro Bowl selections this year. ... Five rookies will play in the game: New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cowboys G Zack Martin, St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald, Baltimore Ravens LB C.J. Mosley and Eagles K Cody Parkey.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Through 17 games and 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 the return trip to the Super Bowl they openly coveted since last February.

This is the seventh installment of a weeklong look at those lessons from a season that began with such high hopes in September only to end in such cruel disappointment in January.

There are several reasons the Broncos aren't preparing for the Super Bowl in Phoenix -- subpar play on the offensive line, ho-hum special teams, an offense that could never seem to find itself down the stretch unless it was playing the Oakland Raiders (41 and 47 points). But if there is one overriding reason that resulted in a coaching change for a 12-4 team, it’s that the Broncos came up too small too many times in the biggest moments.

[+] EnlargeDwayne Allen
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos ultimately couldn't rise to the occasion at home against the Colts.
When John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager, formally announced the day after the season ended that John Fox is no longer the Broncos' head coach, Elway said; “I think that we’ve got to peak a little bit later than we peaked. … I feel very fortunate in having played for the Denver Broncos for several years -- for 16 years -- playing for some great coaches, and saw both sides of it, saw the losses in the Super Bowl and saw what it took to get to that next level. Hopefully, those thoughts and the way that we did things when we got to the next level, we can put those things into play here now and with the next coach.’’

That next coach is Gary Kubiak, a former teammate of Elway’s, former offensive coordinator of Elway’s, and longtime friend to the Hall of Fame quarterback. And beyond the usual roster turnover, installation of playbooks on both sides of the ball, and everybody getting used to the new way of doing things, the biggest task will be to find some big-game mojo.

The Broncos have had a roster worthy of a spot in the best-team-in-the-league conversation for three consecutive years. They have exited the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 seed twice, and earlier this month they exited as the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

They have lost at home twice in those three playoff losses and have been blown out by 35 points in Super Bowl XLVIII in the other. Their surefire Hall of Fame quarterback took a knee with 31 seconds to play and timeouts in hand in what eventually became a double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round in January 2013.

If you ask the foundation fan for the Broncos, the folks who’ve had those South Stands seats for decades, no play signifies this Broncos team being unable to push the boulder all the way up the hill than that play versus the Ravens -- with the botched snap to open the Super Bowl last February not too far behind. But the rest of that Super Bowl blowout and this year’s season-ending loss to the Colts, when Elway said he was “disappointed we didn’t play with more fire,’’ is on the pile, as well.

Which led to the signature description from Elway that “I think if there is one thing that you would like to have and you want to feel, at least in the last game, you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming. When you’re right there, and I think two years in a row it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of … the way we played the last game.’’

There is also this: Against the league heavyweights, in the postseason and the regular season, if the Broncos faced some in-game adversity, a little trouble, they seemed to have difficulty getting up off the mat. The feeling in the league was often that if you could get the lead, you would keep the lead, that the Broncos frustrated easily and recovered poorly.

Over the last three regular seasons, the Broncos are 8-9 against teams that eventually made the playoffs, including 2-3 this past season, with road losses to both teams that made the Super Bowl -- the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.

In the Broncos' last three playoff losses, they have surrendered 38, 43 and 24 points. In their last two playoff losses, they have scored just eight and 13 points -- after leading the league in scoring (with a single-season-record 606 points) in 2013 and being No. 2 in the league in scoring in ’14.

In short, their marquee players -- from quarterback Peyton Manning to linebacker Von Miller and most of the other players who have been named to at least one of the last three Pro Bowls -- have not found a way to rise up at the most important times. And the coaching staff couldn't find a way to change that in three consecutive postseasons.

Beyond the X's and O's and how the roster is constructed, getting a talented team to play like one in the biggest moments just might be Kubiak’s biggest task.

“So you get yourself in that position, and it’s always important that you’re at your best once you get to January,’’ Kubiak said. “And it’s been proven year in and year out, it’s not how you get there, it’s once you get there how you’re playing. We’ve got to go to work on getting there and playing our best at that time.’’
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 -- $8.5 million -- is also guaranteed in the fifth day of the new league year, which will be March 14.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos radio play-by-play man Dave Logan was the national runner-up for the NFL’s Don Shula High School Coach of the Year award.

The award, announced Friday, was given to Somerset (Wisconsin) High School coach Bruce Larson. Logan and Truman High School (Independence, Missouri) coach Gregg Webb were the other finalists.

Logan, a former Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos wide receiver in an eight-year NFL career as a player, has won seven state titles as a high school coach in Colorado, including a 5A title this past season at Cherry Creek High School.

Logan, who was selected in the Major League Baseball, NBA and NFL drafts before he began his NFL career, has been the play-by-play voice of the Broncos for the last 18 seasons on 850 KOA-AM and has been on the team’s radio broadcasts in some fashion for the last 25 years.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It wasn’t alone on the list of things that weren’t quite what the Denver Broncos hoped they would be this past season, but the team’s special teams units never did quite rise to the level of expectations.

And Friday you could find a little more proof of that. Longtime NFL writer and current Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin has annually ranks the special teams units for every team in the league.

Those rankings are always worth a look.

Gosselin's work is based a wide-ranging collection of categories that he tracks week to week through the season. The rankings are also coveted as required reading for many special teams coaches throughout the NFL.

Barth
Gosselin’s evaluations for this past season were published Friday, and the Broncos found themselves at 19th, just behind the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks who were tied at 17th and just in front of the New York Jets.

Overall the AFC West didn’t fare well with the Oakland Raiders at No. 22 and the San Diego Chargers at No. 29. The Kansas City Chiefs, with Knile Davis third in the league in kickoff returns at 28.6 yards per return and De'Anthony Thomas fourth in the league in punt returns (11.9 yards per return), checked in at No. 8.

The Broncos’ plan at special teams was wobbled even before they exited the preseason with kicker Matt Prater’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Prater was eventually released, in a move rooted in the suspension, his inconsistent training camp and some concern over Prater’s contract on future salary cap issues. His replacement, Brandon McManus, missed a handful of field goals over the course of the first 11 games, and that resulted in a loss of confidence in McManus from the coaching staff.

McManus was eventually released in late November and Connor Barth was signed. For the year the Broncos attempted just two field goals of at least 50 yards this past season as compared to six such attempts in Prater’s Pro Bowl season in 2013.

Barth’s signing did repair the field goal portion of the problem – he was 17-of-18, including 2-of-2 in the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Colts – but could not be a factor on kickoffs so the Broncos brought McManus back for that down the stretch.

Britton Colquitt, who carries a $3.75 million cap charge in ’15, had was his lowest showing in net punt yardage since 2010. The Broncos didn’t have much impact in the return game other than Omar Bolden’s work down the stretch, and their coverage units were inconsistent as well, including an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown by the Patriots’ Julian Edelman and two returns of at least 46 yards by the Bengals in December.
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.

This is the sixth installment of a weeklong look at those lessons, both good and bad, for a team that began with such high hopes in September only to be so cruelly disappointed in January.

Quarterback Peyton Manning changed the tenor of the Broncos' offseason in the few seconds it took him to say "I can’t say that" following their Jan. 11 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Asked to reaffirm a statement he made following a Christmas Eve practice -- that he planned to return in 2015 "if the Broncos will have me" -- Manning stepped back from that following the loss to the Colts, saying he couldn’t say if he planned to return next season.

[+] EnlargeIndex: Peyton Manning leaving field
Aaron Ontiveroz/Denver Post/Getty ImagesIf Peyton Manning returns next season, he can expect more running plays under new head coach Gary Kubiak.
And for a lot of folks, it is the the question hanging over the team. Manning will be 39 next season, and his play suffered down the stretch as the Broncos couldn’t answer the moves defenses made against him at times. And in the Broncos’ playoff loss, he did several un-Manning-like things, like check out of called plays to go with lower-percentage throws up the sideline, which is exactly what the Colts wanted him to do.

Too many he looked frustrated, almost fed up as the team around him lacked "fire," as John Elway referred to it, and the Broncos ran the ball just six times in the second half of a game they trailed by just four points at halftime.

So, from a football perspective, if he does return, Manning and the new coaching staff will have some ground to cover. New head coach Gary Kubiak, for one, has made no secret the Broncos will be serious about running the ball and making it a consistent, viable part of the offense.

In talking about what he believes the construction of a Super Bowl team looks like, Kubiak made it clear.

"I think being physical in this league wins consistently, so that's something I believe in, and that gets back to running the ball," Kubiak said. "And it should only help a quarterback when you're able to run the ball well and play-pass and those types of things ... So, I mean, I think it's always got to be a part of what you're doing if you expect to be a physical football team."

Should Manning return, he has to be on board for that to make it work. Kubiak has also said he would build an offense to suit Manning, as he would for any of his quarterbacks -- that the Broncos won’t try to make Manning do things that don’t suit his game.

Manning would also have the freedom to run the offense at the line of scrimmage as he always has, but he and Kubiak would have to be on the same page as to how the running game fits what they’re doing. For example, the Broncos had four games this season with fewer than 20 rushing attempts, including a season-low 10 attempts in the Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis.

In Kubiak’s two playoff seasons as the Houston Texans’ coach, the team had just one game in those two years combined with fewer than 20 rushing attempts -- none in 2011, one in 2012 (16 carries). And in Kubiak’s almost eight full seasons as the team’s head coach, the Texans never had a game with 10 rushing attempts -- 12 was the fewest in a game in that span, in 2007.

But that’s all based on Manning coming back. And as far as Manning coming back, Kubiak and Elway have said they will give Manning plenty of space -- and time -- to make his decision. The only deadline involved is March 9, which is the last day of the league year and when Manning's $19 million salary is guaranteed for the 2015 season.

Elway has also said he has "52 other guys" to worry about as well as Manning. The team will eye a revamping of the offensive line, which Manning would certainly like, and with 17 scheduled free agents -- restricted and unrestricted combined -- most of the focus in free agency for the Broncos will be their attempts to sign their own players.

But the bottom line is if Manning comes back, it will be to a slightly different offense, and if he doesn’t return, the Broncos say they need to be prepared for that as well.

As Elway put it; "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 are 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."
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