Broncos Update Insider - 11/27

Broncos defensive end Justin Bannan, in his ninth NFL season, wracked his brain when asked if he can recall a rookie quarterback as impressive as Sam Bradford, this week's opponent.

Peyton Manning? Well, the Colts did go 3-13 and he had 26 TD passes vs. 28 interceptions in 1998.

Ben Roethlisberger is more like it: The AFC Offensive Player of the Year in 2004 and quarterback of a team that reached the AFC title game.

Bannan mentioned former teammate Joe Flacco, too, since the Ravens earned a wild-card berth with the quarterback completing 60 percent of his passes and compiling a rating over 80 in 2008.

But the list is short, regardless.

Bradford already holds the franchise rookie record for completions (228) and attempts (376), and his 2,158 yards are third.

Last week, his NFL rookie record streak of consecutive passes without an interception ended at 169 on a botched shovel pass, no less.

"He looks like a seasoned vet back there," Bannan said. "It's rare, very rare. You don't see it every day."

Having a stud in the backfield like Steven Jackson helps. But the Broncos to a man say they are particularly impressed by Bradford's quick decision making and pocket presence.

"He's really poised for a young guy. But we're not going to just put him on a throne," linebacker Mario Haggan said. "We're going to do our job and rush him and throw things at him and hopefully make him play like a rookie."

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels pointed out that San Diego blitzed Bradford on Oct. 17 a whopping 18 straight times without forcing a turnover. The Chargers won that game, 20-17.

"Usually when you get a young guy coming in, team's blitz him a lot and try to make him think fast and make quick decisions. That's usually where you force mistakes," Bannan said. "But the guys getting the ball out quick."

Bradford is currently challenging several NFL rookie passing records, all held by Manning. His current pace would land him second in passing yards, first in completions and attempts and tied for second in TD passes.

"That's in the middle of making plays too. It's not like their throwing screens and checkdowns. If that was the case, maybe it wouldn't be as impressive," McDaniels said. "But he's throwing the ball down the field, he's throwing double moves, He's standing in against the blitz, converting third and 13s. this is not a team that's made the offense so simple that he can't make mistakes.

"They're asking for a lot from this ugly and he's responded very well. One of the most important things is the way he handles situations that aren't ideal because a lot of people could throw interceptions and turn the ball over and says I'm a rookie. He has not done that. That's a big credit to him."

--It's clear that while Denver is officially within contention for the playoff race, the chances are about as good as Rush Limbaugh turning Democrat.

With that harsh reality as a backdrop, Denver has some serious evaluating to do over the next six games -- beginning with Sunday's home game vs. St. Louis -- to determine the future course of the franchise.

That holds true, particularly defensively.

The group features seven starters that already have hit age 30; four of them -- safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill, nose tackle Jamal Williams and cornerback Champ Bailey -- already have played at least 10 seasons.

Getting Elvis Dumervil back in 2011 will certainly boost a dormant pass rush. The jury's still out on the other starting outside linebacker Robert Ayers, but he appeared to be on the upswing in his second year before a foot injury derailed his season for more than six weeks.

The reason Denver has gotten to this point is fairly obvious. The franchise has not developed young players in the defensive front seven for years.

In coach Josh McDaniels' two drafts, he's yet to pick either a defensive lineman or an inside linebacker to fit his 3-4 scheme.

Even prior to his arrival, the defensive line hasn't been much of a priority. Trevor Pryce was taken with the 28th pick of the first round in 1997, but since, the franchise has not taken an end or tackle in Round 1.

In fact, there have been only four linemen taken on the draft's first day since Pryce's selection -- Montae Reagor (second, 1999), Reggie Hayward (third, 2001), Jarvis Moss, (first, 2007), and Tim Crowder (second, 2007).

None turned out to be stars. Reagor and Crowder had their best moments with other teams. Moss was recently cut by Denver and signed with Oakland. Hayward was a productive pass rusher but signed with Jacksonville in free agency then sustained a variety of injuries.

The Broncos already have played many of the young defensive players in McDaniels' two drafts: cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson; safeties Darcel McBath and David Bruton. So there aren't many reinforcements on the bench to get a bead on for the future. Ayers should play against the Rams in his first game back since mid-October.

The bottom-line statistic is that Denver ranks 31st against the run. That starts up front.

So does the rebuilding job, with some back-end remodeling also necessary.


--The Broncos have turned to two- and three-tight end formations over the last several weeks, and in turn, have finally given Richard Quinn a chance for meaningful playing time on offense.

Quinn has played mainly special teams until the last month. The Broncos traded away fellow '09 second-rounder Alphonso Smith, and it would hardly have been surprising if Quinn followed him out the door given his nominal role.

"I wouldn't say it's been rough, it's just a process you go through," Quinn said. "I've been trying my best to try to get better every day. That's all that's been going on with me. But other than that I've been fine."

Quinn was inactive for both the Indianapolis and Tennessee games before getting back in the team's good graces, starting his first pro game Oct. 31 vs. San Francisco.

Used solely as a blocker, Quinn believes his consistency and preparation has improved enough recently that he's earned the coaches' trust.

"Right now I feel like I have a chance to contribute," Quinn said. "I'm in a position to be used a lot more to help the team, and that's all I'm doing."

--Something's got to give, or at least is likely to do so.

Steven Jackson remains an integral part of St. Louis' offense but has gone three straight starts without a 100-yard game, averaging just under 65 yards per contest during that span.

The Broncos' defense, ranked 31st in the NFL stopping the rush at 143.5 yards per game, has conceded triple-digit ground performances to Mike Tolbert (25-111), Frank Gore (29-118) and Darren McFadden (16-165) within the last four games.

Like Gore and Tolbert especially, Jackson is a hard runner who keeps his legs grinding for extra yardage.

"He can break tackles," OLB Jason Hunter said. "He's done it so many times in his career."

Tackling was one of the foremost deficiencies Denver had in its loss to San Diego -- and previously in a humiliating defeat vs. Oakland.

"He's a monster back there," OLB Robert Ayers said of Jackson. "It's going to be tough to get him down. We're going to try to stop him before he gets going. It's going to be a tough challenge, but we're going to be up for it."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1992 -- The last time an NFL receiver recorded 1,000 yards through 10 games while averaging at least 19.0 yards per reception, which Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd is currently doing. Dallas' Michael Irvin previously accomplished that feat nearly two decades ago.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's nobody's that's really happy with the way we've performed in a couple of those (lopsided) games, including (Monday). But we've had a couple stretches this season where we've been extremely competitive with very good football teams and we know we can play that way. The problem right now with our team is being able to do it consistently. And if we don't do it more consistently, we're not going to improve enough to win a number of games down the stretch, which is what we certainly hope we can do." -- Coach Josh McDaniels, on the state of his team entering December.


Denver's defense will have a different look with the return of OLB Robert Ayers.

Ayers was expected to return from his foot injury after a six-week absence in the Monday night game vs. San Diego. He tested his movement skills pre-game and pronounced himself ready after a full week of practice -- albeit in limited fashion, according to the injury report.

But Denver was concerned that if Ayers did play and endured an early setback that it would affect their defensive game plan too greatly. There were also special-teams considerations, necessitating the activation of rookie Kevin Alexander in Ayers' place.

Ayers is now expected to be fully healthy and should -- barring something unforeseen -- return to his strong-side OLB position. That will shift Mario Haggan back to the middle and send Joe Mays to the bench. Mays did play well during starts the last two weeks, with 16 tackles (13 solo).

But with Ayers back outside and Haggan inside, Denver has its best size to both defend the edge and middle against opposing run games -- a good thing against a physical runner like Steven Jackson.

That could change, of course, depending on the recovery of D.J. Williams, who suffered a concussion Monday night. If Williams can't pass post-concussion testing, Mays likely retains his starting spot in his place, with an outside chance that Wesley Woodyard subs in instead.


--QB Kyle Orton now has 3,023 yards passing, marking the second straight season he's passed the 3,000-yard barrier. It's the most yards through 10 games in team history. He's also on pace to obliterate his 2009 career high of 3,802 yards, needing to average only 128 yards over the final six games.

--DE Kevin Vickerson needs just two tackles to break his career single-season high (28), set last season with Tennessee.

--C J.D. Walton is one of just five rookies to start every game this season on the offensive line. Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey, San Francisco's Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati and St. Louis' Rodger Saffold are the others.

--LB D.J. Williams (concussion) practiced for a second straight day but isn't expected to be a full participant and likely won't be cleared to play until the end of the week. Joe Mays would start if Williams is unable to go.

--OLB Robert Ayers practiced fully for a second straight day, and, after being a limited participant last week, there are strong signs he'll return off his foot injury after a seven-week absence Sunday.

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