Elway knows importance of hitting high picks

John Elway, NFL comeback king during his playing days, knows the score now, too, working in the front office.

The Broncos' executive vice president of pro personnel, along with the rest of his newly-assembled staff, have four of the top 67 picks in April's draft, including the No. 2 pick and two-second-round selections. Coming off a 4-12 season, inheriting a roster with more holes than a ritzy country club full of golf courses, Elway has quickly learned failure at the NFL's annual college meat market is not an option.

"We cannot miss in the draft, especially with where we are," Elway said at the Scouting Combine. "We do not have the luxury of having many misses, especially when you have the picks that we have. We have to be dead-on and the guys that we do go with have to be able to play for us and play for us early."

Other than quarterback and perhaps wide receiver, the team doesn't have a position of depth it can leave untouched and feel decent about it.

The biggest necessary overhaul comes on the defensive side, where the team is on its sixth coordinator in six years and has an aging/uninspiring group that ranked dead last in total yards allowed in 2010. That said, the draft emphasis will come on that side. Defensive linemen (Alabama's Marcell Dareus, Auburn's Nick Fairley, Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers), linebacker (Texas A&M's Von Miller), even cornerback (Louisiana State's Patrick Peterson) are in play with the second pick.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive tackle: The Broncos are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front so adding bodies is a necessity. The good news is that this year's draft is extremely deep on the defensive line. Dareus and Fairley will be dissected often in coming weeks.

2. Linebacker: D.J. Williams is the lone sure bet. Miller has shot up draft boards with his Senior Bowl and combine performances. His versatility in coverage and as a pass rusher, especially teamed with Elvis Dumervil should he land at weak-side linebacker, would be a nightmare for offensive coordinators on passing downs.

3. Free safety: Denver's seeking to improve the athleticism and speed overall on defense and those are traits that have been missing from the unit's deepest defender. The draft is thin up top at the position, but Peterson (6-1, 219) has the size, speed and ball-hawking ability to play the position effectively, should the Broncos choose.

INSIDE THE WAR ROOM

The internal opinion on holdover defensive end Robert Ayers, a 2009 first-round pick, is key. Ayers is penciled as a starter opposite Dumervil but his performance as a 3-4 outside linebacker to date has been average. If Ayers is seen strictly as a rotational option, then Bowers becomes a real possibility, giving the Broncos two fast, pass-rushing bookends on the front four.

NOTES, QUOTES

--All the talk about Kyle Orton being named the starting quarterback at this early juncture doesn't seem to bother his top competition.

"That's fine," Tim Tebow said while attending the Honda Pro-Am Golf Tournament. "It doesn't matter until you go out there and start competing. That's my attitude."

The Broncos have reiterated recently that Tebow is "very raw" as a pro quarterback. That doesn't mean Tebow, a workout fiend, won't do everything possible to improve his mechanics, knowledge of opposing defenses, etc., to raise his level of play.

Tebow plans on going through his normal training routine, lockout or not, and is "excited" about eventually squaring off head-to-head with Orton whenever on-field workouts resume.

"I feel so much more experienced and ready to compete this year than I did last year," he said.

--The Broncos did some roster housecleaning before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

Kicker Matt Prater and linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a special-teams captain, each were tendered at a second-round compensation level as restricted free agents, virtually ensuring their return.

Slightly eye-raising was that the team also put tender offers on offensive tackle Ryan Harris and defensive linemen Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas. All three of those players were slated to become UFAs under the old CBA, but with revamped guidelines in an uncapped year, the team made sure it was covered, regardless, and can always re-evaluate once firm rules are in place.

Denver also cut tight end Daniel Graham, a starter the last four years, along with defensive linemen Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams. Graham had become less involved in the passing aspect of the offense and was due to make a $1 million roster bonus. The cut not only removes one of the team's captains, but also a player that grew up in Denver and starred in the city in high school, college and the pros.

Elway called making the move "tough" via his Twitter account.

Bannan and Williams were not seen as fits for the 4-3 defense.

--There had been some question whether safety Brian Dawkins would return next season, given he'd play next season at age 38 and had a couple injuries that sidelined him for five games in 2010.

But new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen appeared to be on board with retaining the fiery leader and Broncos' captain, in spite of frequent calls for Denver's stop unit to increase its athleticism and speed.

"One thing about Brian Dawkins, when you look at the tape, he doesn't play slow. He plays fast," Allen said. He has some speed and athleticism and through his knowledge of the game, it allows him to play at a fast tempo. At the end of the day, that's really what you're looking for."

--General manager Brian Xanders was asked to compare top defensive line prospects Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus at the combine.

His response: "They are different types of players. Dareus has played in a 3-4 and he's played left end, right end and nose tackle. Fairley is really a true three-technique and he is a disruptive guy non-stop throughout the game. He beats linemen all day, every game."

Some mock drafts have included North Carolina's Robert Quinn as a possibility for Denver with its first pick but with the team looking to shed itself of character problems and the franchise seeking to re-make its public image, expending a top-10 pick on a player suspended his senior year for improper contact with an agent would appear a long shot.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think you have to have that. You have to have two good players. It's not the way you start it, it's the way you finish it. You just try to locate guys, and it can even be different. You can get a little bit of a change of pace for the defense." -- Coach John Fox, who once had two first-round picks in his backfield in Carolina, on whether investing that high a pick at the position makes sense.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

OFFSEASON STRATEGY

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--CB Champ Bailey: Potential UFA; $43M/4 yrs, $22.5M guaranteed.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--OG Manny Ramirez: FA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST
--DL Justin Bannan (released).
--TE Daniel Graham (released).
--NT Jamal Williams (released).



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