Broncos Update Insider - 8/9/10

Kyle Orton's throws all summer long have consistently landed right in waiting hands. Not so with the Broncos' other quarterbacks.

Quiet confidence: It's the simplest of quarterback drills in Broncos camp. The passer aligns behind center, takes his drop and throws towards a stationary target in the end zone during the warm-up period.

Inevitably, Brady Quinn's dropbacks result in the receiver (nearly always a Broncos equipment manager) having to backpedal several steps to catch the ball. Rookie Tim Tebow's accuracy isn't quite so off the mark, limited to only a couple steps off target, but there's movement nonetheless from the pass-catcher.

Kyle Orton's throws all summer long have consistently landed right in waiting hands.

Granted, there's no defense involved in this particular segment, no cadences or chaos swirling around. But the drill is a microcosm of what's transpired once all those moving parts begin during team periods.

No question, Brady Quinn's arm strength and Tim Tebow's presence both have been on display. But Quinn doesn't always harness his talents and Tebow is a rookie just trying to learn the ropes and the proper mechanics that go with it.

Orton's workmanlike precision isn't sexy but it's going to be a vital component if Denver's offense is going to be a productive one. He's consistently been the player delivering the ball in key moments during the first week-plus in camp.

"There's nothing in our scheme that he can't execute," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "He gets us in the right play 99 out of 100 or 100 out of 100 times and the ball's going to the right place. He's making big plays down the field. ... Things are happening so much faster for Kyle than they were last year."

One big reason is Orton has his throwing 'base' back. Quarterbacks have to drive through their motion with their legs. That's been a problem despite Orton coming off career highs in pass attempts (541), completions (336), passing yards (3,802), TD passes (21) and quarterback rating (86.8) while tying his career-low in interceptions (12).

"Physically, I'm healthy finally," Orton said. "When I came over from Chicago I was still battling my right ankle and never really got that right. Then we got into the season and I did my left ankle and I was playing on two flat tires, basically. That's no fun. I'm just happy I'm feeling good for the first time. When you're a quarterback and you're not playing with your feet it's a tough situation. You're using a lot of arm and poor mechanics and all that stuff."

Still, there's some skepticism that Denver has the horses to be the type of offense that can carry the team, if needed. Clady's injury, two possible rookie starters on the offensive line and a lack of players that can provide the kind of physical mismatches Brandon Marshall once did all are concerns.

"We want to play good team football," Orton said. "That means playing smart and not putting the defense in bad situations and turning the ball over. It also means if you've got to score 35 points to win a game, then you've got to score 35 points to win a game. That's what we've always been about."

CAMP CALENDAR: One-a-day practices: Aug 12, 16, 17. Two-a-days: Aug. 11, 13, 18, 19. Camp ends: Aug. 19.

NOTES, QUOTES

There's interchangeable on a roster and then there's irreplaceable.

The Broncos' players affected by serious injuries this summer are most certainly the latter.

Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in sacks last season with 17. He's almost certainly gone for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle during a one-on-one pass rush drill Aug 4.

Ryan Clady was a first-team All Pro at left tackle last season. He's yet to practice and his availability for the opener is in doubt after tearing his patellar tendon in his knee playing pickup basketball this offseason.

Denver's top two running backs, Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, both were hurt in the opening seven-on-seven drill of camp. Even though Buckhalter (back) could return soon, his injury history is lengthy and there's no evidence that he's built to last. Moreno's timetable to return is murky, but even if optimistic reports have him back sometime this month, severe hamstring injuries have a tendency to linger.

The depth-chart shifts Denver has made to replace these players underscore the difficulties facing the team.

Jarvis Moss got first crack at filling in for Dumervil but just two days after entering the lineup broke his right hand and needed surgery. Moss should be back with a bulky protective cast but even when completely healthy he had much to prove. The 2007 first-round pick hasn't demonstrated the dominating first step off the ball he seemed to possess at Florida and his lack of bulk at 240 pounds is problematic defending the edge in the 3-4.

Minus Moss, the Broncos have resorted to sliding Mario Haggan from the middle to outside linebacker and leaned on their relative depth at the inside spots. Akin Ayodele, a free-agent pickup from Miami, could crack the starting lineup if Haggan has to remain outside. Denver also has sporadically shown some 4-3 looks to compensate but won't abandon its base alignment.

The fear factor on third down that Dumervil and double-team attention brought to the table has been removed. There's a greater onus on 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers to bolster the pass rush after a disappointing rookie season, but even if he's up to the task, new defensive coordinator Don Martindale may have to be more creative in his blitz packages rather than counting upon one-on-one 'wins' from his front seven.

Denver tried Tyler Polumbus in Clady's spot to open camp but he was shaky in early practices and replaced by D'Anthony Batiste, a fifth-year pro. Batiste saw significant playing time with the Redskins last season, subbing for injured Chris Samuels, so he's used to this drill. But regardless of whether Polumbus or Batiste emerges, expect tight ends Daniel Graham, Richard Quinn and Marquez Branson to provide plenty of help to that side.

In the backfield, the two players getting the most camp carries are Bruce Hall and Lance Ball, who have combined for one pro appearance. There was enough concern that Denver overlooked the pending four-game suspension LenDale White faces for the training camp reps he can provide before sitting out. White does look slimmer than his Tennessee days, with a jump in his step, but, as has been common this summer, he lasted just over one day before heading to the training room and missing practice time with an undisclosed ailment.

--One of the spots that was supposed to provide the most drama was the nickel cornerback spot. It has, but not as anticipated. Alphonso Smith, who controversially cost Denver a No. 1 pick to acquire and then had a lackluster rookie season, hasn't appeared to progress much to date. His play has been so spotty that Nate Jones has a clear upper hand for the nickel role and, if there will be an early challenge, it's going to come from rookie Perrish Cox, not Smith.

--Britton Colquitt is the only punter on the roster but knows that a veteran can be brought in at a moment's notice. But if he punts like he did at the team's open scrimmage at Invesco Field at Mile High this past weekend he'll have few problems. He booted a 65-yard punt out of his own end zone, then deadened the ball inside the 10 kicking from midfield.

--One of the funnier moments of camp came when the Broncos sent an ice-cream truck onto the practice field, chimes and all, during Orton's cadence. Orton was barking out the cadence and noting defensive alignments and was oblivious to the prank until defensive end Ryan McBean ran offsides like a school kid with a dollar burning in his pocket.

--Wide receiver Matthew Willis is doing his best to play his way onto the team. Willis has a track background and the speed to match but it's his soft hands that have been the biggest surprise.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every time they go to the line of scrimmage, I've got to get a mental rep of the call, who the 'Mike' point is, if we're changing it, the footwork -- everything going into it. It's something you have to really stay disciplined with. Every time they get a physical rep, you get a mental rep. That's something I'm really trying to do." -- QB Tim Tebow, on absorbing knowledge as a No. 3 quarterback behind Orton and Quinn.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Elvis Dumervil injury, as devastating as it is to the Broncos as a whole, provides an opportunity for a couple of young players to perhaps crack the roster.

Seventh-round pick Jammie Kirlew was a college defensive end at Indiana who is making the transition to a standup outside linebacker. Kirlew needs work playing in space but at 260 pounds he is stout on the edge and, with 17 sacks his final two seasons in the Big Ten and has a knack for getting to the quarterback.

Kevin Alexander, a rookie free agent from Clemson, weighs in at 265 pounds and, given all the injuries and uncertainty at the position, has gotten a long look with the second team.

Preseason games will be pivotal for the pair.

PLAYER NOTES

--S Josh Barrett was supposed to go on the injured reserve list with a shoulder problem but New England swooped in and put a waiver claim on Barrett before that could occur. That 24-hour period is seldom used in such a manner and stunned the Broncos.

--WR Kenny McKinley had a legitimate shot at making the roster before a left knee injury landed him on IR. Denver likely will carry six receivers, from among Jabar Gaffney, Thomas, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Lloyd, Matt Willis and Eric Decker.

--Joe Mays, acquired from Philadelphia for RB J.J. Arrington, should help Denver in a variety of ways, especially at inside linebacker and as a core special teams player. He has the kind of versatility McDaniel loves.

--One of the more curious under-the-radar training camp stories is the use of defensive end Jarvis Green. The free agent signee is getting beaten out by Ryan McBean in base formations and hasn't been part of the regular No. 1 unit in pass-rush situations, either.

--Denver waived Kolby Smith and signed White because White's size and experience are a better complement to what Denver already has on the roster. His skills as a power back inside the tackles and on goal line also was needed.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: McDaniels had promised a liberal rotation at some of the offensive line spots but that really hasn't materialized. Rookies Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton have gotten all of the snaps at left guard and center, respectively. Russ Hochstein has remained a reserve, backing up Walton with the second unit and playing right guard with the No. 3s. This may just be a case of knowing what you have in Hochstein. But more likely Denver sees Hochstein as a valuable swing reserve and Walton and Beadles better fits for the power-based blocking scheme the Broncos are installing this season.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Darcel McBath is the clear No. 3 safety behind Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill and likely will see action in some heavy dime and nickel packages. ... Cox has flashed playmaking ability with several interceptions and is a lock for the roster. ... Hall and Ball have split carries as the No. 1 tailback.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Demaryius Thomas -- Thomas, Denver's top draft pick, is the real deal. He initially looked rusty coming off of foot surgery during a brief appearance in minicamps, but his fluidity and playmaking have increased with time. Thomas has a chance to be a beast on jump-ball plays, demonstrating that skill set again and again once he got his feet wet in camp. He's not only performing against reserves but starters as he begins to assimilate the offense better.

Thomas has been meeting daily with his position coach, reviewing film and the playbook to get up to speed, a process that was expected to be complicated by the fact that his Georgia Tech offense in college didn't ask much of its receivers in terms of its variety of routes.

"I was a little worried when I kind of heard about that stuff," Orton said. "But he's really picked it up nice. He doesn't ask a whole lot of questions in the huddle and kind of knows what he's doing. He's made mistakes like every rookie does, like everybody does. But I'm pleased with how he's coming along."

The biggest hurdle for Thomas is immediately locking in on his assignments when the play is changed at the line of scrimmage.

But the athleticism has been there. The only worry was when Thomas came down awkwardly after a grab when he used his physical skills to go high above two defenders for a TD.

"The main thing I was worried about most of the time was just getting off the press but I've been working on it and I'm better. I'm fine," Thomas said.

ROOKIE REPORT: QB Tim Tebow has been the constant center of attention at camp and is a work in progress with the passing game. His footwork and mechanics are still concerns at times but he could factor as a runner in 'Wildcat' looks, an obvious strength ... WR Eric Decker's reputation as having glue-like hands hasn't exactly materialized early in camp. He's had a several drops or failed to snare tough catches on poorly thrown balls. But he does not waver going into traffic for passes. ... Eric Olsen may have an uphill battle to crack the roster, the way he's been used to date. ... C J.D. Walton's assimilation of Denver's offense as a rookie has been impressive, a benefit of having played in a similar system at Baylor. If he can handle the physical aspects he'll be fine.

INJURY REPORT: NT Chris Baker and LB D.J. Williams (unspecified) missed nearly all of the first week of camp with unspecified ailments. McDaniels has said Williams is "fine" but won't address the nature of the injury.

--RB Correll Buckhalter (back) was injured in the first 7-on-7 drill. His status hasn't been publicly announced by the team but there have been reports that he could practice prior to the first preseason game

--C Dustin Fry (unspecified) has sat out several recent workouts.

--LB Elvis Dumervil's torn pectoral muscle will need surgical repair and the timetable for his recovery is at least several months. The team has not officially decided to place him on injured reserve but that's the likely move eventually.

--RG Chris Kuper (sprained ankle) walked off the field under his own power Aug. 5 and missed several subsequent workouts.

--RB Knowshon Moreno suffered a hamstring tear, the severity of which isn't publicly known. There is some hope he'll be back this month but the team will proceed cautiously with its No. 1 back in attempting to get him back healthy for the season-opener.

--LB Jarvis Moss had surgery to repair a broken bone in his right hand and will be sidelined indefinitely. He should be able to practice with a bulky cast once the bone heals within the next couple of weeks.

--WR Demaryius Thomas appeared to injure his surgically repaired left foot or left ankle during a team scrimmage Saturday night after catching a TD pass. He was to be re-evaluated.



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