The Denver Broncos are currently working out together at their team headquarters, Dove Valley. The bad taste from the way the Super Bowl played out is still felt within the franchise. This team is focused on winning a championship more than ever, and they have made several big free-agent moves to improve their squad.
Twice a week during the workouts, certain players are made available to the Denver media. Players like Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Montee Ball, T.J. Ward and others have all thoroughly answered questions during these workouts.
Here are a few important quotes from each of the players who have talked to the media ahead of this new league season.
The new team identity has been on the minds of many in Broncos Country. After such a successful regular season, it was difficult to see the way things fell apart against the Seahawks. Manning let us know his thoughts on what this team’s identity should be in 2014.
“I don’t know if it has to be the same or different. I want it to be an identity that helps us win football games. I think it’s hard to say what it is going to be at this point. Our full roster has certainly not been decided. The draft is—when is the draft now? It’s like in September now (laughing), they moved it back. We still probably need to see who we are based on who the personnel is, I think you form the identity from that.
“I think it is OTAs, it’s definitely training camp, and obviously it’d be nice to have it somewhere around the beginning of the season, but even before, I think you can develop it throughout the course of the season—what really works for you. Now we’re analyzing plays that worked last year, what plays didn’t work and how that can affect our offense this season.”
In 2013, Manning set new single-season records for most touchdowns (55) and most passing yards (5,477). So how can the team improve on what they did last year? What does Manning do for an encore?
“Like I said, it is still a new season. There are a lot of players that are no longer here anymore. And so, the draft choices that we’re going to have—it is up to you to be a productive quarterback for these new players.
"Last year doesn’t mean anything to the players that weren’t here. It is doing a lot of the same things, as far as a preparation standpoint—keeping yourself physically in shape so you can be a good player for [WR Emmanuel] Sanders, our new receiver, draft choices we make.
“So, I think you find a way to find something that you weren’t as successful at last year, you’re studying these cutups, and I can be a little better there at the same time continuing to be good at the things that were productive for you last season.”
One of the biggest changes to the offense will be utilizing free-agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders. His speed has certainly grabbed Manning’s attention.
“He is explosive. You can’t hold the ball very long when he is running a route, I learned that. He is excited about being here. Obviously, it is fun to play with guys who are excited about being here with the Denver Broncos.
"In the studies that I kind of did on him, I saw that he led their team in tackles on kickoff team one year. That tells you the guy likes football. That is more than just being a receiver; that is being a football player.
"I know he’s eager to learn. I know he was excited to get started today, where he is allowed to meet with the coaches and learn the offense. I look forward to playing with a guy like that. I think he’ll be a really nice addition to our football team.”
Arguably the biggest splash in free agency made by the Broncos was the acquisition of future Hall of Fame defensive end DeMarcus Ware. He comes to Denver after a disappointing 2013 season that saw him slowed down by an elbow injury. Ware only had six sacks last season, but he should be able to get at least double-digit sacks in his first season for the Broncos.
Ware immediately answered a question about his health: “I’m good, actually. I rehab every day. I’m not 100 percent—I would say about 94 percent (laughing)—but I’m ready to play and get after it this season.”
He will be asked to be a primary pass-rusher for the Broncos' opposite outside linebacker, Von Miller. That is an exciting proposition for the veteran.
“I’m excited about it. Playing defensive end, you always get a lot of the grunt work, especially when it comes to pass rush and getting double-teamed. But if he comes back where he needs to be, you can’t double-team both of us, especially with the big guys in the middle. Those guys are going to be holding it down, getting the pressure in the middle of the pocket.
“We’re just really ready to play. I’m looking forward to just playing with all the guys and just keep it rolling.”
In addition to being a teammate, Ware can also be a mentor to Miller. He knows and understands what that role includes.
“Actually, we were watching a little bit of tape this morning, some pass-rush stuff, me and him. Some of the moves that he was doing on tape were some of the moves that I have been doing. I was critiquing him, he was critiquing me and it’s just a good thing to know that there are guys out there that look up to you. Now I have an opportunity to shed some advice onto him.
“He is a great player, and I look forward to playing with him this season.”
The Broncos made several splashes in free agency this offseason. The return of Ryan Clady will have a free-agency feel because he missed most of the 2013 season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in the Week 2 game against the New York Giants. Clady will once again provide quality protection to Manning’s blind side.
His recovery from this foot injury was a big topic of conversation.
“I’m not quite sure on the percentage, but I’m getting there. I’ve just been working and trying to get my foot right and ease back into things.”
While Clady was out, Chris Clark stepped into his starting job. Clady was impressed with the job Clark did last season.
“He did well. We had been working the last three years or four years since he’s been here. We’ve both been improving. He’s definitely improved as a player since he got here.”
Clady is coming back at left tackle, but the player next to him will be different. Zane Beadles moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, and now the Broncos have to find a new left guard. Clady feels the team is going to be more than okay at the position.
“I think we’ll recover from that [losing Beadles] and with [T] Orlando [Franklin] moving to guard or whoever else moves in there, we should still be able to have a great offensive line, no doubt.”
One of the most exciting Broncos defenders to watch is weak-side linebacker Danny Trevathan. He can fly to the football as a run defender, and his speed really shows up in coverage. Trevathan can make game-changing interceptions by baiting opposing quarterbacks into bad throws. We saw him break out in 2013, and Trevathan feels he will break out even more in 2014.
“My job last year was just to make plays. To be a leader, you have to set an example. You have to make your name known. I don’t think I wanted to come here and be a leader, I had to earn that.
“Last year was a breaking-out season for me, and this year is going to be another breakout season for me. It’s my job to help lead as much as I can. Just bring my characteristics to this team, my attitude to this team as much as I can.”
Some questioned the Broncos' toughness on defense after the Seahawks dismantled them in the Super Bowl. Trevathan has no such questions.
“I don’t think we need to be tougher. We added some guys that can help us. The tough aspect of the game—defense is a tough job to play, and you’ve got to be tough-minded to play out there. A lot of guys say we want tough, we need it, all this and that, but as a linebacker, you feed off of that. You’re supposed to be tough.
“We added some guys that played tough with the team that they were with. It’s definitely going to help us be a tougher and physical team, and it’s really going to help us in 2014.”
Some may have shied away from watching the Super Bowl again. Trevathan has taken the opposite approach in an effort to help him improve in 2014.
“Oh yeah. I recorded that game and I watched it a lot. But it’s not what I could do then, it’s what I can do now. In the offseason, that’s all I thought about—get back there. The odds are against us, and I like the odds against us. They’ve been against me my whole life.
“For us to get there, it’s going to take some hard work. But we’re definitely willing to put that forward.”
One of the most intriguing players to keep an eye on is third-year defensive end Malik Jackson. He came into the league somewhat raw, but he’s learned better technique during his time in Denver. Jackson could be on the verge of a breakout year in 2014.
He likes the progress he’s made as a pass-rusher during his pro career. “I think it’s going [well]. We had [DE] Elvis Dumervil my first year, [DE] Shaun Phillips last year and now we have a great in [DeMarcus] Ware. So I’m pretty blessed to have these Pro Bowl guys in here who can actually teach me and I can just sit back and watch.
“So far, so good. I just can’t wait until we get on this field and I can kind of go through it full-speed and do it.”
The Super Bowl loss is being used as motivation by the Broncos in the weight room. Jackson told us how.
“We use it every day. These workouts, we come in and we say, ‘We lost by 35.’ So that’s our motivation. Whenever someone gets tired, you just say ‘35,’ and they just start picking it up again. We know we have to come back strong this year.
“We had a disappointing loss. But that’s last season. We’re ready to move on.”
The first move the Broncos made in free agency was to add strong safety T.J. “Boss” Ward. His attitude and aggression will be welcome additions to the Broncos' secondary. Ward is a big hitter who can intimidate opponents early and often.
He’s the new guy, but Ward can sense the urgency this team is preparing with. “Right now, it is still a hunger. You can tell it was a bad taste in the team’s mouth from last year. Everybody is looking to improve and get better. The goal is to win that Super Bowl, so we’re working really hard right now.”
Starting opposite Ward at free safety will be Rahim Moore. Ward likes what he’s seen from Moore as a pro. “Rahim, he is a young, smart, talented player. He works hard. He is very hungry. He got hurt last year, and you can tell he is trying to bounce back from that and have a great season this year.”
Ward gave us insight into how much he feels confidence plays in the production and success of safeties in the NFL.
“I think you have confidence at whatever position you play. Whatever you do, you want to be successful, and you have to have confidence. This is definitely a confident defense, and you can tell it is very talented. But, talent doesn’t get you—you need the hard work, the dedication, and we have that here.”
The Broncos added Ward to give them more toughness in the secondary, but they also want him to help create more turnovers. Ward shared some ideas on how to do that.
“I think you’ve got to work at turnovers. Sometimes turnovers just happen, but in practice [you work on] stripping the ball, tackling, getting pressure to the quarterback, making errant throws, things like that.
“But I think getting in that habit of just working the ball in practice, and interceptions—like I said, they’re going to come with pressure on the quarterback and good coverage, but the other types of turnovers, fumbles and things like that, you’ve got to work at during practice.”
The Broncos should use Montee Ball as their lead back in 2014. He looked larger than he did last year, and when I asked him if he’d gained weight in anticipation of a larger role his answer was succinct.
“Yeah, of course. I’m really taking it to heart, taking a lot of pride in working with our strength coaches, who are doing fantastic and really focusing on what you need to get better at—and my flexibility, which will help me with my speed and will keep me a lot healthier throughout the season.”
Ball is focused on winning the starting job, as there will be a competition for that spot. “I take a lot of pride in that. Just like any other running back, I don’t want them to bring another running back in because I want it to be my job. That is how I’m approaching it—in the most humble way possible, for sure.
“Like I said, I understand that they’re not going to hand it to me, but I’m going to work really, really hard.”
In addition to improved pass-protection, Ball knows he must also take care of the rock. Any fumbling problems could slow down his development as a pro.
“Players are just smarter, faster and bigger. Every tackle they focus on either putting their helmet on the ball or at least getting an arm on the ball. That is the biggest difference from college—speed and just the velocity—how fast they’re coming in on the hits.”
After a two-year setback due to an ankle injury (and surgery), Julius Thomas was finally able to show what kind of a playmaker he could be for the Broncos in 2013. He instantly cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in the game today, and Thomas wants to continue his strong play in 2014.
“There are a lot of things I can actually do better. A lot of people talked about the run game, but the passing game, the run game, protections—there is a lot of room for growth. So that really gets me excited about this next season.”
Young tight ends entering the league are now being compared to Thomas. When asked what he thought of guys like Eric Ebron (North Carolina) being compared to him, Thomas had this to say: “It’s gratifying just to know that you’re somebody that people see as somebody that is a leader at their position. And then having young guys doing what they can to have the kind of season you had—it gives you that extra motivation that you want to come out and you want to continue that.
“You don’t want it to be something that just happened that one year. You want it to be something that you’re known as time and time again, like the great guys that have played the position.”
Thomas (like Manning) showed excitement when talking about new Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The new wrinkles the offense could have in 2014 may make them even more dangerous.
“One thing that I took from being with him at Duke is just how explosive he is. He’s a guy that when he touches it, he can make a big play out of something small. We have a lot of weapons, and to have another weapon like that, I think we’ll have that same mindset going forward into this season that we’re going to be a tough offensive unit to deal with.”
With Sanders and Wes Welker both capable of playing in the slot, Thomas may see wide-open spaces in the middle of the field. He likes that idea.
“We can do a lot of creative stuff. I have no idea what our coaching staff has up their sleeve and is planning, but I know it’ll be exciting. We’re all about creating mismatches and trying to find the guy on each play with the best opportunity.”
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.