Training camp goals
1. Refine the timing on offense. The Broncos understand the pace that Peyton Manning, a four-time MVP, demands from his teammates, and they don't have much time to get it down before a demanding opening stretch that features four returning playoff teams in the regular season's first five weeks. But the adjustment runs both ways since the Broncos didn't simply import Manning's offense from the Colts. Instead, they opted for a hybrid that will also incorporate elements of the power running the Broncos used early in 2011 until their plans were scuttled when Tim Tebow became the starting quarterback.
2. Settle the spine of the defense. There's little question that the Broncos have speed and skill to spare on the edges. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil and strong-side linebacker Von Miller were Pro Bowlers last year, and the additions of cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence give the Broncos depth beyond Champ Bailey that they didn't possess in 2011. But down the middle is where questions lurk, starting with defensive tackle, where the Broncos are banking on Ty Warren returning to health after two years on injured reserve, and Justin Bannan to prove a more natural fit as a 4-3 tackle than he was as a 3-4 end for the Broncos in 2010. Behind them is middle linebacker Joe Mays, who struggled with missed tackles last season. At the back end, the Broncos lost strong safety Brian Dawkins to retirement. Two 2011 draft picks – Quinton Carter or Rahim Moore – will duel to replace Dawkins, while free-agent pickup Mike Adams takes over at free safety.
Players to watch
Wide receiver Eric Decker. He showed flashes of brilliance early last season, averaging 5.0 receptions for 67.5 yards and one touchdown per game in the four games Kyle Orton started and finished. In the next 12 games – 11 of which Tebow started – Decker's numbers plummeted to 2.0 receptions, 28.5 yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. Decker began working with Manning at a Denver-area high school six days after Manning signed his contract. Manning's emphasis on short-to-intermediate timing passes plays to Decker's strengths.
On the hot seat
Weak-side linebacker D.J. Williams. The nine-year veteran is one of just two players remaining from the team's last trip to the AFC championship game in January 2006, but finds his short-term future on shaky ground as he faces a six-game suspension for violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. That suspension might not be the only one he faces this year; in August, he faces a retrial on a DUI charge stemming from a November 2010 incident. Williams has a prior DUI conviction in 2005; another would lead to a league suspension. Williams' questionable judgment continued in June when he tweeted a picture of defensive formations from the Broncos' iPad-based playbook; it quickly went viral. Making Williams' spot untenable is the presence of backup Wesley Woodyard, who started for an injured Williams early last year and made a game-saving pass breakup in a Week 2 win over Cincinnati. If Woodyard proves worthy, the Broncos might decide they're better off without Williams' off-field headaches.
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