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Team Report - DENVER BRONCOS

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INSIDE SLANT

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is resigning control of the team to focus on battling Alzheimer's disease.

"The Broncos are very saddened that Mr. Bowlen is no longer able to be part of the team's daily operations due to his condition," the Broncos announced in a statement. "We continue to offer our full support, compassion and respect to 'Mr. B,' who has faced Alzheimer's disease with such dignity and strength."

Team president Joe Ellis is assuming control of the franchise, which Bowlen purchased in 1984 when the team faced bankruptcy. In 16 playoff appearances, the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl six times.

Head coach John Fox said Wednesday afternoon that the news was difficult to take, but he'll tell players that the goal of winning a championship remains the same.

"It's an honor to serve as his coach," said Fox.

He'll also use the opportunity to remind players that "nothing is forever."

Ellis said the abrupt change in structure hit him with a wallop early Wednesday.

"He didn't walk through the door this morning," Ellis said at a morning press conference at the team's headquarters, fighting back emotion. "And that's hard. It's hard for us. It's hard for his family."

Bowlen was instrumental in pushing for and landing Peyton Manning in Denver along with general manager and vice president of football operations John Elway.

"This is a sad day for the NFL," commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday in a statement released by the league. "Pat Bowlen's leadership has been critical to the success of the Broncos and the entire NFL. From building a championship team that is a pillar of the community to his important work for the league on television and labor matters, Pat's love of the game drove him and we have all benefited from his passion and wisdom. But the time has come for Pat to focus on his health and we fully support him. Joe Ellis has been a trusted executive for Pat for many years after working with us at the league office. Joe's deep experience ensures that the Broncos will continue to have strong leadership."

The Pat Bowlen Trust was established to keep the team in the family. Bowlen has seven children and there is no plan to sell the team.

Ellis, who has worked with Bowlen in some capacity for 25 years, said Wednesday that he will be the executor of the family trust. He emphasized that all of the trustees will have a voice, but Bowlen will remain the owner.

"It is Mr. Bowlen's hope that a child will come along and earn the right to sit in his seat and run the team," Ellis said. "I've spoken with them ... they understand no one can fill Pat Bowlen's shoes."

The Broncos said in a release that the succession plan was first discussed by the Bowlen family more than a decade ago. Ellis said the future of the team is secondary for the family at present, with Bowlen's health and the realization that he is unable to function in the same capacity he has for decades being the focus.

"As many in the Denver community and around the National Football League have speculated, my husband, Pat, has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer's disease for the last few years," said Annabel Bowlen. "He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, 'It's not about me.'

"Pat has always wanted the focus to be solely on the Denver Broncos and the great fans who have supported this team with such passion during his 30 years as owner. My family is deeply saddened that Pat's health no longer allows him to oversee the Broncos, which has led to this public acknowledgment of such a personal health condition.

"Alzheimer's has taken so much from Pat, but it will never take away his love for the Denver Broncos and his sincere appreciation for the fans."

Ellis said he respected and appreciated media not running with speculation about Bowlen's health in recent years when many were aware of his condition.

Ellis became team president in 2011 and serves as the team's chief executive officer as league matters require.

"I learned everything from him," said Ellis, who apologized for talking about Pat Bowlen in the past tense. "I received calls and emails from around the league, the outpouring of support has been tremendous. Pat's still alive -- but the finality of this announcement is hard for people to come to grips with."

CAMP CALENDAR

Players report: July 24

First practice: July 25

Practice with Texans: Aug. 19-21

NOTES, QUOTES

--Nearly two years on the sideline while recovering from microfracture knee surgery left safety Quinton Carter wondering if he would ever play again.

"I had thoughts of not playing again a lot," he said. "But I just stayed positive through the whole thing, had great support from the Broncos and kept working every day."

The culmination of his work will come if he plays this season, but his work during OTAs was a positive step forward, and even included some first-team snaps when free-agent pickup T.J. Ward was given a brief rest. That offered a reminder that Carter, as a rookie in 2011, was a starter and appeared on track for a bright future before knee problems intervened.

Carter intercepted passes in each of the Broncos' playoff games in January 2012. He beat out Rahim Moore, a fellow 2011 draft pick, for a starting job then. As it turned out, he did enough for the Broncos to be patient and keep him in their plans, although he always wondered whether that was the case.

"I was always thinking, 'Oh, jeez,' every day," said Carter. "It's easy to be forgotten about in this business."

--Perhaps no player has more to prove in the preseason than backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. As he heads into his third season, the 2012 second-round pick still awaits his first regular-season start, and needs some more consistency in the preseason to put Broncos fans at ease about the contingency plan in the event that Peyton Manning is injured.

"I want to show everybody in the organization that I am the guy that they originally drafted, that I can go out there and lead our team to points and first downs, and make good decisions with the football," he said.

Osweiler's work in OTAs offered cause for cautious optimism. Although he had some of the same issues with looking uncomfortable in the pocket early in the practices, he settled down toward the end of the offseason work and had arguably his best practices just before the Broncos broke camp for the summer.

The key for Osweiler? Learning what to think about -- and what to ignore -- before the snap.

"The biggest growth that I've had this spring would be mentally. Mentally deleting decisions pre-snap by understanding what the coverage is, what our play is designed to do," he said. "I think that's something that kind of comes with just being in the offense for two full years now, going on three.

"With deleting decisions pre-snap, and having a better understanding mentally of the game, I'm able to play faster and to my true ability."

That ability doesn't match Manning's, obviously. But Osweiler has the strongest arm of any quarterback on the roster. If he can play in August as he did toward the end of OTAs, the Broncos' faith in him as their quarterback of the future has a better chance of being justified.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "One hundred percent." -- Backup QB Brock Osweiler, when asked whether he was ready, if needed, to play if Peyton Manning was lost to injury.

--Team strength: Quarterback Peyton Manning.

As long as he is upright, the Broncos are a championship threat. In spite of being without six defensive starters and their starting left tackle by the AFC Championship Game, Manning was still able to lead the Broncos past the Patriots with a 400-yard day.

The Broncos showed last year that they had enough depth to get by, even without All-Pros Von Miller and Ryan Clady, who combined to miss 27 games in the regular season and playoffs. That was because Manning could

--Breakout player: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Although he replaces Eric Decker in the Broncos' lineup, Sanders is not a template copy of Decker, and brings more quickness and elusiveness to the role than Decker, who was a classic big target. Sanders could eventually slide into the slot in the distant future, and in the short term could be a slot option if Wes Welker's concussion issues return; he had two in the 2013 season.

Sanders had incremental improvement in production and efficiency during his four years with the Steelers, but was always the No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver option in an offense that strove for balance. In the Broncos' pass-intensive attack, being the second or third choice could still net him 80 receptions, over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.

--Fantasy football reality check: Running back Montee Ball.

Ball had an up-and-down rookie season, but with little strong competition for playing time at running back, he is likely to receive a lot of touches, both on carries and on receptions out of the backfield.

Ball scored four touchdowns last year as Knowshon Moreno's backup. Moreno had 13 total scores, and it would be no surprise if Ball ends up with a similar figure. But given that the Broncos would like to improve the offense's ability to grind down a game via the run, Ball could be in line for more touchdowns than Moreno had last year, which would make him a legitimate fantasy star.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Peyton Manning. Backups - Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Bryn Renner.

What does Manning do for an encore after a season that was statistically the best in NFL history? He probably won't be satisfied with anything other than atoning for the 43-8 defeat in Super Bowl XLVIII. To get another Super Bowl shot, he'll have to adjust to a new starting running back and the departure of Eric Decker, who is replaced in the lineup by Emmanuel Sanders. General manager John Elway and head coach John Fox continue to describe Osweiler as the quarterback of the future, but if Manning stays healthy and returns for the 2015 season, the third-year passer could make it to the end of his first NFL contract without as much as a regular-season start. Dysert has shown flashes of being able to push Osweiler in practice. Renner's snaps have been few and far between, and the practice squad is his likely ceiling for 2014.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Montee Ball. Backups - Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, Brennan Clay, Kapri Bibbs, Juwan Thompson, Jerodis Williams.

Ball is tasked with replacing Knowshon Moreno, who was allowed to leave in free agency after a career year. He delivered solid work as Moreno's backup as a rookie, particularly late in the season. Hillman is explosive, but must overcome ball-security issues and mental lapses, or he will again be passed by Anderson, who was active instead of Hillman during the playoff run last January. Clay, Bibbs and Thompson are all undrafted rookies; they will be given the opportunity to impress, but are likely fighting for one practice-squad slot.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Julius Thomas. Backups - Virgil Green, Jacob Tamme, Gerell Robinson, Jameson Konz, Cameron Morrah.

For the moment, the biggest question is whether the Broncos can get a long-term contract finalized with Thomas before training camp. He set a club record for touchdowns by a tight end in his breakout 2013 season, and has focused on improving his blocking, working against DeMarcus Ware on a daily basis during OTAs. Like Thomas, Green is a 2011 draftee; he looks poised to see his most extensive work when the Broncos go into two-tight end formations. He is the best blocker among the tight ends, and has been a capable, if sparingly used, pass-catcher. Tamme's comfort level with Manning and his prominence on special teams likely makes his roster spot secure. The wild card is Robinson, a former wide receiver who spent last year on the Broncos' practice squad converting to tight end. His blocking is raw, but he is an effective downfield receiver who can make plays in traffic.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders. Backups - Andre Caldwell, Cody Latimer, Isaiah Burse, Bennie Fowler, Greg Hardin, Jordan Norwood, Greg Wilson, Nathan Palmer.

The present and future are firmly in place. The starting trio of the present should be among the league's most explosive units, even without free-agent departure Eric Decker. General manager John Elway wants to get a long-term deal done with Thomas before training camp; he and free-agent pickup Sanders are the future, along with Latimer, a big, talented second-round pick who displayed a flair for athletic, leaping catches during OTAs. Welker is the present; he's in the last year of his two-year contract, and suffered a pair of concussions in 2013. Caldwell is the experienced backup, and Burse, a rookie who received the biggest bonus of the Broncos' undrafted class, is a potential slot receiver of the future and the likely kickoff and punt returner of the present.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Ryan Clady, LG Orlando Franklin, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Chris Clark. Backups -- T Winston Justice, T/G Michael Schofield, C/G Will Montgomery, T Vinston Painter, G Ben Garland, C Max Paradis, T Paul Cornick, T Ryan Miller, T Aslam Sterling.

The return of Clady from a Lisfranc injury bolsters the unit. But Clark performed well enough in his stead last year to justify a move to right tackle, where he will grapple with Justice for the starting spot. That position opened up after Franklin was shifted to left guard, replacing free-agent departure Zane Beadles. Franklin was a guard for the majority of his college career, and looked comfortable working there during organized team activities. Ramirez has cemented his role in the starting lineup; he and his former college teammate, Vasquez, have excellent communication and do well setting up the rest of the line. Montgomery, a starter in Washington the last three seasons, is likely the first backup off the bench. Schofield is an option at right tackle if Clark and Justice struggle, but the Broncos would like to give him this year to develop. The wild cards are Painter, Garland and Paradis. Painter spent last year on the practice squad; he is athletic, but raw. Garland has been on the practice squad the last two years and was converted from defensive tackle to guard last year; he is a favorite of the coaches, but needs to show progress to have a chance at the 53-man roster. Paradis, a sixth-round pick, could be the center of the future, but he has to stick on the roster first.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE DeMarcus Ware, DE Malik Jackson, DT Terrance Knighton, DT Sylvester Williams. Backups -- DE/DT Derek Wolfe, DT Kevin Vickerson, DE Quanterus Smith, DT Mitch Unrein, DT Marvin Austin, DT Sione Fua, DE Kenny Anunike, DE Greg Latta, DE Hall Davis.

Versatility is the watchword. Ware, the big-ticket pickup on the outside, helps the pass rush, but can stand up and drop into coverage in a pinch, and looked more mobile in OTAs than he did during an injury-plagued 2013 in Dallas.

Jackson and Wolfe can line up on the inside and outside, depending on the down and distance, although Jackson's emergence as a steady inside rusher likely has him a notch ahead of Wolfe, who admits now he never fully recovered from a preseason neck injury, and finished the 2013 season on injured reserve.

Vickerson returns from a dislocated hip, but will have to fight for playing time after Williams emerged as a solid complement to Knighton, who emerged as an effective, powerful inside presence late last year.

Unrein is the plugger on the inside. Smith provides an extra pass rusher to complement Ware and Von Miller. He was a fifth-round pick last year who sat out because of a torn ACL late in his senior season at Western Kentucky. The time off allowed him to fully recover, and he was one of the most explosive players on the field during OTAs. Ware helped teach him some upper-body and hand moves, and Smith now has a more diverse repertoire than he did in college.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Von Miller, MLB Nate Irving, WLB Danny Trevathan. Backups -- SLB Lerentee McCray, MLB Lamin Barrow, WLB Corey Nelson, LB Brandon Marshall, LB Steven Johnson, SLB Shaquil Barrett, LB Chase Vaughn, LB Jerell Harris, LB L.J. Fort, LB Jamar Chaney.

Miller's return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament bolsters the unit, but what is equally important is the weight that he has shed. He carried too much upper-body bulk last year after returning from a six-game suspension, and lacked the consistent explosiveness he showed in 2012, when he set a team record for sacks. Trevathan pushed out Wesley Woodyard as the weak-side linebacker last year and will be the focal point of the unit, and is likely to wear the helmet radio to relay calls from the sideline. For a second consecutive year, Irving will have the chance to earn a starting role in the middle. After strong play on the strong side in place of Miller in the postseason, he seems a good bet to hold on to the assignment this time.

McCray comes off a rookie season spent on injured reserve. If he stays healthy, he could be worked in as a spot pass rusher. Barrow and Nelson should factor in as backups. Barrow, in particular, could be the middle linebacker of the future. Marshall and Johnson are special-teams standouts that need to play well in training camp to hold off the challenge from the rookies.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Chris Harris Jr., SS T.J. Ward, FS Rahim Moore. Backups -- CB Bradley Roby, CB Kayvon Webster, S Quinton Carter, S Duke Ihenacho, S David Bruton, CB Tony Carter, DB Omar Bolden, S John Boyett, CB Louis Young, S Charles Mitchell, CB Jerome Murphy, CB Jordan Sullen.

Talib and Roby were added to bring a dose of nastiness and aggression to the cornerback corps, which was overhauled after the release of Champ Bailey and the free-agent departure of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Harris is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. When he returns later this summer, he will be an every-down cornerback who moves inside to play on the slot receiver in the nickel package. Roby's role will be determined by whether he can beat out Webster, who was the Broncos' No. 3 cornerback for much of last season. Webster worked ahead of Roby during OTAs.

Ward was the Broncos' first big splash of free agency this year. His aggression and tendency to creep into the box offers a perfect complement to the rangy Moore, who returns after missing the last two months of the 2013 season because of compartment syndrome, which nearly led to amputation. Quinton Carter could challenge Moore for a starting spot if his knee holds up. He has not played since September 2012. He underwent microfracture surgery, and recovered enough to work extensively during OTAs.

Carter beat out Moore for a starting position as a rookie in 2011. If he returns to form, he could allow the Broncos to tinker with using Ward as a linebacker in the nickel package, an idea that general manager John Elway floated in March.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Prater, P Britton Colquitt, LS Aaron Brewer, KOR/PR Isaiah Burse.

Prater is coming off the best season of his career and has two years left on his contract; he is in his prime. Colquitt's numbers were down last year, in part due to a lack of work; the Broncos' explosive offense created few opportunities for him. Brewer heads into his third year as long snapper with a firm grip on the position. Burse is expected to handle all returns, which he also did at Fresno State. He could be pushed by Bolden. Welker is likely to field punts deep in Broncos territory, as he did last year.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--LB Stewart Bradley (not tendered as UFA).

--CB Marquice Cole (not tendered as UFA).

--S Michael Huff (not tendered as UFA).

--CB Quentin Jammer (not tendered as UFA).

--C Dan Koppen (not tendered as UFA).

--LB Paris Lenon (not tendered as UFA).

--C Steve Vallos (not tendered as UFA).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED

--CB Bradley Roby (1/31): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--WR Cody Latimer (2/56): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--T Michael Schofield (3/95): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Lamin Barrow (5/156): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--C Matt Paradis (6/207): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Corey Nelson (7/242): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--WR Andre Caldwell: Potential UFA; $3.45M/2 yr.

--CB Tony Carter: ERFA; $730,000/1 yr.

--CB Chris Harris: RFA tendered at $2.187M with second-round pick as compensation; $2.187M/1 yr.

--S Duke Ihenacho: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.

--T Winston Justice: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--LB Brandon Marshall: ERFA; $495,000/1 yr).

--DT Mitch Unrein: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation; $1.431M/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--DT Marvin Austin: FA; terms unknown.

--LB Jamar Chaney: FA; $730,000/1 yr.

--S Charles Mitchell: FA; terms unknown.

--C Will Montgomery: FA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Jerome Murphy: FA; $645,000/1 yr.

--WR Jordan Norwood: FA; $1.39M/2 yrs.

--WR Emmanuel Sanders: UFA Steelers; $15M/3 yrs, $6M guaranteed.

--CB Aqib Talib: UFA Patriots; $57M/6 yrs, $5M SB/$26M guaranteed.

--S T.J. Ward: UFA Browns; $22.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.

--DE DeMarcus Ware: FA Cowboys; $30M/3 yrs, $20M guaranteed.

PLAYERS LOST

--S Mike Adams: Not tendered as UFA/Colts; terms unknown.

--DE Robert Ayers: UFA Giants; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$1.75M guaranteed.

--CB Champ Bailey (released).

--G Zane Beadles: UFA Jaguars; $30M/5 yrs, $12.5M guaranteed.

--WR Eric Decker: UFA Jets; $36.25M/5 yrs, $7.5M SB/$15M guaranteed.

--TE Joel Dreessen (released/failed physical).

--KR/PR Trindon Holliday: Not tendered as ERFA/Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--G Chris Kuper (retired).

--DE Jeremy Mincey: UFA Cowboys; $4.5M/2 yrs, $2M guaranteed.

--RB Knowshon Moreno: UFA Dolphins; $2M/1 yr, $500,000 SB/$1.25M guaranteed.

--DE Shaun Phillips: UFA Titans; $6M/2 yrs.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: UFA Giants; $35M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$13.98M guaranteed.

--LB Wesley Woodyard: UFA Titans; $16M/4 yrs.

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