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  • Broncos training camp — Wednesday

    Wed, July 31, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments


    Is NFL training camp too long?

    That’s what I’m wondering after the Broncos suffered another damaging injury to a key player on the practice fields at Dove Valley. I was a three-quarter sand wedge away from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie when the prized free agent-signing hit the turf, grabbed his left leg and was carted off the field and into the training room with an ankle injury.

    The Broncos can replace a center such as Dan Koppen, who sustained a season-ending knee injury and may or may not have been the starter, depending on who you ask.

    But DRC?

    Cornerbacks like him aren’t sitting at home waiting for a phone call. Though he arrived with less fanfare, DRC is every bit as important as Wes Welker (above), the big-splash free agent.

    In the pass-happy NFL — and with the stable of receivers already in place here in Denver —  I would suggest a gifted cornerback is more important.

    DRC is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with the ankle sprain. It happened when, during one-on-one passing drills, he got tangled up with wide receiver Quincy McDuffie. It happened directly in front of the south goal post on the west field. It happened close enough to the crowd of fans that all of them knew right away he was injured.

    “He has done it before, so I’m not overly concerned,” John Fox said after practice.

    Today was only the sixth day of training camp. The Broncos had Tuesday off.

    But it makes you wonder: Do teams really need this much time to beat up on each other — plus four preseason games in which injuries are an even greater concern?

    Play of the day: Two, both involving Peyton Manning. The QB hit Eric Decker for a long touchdown, then Demaryius Thomas for a long touchdown. It should be noted that cornerbacks have virtually no chance in one-on-drills. But like Mike Tyson, it’s clear the old man’s still got it. The Broncos’ 2-minute offense was particularly sharp today, as well.

    Newsworthy: Montee Ball felt he had his best day of training camp today. We won’t get into detail, since Ball and the Broncos decision to select him ahead of Eddie Lacy in the NFL draft is the column topic for Thursday’s Gazette, but it was the first time Ball has stood out.

    “Now it kind of seems like I’m not thinking as much coming out of the backfield,” Ball said after practice. “I’m just reacting now.”

    The untrained eye saw: Another memorable, physical, utterly watchable battle between cornerback Chris Harris and slot-machine Wes Welker. These two get after it. And they are usually matched against each other.

    Watching closely, Harris is giving Welker all the veteran can handle. After one how-did-he-catch-that? reception, Welker spiked the ball into the ground, as if he to show he finally had gotten the best of Harris.

    As I wrote here, I’ve always been fascinated by Welker and his extraordinary career path.

    But this daily matchup has shown Harris is notably underrated among his peers at position. As long as DRC recovers to 100 percent, the Broncos cornerbacks appear to be as sharp as any in the league.

    “We’re just waiting for really the safety spots to get settled in, so we can get that chemistry,” Harris said.

    Notable: The CSU football staff, with head coach Jim McElwain, attended today’s workout. McElwain spent about 20 minutes talking to John Fox on the sideline.

    Here’s what McElwain told me a few weeks ago about working with the Broncos when his staff has the opportunity.

    “That time is invaluable. It really is,” McElwain said. “That’s a professional operation with professional coaches. John Fox and those coaches, they’re at the top of the game. Anything we can take from (the Broncos), that’s only going to help us.”

    Next: The Broncos return to practice from 8:50-11:30 a.m. Thursday. It is free and open to the public. If you see me, say hello. Good to chat with a handful of Gazette readers at Dove Valley today. Your knowledge is in midseason form.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Hazing at Broncos camp? Part of the deal, rook

    Tue, July 30, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments


    What’s with the Halloween costume at Dove Valley?

    Actually, that’s Ross Rasner.

    He’s a rookie. So he’s forced to do rookie things. In this case, that includes carrying four — or is it five? — sets of uniforms and pads after Monday’s training camp session.

    It’s a long shot for the Arkansas product to make the final 53-man roster. But at least we know he’s resourceful, using every forearm, finger and forehead to lug his teammates’ practice gear into the locker room.

    Good on you, Ross.

    -Today’s column: Broncos great Simon Fletcher will give Von Miller his sack title — but not free barbecue.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos training camp — Monday

    Mon, July 29, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Vallos  Fans    Dove   PFM2

    Riddle: When are offensive linemen smothered by TV cameras and digital recorders?

    Answer: When another offensive lineman gets injured.

    Dan Koppen, a center, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Enter, Steve Vallos (top left). Twenty-four hours ago, Vallos was a free agent. Today he was snapping footballs to Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler in the NFL’s best offense.

    Even though Vallos found himself surrounded by media types, he’s not the starting center, as of today. That would be Manny Ramirez, according to John Fox. He, too, got the Prince Harry treatment after practice today.

    “We all know coach Fox’s philosophy is ‘Next man up,’” Ramirez said. “That’s the case once again.”

    And the rundown…

    Play of the day: Tough one. Let’s go with C.J. Anderson, the rookie running back out of Cal. Anderson snuck around the left end for a long (60-yards?) touchdown run to close the practice. The crowd dug it.

    Or we could opt for any number of plays from Von Miller. In this setting, a practice setting, it becomes readily apparent: Miller is simply better than everybody else. Trying to block the All-Pro is like trying to get Kate Upton’s attention on Twitter. Many men may give it their best, but only a few can pull it off. Miller was a wrecking ball again today.

    Newsworthy: While the injury to Koppen gives us something to talk about, let’s remember:

    When the season finally rolls around, is the starting center really going to be a topic of conversation? Only if the jersey of Peyton Manning (taking the field today, lower right) is dirtied… as a result of the center making a mistake.

    Fox was adamant, however, that Manny Ramirez was the starting center all along. I don’t necessarily believe him. I expect Koppen would’ve been the starting center. But that’s what Fox says, and the Broncos will roll with Ramirez, at least for now.

    Another option is Vallos. He’s played in 44 games in the NFL and has allowed only 1.25 sacks in that time. I’m more interested in how you allow .25 sacks, but that’s another conversation.

    “I spent the whole morning with (offensive line consultant) Alex Gibbs,” Vallos said after practice. “I was with him in Seattle.”

    The untrained eye saw: A Broncos crowd that can’t wait for Sept. 5.

    For the third straight day, 3,000-plus fans joined the Broncos in their stretching exercises. This is the brainchild of one of the Argus security guards, who told me Friday it was his goal to get the crowd to mimic the Broncos as they stretched their muscles.

    Outstanding vision, young man.

    Next: A column on Simon Fletcher — the Broncos’ alltime sack leader — coming in Tuesday’s Gazette. Fletcher told me about his hopes for Von Miller and whether he thinks Miller has the goods to break his sack record.

    The Broncos are off Tuesday before returning to Dove Valley from 10:25 a.m.-1:-05 p.m. Wednesday. The practice is open to the public. As long as you stretch first.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette


  • With Koppen out, will suspensions affect Broncos on field?

    Mon, July 29, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments


    When Broncos executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert were nailed for DUI this offseason, it looked more like a black eye to the franchise than a direct hit to the team’s Super Bowl prospects.

    Then, for the first time since training camp opened on Thursday, the Broncos faced a major injury. Dan Koppen, the starting center, was lost for the season with a knee injury.

    The Broncos personnel department had to kick it into gear — presumably without Russell and Heckert, who were suspended indefinitely for their mistakes. When the Broncos were forced to find a replacement at a key position, they didn’t have their full contingent of decision-makers in the front office.

    Makes you wonder: will the absence of John Elway’s top two assistants limit the Broncos as they try to fill holes on the roster?

    To account for the loss of Koppen, the Broncos signed Steve Vallos, a free-agent center who has played 44 games in the NFL.

    Maybe Vallos will be just fine snapping the ball to Peyton Manning. On offense, keeping the quarterback upright is priority No. 1, after all.

    DUI is a bad thing. We all agree on that. And this was the first example of Heckert and Russell’s mistakes, perhaps, having a direct impact on the makeup of the Broncos. Time will tell.

    I do wonder if Heckert’s DUI had been publicized back in June — either via the Broncos or through media — if Russell would have fallen into the same trap. Seeing a colleague’s mug shot in the paper has a way of dissuading a man from drinking and driving, me thinks.

    It’s a gorgeous, sunshine-y morning here at Dove Valley. More updates on this blog coming from today’s training camp session, which begins around 8:50 a.m.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Julius Thomas: A game-changer for Broncos?

    Sun, July 28, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Posed this question in Sunday’s column: Who will be the breakout player to emerge from this Broncos training camp?

    I lean toward Derek Wolfe. There’s a quiet confidence among Broncos in Wolfe, the second-year defensive end, that he can be the man if Von Miller is suspended for four games — or if Miller is not.

    Another candidate is Julius Thomas. It’s a dangerous practice to project major contributions simply from watching practice, which is what training camp is. Tuesday warriors don’t always equate to Sunday heroes.

    I’m a heckuva golfer on the driving range; shooting 72 on the golf course is usually another matter.

    But in the early days of training camp, Thomas has been so solid, so eye-catching, that it makes you wonder if he’s more than a Dove Valley dynamo and can play a major role at Sports Authority Field. For one, the 255-pound tight end is finally healthy. For two, the Broncos don’t have anything like him. Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme are gamers, reliable and steady.

    Thomas is the kind of rare athlete at tight end, however, that can break a big play. I like him quite a bit, both as a person and as a football player. He’s intelligent and won’t have trouble picking up the Broncos’ fast-paced tempo on offense.

    But the biggest question remains: Is he too fragile to make it in the NFL? Time will tell on that one. If he does, don’t be surprised if the former college basketball player is the starting tight end. That seems like an improbable leap for a guy with one career reception (for 5 yards).

    But Thomas is an intriguing talent, the kind of athlete that could add yet another element to Peyton Manning’s offense.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos training camp — Friday

    Fri, July 26, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments


    Another packed house at Dove Valley for Day Two of Broncos training camp. One conversation among fans, decked in predominantly orange, is worth repeating.

    Security guard: “Sir, you’re not allowed to film practice. It’s against league policy.”

    Broncos fan, lowering his iPhone: “But Belichick and Josh McDaniels said we could.”

    Here’s the morning wrap-up:

    Play of the day: Midway through the practice, which lasted roughly two hours, Peyton Manning and backup QB Brock Osweiler took turns launching deep throws to receivers. At Manning’s request, one security guard stepped into the crowd and pulled forward a little kid. He was probably 10, 11 years old.

    Manning said something to the kid, who prompty ran a crossing route. Incomplete. The second pass was a completion… and the kid broke into a touchdown dance. Manning applauded. The crowd dug it. The kid definitely dug it.

    Newsworthy: I’ve been asked a few times about John Elway — in regards to his presence during workouts. Here’s an example. Today, Elway stood behind the quarterbacks during 7-on-7 drills. The great quarterback of old, Elway, didn’t interact with Peyton Manning, the great quarterback of now, during practice, but Elway did have the occasional conversation with coach John Fox. It’s clear Elway and Fox have a friendly working relationship.

    The untrained eye saw: Um, Julius Thomas. Don’t know the name? We all will soon. After today’s practice, I’m writing about the big tight end for Sunday’s edition of The Gazette. Thomas is the former college basketball player, who, after a series of injuries and surgeries, has been unable to play a significant role in the Broncos offense. I expect that’s about to change.

    “I can’t tell you how good it feels to be healthy again,” Thomas told me after the practice, in which he made several fan-pleasing (and Peyton-pleasing) receptions.

    Overall: I don’t know that a great deal can be gleaned from training camp. Who’s healthy. Who’s running with the starters. Who arrived at camp out of shape. Those things, I suppose. 

    But you know when a unit — offense or defense — is clicking. Perhaps because its first day wasn’t as crisp, the Broncos offense was on point today. At least, as on point as an offense can be on Day Two of training camp.

    The defense got the upperhand on Thursday. But the offense seemed to be smoother, and certainly with a quicker pace, today.

    Eric Decker and Wes Welker were the two receiving standouts. Demaryius Thomas got his, but also dropped a sure touchdown from Manning.

    Next: Camp runs 8:50-11 a.m. on Friday. It’s the first day of pads for the Broncos.

    “You love contact as a defensive player,” safety David Bruton said today. “You like to hit people.”

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos training camp — Day 1

    Thu, July 25, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments


    This morning at 8:43 a.m., Peyton Manning jogged onto the practice field at Dove Valley.

    (That’s not him. That’s Von Miller. But we continue.)

    No. 18′s arrival let everyone know: Broncos training camp can start now.

    Play of the day: From a fan’s perspective, Wes Welker slipping past Chris Harris for a deep touchdown pass down the left sideline — from Manning — drew the loudest cheer.

    “It’s just one-on-ones. You can’t take it too (hard) in one-on-ones,” Harris was quick to point out. “If that was 7-on-7s or teams I would take it hard.”

    Welker was beloved in New England. He will be beloved in Colorado.

    The long catch by Welker was an exception. The defense seemed to hold the upperhand for much of the 2 1/2-hour workout. And that means… nada. First day of camp.

    Newsworthy: Von Miller, who could face a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug code, was received warmly by the thousands of fans who packed the grassy hillside to get the earliest peek at their new squad. The star linebacker worked with the first-team defense, like usual. Support from his teammates was unanimous, like usual.

    “Von Miller’s back, we have everybody on our organization’s back,” Manning said when asked about the team’s tumultuous offseason. “That’s when you find out a lot about people is who sticks with you when the times are tough. You find out who the rats are; who is going to jump ship. It’s easy when you are rolling along, an 11-game winning streak, everything is good.

    “You have a little adversity come your way. How do you respond? How do you handle it? I think the organization has responded.”

    The untrained eye saw: Derek Wolfe. It’s hard not to. In a game of giants, Wolfe is built like a tank. Who knows if that translates into productivity during the season. But it’s hard to miss Wolfe.

    “It’s fun knowing what to expect (in his second camp),” Wolfe said after practice.

    Considering the Broncos likely will be without sack-machine Miller for the first four games on the schedule, others need to pick it up in his absence. That includes Wolfe, the second-year lineman out of Cincinnati.

    Overall: This was a cheery, sunshiney (though clouds cooled the temperatures), optimistic first day of camp. About what you’d expect from a team eager to forget a forgettable summer of news. Estimates from veteran beat writers suggested between 2,500-3,000 fans were in attendance. I would say closer to 3,000. Think there’s some interest in this Broncos team?

    Next: Camp runs from 10:25 a.m.-1:05 p.m. on Friday.

    We’ll have a daily training camp update from Dove Valley on this blog, at least on the days when I’m there, which will be most days.


    -Today’s column: As likable as they come, John Fox still feels the pressure of Super Bowl expectations.

    -Photos: Day One of training camp.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • If Von is gone, what does it mean for Broncos?

    Tue, July 23, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Here’s that column today on Von Miller.

    Worth a mention: Brandon Kriztal of 104.3 The Fan reported that Miller was nailed for marijuana and Molly (a drug like ecstasy, we’re told). This is a problem. This is potentially a bigger problem down the road. It’s something the Broncos would have to consider when it’s time to commit a king’s ransom before his contract expires after the 2014 season.

    You can’t commit the stacks of money Miller would demand to a player who loves the NFL lifestyle more than the NFL game.

    But those decisions will be made in time.

    If the appeal fails and the four-game suspension is upheld, here’s what the Broncos would be missing against the Ravens, Giants, Raiders and Eagles — three of the four at home.

    The Broncos sacked, hit or hurried the quarterback 202 times last season. Miller accounted for 93 of those. (Elvis Dumervil, who’s gone, had 60). It’s not simply his pass-rushing ability that would be missed, however. On running plays in which Miller made a tackle, the ballcarriers averaged .25 yards per carry. Houston menance J.J. Watt was the only one better.

    Special thanks to stats wizard Sam Monson of Profootballfocus.com for those numbers.

    Even so, like we wrote today, it’s just four games, in September, three at home. The Broncos last year opened 2-3 and finished (the regular season) with the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

    Off to Coors Field to figure out the Rockies.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • One thing’s certain about the Broncos…

    Mon, July 22, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    … they sure like to party.

    Imagine if they win the Super Bowl. It’s going to look like Burning Man around here. Or a Las Vegas bachelor party.

    Or both.

    For a team that claimed to mourn a playoff loss to the Ravens as though it were a death in the family, the Broncos seem to be quite festive. If it’s not a pair of front-office executives going too far into happy hour, it’s the best player on the defense reportedly failing a drug test and facing a suspension.

    Von Miller is cool with Amendment 64, if reports are accurate.

    The star linebacker is expected to release a statement later today, according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post. We’ll update this blog with the statement when it appears.

    If he appeals the suspension and it fails, what will be the impact on the Broncos defense? Not as severe as it will be made out to be. Column on that subject coming later today.

    Bad times at Dove Valley? Quite the contrary. It looks to me like the Broncos are having too much of a good time.

    Update: Here is Miller’s statement, released on his Twitter account.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Golf at its best… or its worst?

    Sun, July 21, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Well, that was something else.

    The big-name leaderboard at the British Open and Phil Mickelson’s stretch run made for riveting TV.

    Spoiler alert: Mickelson was magic.

    “Phil Mickelson, with a Sunday to remember at the Open Championship,” Mike Tirico said on the broadcast.

    Mickelson won. Golf fans won. And for the second time this year, the golf course in a major won.

    Like the U.S. Open at Merion, Muirfield showed a nasty bite. It made the elites look like the rest of us, relatively speaking.

    When Mickelson wrapped up a 5-under 66 today, he was the only player under par for the tournament.

    At the U.S. Open, champion Justin Rose was the only player to finish even par for the tournament.

    Are frighteningly difficult golf courses good for the game?

    I think so. Some of the pros thought the USGA overdid it at Merion. But doesn’t it make you, the amateur, feel better about your own golf game to see the best of the best struggle?

    “It’s not like it’s every week,” Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon told me. “It’s just one or two weekends a year.”

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette