ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Wes Welker angrily declared he was “as shocked as everyone” when the NFL banned him for the first month of the season for violating the league’s drug-abuse policy.
Peyton Manning wasn’t shocked at all.
Neither was John Elway.
John Fox, maybe just a little.
“Uh, I guess I wasn’t shocked,” Manning said Wednesday during a news conference in which he was asked a half dozen questions about Welker’s suspension and just once about playing his former team, the Indianapolis Colts, in Denver’s opener Sunday night.
“I guess I had an idea that it might be happening,” Manning said. “Somewhat we were prepared for it.”
Eleven miles up the road, Elway, the Broncos general manager, was on his way to the pro-am at the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills when he was asked about Welker’s suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
“There’s going to be more bumps in the road as we go,” Elway said. “There’s always bumps. It’s a matter of how you handle those bumps, and we’ll handle this one. The next guy in line will step and we’ll be ready to go against the Colts.”
Asked if he were shocked it was Welker, Elway simply repeated, “We’ll be ready to go against the Colts.”
Fox had this to say about the discipline handed down to the 11th-year pro who’s the best slot receiver of this generation: “If you do this long enough, you’re surprised but not totally. We were disappointed, but we’ll move on.”
“I think it’s kind of hard to be surprised in this business,” tight end Julius Thomas said. “Everybody goes through things in life, and we always say we’re family here. You’re not surprised when your family falls on tough times – you’re just there for them and you give them as much support as you can.”
The Broncos will be without Manning’s third-down security blanket for the brutal stretch against Indy, Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona, a foursome that averaged 11.25 wins last year.
The Broncos just haven’t been able to stay out of the commissioner’s cross-hairs of late.
Since 2012, six prominent employees have been suspended by the NFL for violations of the league’s drug policies, and Manning noted that in all three of his seasons in Denver, the Broncos began the season with a star serving a suspension.
“I don’t think that’s something the Broncos want to brag about,” Manning said. “But it’s the reality.”
Linebacker D.J. Williams was suspended nine games in 2012, six for violating the league’s policy on PEDs and three for an alcohol-related arrest. Last year, Von Miller sat out the first six games after attempting to manipulate the NFL drug-testing system, and Elway’s top two lieutenants, Matt Russell and Tom Heckert, were suspended following drunken driving arrests.
And last week, kicker Matt Prater was suspended four games for drinking alcoholic beverages, a no-no ever since his DUI arrest in 2011 landed him in the league’s drug program.
Asked why these kinds of things keep happening in Denver, where the team is nevertheless 28-8 since Manning’s arrival, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said the Broncos weren’t any different than anyone else.
“It’s every team, man, every team. It’s not just us,” Harris said,. “It’s the NFL.”
Welker is one of 29 players suspended by the league heading into the 2014 season, including 17 for substance abuse and 10 for PED use.
“This is the NFL, and there are a lot of rules,” Harris said. “You’d better just drink some water.”
Welker and Prater combined to score 210 points last season. Prater had a record-breaking 64-yard field goal and Welker caught 10 TD passes among his 73 grabs for 778 yards despite missing most of the final month with a concussion.
The Broncos have plenty of options to replace Welker, although Manning acknowledged it still won’t be easy.
They could move Emmanuel Sanders into the slot and insert rookie Cody Latimer or Bubba Caldwell into the lineup on the outside. Or they could use tight end Jacob Tamme in that role as they did at times last year and maybe rely more on tight end Julius Thomas, too.
They filled Welker’s roster spot by promoting receiver Nathan Palmer from the practice squad.
Elway and Fox both mentioned the time-honored next-man-up mantra, but Manning tweaked that, saying: “I really feel it’s maybe next MEN up, if that makes any sense.”
The Broncos are accustomed to dealing with adversity, their rash of injuries last season a prime example. But Manning suggested a suspension is different.
“Losing Wes is a self-inflicted wound,” Manning said. “… Hopefully last year prepared us for these types of situations.”
Miller was in Welker’s shoes a year ago.
“I’m here for him and I can certainly feel where he’s at right now,” Miller said. “But I’ve got all the confidence in the world that he’s going to come back and he’s going to bring hell with him when he does.”
Notes: KR Isaiah Burse (heat) and RG Louis Vasquez (back) left practice early.
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– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado, contributed.
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