ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Forget about Peyton Manning’s neck and right arm. Both held up just fine last year. The question now is about his broad shoulders.
As in, can he carry the weighty expectations of the Rocky Mountain region that will be satisfied with nothing less than a Super Bowl title?
It’s especially important with defensive leader Von Miller facing the possibility of a monthlong NFL drug suspension to start the season.
The Broncos roared into the playoffs riding an 11-game winning streak and touting the AFC’s best record at 13-3 only to see Rahim Moore flail at Joe Flacco’s rainbow pass to Jacoby Jones for the game-tying 70-yard touchdown in the final minute of regulation, the defining moment of their double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Front office boss John Elway went all-in, adding Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez and Montee Ball to Manning’s stockpile in another offseason spending spree that also saw All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady sign the biggest deal for an offensive lineman in team history.
“I think this is a big year for us,” Clady said while basking in the glow of his five-year, $57.5 million contract. “We definitely have a lot of expectations: Super Bowl or bust, for the most part. It’s a lot of pressure, unlike last year where we kind of just rolled in and tried to get things together.”
The Broncos are loaded on both sides of the ball and own the league’s most electrifying special teams, so all the ingredients are there to make a run at a third Lombardi trophy.
Five things to know as the Broncos prepare to open training camp in Englewood.
1. GET OVER IT: The Denver Broncos have moved on, even if their fans haven’t. That includes Moore, the safety whose blunder led to Denver’s playoff loss. Many fans wondered if Moore could ever play in Denver again after his gaffe. The Broncos, however, are sticking with the third-year pro who remains the starter at free safety. “I think he’s over it; I think we’re all over it, you know,” Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “I think we all look back and see things that we could have done better. We also look back with a great deal of pride in what we accomplished … and we want to get ready to be better this year.”
2. TOP TRIO: Led by the shy Demaryius Thomas, the soft-spoken Wes Welker and the selfless Eric Decker, the Broncos represent the antithesis of those high-maintenance superstars who demand the ball every down. These three combined for 297 receptions and 29 TD catches last season.
3. PEYTON’S PROTECTOR: Clady is finally in a good place both fiscally and physically. Manning’s blindside protector signed a deal that includes $33 million in guarantees. He skipped last year’s trip to Hawaii with a torn right labrum that required surgery. He hopes to be back on the field by early August. He’s never missed a game in his career (83 counting playoffs) and the Broncos are confident he’ll be in the starting lineup Sept. 5 to face former teammate Elvis Dumervil when the Ravens visit Denver.
4. WEAK LINK? Clady is one of four starters along the offensive line coming off surgeries that eliminated or limited their offseason on-field work. Left guard Zane Beadles was the only starting lineman to come out of last season unscathed. Orlando Franklin (toe, shoulder), Chris Kuper (ankle) and J.D. Walton (knee) also needed operations, and of the three, only Franklin was at full health during minicamps. The Broncos signed Dan Koppen to fill in at center for Walton. Their biggest free-agency signing outside of Welker was Vasquez at right guard. If Kuper recovers from his second surgery in as many years, he’ll likely compete for a backup spot.
5. ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BRONCOS: The infamous fax fiasco last spring led to Dumervil’s departure to Baltimore, and so now it’s up to several others to make up for his locker room leadership and his harassment of quarterbacks, especially with Miller facing the possibility of missing the first month of the season. Shaun Phillips came over from San Diego and Quanterus Smith from Western Kentucky to help fill the void, but Robert Ayers, Jeremy Beal and Malik Jackson hope to show the Broncos they had Dumervil’s replacement right under their nose.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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