NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT


When training camp begins, the Denver Broncos defense could still be defined as much by who is not on the field for every period of practice, as by the players that are on the field.

Although linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson were mainstays on the practice field during organized team activities, none of the three lined up to run a play during a team or seven-on-seven drill. Their work was limited to rehabilitation, and, for Miller, some repetitions in individual teaching periods.

Miller and Harris tore anterior cruciate ligaments in December and January, respectively, and the short time frame since their injuries will cause the Broncos to exercise caution.

They will be equally patient with Vickerson. He had hoped to return during OTAs from a dislocated hip suffered last Nov. 24 at New England, but was not cleared to even begin running until halfway through OTAs. And of the three, Vickerson is the one who may not find the starting job he held last year waiting for him upon his return. The improvement of second-year defensive tackle Sylvester Williams could leave Vickerson in a rotational role once he gets back to practice, which may not be until the end of August, anyway.

When all three return, they will have to adjust to an overhauled defense whose progress will be the primary storyline of training camp.

"We're just bigger, faster, stronger, more playmakers, I would say. The competition is definitely on a whole other level," said safety Quinton Carter.

The offense lost wide receiver Eric Decker and guard Zane Beadles to free agency, but picked up wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from Pittsburgh and will move right tackle Orlando Franklin to Beadles' old left-guard spot, returning Franklin to the position he manned in college. Franklin's shift also allows Chris Clark, a starter for Ryan Clady last year, to slide over to right tackle.

The changes on the offense are incremental in nature, more a tweak here or there to maintain the offense's explosiveness, but also respond to its struggles against Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. Denver was attacked from the edges by Seattle's pass rushers, and was unable to mount a running game to keep the safeties from getting involved in pass coverage.

The return of Clady, the changes at right tackle and the work with tight end Julius Thomas on his blocking provide part of a potential solution. But the rest must come from the running game, and its ability to provide a clock-chewing option rather than a simple change of pace every now and then. Montee Ball was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft in part because of his durability between the tackles. Now that he's the starter -- and has added nearly 10 pounds since he was drafted -- he will be asked to justify that selection.

Denver is a tweaked team from last year. The question now is whether the changes represent a step forward, or one in reverse.

CAMP CALENDAR

Players report: July 24

Practice with Texans: Aug. 19-21

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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - 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.