With their opening practice on Thursday in the books, training camp is officially open for the AFC Champion Denver Broncos. From most accounts, it went well. Several players (including free agent acquisition DeMarcus Ware) looked good in their first showing. But the Broncos aren’t looking for good, they are looking for Super.
“Guys know what’s at stake this year, at least they should — it’s Super Bowl or bust for us,” said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.(who started camp on the physically unable to perform list) to ESPN.com.
Still reeling from their embarrassing 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in February; the Broncos have now refocused their energy on getting better. While their offense was the best in NFL history last season, their defense only ranked 19th among the league’s 32 teams. The Broncos committed to the defensive side of the ball this offseason, adding not only Ware, but also safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib.
“We are trying to be a force to be reckoned with this year and you already talked about us being an offensive team, but at the end of the day, we are trying to be [No.] 1 and [No.] 1,” said Ware. “The best offense in the league and the best defense in the league.”
The defensive unit also figures to benefit from the return of linebacker Von Miller. Suspended for the first six games of 2013, Miller returned for nine games before tearing his ACL on Dec. 22, shutting down him down for the rest of the season. Though he was limited in Thursday’s practice, he figures to be fully healthy by the start of the season.
“It feels 100 percent. It’s great,” said Miller. “I have been on a great game plan. I am just following the schedule. I am doing what they tell me to do.”
One noticeable absence from camp is wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Fans need not worry about the star pass catcher, as he is not holding out; nor are the effects of his separated shoulder lingering. His absence is excused, as he is expected to miss the first four days as he arranges and attends the funeral of his grandmother (who helped raise him).
Also absent from Dove Valley are the fans. The team is renovating their training facility, and are not making training camp open to the public due to the construction.
“I like having the fans out here during practice,” lamented quarterback Peyton Manning. “Especially when you get into that third or fourth padded practice and it’s kind of the dog days of training camp, those fans lift you up.”
Manning is coming off a record-breaking season that saw him named the NFL’s MVP for a fifth time. For Manning that is the past however, the 38-year-old is now looking forward.
“It’s the 2014 season”, said Manning. “And just because you did something last year, it means nothing as far as this upcoming season.”
Another noticeable absence is longtime owner Pay Bowlen. The 70-year old Bowlen was forced to step down from the daily operations of the franchise after announcing that he had Alzheimer’s disease (the same ailment that claimed Thomas’ grandmother) on Wednesday.
“Having worked for him for 30 years, it’s uh, going to be very hard to not see him walk through the front doors every day,” said a very emotional general manager John Elway of Bowlen.
Among the highlights of Elway’s Hall of Fame career, was when Bowlen handed him the Lombardi Trophy, exclaiming: “This one’s for John!”
Now, the Broncos are working tirelessly to get back to the top of the NFL. They were a win away last year. If the Elway is to return the favor of the famous sentiment to Bowlen this season, the work towards the ultimate goal is already underway.