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Denver's defense has to hold up its end of deal

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)

Peyton Manning can't do this all by himself.

Denver's defense will have to do its part if the Broncos are going to have the special kind of season so many expect of them after football chief John Elway swapped unconventional quarterback Tim Tebow for the only four-time MVP in NFL history.

Besides landing the biggest prize in the free agency era in Manning, the Broncos made several changes on a defense led by former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons.

They'll be without leading tackler D.J. Williams to start the season, however, and maybe even Elvis Dumervil.

Williams, their leading tackler in five of his eight seasons, is facing a six-game drug suspension to start the season and also an Aug. 15 drunken driving trial that could result in an even longer absence, if not a ticket out of town altogether.

Dumervil might also get suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell following his arrest this month on suspicion of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following a traffic dispute in Miami where a witness said he flashed a gun in his waistband during a confrontation with a female driver.

Wesley Woodyard gets first crack at Williams' weakside spot and top draft pick Derek Wolfe could be an option if Dumervil has to sit out some games.

The Broncos are hopeful that won't be the case. They have a brutal first half of the season with games against six playoff teams plus AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego, so they'll need all hands on deck as they seek their first winning season since 2006.

Manning was the Broncos' biggest offseason addition, but they made several other moves that will play a big role in their quest to make a deep playoff run like they used to with Elway under center.

They bolstered their secondary with veterans Mike Adams, Florence Drayton and Tracy Porter and rookie Omar Bolden. They added beef to their line with Wolfe and the return of Ty Warren, and they drafted sparkplug linebacker Danny Travathan.

They added Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Philip Blake and Ronnie Hillman to help out Manning on offense, too.

The Broncos envision Manning leading those famous clock-chewing drives that he used to direct in Indianapolis for 13 years and giving them leads that will allow them to turn loose their ''Orange Rush'' answer to Indy's Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in Pro Bowlers Dumervil and Von Miller.

Champ Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler like Manning, said the Broncos need to have a top-five defense ''or whatever it may be, whatever it takes to get us to the championship.''

For the first time since the Mike Shanahan era, the Broncos' summertime chatter about Super Bowl aspirations isn't laughable.

They've already hit some potholes on that road to New Orleans, however, with the troubles surrounding Williams and Dumervil.

Coach John Fox declared at the start of camp that Williams won't get any work with the starters as he awaits his suspension, so he's spent his time alternately watching drills or running sideline-to-sideline sprints on an adjacent field while Woodyard gears up for much more than a rotational role.

The fifth-year pro is coming off a year in which he piled up career highs in tackles (97), starts (seven) and forced fumbles (two) while replacing middle linebacker Joe Mays on passing downs and making spot starts at weakside linebacker for Williams.

Woodyard signed a two-year $3.5 million contract this offseason. That may not be starter's money in today's NFL, but Woodyard has his sights set on joining Mays and Miller atop the Broncos' depth chart, regardless of Williams' status.

''Whether or not he was sitting out, we're all coming in here to compete for a starting spot,'' Woodyard said. ''Any time I have an opportunity in front of me, I want to take it and run with it.''

After Woodyard, second-year pro Nate Irvin and Travathan will also get looks in Williams' spot, Del Rio said.

Wolfe, who has gotten more work the first week of camp at right defensive end - Dumervil's primary position - than he has at tackle, was glad to put the pads on this weekend and show everyone why the Broncos made him their top draft pick.

''Yeah, I'm not the type of guy that's going to run around you,'' he said. ''I'm going try to go through you.''

Del Rio was glad to finally see his players in pads, too. He said that in his playing days he often lost his starting job in the spring but won it back when the pads went back on.

So, now is when jobs are won or lost.

Aside from Miller, Dumervil and Bailey, all jobs are up for grabs, he said.

''I'm new to this staff. I'm coming in with open eyes,'' Del Rio said. ''I'm looking to see certain things from our unit and the guys that exhibit those traits consistently will win spots in the lineup.''

With the league so pass-happy, teams need more push up the middle, and Del Rio said he likes what he's seen so far in Wolfe, even though he missed much of the offseason because NCAA rules prohibited him from practicing as a pro until his class at the University of Cincinnati graduated.

Wolfe ''has natural finish-on-the-quarterback ability,'' Del Rio said. ''He just has a way of being slippery when it's time to rush the quarterback, and we need some push inside from our tackles.''

Justin Bannan is back for his second stint in Denver, although second-year pro Mitch Unrein has gotten work with the first unit as Bannan recovers from a left calf injury.

Then there's Warren, last year's free agent centerpiece who's missed the past two seasons with injuries.

''I'm glad that he's healthy and ready to go and hopefully we can make it through this phase and get him to the season and have a good year from him,'' Del Rio said.

NOTES: Former Broncos Brian Dawkins and Karl Mecklenburg were on hand at Sunday's practice. ... A linebacker from 1983-94 in Denver, Mecklenburg praised Fox for bringing back the old-timers: ''It's been a few years since veteran guys were welcome out here,'' he said. ''The door is open now.'' ... Newly signed safety Anthony Perkins of the University of Colorado said he was on his way from Boulder with some buddies to watch the Broncos practice Saturday when he his phone buzzed. ''I told them, `Hey, I'll be there in 15 minutes!'' said Perkins, who hung up, called his wife and told her to bring his gear to Dove Valley. ''It was a crazy day, but definitely exciting.''

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Tagged: Broncos, Jets, Peyton Manning, Champ Bailey, Ty Warren, D.J. Williams, Elvis Dumervil, Joe Mays, Wesley Woodyard, Tim Tebow, Von Miller, Derek Wolfe

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