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

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.”

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:

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