Domata Peko the antidote for Broncos' biggest bugaboo
DENVER (AP) A much better supporting cast awaits quarterback Trevor Siemian in his second season as Broncos starter and Mike McCoy in his second stint as Denver's offensive coordinator.
The Broncos bolstered their backfield by bringing in youth - Coastal Carolina touchdown machine De'Angelo Henderson - and experience - Jamaal Charles . They replaced four-fifths of their O-line, and center Matt Paradis had both hips surgically repaired. Rookie Isaiah McKenzie adds speed to the wide receiving corps.
The biggest offseason fix, however, came on defense, with 32-year-old nose tackle Domata Peko coming over from Cincinnati to plug a line whose breach last season defanged Denver's strengths that had propelled its Super Bowl run.
With the Broncos' run defense compromised down the stretch, opposing quarterbacks didn't have to worry about testing All-Pro cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., or about pass rusher Von Miller wrecking their day.
Peko appears to have plenty of game left in his 32-year-old legs. He remains passionate, too.
''I'm on Year 12, but I feel good. My body is feeling great,'' Peko said. ''God has been keeping me strong and keeping me healthy, but I still have that hunger. I want to get a ring. I want to win a championship. That's what keeps me going. Also, my family, I'm playing for my children and for my wife. Those are motivations for me.
''I think that's what keeps me young and alive. I think you see guys when .they get a little older, they start losing their love for the game. But, for me, I still love the waking up in the morning and coming out here to hit O-linemen and hitting running backs. That's fun to me. I love that stuff.''
The Broncos love having him on their side now, too.
As usual, there are several sub-plots with the Broncos as they navigate the tough AFC West:
NO FLY ZONE : GM John Elway decided young safeties Justin Simmons, Will Parks and rookie Jamal Carter were good enough that he could cut three-time Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward, who signed with Tampa Bay.
Talib said the moniker ''No Fly Zone'' stays, even minus one of its founding members.
''Yeah, ain't nobody flying still. They can't fly. The name don't change,'' Talib said. ''But we love him.''
Simmons will start, and Parks moves into Ward's old role in the dime defense.
MOTIVATED MILLER : Without the busy jet-set schedule that followed his Super Bowl MVP performance, Miller was able to focus on his physique in the offseason. The results are a buffer body and thighs that look like watermelons.
Shane Ray said he was disappointed when Oakland's Khalil Mack edged Miller by a single vote for Defensive Player of the Year honors. But Ray said he now believes that was a camouflage blessing.
''Von being Von, I didn't have to feel bad for him,'' Ray said. ''Von pushes himself. He said OK, last year what I did wasn't good enough, as great as his season was last year. So he's pushed himself all offseason to come back and be even better. So, now you can't deny him. Be so good that they can't deny you.''
INJECTING VENOM : New offensive line starters include free agents Ron Leary and Menelik Watson and first-round draft pick Garett Bolles. The common denominator: they all bring a nastiness to the field the front office felt was lacking.
''I think he brings a great mentality to that offensive line that needed a jolt, and I think he's a perfect fit for what we've done in free agency,'' Elway said after selecting Bolles with the 20th overall pick. ''If Garett turns out to be who we think he is, he solves a big problem for us for a long time.''
OSWEILER RETURNS : All summer, Denver's airwaves were filled with incessant talk about ''The Decision'' as Siemian and Paxton Lynch competed for the starting QB job. It wasn't really ever close, and not long after Siemian got the nod, Lynch sprained his throwing shoulder. He will miss at least the first month of the season.
The real choice came down to bringing back Brock Osweiler rather than keeping camp sensation Kyle Sloter, who left for Minnesota's practice squad and a $20,000 weekly paycheck, nearly three times the minimum.
Eighteen months ago, Osweiler also took the money and ran, signing a $72 million deal with Houston, about $8 million more than Elway offered him. Now, he's the backup again and the Broncos are only paying $775,000 of his salary, with the Browns paying the other $15.25 million.
TIGHT END HELP : The Broncos return the same trio of tight ends that combined for just 33 yards a game last year and scored a single touchdown. But there's hope that rookie Jake Butt will be back from a torn ACL by November to give the Broncos a big boost.
''When he gets healthy, he can help us,'' Joseph said.
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