Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) is tackled by Houston Texans outside linebacker Justin Tuggle (57) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Jack Dempsey
August 26, 2014

DENVER (AP) General manager John Elway wanted more of an edge on defense after Denver's shellacking in the Super Bowl, so he went out and signed free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.

This trio of thumpers brought a new energy to the Broncos, who also got a big boost with the return of several starters who sat out that nightmare at the Meadowlands, notably Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr.

The fervor wasn't limited to Denver's revamped defense, however, as the offense also showed off a new impetuosity.

A reconfigured offensive line features the return of left tackle Ryan Clady and the feisty Orlando Franklin sliding over from right tackle to left guard.

The Broncos' interior has nearly 1,000 pounds of muscle to open lanes for bruising running back Montee Ball and provide a better pocket of protection for Peyton Manning.

Speaking of the five-time MVP, he's brawnier in Year 3 in Denver. Forget all that talk about Manning losing it on deep throws, too. He's as strong at age 38 as he was before those neck problems sidelined him in 2011.

And he proved more irascible than ever by getting into the faces of teammates and opponents alike.

First, he called out his offense after a clumsy performance in the first of three skirmish-filled joint practices with the Houston Texans. Then, he went after safety D.J. Swearinger in the preseason game for a hard hit that left Wes Welker with his third concussion in 10 months.

''I loved it,'' nose tackle Marvin Austin said. ''It's a beautiful thing. Peyton's not really a trash-talking guy.''

So, when Manning has something to say, everybody's all ears.

The Broncos are hoping this across-the-board pugnacity helps them become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl the year after losing it.

They'll have to navigate some potholes to get there:

BOWLEN'S ABSENCE: Even as dementia began to rob him of some of his fondest memories over the past few years, team owner Pat Bowlen reported to work every day to oversee multimillion-dollar upgrades to the team's training facilities and roster. Alzheimer's is preventing the 70-year-old former triathlete from running the team anymore.

Elway and team president Joe Ellis, both teary-eyed when camp began minus the beloved Bowlen, pledged to continue running the team as he did. Elway said the highlight of his career was when Bowlen held high the Lombardi Trophy in 1997 and declared, ''This one's for John!''

''I want nothing more than to return that favor,'' Elway said.

PRATER PROBLEM: The Broncos will be without the NFL's top kicker for their first four games after Matt Prater was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy by drinking alcohol.

''Why did I risk it?'' Prater said. ''I made a mistake. I don't have an excuse for it. I screwed up and now I'm paying the price for it.''

The suspension will cost Prater $705,882 in base salary and forces the Broncos to go with unproven first-year pro Brandon McManus.

REPLACING HOLLIDAY: What was shaping up as one of the NFL's best comeback stories ended when wide receiver Jordan Norwood tore his left ACL in camp after emerging as Trindon Holliday's replacement on punt returns.

Cut five times by four teams and out of football last year, Norwood had also added depth to Denver's receiving group.

''I'm very disappointed for him and at this point for us, selfishly,'' coach John Fox said.

TREVATHAN'S TREVAILS: Weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan broke his left leg at practice, robbing the Broncos of their leading tackler for the first month of this season. Taking his place is Brandon Marshall, a 24-year-old every-down linebacker known mostly as the man who gets mistaken for the OTHER Brandon Marshall, the Chicago Bears' star receiver.

This Marshall has but one career tackle. Yet, he promises there will be no drop-off in Denver's defense even though Trevathan led the team with 124 tackles last season and 24 more in the playoffs.

''I will get it done,'' declared Marshall, whom the Broncos trust enough to relay Jack Del Rio's play calls.

BAD CONNECTION: After throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in NFL history, Manning had to say goodbye to wide receiver Eric Decker, who signed with the Jets.

He was replaced by Emmanuel Sanders, who has better separation and speed than Decker. However, a nagging thigh injury kept him from developing a good chemistry with Manning, who finally texted him one night and told him he'd better get back on the field.

Finding that rhythm is ''going to have to be in-season'' now, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. ''We're going to have some growing pains there.''


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