The Broncos' two primary offseason storylines were defined on the same March afternoon: Peyton Manning and player suspensions.
As Manning walked the corridors of Broncos headquarters March 9, beginning the courtship that would result in his signing 11 days later, word broke of six-game suspensions to D.J. Williams and Ryan McBean and a four-game ban to tight end Virgil Green. McBean, a restricted free agent, was non-tendered and let go, but the suspensions of Williams and Green -- and potential legal action against recently arrested Elvis Dumervil -- will loom over the Broncos' depth chart as training camp begins Thursday.
Dumervil's issues aren't of imminent concern unless commissioner Roger Goodell acts preemptively. The hearing on his charge of aggravated assault with a firearm is scheduled for Aug. 16 -- the next-to-last-day of training camp; any trial would likely be months later, likely not until the offseason.
But with Williams' legal challenge to the lawsuit dismissed -- a decision he has appealed -- the Broncos must decide whether it's worthwhile giving Williams first-team work at training camp. His six-game suspension could be extended if his August retrial on a November 2010 DUI charge results in a conviction; Williams has a previous DUI conviction from 2005, his second year in the league.
If Williams is eased down the depth chart, Wesley Woodyard would be the beneficiary. Although he filled in there early last season while Williams nursed an elbow injury, the special-teams captain has never been a full-time starter. In June he said he hadn't discussed these matters with Williams.
"We don't talk about that. That's his issues," Woodyard said then. "I've just got to be ready whenever I'm called to be on the field."
This could be the best chance Woodyard has to become a full-time starter. He started three games for Williams last year and another when the Broncos opened outside their base package -- three times in the nickel and once when the Broncos began in a 3-4 alignment. Because Woodyard was one of the two linebackers (along with Williams) in the nickel formation, he finished second on the team in 2011 with 87 tackles.
Woodyard tested the free-agent market in March hoping that a full-time starting slot would come his way. But the market was lukewarm, and he opted to re-sign for two years -- knowing an extended opportunity to move up the depth chart might rest in his lap.
Beyond Woodyard, the next in line could be sixth-round pick Danny Trevathan, whose resume from his 2008 rookie season to the present is a virtual carbon copy of Woodyard's: prodigious tackling statistics, average workout numbers, unheralded draft status and University of Kentucky pedigree.
With Green, the issue is settling the Broncos' depth at tight end. There isn't much behind offseason pickups Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen; the only other returning tight end is Julius Thomas, whose slow-healing high ankle sprain from 2011 necessitated surgery in March. The subsequent rehabilitation kept Thomas from working in any offseason practices, but the Broncos expect him to be ready during training camp. Green's need for repetitions and timing with Manning might be supplanted by the desire to get Thomas back up to speed, given his extended offseason absence.