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Fox looks forward to more balance in offense

The Sports Xchange

--Remember "Foxball?"

Panthers fans do, and the run-first, risk-minimizing attack of their team under John Fox won two division titles and a conference championship, but drove some of them batty during the 7-9 and 8-8 seasons that surrounded the Panthers' more successful ones. That style carried over to the Broncos in 2011, as they led the league in rushing. But the means of getting there were unusual -- a zone-read option-centric attack designed on the fly after Tim Tebow became the starter.

The connotation of "Foxball" is about to change now that he has Peyton Manning at the offense's helm.

"I'm not sure I've ever had (a quarterback) quite like him," Fox said. "I think balance is key. I've been coaching defense in this league for a long time. I know what's difficult."

Finding balance was next to impossible last year. Although Tebow proved capable of hitting just enough deep passes to keep a defense honest, he struggled on short to intermediate routes, preventing Denver's offense from developing any consistency.

"We've probably been a little more on the run side. Last year might have been as lopsided as I've ever been," Fox said. "If you're one-dimensional they can get you. Peyton will help keep that in balance."

--As the Broncos fretted and waited on Peyton Manning to make his decision, they focused on defense, visiting with ex-Bears safety Brandon Meriweather, former Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant and linebackers Geno Hayes (Tampa Bay) and Jameel McClain (Baltimore).

But none of those were signed. Ex-Browns safety Mike Adams did, signing a two-year contract.

Adams started all 16 games last year for the first time in his career. But significantly for the Broncos' plans he started at free safety, and when he was asked on a media conference call March 15 whether he was a free safety, he answered with two words:

"Yes, sir."

With Brian Dawkins still undecided about his future, Adams appears poised to step into the spot that belonged to 2011 second-round pick Rahim Moore at the season's outset before he was benched for 2011 fourth-rounder Quinton Carter. Carter played with more confidence, range and ballhawking ability, but he was drafted with the intent of playing strong safety.

If Dawkins retires, Carter would move to strong safety. Moore, the first safety taken in last year's draft, would likely be a reserve, reflecting the struggles he had as the season progressed. His limited action in late-season appearances resulted in two personal fouls for late hits, and by the time the Broncos played New England in the divisional playoffs, Moore was the last safety off the bench.

--Manning's arrival was the first domino to fall in reshaping the offense. Wide receiver Andre Caldwell was the second, signing with the Broncos March 22.

Caldwell said that he spoke with the Broncos before they signed Manning, but negotiations intensified after the quarterback signed his five-year, $96 million deal. The presence of Manning understandably impacted Caldwell, he said.

"It played a big part," Caldwell said.

The Broncos will count on Caldwell to push for the No. 3 wide receiver spot and believe the veteran of four Bengals seasons still has some untapped upside, even though he has never topped the 51 catches for 432 yards and three touchdowns he amassed in 2009.

--With D.J. Williams facing a six-game suspension for violation of the league's PED policy, the Broncos suddenly had urgency to re-sign linebackers Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard, which they did to three- and two-year contracts, respectively.

Both started games last year, but were mostly situational players; Mays, the first-team middle linebacker, came out on most passing downs, while Woodyard saw most of his action when Mays was substituted out but started the first three games of the season while Williams nursed an elbow injury.

Mays had visited the Saints and was scheduled to visit the Colts before signing his three-year, $12 million deal. Woodyard, a special-teams captain who rose from undrafted pickup in 2008 to steady contributor who has endured through four head coaches, signed a two-year deal.

"We wouldn't have signed (Woodyard) if we didn't have faith," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He did step into that role last year, when D.J. was injured. He's a guy we like. His teammates feel good about him.

"What role he will be in will kind of be determined."

Much of that determination will depend on how Williams' lawsuit against the league plays out. Williams and defensive tackle Ryan McBean have sued seeking to have their six-game bans overturned, but if their legal action fails, Woodyard will have his best chance to show he can be a consistent starter, rather than just a passing-down specialist.

--With defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley signing a five-year, $25 million contract with New Orleans on Wednesday, the Broncos' defensive interior is left shy of depth.

Denver does possess two starting-caliber defensive tackles under contract: Kevin Vickerson and Ty Warren. But both players finished the 2011 season on injured reserve, and Warren hasn't played a game since the 2009 season.

Mitch Unrein and restricted free agent Ryan McBean are the only other experienced defensive tackles under contract, but McBean faces a six-game suspension for PEDs.

The Broncos would like to bring 2011 starter Marcus Thomas back, but he is testing the market.

"Plan B? I don't have a Plan B. We're going with Plan A." -- John Elway, on the Broncos' plans to address the backup quarterback position. He wasn't being literal; a day later, the Broncos visited with former Bears backup Caleb Hanie and ex-Chargers backup Billy Volek.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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