ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The beauty of pairing DeMarcus Ware with Von Miller is the Broncos will increase their defensive options while reducing their opponents' offensive choices.
The plan for Ware and Miller has not been entirely revealed yet, in part because the pair has not been at full strength. Ware had a variety of injuries last season and missed some time in camp with a leg bruise. Miller is coming off an ACL injury. Both players are expected to be 100 percent by the start of the season.
When both have been on the field at training camp practices, some of the vision is clear. Ware will be the open side end on first and second down. Miller will be the strong side linebacker on run downs. On passing downs, both will be rushing, and good luck trying to figure out from where. "They will do some similar things," Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "Within our system they both will be on the same side coming. They'll be on opposite sides coming. We're not afraid to drop them occasionally. But we won't make a living having them in coverage. When they are bringing all the protection over to them, they won't be coming. People have to account for them, we know that. So it allows you to be a little more creative."
Assigning multiple blockers to both Ware and Miller is not an attractive option for opponents. "Offenses have to pick their poison," Broncos head coach John Fox said. "You can't slide both ways."
With two talented edge rushers, the Broncos can be confident in knowing they'll get favorable matchups. In some cases they can force the matchups, perhaps trying to pit Ware's explosiveness against a tackle whose balance isn't ideal, or matching Miller's bend against a stiffer blocker. At times, the defensive advantages might not involve Ware or Miller -- but their presence could create beneficial one-on-ones for other defenders.
Said Del Rio, "Not only will they be difficult to block, but they will open up things for other guys as well." Others who could benefit from the Ware-Miller dream duo include defensive end Derek Wolfe, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, and defensive end Quanterus Smith. The Broncos are excited about Smith, a second year player who spent 2013 on injured reserve, and will feature a sub package that includes Ware, Miller and Smith on the field.
With speed and skill coming off the edge, offenses are sure to resort to frequent quick throws against the Broncos. Fox and Del Rio are already planning for that. They have discussed dropping eight, playing Cover 2 and playing Cover 1 with players assigned to the "holes" where quick throws typically go.
Ware and Miller both are athletic, accomplished pass rushers. But they will present blockers with different skills. "DeMarcus is a bigger guy and he has a little more power than Von," Del Rio said. "Von has freakish ability to bend and accelerate. I don't know if I've ever seen anybody turn the corner and get lower while he's running. Derrick Thomas might be the only other guy I saw who could bend like that."
Ware also is a savvy pass rusher with six more years of NFL experience. He has tried to share his wisdom with Miller, Smith and other young Broncos, especially about hand play.
Ware has 117 career sacks, 18th most in history. But he had only six last season, so there is some concern about keeping the 32-year-old fresh. Del Rio said Ware's snaps will be monitored. "There will be a level we will like to keep him from going beyond so we can keep him healthy throughout the season," he said. "But we like to play them both as much as we can, especially Von because he's younger."
Ware loves the idea of playing with Miller. He knows they can make one another better. Earlier this summer, he said, "Me and Von talk all the time about, 'How many sacks do you want to get this year?' He threw a number out there, and I said, 'At the end of the day, a number's only a result that people can judge.' I said, 'But why not be the tandem out there that at the end of the day we can say was the tandem that was best in the league ever?'"
"That's what you want. You want something bigger than that, that lasts forever."
That's ambitious talk. But this pairing does have the potential to be quite special.
Andy Dalton. Not everyone thought giving the Bengals quarterback a six year, $115 million contract extension was a smart move, but the signing was very well received at Paul Brown Stadium from what I've been told. Team management thought securing Dalton for the long term was wise because the Bengals believe he still has the capacity to improve. The coaching staff was relieved to get it out of the way so his contract status was not an issue that lingered into the regular season. And the feel from the locker room is teammates thought Dalton was deserving, and it sent the message that the Bengals will take care of them too.
Jim Harbaugh. The best thing for Harbaugh and the 49ers would have been agreeing to a contract extension, and there really appears to be no good reason why the team couldn't get it done. The next best thing, seeing an extension could not be agreed upon, was tabling talks. As long as negotiations were live, Harbaugh and his players were going to be asked about the coach's future. I asked him about his contract last week, and it was pretty clear he was tired of talking about it. Harbaugh is signed through 2015. There was no urgency to getting a deal done now. Most extensions for coaches aren't done until the contracts are entering the final year. After this season, both Harbaugh and the Niners will have a better understanding of his market value, and if they disagree, the 49ers still can get something for him. Regardless of how this season plays out in San Francisco, Harbaugh is going to be in high demand and will be paid in the vicinity of $8 million per season on his next deal.
Brett Favre. The Packers will bring him home, retire his No. 4 and induct him to their hall of fame in 2015. Team president Mark Murphy is betting that separation has led fans to forget the ugly divorce in 2007 and remember the wonderful marriage. Favre was loyal and committed to Green Bay for so long, 16 years. I went back and looked at some notes from a long conversation I had with Favre 11 years ago in between training camp practices one day at Lambeau Field. I asked him to pick a team to be traded to if he had to be traded. "It wouldn't happen," he said. "If I got traded, I'd give it up." Why did he feel that way? "I have too many great memories here, and I'm too far along with my career," he said. "It's not worth it to me to get traded, to start all over with a new offense, a new city and new teammates. Why would I want to leave here? That would not be the way I would want to remember the end of my career." I asked Favre if he ever dreamt about playing in a big city like New York, where he eventually would play. He said he had. "I don't think it couldn't have been any better anywhere else than it was here," he said. " It probably would have been a lot worse. Everything fell into place here. It's way more than I ever dreamed of. I was embraced by this city. Even if I had that success in New York, it still wouldn't have been the same." Favre meant what he said that day, but things changed. Funny, but the words mean more now than they did back then.
Dwight Freeney. The Chargers listed the pass rusher as a reserve on their depth chart. I'm hearing that, given Freeney is 34 years old and is starting to have durability issues, his future likely will be as a substitution rusher. The trick in this will be convincing Freeney he can help his team more by playing 30 snaps than 60. Freeney has shown burst in his step at Chargers camp, and he still has value. The Chargers and Freeney have to find a role that works best for him at this stage of his career.
Maurice Jones-Drew. The Raiders might have acquired the running back at just the right time. Sources in Napa say Jones-Drew is in excellent shape and is running the ball with great burst. In Jacksonville over the last couple of years, some of that burst was missing. It may have been missing as a result of Jones-Drew's injuries, or it may have been missing as a result of Jones-Drew not being in ideal shape. The most likely answer is it was a result of both. Regardless, he is healthy and in great shape now, and the Raiders are anxious to see if he can sustain the spring in his legs at the age of 29.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. The former 49ers owner could be the first beneficiary of the new contributor category added by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The hall is changing the bylaws so that up to eight contributors can be enshrined over the next five years, and the hall can enshrine up to eight people in each of those years (up from seven). Coaches are not considered contributors. Owners, commissioners, league officials, executives are. DeBartolo has been a semifinalist four times, and appears to have significant support. Many suspect the new category will help longtime candidates Paul Tagliabue and Art Modell become Hall of Famers, but both have been met with resistance in the past. Having a new category might not change anything for them, at least not initially. Others who could benefit from the new category include Patriots owner Robert Kraft and team executives such as Gil Brandt, Bill Polian, Ron Wolf and George Young.
Montee Ball. The Broncos are not panicked over the loss of their starting running back to an appendectomy this week for a few reasons. One, backup Ronnie Hillman has had a fine camp. Two, Ball is expected back for the start of the regular season. Three, Ball has made great strides up to this point, and the coaching staff believes he won't suffer a setback as a result of not playing in the preseason. The word out of Broncos camp is Ball is "way ahead of where he was" last year.
We have heard a lot of talk about the fairness of Ray Rice's two-game suspension. We have not heard a lot of discussion about how the suspension will affect the Ravens. So three front office men were asked to share their thoughts on how the Ravens will get by without their starting halfback against the Bengals and Steelers at the start of the season.
Two of the front office men brought up the fact that if Rice is the same player he was one year ago, the Ravens won't miss him that much. "He was not the dynamic Ray Rice he had been earlier in his career," one said. Another said he did not make defenders miss as he had in the past, and pointed out Rice's effectiveness probably was diminished by a hip injury and subpar blocking.
The Ravens also became more driven by the passing game last year. The talk out of Owings Mills is that the team would like to emphasize the run more with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. "When they won the Super bowl, down the stretch they were balanced and let the run game lead the charge," one front office man said. " After Joe Flacco got the contract, Ray's numbers went down. So I'm expecting them to try to be more balanced and run the game more."
Whereas the Ravens' No. 2 back Bernard Pierce is not as elusive or dynamic as Rice, he is a solid player they can win with, in the estimation of all three scouts. He also is bigger (at 230 he is about 24 pounds heavier) and younger by three years. "We like Pierce," one said. "He's big, powerful and versatile. If he's in shape and healthy, he should be a factor." Said another, "Pierce gives good effort and can push the power some. He's a good back. He can't necessarily take a three yard run and turn it into a five as easily as Ray can."
One of the front office men pointed out the Ravens probably will need contributions from Justin Forsett as well as Pierce in the absence of Rice. Forsett came to the Ravens from Houston with Kubiak. One of the front office men said Forsett is "just another halfback.
What do you think of the Bears fining Martellus Bennett and suspending him undetermined amount of time for the "fight" fest? -- @Mybears2, from Twitter
I think it's good to see a general manager and head coach take control of their team. This wasn't the first time Bennett has been warned about controlling his emotions on the practice field. And it was clear from Bennett's comments to reporters afterwards that he did not see the gravity of the situation and felt no remorse. Perhaps this will give him a clearer understanding of what is expected and what will not be tolerated. Body slamming Kyle Fuller after the play was completely unacceptable. He disrupted the team's effort to get better that day. He risked injuring a teammate who is a valuable commodity. He showed a lack of respect for authority, as Phil Emery and Marc Trestman have made it clear that practice fighting won't fly. He was disrespectful to team leader Brandon Marshall when Marshall tried to calm him down. There may have been an element of rookie intimidation involved. It also wouldn't surprise me if there were other conformity issues with Bennett that we don't know about. He has a history of acting with disregard for team goals.
Best unsigned player?-- @ebaileymershon, from Twitter
If Santonio Holmes is healthy, I'm going with him. If he's not, it's Kyle Orton.
Who plays first Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater? -- Matt Powell, from Facebook
The thing we can't predict accurately is what will happen with Brian Hoyer and Matt Cassel. If either performs inconsistently or gets injured, Manziel and Bridgewater are going to be pushed along even if they aren't ready. But Bridgewater should be ready to play, and play effectively, before Manziel is. Bridgewater is more NFL ready and has a better chance of beating out the veteran he is competing with. He has taken his indoctrination into the NFL more seriously. He is much more likely to inspire confidence in his coaches and teammates. He has much better weapons around him and he benefits from excellent coaching.
With the news that Adrian Peterson will sit out the entire preseason, do you see this tactic being more widely used by coaches? -- @hopefulbearsfan, from Twitter
Not really. I think Peterson is pretty unique, given the position he plays (running backs take more of a beating than players at any other position), his experience level (eight-year vet) and the fact that he easily is the most valuable runner in the NFL. Most coaches believe their players need some sort of game acclimation before the regular season. That goes for veterans too. It especially holds true for defensive players who never tackle in practice. What I do think will happen is coaches will continue to play older players very sparingly in the preseason in an attempt to keep them fresh and healthy.