Broncos practice report: A variety pack

No Von Miller. No Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos know their two top pass-rushers from a year ago, from 2011 too for that matter, won't be in the lineup Thursday night.

Dumervil will be across the field, in a Ravens uniform, having departed Denver after a messy fax machine fiasco that caused the Broncos to release him to avoid paying him a pile of guaranteed money ($12 million). For his part Miller will be serving the first of a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

That's a combined 29.5 sacks from last season. They face a quarterback -- Joe Flacco -- the Broncos sacked just once in last January's playoff loss even with both Miller and Dumervil in the lineup.

"There were times when we'd say 'OK, Von will get there'," said Broncos defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. "Now, all of us have to get there."

And to do that the Broncos will have use a little more variety in how they go about things. Last season they made the transition from run downs to passing downs with three constants in the rush packages when it was time to get after the quarterback -- Dumervil, Miller and Wolfe.

Dumervil played 922 snaps last season, Miller 961 and Wolfe came in at 903.

Take that kind of playing time out of the mix and the Broncos will use people more situationally. Wolfe will still be a constant, but Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers and Malik Jackson will be used in a variety of ways up front. To make it all work Phillips has to be what he was with his 9.5 sacks last season and perhaps even a little more. Ayers, who has just 6.5 career sacks, has to have the breakout season he's been waiting to have.

The Broncos figure to get linebacker Wesley Woodyard, five sacks in 2012, into the mix as well given Woodyard, too, is an every-down stalwart in the defense.

"We have to win on first and second down so we can get after it on third down," Wolfe said. " … Just like every game."

  • The Broncos voted for five team captains -- Peyton Manning and Ryan Clady on offense, Woodyard and Champ Bailey on defense to go with David Bruton on special teams. League rules allow six captains per game and the Broncos coaches vote for the sixth on a game-by-game basis. But of the names Clady's selection is notable. It is the first time in Clady's six seasons with the team he has been voted as a captain by his teammates, a sign of his growing statue in the locker room. "It's an honor for sure," Clady said. " … I plan on doing what I've been doing since I got in the league, just leading by example on the field. Not big on vocal leadership, but I'll do my best." Clady, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, said he's ready to go physically for Thursday's opener. Clady has practiced through the week. "I feel like I'm in really good shape," Clady said. " … I'm just around 100 percent, I wouldn't say 100, but good enough to play ball."

  • Last season the Broncos were the best second-half team in the league, which was a good thing because they were often over-coming sluggish starts, none filled with more stumbles than a trip to San Diego when they trailed 24-0 at halftime before going on to a 35-24 victory. But by season's end no team in the league sported a bigger second-half point differential with their opponents than the Broncos -- a plus-161 points (299 second-half points scored, 138 allowed). The plus-161 was the third-highest total in the post-merger era. But in an effort to build the mindset of a quicker start, Broncos coach John Fox adjusted practice throughout training camp and the preseason and had the Broncos go right to a high-speed team, 11-on-11, practice period right after the stretch instead of individual drills. "That's one of the things we tried to do during training camp was work on coming out here and having better tempo coming out of the gates instead of waiting until that second play of the second period of practice," said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. " … We had no choice but to try to start fast."

  • The Broncos filled out the last spot on their practice squad Monday with linebacker Brandon Marshall. Marshall was a fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in the 2012 draft and played in five games for the team last season.

  • Bailey, who has not practiced since injuring his left foot on Aug. 17 in the preseason loss in Seattle, said Monday he's "very close" to being ready to play. The Broncos will balance having Bailey for the long haul with his desire to play in the opener when they make the call. He has not taken part in a team workout since the injury.

  • Woodyard on Dumervil being gone; "He was like a big brother to me, but just like little brothers get a chance to face their big brothers, they're ready to fight, put up a fight and get a victory."