Broncos open camp with chance 'to be better' than last season's champs

"I look at it and say that we feel good about where we are," Broncos executive John Elway said Wednesday ahead of training camp. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – During a six-month roller-coaster that saw Denver Broncos raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy, handle the retirement of a football icon, say goodbye to players in free agency, navigate sometimes-contentious contract negotiations with their marquee player and face a shooting incident, the team has become an island of optimism in a sea of doubts about their ability to defend the Super Bowl title.

At least that’s what it seems like to the Broncos as they ramp up to their first training camp practice Thursday morning.

“People always looking for negative stuff to bring you down, negative stuff to rain on your parade,’’ said linebacker Brandon Marshall. “... We won the Bowl, we won it, nobody can take it away from us. ... And now we’ll go back to work.’’

As the Broncos power through drills Thursday they will open the new football year. And a team with five consecutive division titles and two Super Bowl trips in the last three seasons has been met, both locally and nationally, with a barrage of questions about the offseason.

Questions about Peyton Manning’s retirement and Brock Osweiler’s departure and how they left a still-unfilled opening at quarterback. Questions about the loss to free agency of defensive starters Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan.

Questions about Aqib Talib’s gunshot wounds, about Von Miller’s contract saga that concluded with a historically rich deal for the linebacker and ended what seemed to be one of the more extended Super Bowl hangovers in recent memory.

But on Wednesday, executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway said the team has emerged with an opportunity to be even better than last year’s champions.

“What we try to do is look at if we’re a better football team than we were last year,’’ Elway said. “I know that any time you have the year that we had last year, winning the Super Bowl, you look at it and say it’s hard to get better. I think we feel good about where we are offensively. I feel like we have a chance to be better on the offensive side. Obviously we lost a couple players that were big contributors on the defensive side, but I believe we have the people that can take those spots.

“I look at it and say that we feel good about where we are. I feel better about where we are on the offensive side and have a chance to be better.’’

Heady words, to be sure. But that has been the message the Broncos' players and team officials have projected throughout the offseason.

They’ve heard about the team’s expected slide. The Broncos don’t see it that way, and the coming season will show whether such confidence has been misplaced.

“Most of our talks throughout the course of this season have been about what’s ahead for this organization, this football team,’’ coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday. “We’re focused on chasing another [Super Bowl].’’

Much of their optimism centers around the belief they can take an offense that, with an ailing Manning and a struggling offensive line, was 16th in the league last season and 19th in scoring, and make it better.

The Broncos spent plenty of their free-agency capital in the offensive line, including signing tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, and they believe their run game will be far better and that this will take the heat off whichever quarterback wins the starting job.

Couple that with 10 starters back on defense, if DeMarcus Ware (back) and Talib (leg) are healthy enough to be in the lineup for the season opener, and the Broncos see a recipe for something much greater than they’ve been projected to achieve.

“Our expectations are still the same,’’ Elway said. “Since I’ve taken this job back in 2011, our job is to try and be competitive and win championships year in and year out. ... I believe we have a chance to be better.’’