David Zalubowski/Associated Press
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD – Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey are giving the Denver Broncos’ restocked secondary two thumbs up.
Replacing retired safety Brian Dawkins in the starting lineup is free agent Mike Adams alongside second-year pro Quinton Carter. And instead of Andre’ Goodman playing opposite Champ Bailey at cornerback, it’ll be Tracy Porter with fellow free agent Drayton Florence helping defend the spread offenses that are all the rage in the NFL these days.
“I miss the guys that were here, but the good thing is we replaced them with some really good players,” Bailey said.
Manning likes seeing the newcomers across the line of scrimmage, too, suggesting they’re going to do as much as he will to help the Broncos’ young wide receivers led by Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker get better.
“We’ve got three great cover corners to work against,” Manning said this week as the Broncos began their first full practices of the offseason. “... I mean, if you can’t get better going against some of these top cover corners, then it’s just not meant to be.”
Bailey, who turns 34 next month, is coming off his 11th Pro Bowl, which extended his record for cornerbacks. Crashing the playoff party last season for the first time in six years and beating Pittsburgh in the first round just wasn’t enough for him.
“People think we should walk around here with a smile on our face because we made the playoffs, we won a game. We came up short again,” Bailey said back in January. “For me personally, I don’t have a lot of time here. I don’t know how much longer I’ll play. It’s one of those things, every year you miss it and you don’t win it and here we go again, we’ve got to start all over again.”
The Broncos made some enormous changes in the offseason, jettisoning Tim Tebow for Manning, the biggest free agent prize in NFL history, and bringing in former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator to replace Dennis Allen, who left after just one season to coach the Oakland Raiders.
And they added more experience to a secondary stocked with youngsters such as Carter, Raheem Moore, Chris Harris, Syd’Quan Thompson, Omar Bolden and Cassius Vaughn.
Porter has that Super Bowl ring that Bailey longs for, yet he’s the one looking up to the perennial Pro Bowler to pick up tips of the trade.
“I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can on the field,” Porter said. “Any question I think of on the field I run and ask him.”
Porter said he’s also picking Manning’s brain to see what an elite quarterback looks for when deciphering defenses.
One thing he hasn’t had the opportunity or nerve to bring up with Manning is denying the four-time MVP a second Super Bowl ring two years ago, when he picked off one of his passes and raced 74 yards for a touchdown that sealed the Saints’ win over the Indianapolis Colts.
“Not yet. Coming close. Maybe a little bit down the line, but right now I’m just trying to grasp the defense and the playbook, he’s trying to take control of that offense,” Porter said. “So, I think once we get settled in, we’ll have enough time to shoot that little joke in. But as of right now, we’re both still learning.”
After denying him a second Super Bowl title, Porter’s now trying to help Manning win another.
The first free agent the Broncos signed in the offseason was Adams, who played free safety for the Browns last season. He also lined up at cornerback at times and played extensively in the nickel and dime packages.
“He’s sharp, he knows his stuff and that’s really what you want from your safeties, to know their stuff and to come out there and kind of get you lined up right,” Bailey said. “I mean, I don’t need it for the most part, but when I do, I want to be able to lean on somebody.”
Adams is wearing No. 20, just as he did in Cleveland, in honor of Dawkins, whom he began to admire and emulate back at the University of Delaware a decade ago.
“I enjoyed watching him my whole career and hopefully I make him proud wearing that number,” Adams said.
Florence joined the Broncos’ crowded field of cornerbacks earlier this month after his release from the Buffalo Bills and immediately became the favorite to play in the slot on obvious passing downs. The 10th-year pro started 45 games in his three years in Buffalo.
Like several other newcomers, Florence said he was drawn to Denver for a shot at the Super Bowl.
“With Peyton Manning being here and it being my 10th year in the league I’m trying to win a Super Bowl ring,” Florence said.
And a starting job.
“Coach (John) Fox told me that if I come here everyone is going to be competing; nobody in the secondary has a job except for Champ Bailey, which is obvious, and everyone else is out there competing and that is what we’re going to do,” Florence said. “All the good teams have competition at every position and that is how you build a successful team.”