NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT


When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning got into the face of Texans safety D.J. Swearinger after throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass Saturday, he had ample cause. Swearinger had been talking trash throughout the week of practices between the teams, which culminated in a shoulder-to-helmet hit on Wes Welker, which left the veteran slot receiver concussed.

As Welker walked back to the locker room, Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders for the touchdown, and instead of celebrating, ran to Swearinger and jawed what the safety described as "choice words."

Manning drew a taunting penalty, which earned him plaudits from teammates on the sideline and in the locker room after the 18-17 loss.

"I'm obviously concerned about Wes and never like seeing him come out of the game with a potential blow to the head," Manning said. "He had one of those last year that kept him out a while. Fifteen yards with five seconds left in the half-- it can't hurt you that much, right?"

Manning drew a taunting penalty, which earned him plaudits from teammates on the sideline and in the locker room. But the lingering echo of his words pales next to the potential impact of Welker's concussion.

It was the wide receiver's third concussion in the last 10 months. He missed three games last December after suffering his second concussion in a month, but returned for the playoffs.

"The biggest thing on him is, of course, player safety," said Broncos coach John Fox.

The Broncos have the depth to withstand the loss of Welker. Andre Caldwell filled in for Welker last December after the second concussion, and was re-signed in March; he can handle any of the three receiving positions in the Broncos' base offense. Tight end Jacob Tamme can spell Welker in the slot; and although he lacks Welker's quickness, he runs precise routes and can make catches in traffic. Sanders worked from the slot with the Steelers, and if he moves inside, emerging rookie Cody Latimer could see more snaps on the outside.

But none of them are Welker, who remains arguably the best slot receiver in the game, and now faces uncertainty as he prepares to go through the post-concussion protocol once again.

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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES


--Kickers should be seen and not heard, goes the old-school belief in football circles. Monday morning, that had to change for Matt Prater. With a four-game suspension looming for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, he had to speak to his teammates, apologize, and own up to his mistake.

A few hours later, Prater offered similar sentiments in a public apology.

"I am really sorry. I have made mistakes and I hope to gain everyone's trust back," he said. "I take full responsibility for what's happened and I'm accountable for it. It's no one's fault but my own and I am dealing with it."

But perhaps his speech to the team had an impact. When he spoke to the media, coach John Fox, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, punter Britton Colquitt and long snapper Aaron Brewer were a few feet away, offering support.

The Pro Bowl kicker has been in the league's substance-abuse program since an August 2011 DUI arrest. Any positive test for alcohol would result in a suspension -- and yet he drank anyway, knowing what could transpire.

"I'm definitely going to make some changes in my life. Not drink at all or risk doing anything stupid like that. Keep myself out of certain situations like not go to places where people are drinking," Prater said.

But for now, the Broncos will be without a placekicker who missed just one field-goal attempt last year.