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Broncos press on without Wes Welker

Posted Sep 3, 2014

Wes Welker addressed the team before leaving to serve his four-game suspension. "Wes just wanted us all to know how important this team is to him," Julius Thomas said.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The timing of wide receiver Wes Welker's four-game PED suspension didn't leave much time for a lingering goodbye Wednesday morning.

"He was allowed to be in the building, not for very long," said Head Coach John Fox.

But the veteran slot receiver was at Dove Valley long enough to deliver what running back Montee Ball described as a "great talk" to his teammates before leaving to serve his suspension, the terms of which forbid him from being at team headquarters.

“Wes just wanted us all to know how important this team is to him, how much we mean to him and what he's going to do when he gets back," said tight end Julius Thomas. "There's nothing he can do to change where he's at right now."

Added safety Rahim Moore: "He was a little disappointed."

No one in the Broncos locker room could understand Welker's emotions better than linebacker Von Miller, who ran afoul of the league's substance-abuse policy last year and was suspended for the first six games of the regular season.

"I could feel for him. I wouldn't want anybody to go through what he's going through," said Miller. "It's really tough. I'm here for him if he wants to talk about anything, but everybody handles stuff like that differently."

But soon after Welker spoke, the team was back to work. It coped with suspensions to linebacker D.J. Williams for nine games in 2012 and linebacker Von Miller for six games last year. The Broncos still managed to get the No. 1 seed in the postseason each time.

"Losing Wes is a self-inflicted wound; it's different than an injury," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "I still put it in the 'adversity' category and so I think the way you deal with that is by closing the ranks, coming together even tighter (and) feeding off one another."

Added Thomas: "We know that when he comes back he's going to be a man on a mission and we're looking forward to embracing him when that day comes.”

But in the interim, the Broncos' mission remains the same: to win.

Replacing Welker is not just about the passing game -- although the offense's third-down success through the air was affected by his absence last December after his second concussion in a month. Before Welker suffered his second concussion, the offense converted a league-best 48.2 percent of its third-down attempts. In the three and a half games after Welker was re-injured, that percentage dropped to 39.0.

"I'd be lying to say this would be an easy transition," said Manning. "And I think sometimes when you have some adversity, it’s a challenge and sometimes your top players can really shine for you, can really step up and show you why they are top players, and that's what I'm expecting out of certain guys."

But on every other down and at many other moments, the Broncos will have to replace Welker's intensity and leadership, as well.

"Not only is he an elite receiver, but he's a leader, he's a tempo-setter. He gets us going," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "He's hyped on game days -- unlike (Demaryius Thomas), who's a quiet guy. Wes, he gets us crunk.

"He's a lot more to the team than just a wide receiver. Like Peyton said, like I said, it's complementary football. We all have to pick up for Wes -- offense, defense, special teams, he's involved in special teams, too. Everybody just has to do a little bit more."

That could mean Knighton, who was selected as one of the team captains Monday, has a more vocal role.

"It just depends how I'm feeling. Some days it's me, some days it's (Derek) Wolfe, some days it'll be Sly (Sylvester Williams). I'm pretty sure Marv (Marvin Austin) will be one of those guys this year," said Knighton. "We've got a good group, and it's not just on D.T. or Peyton or Emmanuel (Sanders), it's on everybody. As long as the whole team does a little bit more, we'll be fine."

And there's a finite end to Welker's absence. He'll be back after four games. He should be healthy; after suffering a concussion Aug. 23 -- his third in 10 months -- he was only cleared to practice, and was not yet cleared through the NFL's post-concussion protocol for game action.

"Sometimes these things are blessings in disguise," Fox said. "I'm sure this extra four weeks will give him plenty of time to heal."

"He's not away for the whole season. It's four games," added Moore. "It's going to be a tough four games without him, but we've got to step it up, make plays.

"When he comes back, we're going to expect the same Wes Welker -- 'even better,' he said."