ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – **As the Broncos go through individual and team drills during practice, it's clear that there are leaders all over the field. They inspire, push and lift their teammates up so they improve individually, and so that they improve as a team.
On Monday, five of those leaders were recognized by their teammates as they were voted team captains for the 2014 season.
Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas were named offense team captains, while DeMarcus Ware and Terrance Knighton will represent the defense. David Bruton Jr., for the second consecutive year, will be the special teams captain.
The team will leave one space open each game for a captain to be named each week.
"It's humbling and it feels a lot better just knowing that you have the respect of your peers, the coaches, and you're looked up to," Knighton said. "This only being my second year here, just being thrown in the fire last year and just adjusting to things, the team, how things work, coming from a different organization—I had to adjust quickly but I never backed down from accepting the leadership role."
This is the first time Knighton and Thomas have been named NFL team captains.
Knighton said being a leader is "simply being yourself every day." He said he is never afraid to speak his mind and doesn't shy away from potential awkward conversations with teammates if it's to better the team. Being an "uplifting" motivator for his teammates is key part of his leadership style.
He acknowledged on Monday that having that "C" on his jersey is a responsibility.
"When things are uncomfortable and things are wanted to be said, you man up and say those things and when the team needs a lift you are the guy, the spark plug," Knighton said. "Everybody feeds off you and once you know you have that 'C' on your jersey, you're almost obligated to do things right and you want to do things right because guys are going to follow. And that is not a problem for me.
"Like I said, I am the same guy every day and guys know what they're going to get from me every day so it's easy for me."
While the defense struggled with injuries last year, including one to former starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, Knighton stepped up and took on a leadership role. He didn't expect to be named defensive captain and explained that there were many other members of the defense who are just as deserving as him.
The last time Knighton was named captain of a team was when he was a senior at Temple University. But, he said being a captain at the professional level is very different from college.
"College was a little different because if you were the most talented guy and you got seniority, you are going to get that but in the NFL it's more of a responsibility, means a little bit more and you represent—you represent the Broncos, you are one of the faces of the team and you just have to hold yourself to a higher standard whether it's in the weight room, the film room, in public, addressing the media, things like that," he said.
Thomas echoed similar sentiments to Knighton-- saying that so many of the members of the offense that line up with him are also deserving of the honor and that he also didn't expect to be voted as captain.
While Knighton is ready and willing to speak his mind at any time, Thomas describes himself as a "lead by example" player. He feels that this honor creates a new role for him- a role that he embraces.
Former Bronco Champ Bailey was the team captain for seven seasons and Thomas said his leadership style is similar to his: quiet, but doing everything possible to prepare his teammates for game day. But, he has a fellow captain who he is working to emulate.
"To tell you the truth, I kind of want to be like Peyton," Thomas said. "I feel like it's going to be hard for me to say stuff, because he's always saying, 'This is what we need to do to make it better,' or whatever. But I always watched Peyton since he's been here."
"Before Peyton, I watched a couple other guys. I used to watch [QB] Kyle Orton when I first got here because he was my first quarterback. That was about it. You know, [S] Brian Dawkins, [CB] Champ Bailey. Champ was quiet, but I felt like he was a leader. Everybody paid attention to him."
While the newly named team captains were surprised to receive the votes of their teammates, neither are taking the responsibility of wearing the "C" on their jerseys lightly.