ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos' offensive line has seen healthier days.
Center J.D. Walton was placed on injured reserve early in the 2012 season with an ankle injury. The player to his right, guard Chris Kuper, played in just seven regular-season games due to forearm and ankle injuries, and underwent offseason surgery. Add the fact that both starting tackles -- Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin -- also underwent offseason procedures, and it becomes clear why the Broncos targeted an offensive lineman in free agency.
"That was one of the big reasons for the Louis Vasquez signing," Head Coach John Fox said Tuesday at the owners meetings. "We could've hoped that all those guys came back, but I'm not sure that would've been the smart thing to do."
Vasquez, a guard, joins last year's starters Kuper and Zane Beadles -- who is healthy this offseason -- at the position. But Fox said he doesn't expect that to rattle either of the incumbent starters.
"We should have great competition there," Fox said. "I don't think any of those guys will be afraid of the competition. I'm just very hopeful that 'Kup' comes back healthy."
Fox credited Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway for bringing in a player who has started all 54 games he has played in four NFL seasons.
"We were real excited to get Louis," he said. "He'll give us a guy that battles and is capable of starting."
'THE SKY IS THE LIMIT'
As a rookie, linebacker Von Miller tied for the most sacks by a rookie in Broncos history and took home NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
A tough act to follow for anyone -- but Miller took his game to a different level in 2012.
He became the first Bronco to earn Pro Bowl selections in each of his first two seasons after he set a franchise record with 18.5 sacks, finishing in the top five in the league in sacks, quarterback knockdowns, quarterback hurries, tackles for loss, run stuff and forced fumbles.
"He improved from year one to year two, and he had a great rookie year," Fox said. "I think the reason he improved—physically, he's the same cat—[but] mentally, he's being able to key and diagnose things quicker."
Fox pointed to Miller's first career pick-six as an example of how much better the linebacker understood coverages and how offenses tried to attack him in his second season. The head coach maintained that Miller's experiences will only help to make him even better.
"It's not fair to say, but I'm just telling you, I know the sky is the limit," he said.
POSITION BATTLE BREWING
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Elway and Fox expressed confidence that third-year linebacker Nate Irving would step up in a competition to be the team's starting middle linebacker next season.
Since then, that confidence hasn't wavered -- but the team has also added a seventh-year veteran at the position.
Stewart Bradley comes in with plenty of NFL experience, including two years as a starting middle linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I don't care what position it is, the more you do it the better you get, hopefully," Fox said. "So if everything's equal, that experience helps. But we like Nate. We're expecting big things from him, and I think he knows that."
Irving, originally drafted in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, notched the first defensive tackles of his career last season, but most of his contributions have come on special teams. He played in 15 games in his sophomore campaign, and Fox said he saw growth from the young defender.
"Time will tell," Fox said. "He's done everything, he's worked hard and I think he improved his second year over his first year. So this will be a very important year for him."
"I watched a guy on my team take two (returns) to the house and nobody even remembers it. And it's never been done before (in the postseason). Jacoby Jones, who is going on Dancing with the Stars -- that could have been Trindon Holliday."
-Head Coach John Fox, on a great performance getting lost in a loss