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Horse Tracks: Broncos take to the indoors to prepare for Rams

It's going to be cold just about everywhere on Sunday, except inside the Edward Jones Dome, where Broncos plan to heat things up with their A-game against an under-appreciated Rams team.

Good snowy morning, Broncos Country!

Oh the weather outside is frightful,

But the Broncos' indoor field's delightful.

And since we've got St. Louis to go,

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Yes, bring it on. Since the Broncos will be indoors, who cares what's happening outside? (besides Thunder, of course, who's probably ecstatic there is no home game this weekend...brrr).

Although practicing in the elements can be a good thing for figuring out those cold-weather games, being toasty-warm inside a fabulous indoor facility is way mo' better.

Just ask those guys from Texas.

"I know I enjoyed it because it's definitely cold outside," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said on Wednesday.

DeMarcus Ware, who said he only played a couple of cold-weather games while with the Cowboys, hinted that the new indoor facility helped attract him to Denver during his free agency last winter.

"When I first got here I was like, ‘it's going to be cold' and they were like, ‘hey DeMarcus, you see that right there? You don't have to worry about going out in the cold.' So I was like, ‘OK, perfect.'"

And yesterday Ware especially liked not having frozen hands.

"When your fingers get frozen with gloves on before you get over [to the indoor facility], I think it was worth the wait and it's helping us out a lot," Ware said, adding that it helps keep practice focused on the game rather than the weather. "Especially when you're doing little things with the play calling, you don't have to worry about it being cold and the environment that were going into is indoors, so it's perfect."

I don't mind slogging through the weather because it gets you ready for what you have to play.   -Peyton Manning on cold weather.

Peyton Manning, who has often gotten a bad rap for not being able to play in cold-weather games, appreciated the new facility but pointed out the necessity of practicing outside too.

"I don't mind slogging through the weather because it gets you ready for what you have to play," Manning said, but noted he definitely appreciated the new indoor facility compared to its predecessor. "They did a heck of a job, and it really came out well."

Aside from the obvious weather protection benefit, the new indoor facility is more like what the Broncos will experience Sunday when they play the St. Louis Rams in their Edward Jones Dome.

"Playing in a dome, it's a lot different, especially the lighting for a wide receiver tracking the football and things of that sort," said Sanders. "So it was definitely a positive that we got an opportunity to practice in it."

Despite the Rams' 3-6 record, the Broncos understand that once again this is not a team to be taken lightly - especially its defense.

"Their front has been active all season long in my opinion," said Manning, highlighting "impact players" such as Aaron Donald and E.J. Gaines. "They've got really good players. You've got to be able to try to control those guys somehow, and it falls on everybody. It falls on the run game. It falls on receivers getting open on time. It falls on me making quick decisions because it's an active bunch."

Not controlling those guys could turn out badly for the Broncos offense, and even though the Rams offense has been underwhelming so far, Marvin Austin, Jr., knows it can't be overlooked either.

"A team like this is very dangerous because if you go in there and you don't respect them, they can come out and they can beat you, hit you in your mouth," he said. "They've got some good players on the outside, and if we don't go out there and take care of what we have to take care of in practice, they can gash you and you can have a real sad day on Sunday."

And we do not want that.

One of the points of emphasis for the offense this week has been avoiding such a slow start in the game.

"That was definitely an emphasis that we put on [practice]," said Sanders. "We started really slow versus Oakland. Although we did bounce back and we won, we want to start fast and that's definitely an emphasis this week."

Which is why the Broncos offense is paying a lot of attention to the Rams' D.

"You can't take these guys lightly," Sanders added, noting the Rams beat the Seahawks and the Niners while playing tough against the Cardinals. "This is a good football team we're facing with a good defensive line. They're playing these teams down to the wire. So we definitely have got to bring our A-Game."

Even the Broncos' defense believes it needs to respect the guys on the other side of the line. Although the Rams offense has not fared too well - to the point of Coach Jeff Fisher benching starting quarterback Austin Davis in favor of Shaun Hill this weekend - the Rams have some playmakers.

No game is an easy day in this league. You're going to get your best fight out of every team. Usually the Rams jump on other teams really fast. We can't let that happen.   -DeMarcus Ware, defensive end.

"No game is an easy day in this league. You're going to get your best fight out of every team," said Ware while giving props to rookie offensive tackle Greg Robinson. "He plays with a lot of tenacity. He's a really good run blocker. They block the rush really well. You have to be on point every time. Usually the teams [the Rams] play at their house, they usually jump on them really fast. We can't let that happen."

Definitely not. But one advantage to starting slow in the Raiders game is that the Broncos learned they can overcome a slow start, even if it was jus the Raiders.

"You have to be careful saying that we have to start fast because, if you don't, I think you can still win the football game," Manning said. "But it is a point of emphasis. Our defense did a good job of keeping their offense in check last week until we got on track. You certainly want to come out hitting on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, especially when you're on the road. However, if it doesn't happen, we like to think we can handle and make the necessary adjustments like we did last week."

Being able to start fast means Manning and his receivers need to be on, and the running game needs to be effective. Both of these require solid offensive line play.

But we all know what kind of a challenge that poses. After a major reshuffle in the O-line last week with decent results against the Raiders - and even a visit from much-maligned lineman Richie Icognito, how this new line holds up against the Rams' defense is a completely different story than the Raiders.

Can the O-Line stand up to the Rams' pass rush?

"I hope so," said Manning.

Oh dear. That doesn't exactly exude confidence.

Yet Manning doesn't sound overly concerned either.

Those guys have a good challenge, there's no question about it. But they are up to the challenge and they'll work hard this week.   -Peyton Manning on the Offensive Line

"Those guys have a good challenge, there's no question about it," he said. "But those guys are up to the challenge, and they'll work hard this week getting prepared for these guys."

Prepare they must, which probably explains why the Broncos worked out Richie Incognito on Tuesday.

Whether the possible addition of Icognito ever comes to fruition is on hold for the moment since the Broncos did not sign him.

And while the MHR members have very strong feelings one way or the other about the intelligence of bringing in a guy who has been a known troublemaker, the Broncos players - specifically Terrance "I'll shoot you straight" Knighton - have this figured out, and we should just leave it to them.

"If we did sign him, he would have to adjust to our locker room. We have a way that we do things here, and that starts at the top with Mr. Elway," Knighton said. "We do everything so that we can win a championship. His past or anything he's been through doesn't mean anything in this locker room. If he's here to help us win, that's all we care about. If he does sign, he'll come in the locker room and see how we do things here and he'll have to adjust."

If [Incognito's] here to help us win, that's all we care about. If he does sign, he'll come into the locker room and see how we do things here and he'll have to adjust.   -Terrance Knighton on the possible signing of Richie Incognito.

Whether Incognito comes back to Denver or not, offensive coordinator Adam Gase admits that figuring out the front five is crucial and needs to get figured out soon.

"This group will be tough," Gase said of the Rams, specifically calling Donald "impressive" and "nothing but disruptive" in games. "We can't let them just go free up the field and hit our backs in the backfield before we even touch them. That is the biggest problem. We'll try to make sure we prevent that as much as possible. Is it going to happen? Probably. It's never easy when you play a front this good but we're going to try."

Well, they do say that the first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem.

"I'm concerned as far as our group jelling together and figuring who are the right five guys to have out there," Gase said. "We just need to figure out who they are and we have a few games left here to figure that out. We just need to make some headway as fast as possible."

Though the Broncos haven't faced the Rams much and don't have a ton of experience with this NFC team, they do know the coach, who was a longtime AFC thorn while coaching the Tennessee Titans.

"Every time I've played against Coach Fisher's teams, he's always had his bunch ready to play," Manning said. "They're well-coached. He's always had active guys up front, speed at linebacker and guys in the back end that can cover."

I guess that means we'll get a better sense of how good our run game actually is. While Ronnie Hillman sits out a few weeks for injury, Montee Ball is back at practice and possibly in the lineup on Sunday. Though after C.J. Anderson's hot feet last weekend, it would seem he'd be the likely starter candidate on Sunday.

"Right now C.J. had the best game last week," Gase said. "We'll see what he brings and then we'll get the other guys going and we'll see what happens there."

Ball, who has dropped weight since sitting out a few weeks for a groin injury and previously out for an appendectomy, says he feels strong and knows Anderson has earned the right for the start Sunday.

But that doesn't mean he's not ready to compete for his starting spot again.

All of which bodes well for some hungry running backs.

"There is a lot of competition in the running back room and that's good," Ball agreed. "It keeps the quarterback comfortable. He doesn't worry about who's in because we all know what we're doing back there. It's great, we all work hard."

We know we've got a good group, and they are working on the fundamentals it takes to be good - stuffing blocks, swarming the ball and tackling.   -Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator

The Broncos defense, which has been working on a performance consistency of its own this week, will continue the pressure on the QB while aiming to stuff the run - two things it has been consistently good at doing so far this season.

But improvement is still needed in the secondary, particularly with communication, said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

"We know we've got a good group, and they are working on the fundamentals that it takes to be good: stuffing blocks and shedding blocks and swarming the ball and tackling," Del Rio said.

Del Rio noted that communication has been an emphasis this week, especially with backups in for Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan, both on IR currently.

"We've had a couple different ‘backers in there so we've worked through a transition there. We've worked hard to bring them up to speed," Del Rio said. "But it comes down to a commitment. They're willing to do some of the dirty work that is required to be good. Some of those things fundamentally, pad level, and being able to shed blocks and block protect and show up for each other, be accountable for each other, those are some of the key elements for us."

The Rams announced that they will go with Shaun Hill as the starting QB, but Knighton noted it makes no difference to him and the Broncos defense who is in there.

"A quarterback is a quarterback to me and an offensive lineman is an offensive lineman to me," said Pot Roast. "We'll still go out there with the same game. He's a veteran quarterback; he's played at a high level in this league, so we'll be prepared."

And that includes being ready for travel.

"I feel like a true team's character is tested on the road. It's easy to play at home when you get to sleep in your own bed and you get to see your family and you're used to the city and the schedule, but when you travel you're faced with different things," Knighton said. "The hotel bed might not be comfortable, the food might not be good, but we try to eliminate those distractions and just focus on the task at hand and that is leaving with a ‘W.'"

Good thinking.

But just in case, here's to good, warm beds in St. Louis.

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