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NFL 2014: Broncos overhaul defence, tweak offence as they map out return trip to Super Bowl

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Sacred cows were scarce when Broncos general manager John Elway dug out from the wreckage of that Super Bowl blistering by the Seahawks.

Cornerback Champ Bailey, a perennial Pro Bowler and potential Hall of Famer, was sent packing.

So were Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Adams and Shaun Phillips, three other defensive starters who helped keep the Broncos afloat during an injury epidemic that sidelined Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. at the Super Bowl.

Denver's record-breaking offence wasn't spared, either.

After throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in NFL history, Peyton Manning had to say goodbye to wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno, who combined for 3,154 yards from scrimmage and 25 touchdowns in the lead-up to the Super Bowl.

Replacing Decker are coveted free agent Emmanuel Sanders and prized rookie Cody Latimer, both of whom have spent plenty of one-on-one time with Manning this off-season.

Those post-practice sessions not only helped get the new guys up to speed in Adam Gase's breakneck offence, but they kept Manning sharp entering his 17th NFL season with nary a thought of retirement.

"Sometimes it's the monotonous routine, the boredom, that pushes guys out, not the physical part of it," Manning said. "And I have been stimulated the past two years working with Adam and working with different teammates, so it does sort of keep the bounce in you, I think."

Atop Elway's to-do list when he touched down back in Denver following that 43-8 loss to Seattle was an edgier defence. Yes, like the one that had just throttled the highest-scoring team in NFL history.

Elway also sought a beefier offensive line to give Manning better protection and the Broncos' ground game more muscle.

He accomplished both goals in a stellar off-season that puts Denver in position to make another Super Bowl run.

Here are some things to keep in mind as the Broncos kick off training camp this week in hopes of getting back to the big game and hauling home the Lombardi Trophy, not just a bunch of records and regrets:

REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVE: Elway signed pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in anther free agency mother lode that gave him thumpers at all three levels on defence.

That theme continued in the draft when Ohio State's bruising cornerback, Bradley Roby, ranked 14th on the Broncos' board, slid to them at No. 31.

STARS RETURN: Denver defensive co-ordinator Jack Del Rio was all smiles this off-season as one by one his injured starters returned to practice. Miller and Harris Jr. are coming off ACL surgeries. Wolfe is back from a mysterious ailment that led to seizures and weight loss. Moore is back at full speed after nearly losing his lower left leg to a rare medical condition.

On top of that, coach John Fox, who had open-heart surgery in November, signed an extension.

SHUFFLED O-LINE: Standout left tackle Ryan Clady's return from a foot injury that cost him almost all of 2013 allows the Broncos to move Chris Clark to right tackle and slide Orlando Franklin inside to Zane Beadles' old spot at left guard.

With All-Pro Louis Vasquez at right guard and Manny Ramirez at centre, Denver's interior boasts nearly 1,000 pounds. That should help provide a more balanced offence while keeping Manning from the kind of harassment that plagued him at the Super Bowl.

BALL'S BACKUPS: The Broncos are so comfortable with second-year pro Montee Ball that they let Moreno leave after a season in which he gained 1,586 yards from scrimmage and another 195 in the playoffs.

The competition for carries behind Ball is one of the most intriguing battles. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will be pushed by undrafted free agents Brennan Clay, Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson.

NEW RETURNER: Elway also didn't bother to bring back kick returner Trindon Holliday, who faded down the stretch and was a nonfactor in the playoffs.

Primed to take his spot is Isaiah Burse, a speedy slot receiver from Fresno State who patterned his game after Wes Welker's — and even followed his idol's path to the NFL when he went undrafted. Burse aims to extend Denver's streak to 11 seasons with an undrafted free agent making the 53-man roster.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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