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Super Bowl champs return to work minus Miller, Ware

Denver Broncos defensive back Shiloh Keo (33) celebrates with Corey Nelson following the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England. Keo has resigned with the Broncos. (Joe Mahoney / Associated Press)
Denver Broncos defensive back Shiloh Keo (33) celebrates with Corey Nelson following the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England. Keo has resigned with the Broncos. (Joe Mahoney / Associated Press)

The Super Bowl champions reconvened Monday minus some notable star power.

Von Miller is in California doing the jive with Lindsay Arnold on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is in Alabama, where Gov. Robert Bentley will proclaim a day in his honor Tuesday.

Also absent when the Denver Broncos gathered for the start of their offseason program were quarterbacks Peyton Manning, who retired, and Brock Osweiler, who bolted to Houston in free agency.

“At the team meeting, I was just looking at Peyton’s spot and he’s not there. It’s different,” cornerback Aqib Talib said, noting that nobody was “bold enough” to sit in No. 18’s place quite yet.

The departures of Manning and Osweiler leave the Broncos with journeyman Mark Sanchez, unproven Trevor Siemian and a whole lot of questions at quarterback.

Sanchez held a passing camp in California recently, and receiver Emmanuel Sanders came away thoroughly impressed.

“I can tell he wants to be a leader on this team,” Sanders said. “He wants to be the quarterback and he wants to be `The guy.’”

Denver tried to add San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The quarterback, who has met twice with Broncos officials but who is not interested in the massive pay cut Denver wants him to take, has been part of the 49ers’ offseason program since it began April 4. For the last two weeks, those sessions have been restricted to strength and conditioning work. Phase II, which allows on-field work, including quarterbacks throwing to receivers, began Monday.

The 49ers started their program two weeks earlier than most teams, including the Broncos, because they have a new coaching staff.

Kaepernick still is rehabilitating from three surgeries and is not expected to be fully cleared until next month.

The Broncos bolstered their defensive backfield by signing free agent safeties Shiloh Keo and Brandian Ross to one-year contracts.

Keo, a former Idaho Vandal, played in four regular-season games and two playoff games for the Broncos last season, helping solidify a secondary that was riddled by injuries down the stretch. His recovery on an onside kick sealed Denver’s win over New England in the AFC championship.

Like Keo, Ross has spent four years in the NFL. He’s started two dozen games with Oakland (2012-14), Miami (2014) and San Diego (2015) after spending a year on Green bay’s practice squad.

Talib said several defensive players will share the leadership void left by Manning’s retirement.

That includes Ware, who restructured his contract this offseason, and is expected back in Denver on Wednesday.

There’s no telling when Miller will return to the Broncos, who placed their exclusive franchise tag on the Super Bowl 50 MVP.

Miller hasn’t signed his $14.129 million tag while his agent, Joby Branion, seeks a contract that would make his client the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.

That distinction now belongs to Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whose six-year, $114.375 million contract includes nearly $60 million in guaranteed money and is worth $19.062 million annually.

The sides have until June 15 to work out a long-term deal or Miller would have to play the 2016 season on the franchise tag.

Norman will skip start of Panthers’ voluntary offseason program

Panthers cornerback Josh Norman has been seemingly everywhere this offseason – at the “Batman v Superman” premiere, on the sets of several national sports networks and in south Florida for some fun and sun.

But one place Norman won’t be is at Bank of America Stadium next week for the start of the team’s offseason workouts.

Norman, who has yet to sign his franchise tag worth $13.95 million for this season, plans to skip the Panthers’ offseason program unless there is significant progress made on a long-term contract, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

It’s long been expected that Norman would be a no-show for the voluntary workouts, which begin April 25.

He wants to be paid among the league’s top corners (in the $14 million to $16 million range). But the two sides have talked recently, but remain far apart on an agreement, the source said.

Luck returns to Colts’ complex feeling healthy, ready to go

Andrew Luck finally feels healthy again.

The three-time Pro Bowler who missed nine games last season with an assortment of injuries returned to a very different locker room for the start of the Colts’ offseason workout program. He immediately proclaimed himself ready to play.

“I still have some work to do certainly,” Luck said in his first substantial public comments since early January. “That being said, you’re always working to get better, you’re always working to feel better, you’re always working to be in better shape and be more physically fit.”

The team’s biggest offseason priority is making sure Luck is fully recovered from a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle that kept him out of the final seven games last season, a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss the first two games of his career and an ankle injury.

The injuries led to the worst season of Luck’s pro career – just 15 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. The Colts wound up 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in the Luck era after opening the season as a trendy Super Bowl pick.

Luck said his kidney was fine and his shoulder feels “very good.”

The fact that Luck still is not 100 percent demonstrates just how serious last season’s injuries were.

Dalton’s thumb fully healed, he’s throwing every pass

Andy Dalton’s first pass with his healed thumb plopped right to the couch. And it felt really good.

The Bengals quarterback had to wait until long after the Super Bowl to start throwing again. He broke his right thumb during a loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 and sat out the rest of the season, including a first-round playoff loss to the Steelers.

He was cleared to fully work out in March and is back to throwing every pass without a problem, one of the most encouraging signs for the Bengals as they start another offseason of moving beyond their years of playoff angst.

“I’ve never had that much time off from throwing, so I was just getting back into it again and making sure mechanically everything was sound,” Dalton said Monday. “It felt good. It feels like the ball is coming out of my hand well right now, so I’m getting back to where I was.”

He was having the best season of his career – his long-awaited breakthrough year – when he broke his thumb while making a tackle during an interception return. AJ McCarron led the Bengals to a pair of wins in the last three regular-season games and had the Bengals ahead in the closing minutes of the playoff loss before the defense melted down with penalties, allowing Pittsburgh to pull out an 18-16 win.

Dalton had hoped to return at some point during the playoffs. A fifth straight loss in the opening round made it a moot point. He gave the thumb time to fully heal and started lobbing footballs at the furniture as he waited for clearance to resume throwing all-out in March.

“I would randomly just pick up a football and just throw it at my couch or something,” Dalton said. “As soon as I was officially cleared, I was throwing.”

After making a good first impression as an NFL starter, McCarron moves back into the No. 2 spot, where he’ll get very little time to practice with the first team offense.

“It’s pretty much the same because when you’re the backup, you’re still preparing,” McCarron said Monday. “It’s different because you don’t get any (practice snaps) at all. That’s the way we do it here, and certain teams do it certain ways. So that’s the hardest part, but you’re still watching film and preparing the same way.”

Dalton finished with a passer rating of 106.3, breaking Carson Palmer’s club record. He finished second in the NFL behind Seattle’s Russell Wilson (110.1). He completed a career-best 66.1 percent of his passes for 25 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, a career low. That seventh interception led to the broken thumb.

Quick kicks

When the Packers went back to work, they saw more of wide receiver Jordy Nelson and less of running back Eddie Lacy. Nelson is on the comeback trail following last year’s season-ending right knee injury and Lacy looks slimmer after being called out by coach Mike McCarthy for being overweight last year. … Free agent running back Trent Richardson, who has had an unofficial agreement with the Ravens since last month, officially signed his contract in. … Run stopper Chris Jones, a defensive tackle for the Patriots, signed with the Dolphins. … The Giants have re-signed Pro Bowl placekicker Josh Brown. … The Chiefs’ appeal of anti-tampering violations was denied by commissioner Roger Goodell. Kansas City will forfeit its third-round pick in next week’s draft and its sixth-round pick next year, though its $250,000 fine was reduced to $200,000 and coach Andy Reid’s fine was reduced from $75,000 to $60,000. The Chiefs were found to have had direct communication with then-free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had been drafted by Reid in Philadelphia, during the league’s negotiating period. That communication is considered a violation of the NFL’s tampering rules. … Bills coach Rex Ryan introduced Donald Trump at the Republican presidential candidate’s rally at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center but stopped short of endorsing him.


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