John Elway was hired to steady the head coaching position, improve the roster, and return the Broncos first to respectability and then to Super Bowl contention.

What he discovered is the position of executive vice president of football operations also creates experience in crisis management.

Elway's top two front-office assistants, Matt Russell and Tom Heckert, were arrested on drunken-driving charges this summer. Elway had recently hired Heckert as director of pro personnel and last year promoted Russell to director of player personnel.

Russell's DUI arrest came after he allegedly hit two cars, including a patrol car near Breckenridge. Was Elway embarrassed by the arrests?

"I was disappointed in them," Elway said. "They're better than that. They know that and I know that."

More recently, Elway's best defensive player, star linebacker Von Miller, was slapped with a four-game suspension by the NFL for violating its drug policy. Miller has appealed. But even if he wins, the smudge on the Broncos' reputation will be more difficult to repair.

"That's a process that's out of my hands," Elway said. "(Coach) John Fox has talked to him, but that situation doesn't really involve us. There's always a race to judgment. We'll see how the appeals process goes."

As Elway was about to walk out to the Broncos' first training camp practice Thursday morning, he stopped to address the team's recent off-field transgressions.

"We're all human," he said. "When you have an organization of this size, some people are going to make mistakes. My feeling is face the problems, hopefully get the problem fixed. You want to be human about this, but also make sure people understand this is not what we're about."

Elway paused to look out at the Broncos' 85 players — rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams didn't sign his contract until after the morning workout — and listened to the coaches barking orders. For a second, a sense of normalcy returned.

"We're back to football," Elway said, "and that's the best thing. In my job, just like this team will go through adversity this year, we went through some adversity in the front office. And we'll deal with it, handle it and hopefully be better for it."

Perhaps the highlight of the first training camp practice was when No. 18 ran onto the field. Peyton Manning is once again Denver's quarterback. He drew loud applause from the fans squeezed into the berm-seating area along one practice field.

Manning is one of the most focused, prepared athletes in sports. What did he think about so many careless off-field acts that have hit the Broncos in recent weeks?

"You'd like to not have those problems," Manning said. "I think most players would tell you that, but that's football and we know how to handle it. I think ... that is why you are a family. You stick together. You can't always be rosy, can't always be perfect. We have Von's back. We have everybody in our organization's back. That's when you find out a lot about people is who sticks with you when the times are tough. You find out who the rats are, who is going to jump ship. It's easy when you are rolling along, an 11-game winning streak, everything is good. You have some adversity come your way, how do you respond? I think the organization has responded."

Each NFL team runs into situations where one of its players faces a suspension. But it may be without precedence to have two high-ranking members of a team's front office create such ghastly headlines in a short period of time.

Initially, Elway said he would look outside team headquarters to fill the roles of Heckert and Russell, at least temporarily. The Broncos suspended Heckert for 30 days, and Russell indefinitely. But after more thought, Elway said their responsibilities would be divvied up in-house.

"Tom will be back before the (preseason) Seattle game (Aug. 17)," Elway said. "We're going to rely on the guys that we've got. Our scouts are in here (Saturday) for the first week. We have plenty of eyes there. What happened, especially in the front office, is not going to affect us on the field. It's not what we want, it's not what we're about, and we'll correct it. But we're just getting started. There's going to be a bunch of bumps and it's going to be how we handle those bumps."

Until their recent off-field trouble, the Broncos were having a productive offseason. To their 13-3 team from last season Elway added slot receiver Wes Welker, guard Louis Vasquez and running back Montee Ball to the offense and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, linebacker Stewart Bradley and tackles Terrance Knighton and Williams to the defense.

"It's still good," Elway said. "What we've got going is still really, really good. We've got to go out and prove it. But we've got a good staff, and we've got a good team on paper. At this point, going into training camp, all you can hope for is to have a good team on paper. Now we have to make it happen."

The oddsmakers don't seem worried when they read about the off-field headlines from Denver. The Broncos remain favored to win Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

"When you're the favorites, it means people respect what you have on paper," Elway said. "But that still doesn't prove anything. When we were 13-3, we were the favorites to win the AFC last year. We had home-field advantage, best record. I think Coach Fox had a great statement: 'How many times does the favorite in a horse race win?' "

Mike Klis: 303-954-1055, mklis@denverpost.com or twitter.com/mikeklis