As our beloved Orange n’ Blue have been at it for 5 days of full practice now, as soon as the pads went on we’re reminded what a physical game this really is, even within the confines of team itself. Scuffles break out (“That’s what brothers do…”, says HC John Fox), and early injuries have occurred as full force hitting has taken place. Additionally, fierce position battles have ensued as well!
Most concerning on the injury front was the torn ACL causing the departure of C Dan Koppen, who held down the position impressively last season as a late addition to the O-Line. With JD Walton on the mend and hopes being that he can begin practicing in earnest perhaps by the end of next month, it would still take time after that for him to retain his starting role at C once again. The initial keys have been handed over to Manny Ramirez, but he is more-or-less a stopgap measure in that he has played G primarily in his career and is mainly a backup by nature here in Denver, a journeyman on the OL. Immediately following the news regarding the extent of Koppen’s injury, Steve Vallos was signed to compete a the center position. Although he has 6 years of experience in the NFL along the O-line, he is new in Denver and playing C in this demanding offense lead by Peyton Manning may be asking a bit much for him to step in and play up to the standards necessary at this all-important position. Locked down on one side of the line with LT Ryan Clady and LG Zane Beadles, and on the other side with newly-acquired RG Louis Vasquez and RT Orlando Franklin, this center position has to sort itself out with reps in camp, which is what all centers and quarterbacks need together, and perhaps a little luck in the timing of Walton’s return. It takes chemistry to create cohesion!
It was indeed a scare when 1st round pick DT Sly Williams tweaked his knee, but with MRI’s being negative, he is day-to-day. Needing this defense to find some chemistry of its own, this would have been the last thing we needed with the unknown-status of the first month of the season regarding the availability of LB superstar Von Miller. Up on the D-line, Kevin Vickerson and Robert Ayers return with the most experience, but the emergence of possible future-star Derek Wolfe last season, the offseason added bulk of Terrance Knighton, and the high expectations of Sly Williams make this D-line very competitive. Add in Malik Jackson, who showed flashes last season of contending for a starting position, interesting late-round pick pass rush specialist Quanterus Smith, and both Mitch Unrein and Sealver Siliga, and you have the idea that we could rotate a very unique platoon on the defensive line, which is just what D-Coord Jack Del Rio loves to do. The final roster and depth chart is going to be very interesting!
Shaun Phillips was a brilliant pickup at LB, and paired with Von the two of them will terrorize and confuse opposing offenses. But they do need reps together! Newly acquired Stewart Bradley also brings NFL experience, and Nate Irving and Wesley Woodyard would start for many teams and will get their chance here to show they belong at the top of the chart. Steven Johnson consistently turns heads in practice, and 2nd year LB Danny Trevathan seems to have a high-motor and an instinct for the ball that comes naturally. Again, another very competitive battle here, and the good thing is, we have several great players to throw into the mix. The downside is, who plays and in what pecking order the chart ends up will be largely dependent on the status of Von Miller come the first game of the regular season.
The defensive backfield is stacked as well. With Champ and DRC locking down the edges, rookie Kayvon Webter is already a practice standout, and is usually seen following Champ around on the sidelines, the student soaking up all he can from the master. 2nd year CB Mario Butler is also playing very well this camp. Safety Rahim Moore has taken more than his fair share of lumps this offseason, but has clearly put it behind him, and perhaps channeling it into somewhat of a chip on his shoulder. Time and again in practice he is seen making plays. There is an old football adage: Every corner or safety will eventually get burned, but the good ones forget about it by the next play! This may be fueling Moore. Again, with the platoon mentality that Del Rio loves, let’s not forget CBs Chris Harris and Tony Carter, and all they brought to this team last season! They too, will see plenty of the field. CB Omar Bolden, and safties Duke Ihenacho with veteran Quentin Jammer round out this very deep, talented, and competitive D-backfield.
At WR, this too is very interesting. With Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, the top 3 spots are all but assured. After that, there is an intense battle. Rookies Tavares King and Quincy McDuffie have displayed great hands and video-game speed in practice with long touchdowns, and Lamaar Thomas has wowed the crowd with several big plays as well. 2nd year player Gerell Robinson is a long, lean target, and at 6′ 4 with blazing speed, is an interesting possibility. Greg Orton has had moments of brilliance as well. Bubba Caldwell is still in the mix, but I think he may be on the bubble, being the 6-yr veteran who, in my opinion, should have distance himself by now. Each of these young players have an intense battle ahead, as you’ve got room for probably 5 active and 1 practice squad spot for WR on the final roster.
At camp today, I heard oft-injured safety Bob Sanders was seen visiting his former Colts teammate Peyton Manning…Former Bronco John Lynch, who was asked by John Elway this past offseason to help him evaluate DB’s, has been hanging around quite a lot…and Mr. College Football, announcer Verne Lundquist was at the practice today too. I suppose with high expectations for a Superbowl run, and being a team lead by 2 star QB’s, one named Elway calling all the shots, and one named Manning being the Field General, drop-ins like this will happen!
Oh, and one last thing: We’re so deep, our backups would stomp the Raiders starters!
Brian, Bronco Planet writer