Denver Broncos football returns this evening as our favorite team gets ready to beat up on someone other than themselves. There have been plenty of injuries so far and we haven’t even gotten to the games that mean something. Although it is the preseason and the first game of the year, there are a few stories to keep track of. Because of the aforementioned injuries, other players have been given an opportunity to show their skills during Training Camp. guys like Tight Ends Virgil Green and Julius Thomas, who has been the main feature at Camp, have shown improvement from last season.
3 HORSE STABLE
The “Running Back By Committee” approach is the theme of the Broncos Running Game this season, with a Three Horse stable. Rookie Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno will pretty much split the carries until the rookie can be trusted to protect Peyton Manning. Ball’s progress is ongoing and there has been improvement. The coaching staff is giving him all they can handle and the overtime tutelage he is receiving from Peyton is showing as well. With that said, the hot hand will get the bigger share of the load. That is head coach John Fox’s M.O. Early in the season though, when Montee Ball is in the backfield, you can bet the ball is going to him whether it is a handoff or a designed pass play. Manning will be severely limited in what he can audible to in those situations because of the rookie’s pass blocking. Nevertheless, the “three-headed” running back approach will work.
FOUR AND FIVE
Speaking of the Big 3, what about the Wide Receiver battle behind Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker? This has to be another of the interesting, albeit pleasant puzzles of this preseason. Who will be the 4th, 5th and maybe 6th Wideout to make the final 53-man roster?
5th round draft pick Tavarres King should be favored for a spot, but is Practice Squad eligible at the very least. 5th round players are on that bubble anyway. CFA Quincy McDuffie is an exciting prospect to watch and one of my personal favorites. If anyone fits as Wes Welker’s backup this year, I think it is McDuffie. No one can compare with Welker’s smooth route running, but McDuffie has the shiftiness needed for the slot receiving position.
Holdovers from last season, Andre “Bubba” Caldwell, Greg Orton, who is having an excellent Camp and Brock Osweiler’s personal favorite receiver, Gerell Robinson have to be in the mix as well. Out of these three, I have to think the 6-4 Robinson has the edge. Orton may well get an opportunity elsewhere if he showed the same abilities on preseason tape that he has during Training Camp.
CFA’s Kemonte’ Bateman and Lamaar Thomas have had their share of ups and downs during Camp. They have similar builds, but Thomas is quicker and could be pressed into a returner role if disaster strikes. Either way, one or both are likely to end up on the Practice Squad. Bateman actually could fit into the same role as Matthew Willis had last season if he can excel on Special Teams.
NICKEL AND DIME
The Safety position has seen the emergence of former CFA and Practice Squad member Duke Ihenacho, who has impressed enough this offseason to get an extended amount of work with the first-team Defense as well as the extra Safety in the Broncos “Dime” package. The team wants to see his consistency in game situations before they release Quentin Jammer. He will probably end up as the third Safety behind Mike Adams and Rahim Moore, specifically as Adams’ backup. David Bruton will back up Moore and Quinton Carter will be the fifth Safety. I don’t see this changing short of injury. CFA Ross Rasner may or may not end up on the Practice Squad. My guess is not, as there are players at other positions with more promise.
The Cornerbacks are similarly all but set, with Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris as the starters. Tony Carter is maintaining position as the 4th guy, with Omar Bolden and Kayvon Webster bringing up the last spots. Mario Butler has had as good a Camp as Greg Orton, but is in the same boat. He will likely make the Practice Squad ahead of Aaron Hester and Nigel Malone.
John Elway has accomplished quite a bit in turning around the Broncos franchise. After the decimation of talent brought on by Josh McDaniels, the team has more depth at nearly every position than it’s had in my reckoning, which goes back to the 1970’s. There are battles for the Cornerback, Safety and Wide Receiver positions that will result in players being cut that may well start on another NFL team this year. The biggest concern comes at Center. Despite a contingency plan that failed through no fault of his own, Elway finds himself in a dilemma after J.D, Walton required an additional surgery and insurance “Plan B” Dan Koppen tore an ACL in the first week of his return to the team. The thought of Manny Ramirez directing traffic and protecting up the middle, which happens to be Peyton Manning’s area of vulnerability (if there is such a thing), must be keeping the Vice President of Football Operations up at night. Contingency “Plan C” is in the form of a 31 year old coming out of recent retirement after Toe and knee surgeries by the name of Ryan Lilja. This guy has been sitting on the couch since December and while he is the likeliest option to hold down the fort until Walton returns in late October-early November, he isn’t exactly in football shape right now. If things get any worse, John Elway may seriously consider bringing Tom Nalen out of retirement before the Broncos put him in the Ring of Fame on September 29th against the Eagles.
As for tonight’s game, don’t expect to see the high powered 1st team Offense out there very long, if at all. Peyton Manning himself will decide how much work the unit needs, but head coach John Fox will try to put the damper on any more than two series from the $20 Million man. For those of you who have been reading the Training Camp reports and haven’t been able to attend, there are still players to watch and it IS football after all.
– Kaptain Kirk