The loss of TE Marquez Branson this preseason to a knee injury was a nasty surprise; he had been showing signs of having a knack for this game. But that’s why TE Dan Gronkowski was a potentially good acquisition from Detroit (if he plays like he was ranked - he was another guy who was rated substantially higher but fell in the draft). We’ll need someone who can both block and catch, and who can do both nearly equally. In theory, that’s what we got. So, why was Gronkowski one player away from being Mr. Irrelevant in the 2009 NFL Draft?
Sunday’s home-opening 31-14 win over the Seahawks was a game of many firsts, rarities and different experiences. Near the top of all of those - which included Demaryius Thomas’ first game, first reception and first TD as a Denver Bronco - was the idea, bizarre to the point of absurdity only a year ago, that one of the many key players was Jarvis Moss, last year’s scout team MVP (which was the equivalent, said one wag, of being the world’s tallest midget). But Jarvis Moss’ contribution wasn’t small in the least. Another player who once was given up as a waste of good roster space has risen from the issues that weighted him down during the first years of his NFL career. Moss’ box score showed 2 solo tackles, one assist and a sack, but his impact on the game - and of the game on his career - could not be counted solely by stats in a game book.
When Josh McDaniels took on the task of remaking the Denver Broncos into a perennial playoff contender, his approach to player personnel was relatively direct. He put in place manuals for each of the positions that laid out in detail the height, weight and physical characteristics of each of the players that he wanted to see on the field as well as the mental attributes. He also reworked the scouting department, getting them up to speed on the way that they wanted players scouted and the types of skillsets that were valued by the organization. Overall, his approach was simple - he wanted tough, physical, smart versatile players at every slot on the field. With the draft of 2010, one of his final selections seems to be the epitome of that concept.
While a defensive lineman in college, and one who played both the DE and DT positions, Jammie (pronounced JAY-mee) Kirlew is exactly what the coach ordered. Whether or not he has the level of skill to make the leap from college to the NFL is still to be determined. Whether or not Kirlew fits into the outline that the Broncos have drawn is not - it fits him like a glove. One credit that he's earned was putting in place a system from the regional scouts to the tense moments of the draft know, understand their roles within it, and it's producing the kind of players that McDaniels and Xanders like. The further question of whether these are the players that the team can win with is yet to be determined. Jammie Kirlew was on the Denver board as a 5th round player, as was Syd'Quan Thompson. A quick quid pro quo involving the Denver pick in the 2011 draft and both players were slated to wear orange and blue.
Every time Richard Quinn's name comes up, you begin to hear the same Greek chorus - "He's only a blocking back. He only caught 12 balls in college." The second statement is true. The first is up for considerable debate. What many people don't seem to know about Richard Quinn is that before he was a TE, he'd been a WR/TE in high school. He was a good one, too, and highly recruited. Sometimes you don't get the whole story when you only see headlines. Quinn is an unknown quantity to most Denver fans. That's going to change over time, and I'm betting that Broncos fans will like what they see.
There are players who come into the NFL, seemingly immediately ready to take on the challenges of the game. You may find them in the 1st round or the 7th - you may even find them in the ranks of the undrafted college free agents. Regardless of where they are found, they all have one thing in common - they're very, very rare. Only a gifted few players are ready to contribute immediately. Most NFL teams will give even 1st round prospects 2 full training camps before even considering how well they might be working out for the team. The NFL game is bigger, faster, stronger and a lot more complex, and it takes most people time to figure it out. One of those players is Marquez Branson.
We've been talking for weeks now about the nose tackles in this league, on this team and in this draft. It seems that every time I turn around, some other NFL team has decided that the intelligent answer to the short passing-based attack that has been sweeping the NFL is to move to the versatility of the 3-4 formation. As more and more teams use this attack as their primary or secondary weapon (in the case of some of the hybrids formations, another commonality in the NFL right now), there is a growing demand for nose tackles. Big ones and shorter ones, faster and slower ones, nose tackles are becoming one of the talks of the league.
Born in Arkansas, the son of Amos and Elsie Branson, and growing up in Starkville AK, Marquez Branson is one of two things. Depending on exactly how you like to see the world, either he's a converted wide receiver who doesn't really fit anywhere in the NFL game, or he's another of the multi-talented, versatile players that coaches like Josh McDaniels is looking for. After only a single season on the Denver Broncos practice squad, it's really anyone's guess which one he is, but right now he's someone who is clearly worth keeping an eye on.
Branson's name has come up in two different capacities in the past week. First of all, he's ostensibly a tight end and the Broncos seem to be debating the future of Tony Scheffler with the club. At about 6'3 and somewhere between 242 and 250, he's obviously somewhat light for the position right now, but has the frame to fill out another 10-20 lbs over the next few years.
Eddie Royal didn't have the 2009 that he had intended to have. On the other hand, Eddie Royal is a man who is used to difficult experiences.
You could say that his whole life was just such an experience - he was the last child born into a family of seven children. He and his siblings were raised by Pearl Royal, who was a single mother. The family stayed together. They went to church together. Sometimes there wasn't much food, but Pearl was a constant positive role model for Eddie. Eddie saw people in his life making the wrong decisions and it drove him to do better. He realized from an early age just what was and what was not important in life. One of those things was an education. Eddie realized that he could play football pretty early on. His choice of Virginia Tech showed that he was just as concerned with his classroom work as he was with the playing field. He did well at both.
Things change. In the case of the Broncos, the changes have come fast and have shaken people up. From the moment that Pat Bowlen announced that he'd fired Mike Shanahan, most of our preconceptions about this team have been thrown into the fire. What remains is different from anything we expected about this offseason.
Topping the list has been the situation that resulted in the Cutler trade. Chris Simms was brought in as a highly-paid backup and will now compete for a starting job. Kyle Orton was a rumor and a name that crossed some website - now he's a household name in Denver, and fans debate his background and skill-set with fervor. And there is still the specter of Jay Cutler and what he was able, and not able, to accomplish last season.
McDaniels and the Broncos
Growing up in Canton, Ohio as the son of the high school coach is an invitation to a tough adolescence. Josh McDaniels didn't mind the added scrutiny. After all, he would later be the quarterback of the McKinley High School team anyway, as his brother, Ben, would after him. The scrutiny just went with the territory. Even at that age, it rarely seemed to bother him.
People out there will never understand the pressure Josh was under his whole high school career," said Jack Rose, who coached against the McDaniels' McKinley High School while coaching Massillon Washington High School. "The people of McKinley were tough to play for. I'm going to tell you right now, that Cutler guy never went through what Josh McDaniels went through in high school. He was really a good player, had a great winning record at McKinley, and people were always (complaining) about him. It toughened him. It made him stronger for what he's facing today. How he handled it back then, it's not surprising how he handled what's been going on out there now.
Tough is one thing; death threats are another. When Josh and his younger brother Ben took the bus to school, there was a time when police cruisers had to follow the bus. Thom McDaniels had received a death threat and one that had mentioned kidnapping this sons. It didn't stop Thom, it didn't stop his boys, and life went on. Signs were planted on the lawn of the McDanielses' large, A-framed house, making more threats. Nothing changed. The family went about its business. In his typically understated way, Josh referred back to those days this year.