With the injury to Ryan Clady and his resultant year off of football, let's consider what the Broncos can do going forward:
Left Guard - Zane Beadles was tossed into the blender during his first year in the league, with the bad move of trying to play two rookies (Beadles and J.D. Walton) next to each other, and adding to the problem by shifting Beadles to RT ( for which he wasn’t in any sense ready) when Ryan Harris was injured.
Since that bad beginning, though, Beadles has improved his functional strength, balance, and technique to the point that he earned an alternate Pro Bowl slot last year. I can’t think of a single reason to move him - he’s not the problem.
Rahim 'The Dream' Moore has put his catastrophic error from last year's season-ending playoff loss behind him, but still uses it for motivation. Moore said on Monday that he’d picked up some things that he wants to focus on in his play, including improving his angles and route recognition.
His hit on Dallas Clark in the third quarter of the opener against Baltimore showed just how aggressive and effective Moore can become. Peyton Manning’s constant efforts to improve has created a special kind of energy that’s rubbed off on the entire locker room. This is a team that doesn’t care about who starts: they just care about winning.
Moore and the other safeties have internalized that. The ferocity of Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton (who added a hit and a hurry to his punt block) playing alongside him hasn’t hurt. This is a very tough group of defensive backs.
I’d like to start today with a simple analysis of where the offensive line was going into Thursday’s game and what I'd expected out of them. I had hoped to write this last week, but life went ahead and interceded. It happens to us all.
There two situations that I expected to affect this line, and they’re likely to be around for a few games, at the least. Let’s cover them:
First and foremost is the move of Manny Ramirez to center. This has several ramifications - Manny isn’t a natural center and doesn’t have a lot of experience there. The center has to make a lot of calls, including adjustments - it takes a substantial intellect, which is one reason that testing shows offensive linemen rank second in average IQ, with quarterbacks just ahead of them. That Manny has taken this on with so little preparation time is a testament to that aspect of the man. He’s also a player who struggled at guard at first, but became more effective than was Chris Kuper.
I was looking over the Broncos' roster the other day and noticed something that really had an impact on me. With the obvious growth of Julius Thomas’s NFL skills, Peyton Manning now has six targets who stand 6’3” or taller. That’s a lot of big receivers.
It’s a misnomer that cornerbacks have to be taller to defend them - technique is everything, as a long review of Champ Bailey’s career shows.
But if you don’t have Champ’s innate skill, speed, and highly developed technique, covering a guy who’s quick, strong, and 6’5" - especially when you’re 5’10” - makes defeating a high-point pass reception pretty tough. When the quarterback in question can thread a needle at 15 yards, having an entire stable of tall, strong, talented receivers makes defending the pass an even more difficult assignment.
The naysayers in Broncos Land spent much of the two summers prior to this one calling for Julius Thomas to be cut. Denver had drafted Thomas out of Portland State in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft, taking a flyer on a player who could go either way. Julius had only started into football during the 2009 season; he had walked into the office of head coach Nigel Burton and asked if he could walk onto the team that spring.
Burton said that Thomas was welcome, but privately he had reservations. How would a guy who hadn’t played football since Pop Warner react to what happens when a tight end goes over the middle and gets laid out by a linebacker? But Burton talked to the other folks in the athletic department, and got glowing recommendations from all of them. It turned out that Thomas had wanted to get back into football a year earlier, but the basketball coach was against it. Given Thomas’s size and natural skill level, there was no reason prevent the guy from playing football if he wanted to, and could show it on the field.
The sight last Saturday of Derek Wolfe being taken from CenturyLink Field in Seattle via ambulance put a scare into a lot of Broncos fans; we all held our breaths to see whether his hands and feet would move.
Wolfe is fortunate - he’s listed as only day-to-day with his neck injury, but the difference in how it was handled over 5-10 years ago is a major positive development for players in the NFL. Let’s talk about some improvements the league has put in place.
Even a year or two ago, players were still constantly being sent back in whether they should have been or not. Teams had not been required to hire independent neurologists in the past - but in the future, they will have to. Despite my feelings on how long it’s taken the league to get these procedures in place, it’s good to see so many initiatives coming along.
When the trainers were out working on Derek Wolfe’s injury during the Seattle game, I found myself thinking, “Thank heavens Malik Jackson has been stepping up.” Jackson may not be at Wolfe’s level yet, but reports out of training camp have mentioned Jackson’s work almost daily. Wolfe’s need to recover fully before the opener will mean even more reps for Malik.
Jack Del Rio believes in the importance of a front seven that attacks the offense constantly; he believes in it for defending the pass as well as the run. He recently commented:
Everywhere I’ve been, if you go back to Baltimore and Carolina and Jacksonville, it starts up front on defense. We’ve been fortunate to acquire and develop good players and put together a good front. I feel confident we’ll be able to do that here. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re busy doing that now in terms of developing guys we have. We’ve added a couple guys obviously in the draft and a free agent here or there. We’re going to make it competitive. We’re going to push that group. We’re going to expect the front to really help us play great defense.
Denver’s preseason-opening win at San Francisco featured just one touchdown - a fumble forced by Nate Irving and returned to paydirt by Shaun Phillips. Considering that these are the two players that may be most impacted by a possible suspension of Von Miller, I thought this would be a good play to look at.
The play starts at 7:28 of the second quarter; SF has been backed up by a good punt by Britton Colquitt and a penalty on the return, but a missed tackle by Omar Bolden on a pass to Kassim Osgood has them in 2nd and 1.
Many teams will try a long pass in that down and distance, counting on a third down run if needed to convert the first down. Instead, still deep in his own zone, Scott Tolzien hands off to D.J. Harper (36) for a run play around left tackle, and the whole game changes.
Broncos offensive tackle Vinston Painter was often overwhelmed in the preseason opener at San Francisco (he wasn’t alone - tenth-overall pick Chance Warmack learned that the NFL is different in his own first game), but the rookie has also been getting some positive comments from the coaching staff. This is what Jeff Legwold had to say, over at the Worldwide Leader:
When the Broncos selected Painter in the sixth round this past April, they saw an athletic project with a pile of potential. What they got was a player who has steadily worked his way up the depth chart, some by necessity because of injuries and some because he has advanced slightly more quickly than expected. Painter has worked much of the time as the backup right tackle, just behind Orlando Franklin. But the coaching staff showed this past week it doesn't think he's quite ready for work with the starters yet. Rather than simply elevating Painter after Franklin was injured, the coaches jumbled things up front, moving Louis Vasquez to right tackle in one practice and Chris Clark there in another.
Among those getting consistently high grades from training camp onlookers like Cecil Lammey and Andrew Mason has been second-year safety Duke Ihenacho. An undrafted rookie in 2012, the San Jose State alum had been described as one of the best free agents in the country last year by Pat Kirwan.
Duke spent the year on the practice squad, developing the NFL body that John Fox always refers to, and spent considerable time in the film room learning the intricacies of his craft. He drew attention immediately during this year’s OTAs and seems to have something new being written on him almost daily. On July 29, Mason wrote,