Hello, IAOFM staff! First, I just wanted to say thank you for continuing to be the best source there is for Broncos news and analysis. Your recent article on TJ Ward and what he'll be able to do for us this season was particularly great (can't wait to see him in action!), and I was writing to ask if you may be willing to do a similar sort of preview for the O-Line, based on a mix of last year's performances and what you've seen/heard from TC so far?
That seems to be our weak spot at the moment based on early camp reports, though I'm sure they're slower to adjust due to having two guys learning new positions, but I would just love to hear your thoughts on whether or not there's anything to worry about there, and what this newly retooled group's strengths and weaknesses may be this year.
A commenter recently slammed me for having a continuing interest in the tight end position. Properly used, I’d said, it’s a major way to improve your offense. The commenter responded that the position is nearly useless and will be phased out over the next decade.
In return, I noted Sid Gillman’s point that having two good TEs can let a team control the middle of the field. No shots were fired, but no agreement was reached, either.
The New England Patriots recently had two very good tight ends who did a lot of damage to opposing defenses, prompting teams to start looking at the position in earnest. The demand for good tight ends went up like a helium balloon. Rumors of the position’s demise were exaggerated. Having multiple effective tight ends is strongly back in vogue.
When someone visiting Dove Valley asks who will play right tackle, they’re going to get a stock answer.
Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez will start at their traditional slots. Orlando Franklin will will start at left guard. Manny Ramirez leads at center going into training camp. Chris Clark has earned the right to head the right tackle depth chart going into camp, with Winston Justice his first competition.
Beyond those factors, it’s wide open.
The Broncos have added plenty of speed and physicality to their offensive backfield this offseason.
Denver didn’t take a running back in the draft, which was no surprise - they already had Montee Ball penciled in as their starter, and C.J. Anderson to back him up. If he shows maturity and better hands, Ronnie Hillman can certainly be the third back.
But it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Hillman ends up fighting for his job, given his history and the quality of the undrafted backs behind him.
As usual, I’ve been looking over the film of the first game with regard to the offensive line. Health issues prevented my spending the time necessary to fully cover the second game, but I did a little poking around in the stat pile as far as where the Denver OL stands in general.
I’ll work in what I found in the first game - as you’d expect, the stats were better in that contest, simply because the line played very well. Here are just the bare bones of the second game, using the figures over at Pro Football Focus:
When Mike Shanahan was fired by the Broncos, he left behind a team that was a shell of its former self. The players who had been stallions during the Super Bowl years were long gone. The defensive players who remained were, they said publicly, treated as second-class citizens.
The roster was depleted in multiple areas and then a young former offensive coordinator tried to move the team to a reflection of the 3-4 system that he’d just left, but without the kind of players who made that system work. The offense wasn’t exactly loaded, either. A lot of things were missing on defense during that transition - stronger players, workable draft picks, a middle linebacker who keeps his helmet on, common sense - but one vacancy stood out as the roster was changed over:
It means linebackers with the legs to catch a returner in the open field, or to give cornerbacks a shot at covering the multiple players they are matched up against in passing situations. It means backside pursuit and pass rushers who can reach the quarterback before he can carve up the secondary. It’s essential to the new concept of Broncos defense that John Fox and Jack Del Rio will be implementing this season - which, whatever else is true, will require a faster pocket pressure with quicker linebackers and better defensive backfield speed.
In Thursday morning’s practice, Peyton Manning was tossing long touchdown passes to Demaryius Thomas without any visible strain. After months of people guessing at what percentage of fully healed and recovered his neck, brachial plexus, and arm strength might be, the question is unofficially over. He’s not as strong as he will be, but it no longer matters. He can make any throw, and he can put the ball into the hands of his deep receivers without difficulty. His short and intermediate throws are on target, quick, and accurate. Beyond that, the improvements will make what’s already remarkable even more effective.
As camp continues on into the start of the season, Manning will continue to gain in strength and accuracy as he follows the rehabilitation program that his doctors have set up for him. His receivers will be tasked with running routes precisely and hitting the right spot exactly on time. To do that, several skills will be necessary - the ability to beat press coverage off the line, the ability to gain separation from the coverage, and the hands to make sure that the drops that are part of developing the connection between QB and wide receiver are a thing of the past.
Brian Dawkins visited Dove Valley on Sunday to talk with Rahim Moore, among others. He told him:
Rahim, you’re not a scary guy. You like to hit, but sometimes, you've got to know when to make the big hit.
It’s sage advice. If there’s anyone who knows about creating intimidation, it was ‘Wolverine’. With Quinton Carter’s hamstring injury holding him out, Moore has an excellent opportunity to up his game and nail down one of the safety slots. It’s nice to see Rahim coming back into his own. He was tossed into the fire too quickly last year, and it shook his confidence. The team did a nice job of helping him rebuild it in the offseason.
Mitch Unrein was characterized by Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus as getting more and more snaps and moving up in the rotation by the quality of his play. Unrein has apparently been putting an ‘Eaton beatin’ on the players they put in front of him. I love seeing a guy come from a humble start in the league and develop the way Mitch seems to be doing. Unrein’s another lunchpail, bluecollar guy who can improve your DT rotation.
Of training camp performance evaluations, Denver's new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has said,
Really...right now you can't put too much stock in the depth chart.
Offense or defense, he’s right. You can’t write a camp update without talking about how the players are doing, but in the first week of camp, it’s good to remember that many of the updates are describing what will not be permanent moves.
There’s a long way to go, and the team is going to try plenty of different looks; several won’t mean much over time. Some guys are getting looked at for positions that they will take over as the preseason unwinds, but many of the changes are just ways of exploring options. What’s more important right now is watching to see what the players have as their strengths and weaknesses when going up against each other, to decide who fits where. Next Thursday, the players will get to show how far they’ve come in Chicago against the Bears, who have improved their team since the 2011 season.
Picking up from where we left off on Monday, let's take a closer look at the play of Eric Decker.
I found a good article by Matt Waldman about Decker from last July, in which he compares the wideout's skill set with that of teammate and fellow 2009 draftee Demaryius Thomas, along with a highlight film breakdown of the strengths of Decker’s game. I liked it, even though it's from a year ago, when people still had some understandable concerns about Thomas’s Achilles injury and his overall health.
I don’t see much value in comparing the two to each other, beyond the sheer fun of perhaps passing an afternoon at a sunny table in the bar area of your friendly local brewpub, while sampling the offerings of the season. Much like those beers themselves, Decker and Thomas each have strengths and weaknesses. Broncos fans have yet to see both of them healthy and receiving passes from a top NFL quarterback.
Like most of us, I’m looking forward to the experience.