Training camp has been nothing if not eventful. As is common at this time of year, some events are positive, some are not. First, I was asked on a thread about the injuries to Josh Barrett and Kenny McKinley. McKinley had a knee injury that is unrelated to size or power - get hit the wrong way and you've got the injury. I haven't heard anything on time frames for Kenny. Barrett hurt his shoulder, but he won't be rehabbing in Denver - New England picked him up off of waivers when we went to put him on IR. In a way, that works out very well - we have several new special teams players (like Joe 'Tyson' Mays and Kevin Alexander) who may be able to contribute more in regular game play than Barrett was able to. And, we needed room for the new ST players. I doubt that Barrett being exposed was a total accident.
Well, McD picked up two WRs as UDFAs when McKinley went down, so we've got even more people at WR. I'm starting to think that Willis is going to make the team and be active more often than not. While, over time, D. Thomas is going to be a heck of a player, Willis has impressed the heck out of the players who worked out with him this offseas on, and that apparently included Kyle Orton. If they've had a chance to throw the ball and get used to each other, that's another gold star on his side of the paper, so to speak. Decker has continued to show confidence, poise and that endlessly sure-handed catching ability. He may end up starting the season on the game-day active roster. With Willis creating vertical difficulties, Decker catching everything that comes into his area code and Eddie getting his slot time, with Gaffney and Lloyd filling out the group until D. Thomas is ready (if not right away), I'm not really sure where the 'they'll never score points' business comes from. It's probably linked to the situation on the OL. More on that after the jump.
I'd agree that the OL is still a bit nerve-wracking, but right now, it looks like Clady, Kuper and Harris will probably be there on opening day. I'm comfortable with Walton, and that leaves left guard, which could go in a lot of directions and I don't have any sense of one over the other. It will probably sort itself out over camp. Beadles wasn't brought here to be left on the bench, but if Seth Olsen loses out his slot to Beadles, it says a lot about how poorly he's adapted to the NFL. Pity, too - Iowa tends to have an excellent program for OL players. With his size, I thought that he'd do better in a non-ZB scheme - he didn't seem to have the feet for a ZB formation. However, considering that 3 OL players were drafted, obviously there was a lot that McD didn't like about his group, and that was to be expected. Baptiste will probably replace Polumbus at LT if Clady isn't ready to go, and that's fine with me - the idea of another season of the Matador Offensive Line (which was, in all honesty, pretty offensive to watch) is just too ugly to consider.
But Denver will almost certainly have a rookie at center on opening day, a reality that certainly keeps me on edge. Walton did manage to play N. Suh to a stand-still last year and few players can say that, so Walton isn't without his own key merits. Beadles may play the LG slot, and while college is a long way from the pros, Beadles managed to keep his totals to 1.5 sacks and 3 QB pressures in 405 pass plays. if that wasn't impressive enough, he won 675 of his total 770 plays, notching the best percentage on the Utes at 88%. He also graded at 90% or better in 7 of his games. It may take him a while, and it may not, but I would expect Beadles to become a starter at some point in the near future. He seems like a natural left guard, so I'll be looking for him in camp. Olsen too - I'm not really taking sides on this. I just want the best of them to be handling the LG duties.
Before the OTAs, one of the RB coaches went up to Lance Ball and told him not to worry much, that the team had plans for him. He may get to show them sooner rather than later, depending on how soon Buck and KM come back, but I've noted that he's getting more 1st team reps than the other young guys, T. Baker and Bruce Hall. Add in Spencer Larsen, who's carrying and receiving this year (but will mostly just block like a fast bulldozer) and whatever blocking Marquez Branson gets in as FB and that's a nice little group. There is a runner from about every style of play in that group. Buck was the most used to the zone blocking approach, but he's been around and won't have much trouble getting used to the new system. Moreno needs to not be hit behind the line, and he'll do better without the ZB. LenDale White and Toney Baker are bigger guys, and if White struggles, there's Toney behind him. I like this group.
Perhaps the real story of camp hasn't gotten hardly a word of press, which makes me happy to be able to get into it. Orton is in the best shape in years - I don't know if you caught it, but Kyle Orton finally admitted that his right ankle, the one that was injured in Chicago, mid-season, had never really healed. He was playing on it anyway, but it was bothering him the whole time, often badly. This led, in part, to his left ankle being hurt (This pattern is as common as heck, clinically. I wrote an article on why - find it here). This is the first time in those two years that he's felt good, the injuries are healed and Tuten worked him like a rented mule in the offseason, so he should be in great shape. He's also had a chance to throw with his receivers in the offseason.
Everyone at the practices comments on him: He's got the self-confidence, his performance is head and shoulders above Tebow or Quinn, his passing is very accurate and, as you might expect from the circumstances, he's a lot more mobile. There goes another complaint about the guy - dang him. Just when people were getting up a good head of steam to rag about him......lol. So, three injuries in two years, missed a total of three games. That's not a bad record - you'd like to see him put together 16 games, and that should be his goal this year. Starting out without damage and injury already tends to help - I hope that it helps him this year. It wouldn't surprise me if his accuracy improves somewhat this year - having two legs that actually work can really change the way that you throw the football.
I'll also admit something - I have to wonder a bit about the folks who have made declarative after declarative statements about Orton and what he can and can't do, what could and could not improve from him, and yet now, in realizing that he was playing injured both years and was never close to his own physical best (which kind of helps, really, when you're trying to throw a football under pressure), and I have to wonder if any of them ever sit back for a moment and consider the difference between surety and accuracy. Probably not, but I do wonder. I also often appreciate how easily writing reminds you of your own fallibility. There's an old proverb that when the Divine wants to make one humble, He gives them the urge to write. It's been true for me, certainly.
Richard Quinn is still working on the passing end, but he's been a force with his blocking, and that's what they wanted him for most when he was drafted. After about 6-7 games last year, quite a number of teams were looking for a blocking TE. At the same time, some fans for Denver wanted to know why Denver would be interested in a blocking TE in the last pick of the second round. You can't please everyone, so there's no point in trying. Quinn is learning to develop his route running and receiving skills, as well - he hadn't used them in 4-5 years, so he was thoroughly out of practice. He's catching on, to coin the pun-ish phrase.
I thought that Denver came into an interesting idea about switching more often to a 4-3 than they did last year. Let's see - you've got 5 OL and perhaps a TE, maybe two (or a RB) vs. Bannan, Fields, J. Williams and either Jarvis Green or Ryan McBean, depending on the down and distance, probably with Haggan on one side and Ayers on the other, and now you've got a real nice little headache for some defensive coordinator. Those front four alone could take on up 6 players. I expect J Williams to spend some time injured during the year, and we'll see more of that with other players over time - it happens to every team. Still - that's a very tough group of men up front. Add M. Thomas, perhaps, and Chris Baker is around somewhere (I heard that he had the summer flu). Now you've got a lot of large, nasty, quick guys. Might be a lot of fun to watch.
There's also the two ILBs just to keep it interesting - right now, my guess is Woodyard and somebody, perhaps DJ. DJ wasn't the best player in the front 7 at his slot last year, but he was a captain and was well respected for what that's worth. He won't be easy to dismiss, but the best guys play, according to Josh McDaniels. I'm just not sure that will be DJ. Joe Mays is getting some interest at LILB, and that's also possible. He's a heck of a run stuffer, if not much in coverage.
As far as the ILBs go, denverbroncos.com managed to put together an article detailing what changes they are making to the linebacking corps in the wake of Doom's injury. Wes Woodyard has taken over the RILB slot, which is much to his credit. Josh McDaniels said,
"Wood, he's experienced now in our system," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said. "He's definitely a physical player with great speed and has certainly played a lot in our nickel and dime packages in the years past, but he's really showing the ability to be able to play in there on that weak side. He is just a guy that deserves what he is getting right now because he's earning it every day. I think he's a great example for some of the younger players -- not a highly-touted player in terms of where he was drafted when he came out, but he's worked his way into a great role for our football team." This brings into question what place DJ will have.
The same article - find it here - said, Ayodele is one of the players rotating into the starting lineup at inside linebacker alongside Wesley Woodyard as D.J. Williams has sat out the past few practices. It also commented that recent acquisition Joe Mays has seen increased duty on the inside, as well, and Mario Haggan -- who made the transition to inside linebacker this offseason after starting 16 games at outside linebacker last season -- is now splitting time (at least on Friday) between the inside and outside after Jarvis Moss headed to the locker room early with his broken hand - I've read that it will require surgery and then a cast, much like Brian Dawkins last preseason. He'll struggle with his 'club' for a while, but it will be off before the end of the first quarter of the season.
Moss and Robert Ayers have typically lined up as the starting outside linebackers in Dumervil's absence, but Haggan and rookie Jammie Kirlew have also seen their reps at the position increase. Denver is simply looking for the best combination of players, and happily, they have quite a few good ones. To be honest, they also have Ayodele, and I tend to doubt, short of a few more injuries, that he will make the final cut.
Perrish Cox is the CB who has so far made a name for himself. Nate Jones looks like a lock to keep the nickel cornerback position, and A. Smith's work has been running hot and cold, although mostly it's gone pretty well. Syd'Quan Thompson hasn't really registered all that much, and short of returns, which he hasn't participated in much, he seems to have little chance of making the final 53.
Barrett's departure opens opportunities for other players. While he did a nice job on STs, he was used less last year to defend TEs than the year before, which is usually a bad sign. His vacancy opens the door for another ST player who wants to work his way into the lineup. Kevin Alexander, who got out on the field and ran hard each way with the ST team until the coaches called a halt to that drill, looked like that kind of player. The Broncos need the best STers that they can put out, as well as having room for one more player who starts his journey there. They also need at least one more return man, and that, too, may come from a borderline player who can help where they need it.
It's too early to tell where all the slots will be filled, but despite the injuries, this is a team that has gotten stronger on both - all three, in fact - sides of the ball. STs gained quite a bit - Alexander, Joe Mays, and Perrish Cox, at the very least, should make this group stronger. Others may follow. The defense gained J. Kirlew, a new front line, Joe Mays, WW taking on the RILB slot and there is still quite a competition at both linebacker and cornerback. Safety lost Barrett, but that wasn't a major loss anyway. The offense has a donnybrook going to win a starting OL job and the WR corps is still being assembled, although I'd have to say that it's already starting to look very good. Running back remains to be finalized, although KM, Buck, White, perhaps Ball and certainly Spencer Larsen are a very good squad. Toney Baker hopes to make at least the PS, and perhaps even the 53 man team. Time, injuries and performance will tell.
It's been a great week, even with the disappointments. There's another month of camp to go, and the Broncos are looking like they are much more settled this year. The second year in the system is coming up, and many of the players are clear now on their duties, responsibilities and assignments. The preseason games are coming. Before we know it, it will be opening weekend, and Denver will have to travel to the East Coast and take on Jacksonville at their home. Somehow, some part of my feels that this is a very winnable game. It's going to be a lot of fun to find out.