Although the Broncos loss of Moreno and Buckhalter caused most of us to hold our collective breath, Denver seems to have dodged a bullet. Moreno's injury is worse and at least 3 weeks is expected, while Buckhalter might be back in a week. Tyler Polumbus has given us reasons to hope for Clady's quick return, and training camp has started off with a bang!
I thought that it might be helpful to those of us who like to prepare for games against the foes Denver will meet first to keep an eye on some of them in training camp. This isn't intended as a long diatribe on all 16 games, but it seemed reasonable to know what our first few foes are showing: are they getting their players in camp? Anyone important (like Jared Gaither, starting RT for BAL) going down? Anyone new standing out? You've got questions, the Great and Powerful INT (and the not-so-much Doc Bear) has answers. I thought that I'd just start with our first 5 opponents, plus a short note on our division rivals.
Week 1 Opponent Jacksonville Jaguars
Young tight end Zach Miller (not the TE Zach Miller from OAK) missed OTAs this year with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot and a truly painful condition where fighting through the pain only assures the player of a longer, tougher stint of dealing with it. He seems better, and Jacksonville needs him. They have limited skill players at WR and while Miller's number of catches last year of 21 and zero starts in 14 games may not seem like much (and it's not), Miller is much faster than most TEs and can help out a passing offense that's struggling with a lack of better players. he proved that in last year's finale, with 8 catches and 69 yards with 2 TDs. WR Jarrett Dillard is close to a stress fracture in his foot and is currently sitting out, bu expects to practice next week.
JAX is also close to completing their contract with first pick, surprise choice Tyson Alualu, a player that I likes, but expected to go 1-2 rounds later. Perhaps the pros in Florida will be right on this one.
Week 2 Opponent Seattle Seahawks (Home)
FS rookie Earl Thomas stepped into the first team slot immediately upon the start of camp, starting opposite SS veteran Lawyer Milloy. Once-top LB Leroy Hill has found himself buried on the early depth chart behind Aaron Curry (no surprise), Loa Tatupu and David Hawthorne, making up a nice grouping for safeties and linebackers. Hill should find this as no surprise - he's been suspended for the first game of the season for violating the league substance abuse policy (I was hoping for the first two games, but it may not matter) and is up on charges stemming from his arrest last April in a domestic dispute case. His trial will be later this month.
Week 3 Opponent Indianapolis Colts (Home)
Both Robert Mathis and receiver Reggie Wayne ended their holdouts today and are at camp. Neither was happy with their salary issues, but both feel that working with the team is the best solution. Funny how that works.
But one of the best teams in the game finally is showing a weakness, even though it's not on their vaunted offense. Indy has signed very veteran CB DeShea Townsend, who spent 12 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His signing shows how tough the market for good CBs is right now: Before his signing, the Colts only had three CBs who had ever appeared in an NFL game: Kelvin Hayden, Jerrod Powers and backup Jacob Lacey.
Week 4 Opponent Tennessee Titans (Away)
TSN Daily has reported that while it's unlikely that RB Chris Johnson will get the 358 carries tht he managed last year, this year they want to be more creative in getting him the ball. He may not get as many rushing yards, but they plan to get him more passing yards and to vary how his is used.
Courtland Finnegan is entrenched as one of the starting cornerbacks, and there will be a competition, reputed to be the roughest in camp, for the slot next to him. Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty will be fighting for the second slot. Rookie Alterran Verner may be given a chance to see if he can knock one of them down the chart a slot or two. Veteran Ty Hill also wanted to get into the brawl, but injuries have slowed him and he suffered an exacerbation of one on Sunday. His odds are poor right now.
Week 5 Opponent Baltimore Ravens (Away)
Baltimore Ravens training camp has had even worse news than Denver did: in the first few days of camp, they have already lost 4 offensive tackles. Jared Gaither, the starting right tackle was experiencing a low back injury that he tried to fight through, but then went down with cramps. Many an athlete has found that when they are already having muscle spasms and try to be tough enough to fight through them, the muscles that balance those that are already injured can easily also slip out of balance. The team was sufficiently concerned that Gaither was sent for blood work Sunday night.
Michael Oher is now the starting LT, so our RDE team and Doom will have their hands full with him. He'll need to stay healthy there, too - his top backup, Tony Moll, also went down with an undisclosed injury, as did Stephan Rogers (ankle) and Oniel Cousins, who had just a throat problem. The Ravens, who will play against Denver on Week 5 (October 10) have already lost former Broncos CB Dominique Foxworth for the year. They are considering signing Frank Walker in his stead, at least to compete for a nickel or dime CB job. Foxworth never seemed to live up to his potential with Denver, but he was a heck of a nice guy, and I wish him well with his torn ACL recovery.
In the Division:
The Chargers got Ryan Matthews signed and into camp: they are counting on him for a lot of production this year. They signed also signed CB Donald Strickland in the offseason, and he looks to be their nickel back. Rookie Cam Thomas is getting some work against perennial Pro Bowler Kris Dielman and C Nick Hardwick, and learning how tough his new job is going to be. He's althletic, but his history of a lack of effort and focus will be challenged. Norv Turner questioned it this way, "But is he going to go knock people back and be a physical football player?"
AJ Smith tells the media that he's done talking about Marcus McNeill and Shawn Merriman, both missing from training camp. While McNeill insists that he will only return for the last 6 games, so as to not miss a year's record by league rules, Merriman's contract is a little different, so he's avoided making definitive statements.
In Oakland, a 'man bites dog' story has come out of training camp - apparently, star CB N. Asomugha accidently kicked receiver Louis in the head during practice on Friday, and Murphy is still out of practice. Oft-injured top WR Chad Schilens has been fighting with a sore left foot and the coaches are being very cautious in bringing him back.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs are enjoying seeing how many ways they can use draft pick Dexter McCluster, the smallest player on the team. He's been working with the wildcat formation and taking direct snaps as well as returning punts. The Chiefs are said to be cognizant of how carefully they will have to use him, given his size and the amount of pounding that he can reasonably be asked to take at his size and weight.
That's it for now - more updates as they become available and worthwhile. Go Broncos!