After a week of living on Twitter feeds, flipping through multiple sites over and again to spot signings and trends, a few things stuck out in my mind. I thought that I’d hit on some things that caught my eye as they rolled on past.
A Crowd at Tight End: The Broncos have agreed to terms with both former Carolina Panthers tight end Dante Rosario (6’4, 250 lb) and former St. Louis Rams tight end Daniel Fells (6’4”, 272 lb.). Rosario was drafted by the Panthers in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft and in his four seasons with Carolina, he made 82 receptions for 894 yards and five touchdowns. Rosario reunites with former head coach John Fox in Denver. Fells was an undrafted free agent in 2006 who was signed by the Atlanta Falcons. He’s also a former member of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before he finally found playing time in St. Louis. In his three years with the Rams, Fells made 69 receptions for 745 yards and five touchdowns.
Gosh, got enough TE candidates? Makes me wonder if Richard Quinn really didn’t impress or if Denver is just trying to upgrade every position across the board. I’m hoping for the latter, and the way the draft was handled makes me suspect that they want to look at anyone who might improve the team, regardless of who else is there, which is a philosophy that I like. While that may indicate that they won’t emphasize the DT position financially as much as I’d have liked, it also means that they won’t miss out on a player just because right now there’s already competition there. Long term, that’s a good approach.
Denver now has six TEs to field. Julius Thomas already is looking like a veteran receiving TE, according to Andrew Mason, and Denver is reportedly high on Virgil Green. It begs the question of how many Denver plans to keep - probably just the best three, but you never know.
Running Backs: Another question it brings up came from Mike Klis, but isn’t a bad thought: The Broncos may yet decide to keep an extra TE and to use one as a fullback, as they did with Dan Gronkowski last year due to Spencer Larsen’s injury. I don’t see this as a first option. If they did, however, that could call into question how they use Mario Fannin, who projects well as a receiving fullback, but who can also run for 6.5 ypc, as well as the futures of Sylvester Austin and Spencer Larsen himself. It should be an interesting camp at RB.
Fannin is a superb UDFA running back with sub-4.4 speed and great hands who needs to cement a slot on the Broncos. With eight running back candidates in camp, at least Denver has a lot to choose from. Jeremiah Johnson ran well on the second day of camp and Fannin has also looked very good, as have LenDale White and Knowshon Moreno. Sylvester Austin is there to push Larsen, and at 6’1” and 248 lb, he might be able to do it. Austin is a UDFA out of Washington. I have yet to hear much of anything on Brandon Minor, the 6’1” 214 lb back out of Michigan and, of course, Denver now has Willis McGahee. At 6’0” and 235 lb., McGahee is 29 but famously has ‘low miles’, being for the most part a short-yardage and goal-line player. For once, it looks like Denver might do well in terms of RBs. They have a lot of options, and the average weight of the players is substantially higher than in recent years. Given the amount of beating those guys bear, I’ve always thought a little weight helped. So does rotation - I understand the point of ‘getting into a rhythm’, but too many reps and your back wears down. Moreno’s new, lower weight will be an interesting question - will it speed him up, or make him more susceptible to injury? I like him finding out what his best natural weight is, though.
Defensive Tackles: In not-so-breaking news, Denver has reacquired DT Marcus Thomas, who can play either the nose or undertackle positions and who is a penetrating one-gap player who fits best in a 4-3 base front, but who’s been playing two-gap roles in a 3-4/5-2 base front as a rotational player. Film of his first season isn’t going to help much - nearly every DT develops over their first four years, and Marcus is no exception. Thomas is going to be fighting for a starter role, which probably means that he’ll try for the nose tackle slot and leave UT to Kevin Vickerson. While he can certainly play the UT if Dennis Allen stays with his one-gap, penetrating style, I doubt that Marcus will have any trouble beating out Louis Leonard for the starting NG spot. At 6'3" and 316, Thomas has the build for the nose. He's done well both in stopping the run and attacking the passer in a one-gap scheme when he was permitted to play it, and he and Leonard (6'4" and 325 lb) both have the necessary build for the nose. I'll feel better if at least one other nose candidate comes into camp but I really like having Thomas back in the fold. He can play UT as well as NT and he's finally getting a shot at playing the position that he's built for.
It’s worth noting that (as you’ve noticed) Denver hasn’t come out of the gates with deals blazing as they claimed that they would, but that the value picks are still out there now, and few carry as much upside as Thomas. Aubrayo Franklin is still out there at this writing, but doesn’t look like the kind of player that Denver will take on. The 49ers have already made contingency plans to move Isaac Sopoaga over into the nose guard slot if Franklin moves on. I wouldn’t mind seeing Franklin come on, but he’s essentially a two-gap player and Denver seems to be going in the other direction right now. Franklin will be meeting with SF to see if they can find common ground - he, like a lot of players, didn’t find the kind of money and welcome that he'd expected on the open market.
I suggested back in February(ish) that Denver might be going to DE/DT players in the 290 range who can fit on the edges or move inside, and it looks like that’s going to be one of Denver’s approaches. Ryan McBean, Jeremy Jarmon, Robert Ayers, potentially Derek Landri and, currently, Kevin Vickerson all fit that description - so would Jamaal Anderson if he comes on board (if Jason Hatcher is signed, he could play UT or NG). The advantage is being able to move them around at will to create mismatches - having the option of Mario Haggan at DE or sliding to Sam if needed is also helpful. Dennis Allen wants a speedy, attacking, aggressive defense, and one part of that in today’s NFL is being able to move players around. For all the concern with the DT slot, what Denver is doing makes a lot of sense. Go back to TJ's excellent article on the many ways to use Von Miller, plus Ted's Dennis Allen+Von Miller thoughts from all the way back in January, then extrapolate to the options that having multiple players who can roll inside or out give you. Guess what? Allen’s already thought of all the ones that we can, and a few that we haven’t. It’s not the usual approach, but that doesn’t make it a bad approach.
What’s the possible downside? Well, for all the talk about the need to stop the run, I do wonder if this is the right way to do it. Time will tell.
Eddie Royal: Why was Eddie Royal’s hip injury so hard to identify? Mostly because the hip is a tough area to diagnose, and a lot of hip injuries don’t show up on MRIs. A lot of us knew that Eddie was struggling, but didn’t know why. There are two points here, and three topics worth noting:
First, notice the difference between the way this is being handled and the way Josh McDaniels refused to discuss a similar issue on another WR, Brandon Marshall? This is called getting ahead of the curve and putting out info to keep misinformation from happening (Eddie being a class act helps). In both cases, it would have been easy to ignore the issue. McDaniels did, forgetting that it was still the Broncos’ situation, even if he wasn’t there at the time and that came back to bite him with a lot of fans. John Elway has shown more maturity and better sense - he’s making sure that people know why there was an issue and how they’ve handled it. Nicely done. It’s often the little things that over time build up into the fans’ view of the team.
Second, it’s hard to keep track of how often a player’s production goes down and fans have every reason in the world from I saw a two-second TV cam panning past his face and he’s given up to he’s getting older/worse/he’s not cut out for this. The reality is, a lot of times when a player’s production suddenly changes, he’s hurt. It’s that simple. You generally don’t hear about it for a few weeks or months. The teams try not to paint targets on the injured parts of their players, which is the downside of the injury reports. The upside? Gamblers place a lot of emphasis on them. The NFL has been neck deep in gambling since bookmaker Tim Mara bought in and since Art Rooney and Bert Bell met at a racetrack before they decided to buy franchises at the same time. And, the NFL would never interfere with that - it brings a lot of ‘fans’ to the game.
Last, I’d love to see Eddie get away from returning punts if they want him to maximize production as a slot back. It was Eddie and Syd’Quan Thompson doing returns on the first and second days of camp, but i can hope that Denver makes a change there. Perhaps Eric Decker is going to take that slot receiver role, but Eddie also can fly up the sideline - you have to decide where you want maximum production, in returns or WR. One of the CFAs, Brandon Bing, a CB out of Rutgers (65 tackles, one INT and one forced fumble last year), has great return skills and sub-4.3 speed (that’s not a typo) - he might be worth keeping on as a backup CB and returner. Cassius Vaughn has also shown skill in the return game.
Gaffney’s Trade: By the way, I can easily see the trade of Jabar Gaffney for young DE/DT Jeremy Jarmon and the subsequent signing of David Anderson. Jarmon hasn’t done much yet, and Anderson hasn’t produced a lot either, but he’s a veteran on a team that had older veterans and then youngsters, with not that much (just Royal) in between. With Demaryius Thomas’ health problems popping out like rose buds and the new regime not responsible for him if he's an injury bust, they got a second-rate Gaffney after using Jabar himself to grab a young DE project they believe in. I don't love or hate it - it is what it is. Use a player at his peak of value to obtain a younger one at a position of need and obtaining a second player with the same position as the guy you traded is right out of the Belichick playbook, although he has a history of seeing and coaching up misused players that’s unique. If Jarmon turns out to be a versatile DE/DT, EFX look like geniuses. If Jarmon and Anderson both flame out, fans will be all over it as a bad deal, but it’s the kind of deal that you make to cover your assets.
Gaffney wasn’t that popular in Denver, although I never understood why. He’s a heck of a receiver, and not that many WRs give you over 60 receptions with 875 yards a season. At any rate, it’s obvious that Eric Decker is going to start, that it’s time for the Broncos to play Matt Willis or let him go (he could be serious trade bait, if it comes to that, and he’s no longer PS eligible) and Britt Davis is in a similar position to Willis - he needs practice and game time to show what he’s got. It looks like Brandon Lloyd, Royal and Decker as the starting three WRs with Willis as the fourth WR, and with either Davis or Anderson in the final spot. Denver has good receivers, but a couple of injuries and suddenly you’re bringing in PS players. Anderson is insurance against that.
Likewise, it's good news to see that Julius Thomas is making a bid to start at one of the TE slots, as a receiving TE. In theory, Richard Quinn should get the other, but there’s some interest in getting in at least one veteran at the TE slot, so Denver brought in two to compete. Denver’s got TEs everywhere right now, but a few injuries and you suddenly look brilliant when you do. The new CBA will reduce practice injuries - it’s still to be seen what effect that will have on games.
What Happened? To return to this topic for a minute, I'm curious as you are as to what happened to that "We're ready to be in this from the first minute and we'll be moving fast" theory that EFX fed to the fans. If they were just A.J. Smith simpaticos and wanted to wait a bit before jumping in, that's fine, but the build-up was very high, and now we've been sitting around watching the players go by. It’s very strange, less than confidence-inspiring and to me that's an obvious misstep by EFX - ramping up hopes for decisive action before the fans find out that decisive meant that they'd decided not to get into things.
That doesn’t mean that Denver won’t come out of this well - a number of value players are still out there and I’m fine knowing that Denver couldn’t do everything in one year. I just don’t understand the emphasis on how the Broncos will be fast out of the chute and then the lack of aggression in execution.
Who's where? Second-round safety Rahim Moore made his practice-field debut almost before the ink was dry on his contract. He was immediately placed onto the first unit, playing alongside fourth-round pick Quinton Carter while the team’s incumbent veteran starting safeties sat out Friday’s work (Brian Dawkins was finishing his new contract, while Renaldo Hill was cut loose. Both younger players seemed to do very well.
“It just reminded me of my high-school and college days, where on the first day (a coach would say), ‘Rahim, you’re with the ones,’” Moore said. “You’ve got to grow up someday and get thrown in the fire. It also shows me how I can respond as a young man and how much I can take self-criticism. I made a few mistakes today, but everything I did, I did full speed. Moore added, “I’m learning. Coach (Ron) Milus and Coach (Sam) Garnes are doing a good job coaching me up every snap. It wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be, but it was pretty good.”
Carter developed problems with the heat and had to sit down - surprisingly few players seemed bothered, so they must have been rehydrating well. Carter and fellow rookie Moore also worked as the first-team safety tandem for the second consecutive day, and their performance drew both notice and praise from Champ Bailey.
“The one thing I notice about them: they have the confidence,” the veteran CB said. “They come out there and they don’t act like they’re rookies, and I appreciate that because we need guys like that. We don’t need rookies to act like rookies. We need them to act like pros and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing the last few days.”
Considering the way that those two safeties responded, that Julius Thomas has been outclassing all the other TEs at receiving and that Von Miller has moved right onto the field, as did Orlando Franklin, and that Mike Mohamed has been picking up time at Sam when Miller’s quad was bruised and at Will when D.J. Williams’ leg bothered him, Denver has had six of their nine draft picks working with the first teams. It’s too early to know what the outcome will be - although he’s said to prefer veterans, John Fox has never been shy about playing youngsters right away if they can handle it - but it’s never a bad sign to see all of them take the field right away and get positive comments just as fast. Miller had a couple of INTs, Moore had a couple of passes defensed and made a couple of nice hits, as did Carter. David Bruton got some first-team reps on Saturday, and Darcel McBath got some as well earlier in the week. Safety will be a position to watch.
I’ll pick up on a few more issues on Wednesday - see you then, and Go Broncos!
PS. I read the other day in the comments about someone having start-and-stop problems when on the official site and watching their video browser. I had the same trouble when in Google Chrome, which I usually love. I just popped the address into Internet Explorer (which I usually don’t care for that much) and voila, problem solved. It may be the Flash Player, Real Time player or whatever video tool you’re using, and how it integrates into your OS on that site, or a different issue. I’m not a tech guy - far from it - but I’ve had good luck just changing browsers when that happens. If anyone has other thoughts, feel free to add them to the comments.