Every new coach brings along a few players and coaches that he trusts. He trusts them to do their job, but knows that it goes both ways. Jack Del Rio was the fire under Terrance Knighton, who turned into a leader.
Owen Daniels has spent all nine of his NFL seasons under Gary Kubiak. They were together for eight years in Houston before spending 2014 in Baltimore. They have a relationship of trust. Every new head coach needs a guy to help teach and motivate the other players at his position. Kubiak feels he can count on Daniels to help fill that role for him.
Daniels came out of the University of Wisconsin in 2006. He’s played in the full zone blocking scheme in both college and in the pros. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 Draft, 98th overall. Kubiak found in him a dependable, intelligent, and focused player.
Daniels suited the needs of Kubiak’s scheme perfectly. He’s been voted to the Pro Bowl twice. Since he’s 6’3” and 247 lb, he has the bulk to block. He credits ex-Bronco Joel Dreessen for having taught him to block while both were in Houston. With his soft hands, Daniels is a tall, powerful receiver. Like Virgil Green, he’s played the H-back, the slot, and the inline strongside TE position. He has caught at least one pass in 103 consecutive regular-season games dating to his rookie year to tie Jason Witten for the longest active streak in the NFL among tight ends.
Last year during OTAs and training camp, Peyton Manning threw more to Virgil Green. The result was very positive. Right now, Denver has Green, Daniels, Dominique Jones, and the fellow from Dixie State, Joe Don Duncan. I think that Green has the potential to fly up the seam, the ankles and balance to cut well, and the hands to catch whatever Manning throws at him. Duncan’s blocking ability might free Green up to catch more.
Daniels has a lot in common with Green. Green is 6’5” and 255 lb, while Daniels is 6’3” and 247 lb. Both block and catch well. In Owen’s favor is his experience under Kubiak and in this scheme. The scheme will be adapted to Peyton Manning’s needs. Green hasn’t been used much as a target. He’s played H-back, slot, and in-line well, though. When he’s gotten the rare chance, he’s caught the ball well (23 receptions). He’s carried for a TD, which isn’t common for TEs.
I’d like to see Green finally getting the receptions that he’s shown the ability to catch. Manning was impressed with him last summer, but that didn’t carry over to games. Virgil gets a new start, and I hope that factor changes. Green and Daniels, one to each side, could give fits to opposing defensive backs. Add Demaryius Thomas (good blocker) and Emmanuel Sanders (speed demon) and it gets even tougher. Cody Latimer plays a role here, too. He was considered by many to be the best blocking receiver in the 2014 Draft. All of those facts open the door for Kubiak to expand on his WCO variation. Both blocking and receiving from the Broncos could come from anywhere on the field.
Jacob Tamme may also rejoin the TE group. He’s not a strong blocker, but he has had good experiences receiving from Manning. In 2010, with Peyton and the Colts, he hauled in 67 passes in a 10-game stretch following an injury to Dallas Clark.
Surprisingly, Denver brought in Joe Don Duncan. He’s another 6’3” player, but he weighs 268 lb. He hits like an avalanche when he uses proper technique. I’m not sure if he’ll step up far to NFL receiving - he’s heavy-footed. But with proper training on his blocking technique, he could be a guy who catches 10 balls a year for you, but sets your running backs free. As was often discussed last season, there are times when nearly every team wishes they had a solid blocking TE. If Denver keeps these tight ends, they could fit the bill. More may be brought in, but Daniels blocks well, as does Green. Denver’s well-suited to block and receive from the TEs.
Duncan’s blocking needs quality coaching. I’ve watched what film I could find of him, and it’s all pretty much the same. He’s powerful. He needs lots of agility training. He’s got to learn hand position with hand and foot technique. Even so, for a blocking TE, he could develop into a nice option. He’s a camp body at minimum. He could become a lot more.
The tight end position is starting to take shape for the Broncos. That’s good -- it’s a very weak year in the draft. I’d guess that Maxx Williams goes in the late-first or second round and Clive Walford goes anywhere between the second and fourth rounds. No one is expected to excel beyond those two. Camp bodies will be brought in, though.
With the signings of Daniels and Duncan, Denver has the basis for a functional TE position. If they can improve on it, great. If not - it’s not a screeching need for them.