June 11, 2013; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) walks off the field following mini camp drills at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
For obvious reasons we have kept an earnest and intense look at the Denver Broncos all off-season. They are the current AFC West Champions and the team in the way of the San Diego Chargers from recapturing the division. We’ve taken a good hard look at the roster in Kansas City, next stop, the Mile High City, Denver!
It’s an understatement when I say Peyton Manning makes this team better. Manning now 37 years old, doesn’t have a whole lot of time left, he may play two more seasons at most. This just means time in running out to give Manning a pounding. It’s not hasty to assume that the Broncos will not be the dominant force once Manning does retire, after Manning is Brock Osweiler who is reaping the benefits of playing behind a legend, but he doesn’t come close to what Manning brings to the team. Keeping Manning upright will be the return of Ryan Clady, Chris Kuper, Zane Beadles and Dan Koppen, and along for the ride is former Charger, Louis Vasquez. This group will likely continue to do nice work, but Dwight Freeney isn’t about to let anyone get in the way of his goal of multi-sacking Manning.
The Broncos may have lost Brandon Stokley in the slot, but they made the ultimate upgrade in signing Wes Welker. Pairing Welker with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who are both 1,000-yard receivers, the Broncos may possibly have the best trio of receivers in the league. Denver will be returning their tight ends in Jacob Tamme and Joel Dressen who combined for 93 receptions. A Peyton Manning team doing what they do best, catching the ball.
Denver might have the aerial attack dialed up and ready, yet what they lack in is a legitimate rushing attack. True the Broncos selected Montee Ball in the 2nd round of the NFL draft, pairing him up with Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman will be something to watch for during pre-season. Last year, their leader in yards per attempt was fullback Jacob Hester. Hester won’t see a bulk of carries but instead do what he’s acclaimed to do, block. Unless Hillman has a breakout season or the drafting of Ball was the answer to their rush attack, it remains to be seen if this team is offensively balanced.
On Defense, Robert Ayers simply will not be able to fill the shoes of the departed Elvis Dumervil. Yet, Ayers has been a Broncos starter in the past and will be asked to continue to do so with Derek Wolfe on the other end. Kevin Vickerson and newly drafted Sylvester Williams will hold down the middle of the defensive line. Williams was a kid I clustered as a draftee the Chargers would target, unfortunate he’s a Bronco and there could be a lot of potential coming from him for the wrong team. With recent news of Von Miller’s possible suspension, Shaun Phillips could breakthrough the starting line-up. Phillips is a keen pass rusher, expected to step in and do what he does best. With him will be Wesley Woodyard on the weak side and filling in for the middle where Keith Brookings was their starter is a big fat hole. Their best bet is to start Stewart Bradley, the only player with significant playing time, aside from him is a group of undrafted players.
In the defensive backfield will be the return of Champ Bailey. Bailey at age 36, was selected to the Pro Bowl yet another year making him the record cornerback (12x) to be selected to this honor. Bailey will have yet another face on the opposite side of him in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Whether it was a bad setting for DRC in Philadelphia or if he just isn’t the defender he used to be will be determined by what he does in Denver. Although, don’t sleep on Chris Harris to give him his starting job so easily. Harris played well last season and at times looked to be more finessed than Bailey. As for the safety tandem of Mike Adams and Rahim Moore (Moore is another player I coveted a few years back in the draft) don’t bring elite status to the record books, but will fill in admirably as they did last season.
So there you have it, a team many are placing their bets to represent the AFC in the Superbowl. John Fox had the luxury of having an offensive guru in Mike McCoy but it’ll be a whole new ball game with first-time offensive coordinator Adam Gase calling the shots. Whether Gase will perform as well as McCoy remains to be seen, before being promoted to OC he was the Broncos quarterback coach and judging by what he did for Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, I’m not convinced. John Fox is a defensive minded coach and leaving the game in the hands of Manning and Gase will be risky. Looking across this roster, the Denver Broncos have very few holes, which is why they are the favorite to go to the post-season. The possible suspension of Von Miller or a hit to Peyton Manning that causes him to ride the bench the rest of the season will change the tide of the season. Anything can happen, lots of uncertainty, hopefully Mike McCoy rallies our troops and prepares for battle!