It's that time again boys and girls. Let's break down the offense going into training camp.
LT- Ryan Clady has a chance to make himself one of the highest paid lineman in the NFL. Going into a contract season, he needs to show the Broncos that he is the Clady of old and return to his all pro form. He should have a much better season blocking for a QB that gets the ball out sometimes 3-4 seconds quicker than Tebow did. That will be a factor for all of the Broncos lineman. Ryan has always been a solid run blocker. I see no reason for that to change this season with less men in the box. His primary backup will more than likely be Ryan Harris and Chris Clark.
LG- Zane Beadles was a sore spot with me last season. One thing he does very well is pull. His pass blocking is horrid, and he looks like he's on skates at times. I'm hoping to see some major improvement out of him this season. His primary backup should be Phillip Blake.
C- JD Walton was the weakest link last season among the O lineman. The Broncos drafted Phillip Blake to give him some competition in camp. With Walton being the more experienced player, he should be able to fight off Blake early on at least. Walton's role is critical to Manning's health. Nothing good happens when your QB is being pressured up the middle. If he doesn't show improvement from last season, look for the Broncos to go to eventually go to Blake.
RG- Chris Kuper has been the Broncos best lineman over the last few years. By all reports he should be ready to go for camp. I look for him to have a pro bowl caliber season if he stays healthy. His primary backup will be Manny Ramirez.
RT- Orlando Franklin had an up and down season. He's a monster in the run game, and at times he and Kuper absolutely dominated defensive lines in games. Pass blocking was another story altogether. We tend to forget that he came into last season as a rookie with a shortened training camp and no OTA's. All in all he did a fine job considering the circumstances. If Ryan Harris can stay healthy he should challenge him in camp. I expect Franklin to keep his position and Harris to be a backup swing tackle.
Overall- Continuity is critical to an offensive line. The Broncos will finally have that this season with all 5 starters returning. Don't underestimate the Manning effect as well. He spent more than a decade making horrible offensive lines look decent in Indy. I expect the Broncos to be much improved along the line this season.
The Broncos traded Cassius Vaughn to bring in a legitimate fullback. That's a luxury that they haven't had since the days of Howard Griffith. While I don't expect Gronkowski to play often between the 20's, I think we'll see him frequently in goal line situations. He'll earn his pay in the red zone and on special teams. Look for Austin Sylvester to be waived and possibly put on the practice squad.
Willis McGahee was a pleasant surprise last season. He brings that solid veteran presence and has an eye for the open lane. He does lack that home run ability that John Fox requires out of his backs. Enter Ronnie Hillman. The Broncos traded up in the 3rd to pick up this speedster. He has great wiggle, and can take it to the house on any play. Until he learns to pass block, he won't unseat McGahee. Mario Fannin also brings speed to the table, but lacks the vision of McGahee and Hillman. He has a chance to make the roster on big play ability alone. He brings a nice combination of size and straight line speed. Knowshon Moreno may be the best 3rd down back on the roster. He's a very good pass protector, has good hands, and runs well in space. If he makes the final roster, it will be in that role. Don't be surprised to see him moved for a draft pick if teams start losing RB's to injury in the preseason. Lance Ball and Xavier Omon will need to have some help to make this roster. Ball is a reliable 3rd stringer, but brings nothing special to the table. That may not be enough to earn a roster spot. The final decision between Ball, Fannin, and Omon may come down to who can contribute the most on special teams.
Overall- The Broncos need one of the youngsters to step up and give McGahee some rest from the brutal pounding a RB takes in today's NFL. They also need to see some big plays out of the running game. With Manning at the helm, teams are not going to stack the box like they did last season. The opportunity will be there for some big plays.
John Elway showed us just how important the TE position is to him this offseason. Despite using two draft picks on players last season, he went out and signed veterans Joel Dreesen and Jacob Tamme. Dreesen is a superb blocker with underrated hands. He'll be a very solid addition to the starting lineup with the ability to help in both the pass and run game. Jacob Tamme is a pure receiving TE, and he is very familiar with Peyton Manning and the passing game that will be run here. When Dallas Clark went down with an injury in 2010, he and Manning connected for 67 receptions for 631 yards and 4 TD's in 8 starts. He has recently stated that he will be in that same role with the Broncos offense. Virgil Green showed his value last season as a blocker with the ability to move to FB in a pinch. Julius Thomas was a training camp sensation last season who struggled with injuries during the regular season. I wouldn't count on him seeing much time unless Tamme goes down with an injury.
Overall- Color me excited. It's been so long since the Broncos have truly used the TE as an actual threat in the passing game, I've forgotten what it's like. Manning will use them early and often, and the Broncos have 2 solid vets to go to.
The Broncos lost Eddie Royal to free agency. Who cares? Demaryius Thomas started to come into his own late last season. His combination of size and speed will give cornerback's fits. Look for Decker to move back to the outside this season and take Royal's spot opposite Thomas. That gives Manning two huge targets on the outside. I don't care how old Stokely is. If he's healthy, he's nearly uncoverable and he doesn't drop the ball. I see him starting in the slot and taking full advantage of this new opportunity in Denver. I understand the whole infatuation with Decker being the big monster in the slot, but he fits better on the outside. Stokes has that knack for finding the soft spot in the D and working the middle of the field. It also puts the best 3 WR's on the field in 3 WR sets. Fighting for the backup spots will be Andre Caldwell, Greg Orton, Mark Dell, DAndre Goodwin, Jason Hill, Greg Orton, Gerell Robinson, and Matt Willis, and Eric Page. That's going to be some fierce competition. Eric Page has a shot to make this team as the primary returner. Caldwell and Hill bring great speed. Robinson has great size. There's going to be some talented wide receivers cut in Denver.
Overall- This is Denver's deepest position. With the bigger use of TE's, the Broncos may keep one less WR on the roster this season. Look for it all to shake out during preseason. Special teams will be a huge factor of which backups will be kept at this position as well.
The Broncos went out and signed one of the best QB's ever to suit up. Manning's passing game and ability to read a defense and adjust is legendary. What can't be overlooked is the leadership that he brings. This is a guy that will not settle for anything less than the very best from his teammates. What's even better is the fact that his teammates all want to elevate thier game to stay in step with him. This team is going to operate at a whole new level......one that hasn't been seen since the days of Elway behind center. Manning will make the Oline better with pre-snap adjustments and a quick release. He'll make his receivers better by getting the ball to them when they get open. He'll make the running backs better by keeping defenses from loading up the box, and he'll make the defense better by actually putting some dang points on the board and forcing teams to play catch up. Osweiller is guaranteed a spot on the roster by proxy of being dubbed the QB of the future. I hope he sticks to Manning like super glue on butt cheeks. He has an opportunity to be the next great QB waiting in the wings ala Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Steve Young. We don't know if he will or not, but he certainly will be learning from some of the best QB's ever to play the game. The last QB spot on the roster will either go to Caleb Hanie or Adam Weber. Neither can carry this team in the event that Manning goes down. Weber can be placed on the practice squad again, so the final decision may come down to that.
Overall- It's simple really. If Manning stays healthy the Broncos compete. If he goes down the Broncos end up with a nice draft pick.
Final Thoughts- The Broncos should have the most improved offense in the NFL. What I'm most curious to see is just how much the Broncos will remain committed to the run. Fox has always been a run first guy, but in the end Manning will have the final say at the line of scrimmage. Expect to see a lot of the one back offenses that he ran in Indy- at least between the 20's. I expect the base offense to be split between a 2 WR, 2 TE set, and an 3WR, 1 TE set. The excitement is building and the time is almost near. Ladies and gentlemen, "Let's get ready to rumble!!!!!!"