Most of the starters are done for the preseason. All that's left is the game of backups. We're probably going to know very little more after that game than we do now. So what exactly do we know? This is my take.
QB- Elway took a big gamble signing Peyton Manning to a huge contract. He is who John Elway thought he was. How nice is it to see open receivers actually get the ball? Manning has single handedly changed the expectations and level of performance around Dove Valley.
FB- Yes, we have a real fullback. Gronk has been doing a great job opening holes and eliminating linebackers from the play. I've been impressed with him.
RB- McGahee looks great. Despite not having the breakaway speed, he gets the most out of every carry. He still has the agility and vision to be an effective #1 back. Hillman will have to get fully healthy before we know what we have in him. Lance Ball is average and reliable. You know exactly what you're going to get out of him night in and night out. He'll never be more than a quality #3 back in the NFL. Knowshon fits the role of a 3rd and mid to long range back perfectly. He works well out in space, has good hands, and does an excellent job of picking up the blitz.
WR- Decker is obviously ahead of the curve with Manning. The chemistry between the two is undeniable. I'm going to be patient with DT. He's still learning how to run routes, and trying to get on the same page with Manning. The talent is there. Hopefully it will all come together at some time during the season. Stokely looks like he's 28 again. Still slow as molasses, still knows how to get open, and still has hands like glue. I have no idea who the 4th WR will be. Caldwell was a lock early on, but he's fallen by the wayside some in the preseason. This may be a position that the Broncos scour the waiver wire for at the end of the week. Willis has been hot and cold as well.
TE- Dreesen is solid. His blocking has been good, and he can catch the ball. Tamme has been a huge disappointment. He can't block and he hasn't been able to regin the ball in consistently. Manning won't keep throwing to a guy that he doesn't trust to hang on to the ball. Virgil Green is still a solid blocker and backup fullback. I expect him to make the cut, but this might be another position that the Broncos bolster through the waiver wire. It would be a contraversial move, but I'd love to see the Broncos go after Chris Cooley. He can block, he can get open, and he can catch the dang ball.
OL- This is where it gets messy. Clady looks like he's returning to form. Franklin looks like he's improving in pass blocking and has always been a beast against the run. Manny Ramirez has been a very pleasant surprise. He's been left to block one on one most of the preseason, and has more than held his own in pass blocking. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that the Broncos almost always use Beadles and Walton to double one pass rusher, while the other three lineman are left to handle thier men alone. Beadles and Walton are fine in pass protection as long as the other team is rushing only four. When they rush more, it gets ugly. Need an example? Watch the San Fran game. Mannings big hit came on a play where the Dline stunted and Beadles completely let his man come free through the middle. The play where Hanie was strip sacked? Beadles was left to block one on one on a stunt and was beaten like a drum again. Ramirez is clearly a better guard than Beadles. Don't be surprised to see him moved to LG when Kuper gets back on the field. Don't get me started on the backups. I don't think the Broncos have a single quality backup lineman outside of Manny Ramirez.
Dline- This unit has been the biggest surprise of the preseason. There is talent, depth, and power in that Dline. How long has it been since we could say that? The Broncos starting Dline has been superb. Warren looks like he's back to form. He's eating up double teams and opening up opportunities for his linemates. Big Vick is big Vick again. He's been consistently pushing lineman back towards the QB and collapsing the pocket. He's solid against the run as well. Unrein is a quality backup. Wolfe is making an impact despite missing OTA's. He's in on just about every play with the starting defense, playing end on run downs and tackle on passing downs. Many considered Ayers a solid starter last season. This season he's a solid backup. Beal flashed early, but has faded some. He might be the odd man out here. Doom is back to his 2009 form. Is it just me or does he look quicker this year? Malik Jackson has made his mark in the preseason as well. His versatility on the line makes him even more valuable. I expect to see his role increase as the season goes on. When was the last time the Broncos had two promising rookie defensive lineman on the roster?
Outside of Von Miller there's little to be happy about. Von looks great. I'd like to see him rushing the passer more and covering TE's and RB's less. Joe Mays is still the misguided missle. It's going to take a lot for this defense to cover up his mistakes. Wesley Woodyard is a 3rd down linebacker at best. He's not starter material. Our glimmer of hope here is Danny Trevathan. He seems to have a nose for the ball and can cover well. It's too early to tell if he's Wesley Woodyard 2, or a promising young every down linebacker. He was playing well before the injury, and I thought he had a chance to supplant Woodyard. I'd love to see Brooking get healthy and take over the MLB job. I'd rather have a slower, more instinctive MLB that will get to the right gap (albeit slower than most) and put himself in position to make a tackle, than a guy that takes himself out of most plays with missed tackles and wrong angles. His hammy may have done him in though. It's not hard to see why they are keeping DJ around. He may be a knucklehead off of the field, but he's still the 2nd best linebacker on this roster. This is another position that the Broncos may try to improve via the waiver wire, or even through trade.
I'm liking the Mike Adams signing more and more every game. He doesn't do anything flashy. He just gets the job done and you can count on him to be in the right place. Rahim Moore is a big risk out there on the field. His athleticism doesn't seem to translate well in game action. He's still making mental errors that could cost this team games. Quinton Carter was hurt early on in camp and hasn't been able to get back on the field. Our ace in the hole may be Jim Leonhard. He's another solid vet that knows how to be in the right place at the right time. He actually might be the best safety on this roster. I'm hoping that he's healthy enough to play a lot in Thursday's game. He also might be our best punt returner outside of Eric Decker.
Champ is still blanketing the other team's best receiver and playing at a pro bowl level. Tracy Porter is a huge upgrade over Goodman, and Chris Harris is picking up where he left off last season. The Broncos only weak spot here is the 4th corner. I'll take that. This unit has been massively upgraded in the offseason. Between the defensive line and the corners, we might just be able to overcome some of the linebacker woes.
Our kickers are solid. Our return game needs a serious boost. I'd love to see the Broncos bring in a return guy and add some gusto to this phase of the game. For now though I'll settle for our returners holding onto the ball.
Overall I'm pleased. I didn't expect the Broncos to win the Super Bowl this season, and still don't. The depth is a major concern, but I do think that we can win the division, make some serious noise in the playoffs, and head into the offseason with just a few holes to fill to put us over the edge. I can't wait for the season to start.