This upcoming Denver Broncos season should answer many questions regarding quarterback/head coach relationship, running game, offensive line, a possible new wide receiving threat and a revamped defense to go along with a normal potent offense.
Whether this is or isn’t Peyton Manning’s last season in Denver, he will be the quarterback under center for the Broncos this season. However, it remains to be seen if the impact Manning would have in a Gary Kubiak offense that relies heavily on the run and play action. Throughout both careers, play action has been a strong suit in exploited defenses. Play action is not a problem for Manning. Time will tell what kind of the offense the Broncos and the coaching staff will run. Kubiak is a proven offensive guru and with a quarterback like Manning, all this talk could be mute.
Another position solidified as number one on the depth chart is running back. CJ Anderson’s production in second-half of last season ran the football as well as any running back in the NFL. After 849 yards in just half of the season, an argument can be made that Anderson was the single-most important player on the Broncos in the 2014 season. Montee Ball, the starter at running back last season before his injury played decent enough to continue as the number one back, but Ball’s inefficiency at pass protection led to him giving the job to Ronnie Hillman briefly. The decision to start Hillman over Ball was due to more explosive plays on offense, but given the history of Hillman as a running back, that was not going to last long leading to speculation of his spot on the roster. This could leave the door open for ex-CSU Ram running back Kapri Bibbs to make the 53-man roster.
One of the many problems with a Fox-led staff had been reluctance to play rookies. With the Ryan Clady injury looming large for the team, the Broncos will have to rely heavily on Chris Clark, rookie Ty Sambrailo, new signee and former Bronco, Ryan Harris and lastly, 2014 draft pick Michael Schofield who did not dress for a single game last year. Harris would seem to have the edge over the others given his history with the Broncos, as well as with Kubiak when he played with the Texans. Cody Latimer, another rookie last year, saw limited action last season due to an injury. An intriguing receiving option to examine will be the combination of Demaryius Thomas and Latimer on the outside, with Sanders moved to the slot position in taking over for now-free agent, Wes Welker. The uncertainty of Latimer, given his lack of field production, may give the Broncos a status quo situation with Thomas and Sanders, which could open the door for Latimer in the slot position. The more intriguing training camp battle this year is the fight for the fourth receiver spot. Andre Caldwell has been the incumbent the last couple but due to his struggles on the field, that could open the door for the fourth spot, Bennie Fowler. Fowler was on the Broncos practice squad last couple years and now he has given the team high hopes to make the team.
The most exciting part of the coaching changes and training camp are the
personnel additions of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator (2011-2013) and Bill Kollar as defensive line coach (2009-2014) and the work they will do for the defense. Phillips’ 3-4 defenses will bode very well for pass rushers like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware (played under Phillips in Dallas) and this year’s first round draft pick, Shane Ray, from Missouri. The loss of Terrance Knighton will hurt the defense, but the Broncos appear comfortable with former first round pick Sylvester Williams as their nose tackle/defensive tackle along with rotating the versatile lineman Malik Jackson into the fold. Phillips’ blitz packages will present challenges for any offense, but the question will remain: Will all this really make a difference in the outcome of the season? The same thing was said last year with the additions of TJ Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib. All three are great players, but the expectations could have been too high to match. This year, with expectations mixed, the Broncos could be looking at a better season defensively.
The biggest challenge the Broncos organization faces is what does the future hold beyond 2015. The status at the quarterback position can change depending on the direction the team wants to go. Signing Thomas to a five-years 70 million dollar contract with 43.5 million guaranteed answered one of those questions. With Thomas signed, the Broncos can now focus on signing Miller to either a franchise tag or a hefty long-term extension. It is unclear what deal Miller wants, but the Broncos can use the Kansas City Chiefs contract of six-years 101 million dollar contract with 52 million guaranteed with Justin Houston as a framework for Miller.
The 2015 season brings a new attitude, a new identity and a fresh start. Training camp starts July 31.
Get a head start on the NFL season by attending Denver Broncos’ training camp at Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre in Englewood, Colorado. Hipmunk.com has affordable flights to Denver for out of town fans. Englewood is about a half-hour drive from Denver International Airport. Hotels in Denver starting from $59 can be reserved through Hipmunk as well.