It is rare for every player on a team to play perfect for every game. However, when a player is struggling consistently, then the coaches need to take a look into switching things up. For the Broncos, there are a few of these cases. I am going to take a look at six different players, four of whom are players I believe should be benched or see a reduced role. Another, I hear many Broncos fans talk about, and the last is one of controversy between fans.
First up, I am going to shut down the outlandish one. Every time I go to a Broncos website, sports website, Facebook or Twitter, I see fans talking about how this player needs to be benched. That player is T.J. Ward. It may seem ridiculous, but there are Broncos fans out there who want him benched in favor of Quinton Carter.
Now, benching Ward would be like benching Peyton Manning (there are some out there who do want that). It simply isn’t an option. Carter has talent and deserves a role on the defense, but where do you bring him in? Rahim Moore has been playing great and so has Ward. Ward flies all over the field and is always near the ball carrier. You don’t put that type of player on the bench. The biggest stated reason for benching him is the lack of interceptions.
Getting interceptions is not Ward’s forte, though he can snag one on occasion. He is an excellent run defender who is also solid in coverage. Keep in mind, he has an underrated ability to get after the QB. On 14 pass rush attempts he is credited with four pressures, which puts his pass rush productivity at 23.2 for fifth best in the NFL. Like previously mentioned, Carter deserves a role on the defense, but not at the cost of benching Ward.
Now onto the controversial player, Manuel Ramirez. Some of the offensive line's troubles come from the center position. So should the Broncos consider benching Ramirez for Will Montgomery? I say no, they shouldn’t, but there are many out there who disagree. During the preseason, Montgomery struggled consistently in both run blocking and pass protection against second and third stringers. That makes it hard for me to believe he is a viable upgrade. However, something does need to happen. Ramirez needs to step his game up, but there just is no competition for his job: thus, no drive for him to step it up.
Now that those are out of the way, I can look at the four players I found where a change needs to happen. Of the four, two of them are starters (one on offense and defense) and the last two are lower on the depth chart, but still struggling (also, one on offense and defense).
Starting off with the defensive starter, we have Sylvester Williams. Since being drafted in the first round in the 2013 draft, Williams has been invisible during the regular season. He showed promise when he took over for an injured Kevin Vickerson in his rookie year, and in the preseason just months ago. Since then, he has gone back to invisible. He needs to step it up to help take pressure off the other defensive linemen and linebackers. Mainly, Terrance Knighton.
The player to take over for Williams would be Marvin Austin. In less snaps, Austin has been more effective than Williams, against the run and pass. Marvin Austin is sitting at a 7.7 run stop percentage, while Williams sits at a 7. For pass rush productivity, Austin leads the team with a 5.2. Slowly Austin has been getting more snaps during the game, so seeing him replace Williams may not be too far off, if Williams continues his struggles.
The offensive starter is Chris Clark. Clark has been a weak spot on the offensive line all season, both in run block and pass protection. He is not the offensive lineman doing the worst in run blocking, but far from the best. Continuity is needed along the offensive line, which makes seeing a switch unlikely, unless an injury were to occur. But, if Clark keeps struggling, the Broncos coaches need to make it clear that they are willing to replace him, even if they just bench him for a game.
If they were to bench Clark, where would they look? There are multiple options. They can move Orlando Franklin back to right tackle and plug in Ben Garland at left guard. They could also replace Clark with rookie, Michael Schofield, or put in backup swing tackle, Paul Cornick. The first option is the unlikeliest, so it comes down to Schofield or Cornick. If you want to make your decision based on draft status, go on ahead, but it will be a mistake. Paul Cornick should be the clear option if the coaches were to make a switch. During the preseason, Schofield struggled consistently every game, whereas Cornick played great, outside of a game where the whole offensive line was bad.
Again, making a switch on the offensive line is unlikely. But, the coaching staff needs to figure something out to get the players, and the unit, to step up their game, especially in run blocking.
Andre Caldwell was the main kick returner for the Broncos, except against the Cardinals, where Omar Bolden was back to return. On the offensive side of the ball, Caldwell has done little, to nothing production-wise. The Broncos can’t run the ball to his side because he can't run block. As a receiver, he has been targeted seven times, with two receptions for 16 yards. He also has dropped two passes. A change is needed.
The change would be to rookie receiver, Cody Latimer. Big, fast and physical, Latimer's style of play can be more helpful than Caldwell’s. His physical blocking would help the run game, as he could handle some of the more physical defensive backs. In the passing game he is a big target that is hard to defend against, similar to Demaryius Thomas. Even if it is just for a game, a change needs to be made. Caldwell is not playing well enough to stay as an active player on the roster right now.
With Kayvon Webster, he is used rarely on defense. His snap count has been limited to just 25 snaps in three games. When he does see the field, he is ineffective and often sees the play go his way. Replacing him would likely be Tony Carter, a player I was against in the preseason. Carter has a different skill set than Webster, and one that can be more helpful to the defense in limited reps.
Carter, despite his troubles, is aggressive and has a nose for finding the ball. In limited reps, that can be incredibly helpful in getting more interceptions then the defense has been getting.
Most of these are unlikely to happen, with the exception of Williams for Austin. If these players keep struggling, the coaches need to show that it isn’t alright. They are the Denver Broncos and a Super Bowl victory is their goal. For that, they need everyone performing at a consistent, solid level. In the NFL, you are only as good as your weakest link.