As the Denver Broncos begin their transition from the Peyton Manning Era to Gary Kubiak's WCO-variant offense, a lot of things have begun to take shape. Unquestionably, the rushing game is being completely remade, with an upgraded offensive line leading the way.
Close behind that is the completion of the tight end position. Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and Garrett Graham can all block, and all three can catch. Since the West Coast Offense tends to use the tight ends heavily, this alone is a major shift for the Broncos.
Quarterback is undergoing a total makeover. Trevor Siemian is the remaining holdover from 2015. He’s not going to go down easily—now in his second season, he’s shown a strong arm and excellent football intelligence.
Veteran Mark Sanchez has come in looking for his own role in this transition. He’s shown leadership in bringing all the available wide receivers, tight ends and running backs together—with Siemian and himself—to get everyone on the same page.
With the drafting of Paxton Lynch, Sanchez has evolved into a mentor for him. Sanchez has played in a very similar offense with similar terminology in the past. He’s also been to the AFC Championship game twice, so he has some knowledge to share.
Lynch is currently the anointed starter to be. He’s 6-foot-7 and 244 pounds, with a strong arm, strong legs and good mobility. He’s a perfect fit for the WCO offense. .
Everyone who’s seen the film clip of him throwing 50 yards downfield across his body accurately understands what that means. He’s able to take some mustard off the ball and locate it well for shorter throws.
The WCO often uses half the field for its receivers on a given play. If this variation follows traditional WCO principles, there will always be at least one receiver on the other side as a decoy.
That makes the reads easier for the quarterback, making this faster for Lynch to pick up. Bill Walsh believed in taking as much decision-making as possible off the player’s shoulders, preferring to run the game himself. Joe Montana never did get over that, but it may help Paxton.
The rushing game has gotten a major makeover. There was an impressive offensive line revival, adding Russell Okung at left tackle and Donald Stephenson at right tackle, (Michael Schofield will compete against him).
My money’s on Max and Connor by the bye week. Kubiak has suggested that McGovern might get a look-see at tackle, so nothing’s written in stone.
Ronnie Hillman will likely be playing the change of pace role. The run game needs to step up this season and the personnel looks like it will, on paper. Everything changes when the pads come on.
When they do, my eyes are going to be on newly drafted fullback, Andy Janovich. Kubiak has noted that he has similarities to Howard Griffith, which is high praise indeed.
Andy’s not an ironhead, drive-blocking his way forward. He tends to hit at angles. He can catch the ball and he’s solid in pass protection. He has a fullback’s ‘can do’ attitude as well. I look forward to seeing his work.
Tight end is in some ways the most changed of the positions. Virgil Green has to breathe a sigh of relief—the Broncos finally have three tight ends who can block. Hopefully, that will open the door to getting him more receptions—he has exceptional hands.
So does Jeff Heuerman, who is returned from a knee injury that took away his rookie year. Newly acquired veteran TE Garrett Graham was nearly a free agent in 2014. This is from a NY Times article on him at the draft.
Like (Owen) Daniels, Graham is a very similar player lost among the hype of better athletes who, chances are, aren’t likely to become as good as Graham already is. I will not be at all surprised when Graham develops into a solid starter and when half of the prospects rated above him don’t pan out.
He’s panned out well. 2013 has been his best career year so far. He’s a solid player who should compliment Green and Heuerman. Garrett is 29.
The Broncos may be developing undrafted free agent TE Henry Krieger-Coble on the practice squad. If so, that should both prepare for possible injuries and develop Henry in case Graham begins to falter down the road.
Scout Chris Landry is high on Graham. We know that both Green and Heuerman can play at this level. Although new to Denver, Graham has played well for 6 years now. Landry commented on him last year,
“He's a pass-catching tight end with good hands. He's a flex Y, H-back-type who really stays balanced as a blocker. I think he's a very functional guy. Is a quality guy. I think there are some guys in the draft who are intriguing, but he certainly is the best of the attainable guys in free agency.”
Graham was often behind Owen Daniels on the depth chart. Their games are similar, although Garrett has the advantage of being able to block. Just as has happened to Green, that sometimes meant blocking while Daniels ran a route.
Heuerman may be the top receiver in the group, although Green has caught nearly everything thrown his way. All three can chip and run outlet routes.
Some WCO systems use a flex Y or an H-back (formerly known as a wingback). Others don’t, so I look forward to finding out what Kubiak’s choice will look like this year.
The WCO is an endlessly flexible system. Denver has the tools to turn this group of players into an efficient scoring machine. The WCO tends to aim at mastering both ball and clock control: passing the ball to score, running the ball to win.
I can’t wait to see what Kubiak does with it.
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