Training camp keys and predictions

As the clock ticks down towards the start of the Denver Broncos' training camp on July 27, Broncos Update contributor Toby Thorp takes a look at the keys to this year's offense and offers some predictions.

The man in the black cowboy hat and sunglasses slides on-screen amidst a cornucopia of digital animation and I sit mesmerized. I'm waiting...yearning for him to say it...I'm about to burst in anticipation...then it comes... "ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?"

The answer right now, right here, as I sit typing this article is "YES, FOR THE LOVE OF HANK Jr. - Y E S, I'm ready for some FOOTBALL!!!!"

Don't know about the rest of you out there in Broncosland but the two and a half months between the NFL draft and minicamp is absolute misery for me. I read and re-read all the daily NFL news. I sit and ponder over and over about the future of the Broncos running game. I even went so far as visiting the Kansas City Chiefs' message board!

I do all of this in a vain attempt to stave off the misery I feel when left with nothing Broncos to occupy my mind.

Don't get me wrong, there are other things that could entertain me. Things like work, my wife or, God forbid, my children, but why start the bad habit of paying attention to those things now when they can only cause me to not deliver my full attention to the Broncos come the beginning of the season?

A man must have his priorities I say, and that priority is Orange and Blue!! Luckily for us the time is upon us and as you read this article minicamp should be over and the pre-season a mere thirty or so days away.

We've made it dear friends...we've crossed the wasteland!

With that it might be appropriate to take a look at the potential this season holds. Normally I preview each week's game with seven keys/predictions that are relative to that game. This week I'm writing about my offensive keys/predictions to the upcoming training camp and pre-season. We'll take a look at the defense in next week's article.

Offensively, the biggest question facing the Broncos is at running back. The departure of last years leading rusher, Mike Anderson, leaves a huge hole that the Broncos need to fill.

Logic would say that Tatum Bell has the inside route to becoming the starting running back this year, but Ron Dayne performed efficiently when given the chance and would seem to fit the role that Anderson played for the Broncos.

However, neither player has an iron grip on the starting position or even the "reliever" that the Broncos use so often. The two most intriguing prospects aside from Tatum Bell and Dayne would have to be newcomer Mike Bell and former practice squad player Cedric Cobbs.

Mike Bell was a very successful college runner at Arizona and emphatically stated before the draft that he wanted to play in Denver. Cobbs was a player coveted by head coach Mike Shanahan two years ago but was snapped up by the New England Patriots in the fourth round before the Broncos could make a move to secure him. When he was released last year by the Patriots, Shanahan wasted no time signing him.

Prediction: I'm going for the Dark Horse. A la Terrell Davis, I see Cobbs coming in and taking the starting running back position over. His combination of size, speed, strength and vision could make him a 1300 yard rusher this year. Also don't be surprised to see former Colorado State standout Cecil Sapp push Kyle Johnson for the starting fullback job.

Wide Receiver

Hold outs, bum knees and former first round draft picks. At wide receiver the Broncos have a TON of questions.

Probably first on all our minds is Javon Walker's health. There is no doubt that he brings Pro Bowl talent to the Broncos if healthy, but that's the question, is he healthy?

All the news out of Dove Valley seems to indicate that Walker is not only doing well but ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from a serious knee injury. He ran routes and participated in passing drills during minicamp and should be expected to play with contact in the upcoming training camp.

Ashley Lelie's holdout is now "official." By missing the mandatory minicamp he is actually costing himself money in the form of fines. Probaby no one outside of Lelie himself thinks that his holdout is either warranted or a good idea. Lelie may languish for months unless training camp and the preseason create an injury situation with a team that makes them more willing to trade for him.

The third question the Broncos face is who will stay and who will go. For the first time in years the Broncos are deep, and I mean real deep, with young talent. David Terrell, Charlie Adams, Darius Watts, Todd Devoe, David Kircus, and incoming draftees Brandon Marshall and Dominik Hixon all will vie for what is probably four of five positions on the fifty-three man roster and another practice squad position.

Predictions: Walker's attitude and abilities fit the Broncos' system to a "T". He appears happy and healthy. With a pairing with Rod Smith he may be part of a top five receiving duo.

Darius Watts is having a great off-season so look for him to break out this year. Those three players should make Jake Plummer better and as a consequence, this group could rival the McCaffrey/Smith combo of the late 90's in production.

Tight End

At tight end the Broncos are again faced with the question as to who can and will step up. The smart money - at least to start the season - is on Stephen Alexander to be the Broncos every down tight end with rookie Tony Scheffler and long time project Nate Jackson providing additional passing threats.

The team's long snapper, Mike Leach, could also fill in at tight end if needed.

Prediction : Look for Alexander to start as the team's primary tight end. As the season moves on, Tony Sheffler should come into his own as a pass catcher. Look for Scheffler to be a thirty-five to forty-five catch guy this season and a big target in the Broncos red zone offense.

Offensive Line

The offensive line is, as always, still solid. The additions of Chris Kuper and Outland Trophy winner Greg Eslinger inject youth and depth into the group that is aging. Right tackle George Foster has yet to blossom into the premier tackle the Broncos thought they drafted and needs to improve. Foster could be pressured this year by former Colorado State tackle Erik Pears. Pears played well in NFL Europe this year earning All-League recognition.

Tom Nalen is still one of the hardest working and toughest (read nasty) centers in football and leads the unit.

Prediction: Another thousand yard rusher - that's about all I need to say.

Quarterback

I probably speak for many Broncos fans when I say that the Jay Cutler draft pick really surprised, yet pleased me. Good teams don't rebuild - they reload - and that's what the Broncos did with this pick.

Jake Plummer is a quality quarterback who, week in and week out, gives Denver a chance to win games. He has improved his decision making dramatically the past two years and I firmly believe the Broncos can win a Super Bowl with him at the helm. Rather than wait until he might fail to provide that presence, however, the Broncos took steps to put his successor in place.

Don't look for Cutler to make an impact this year or even next but after that he can become a factor.

The wild card of the group is Bradlee Van Pelt. Year after year, through high school, college and now in the NFL supposed "experts" have bashed Van Pelt and numbered his days as a quarterback. Through all that he has persevered and fought. While he might not have the abilities to become an elite quarterback, you can't count a warrior like Van Pelt out.

Prediction: Harmony. Cutler isn't ready, and Van Pelt is a quality backup, but nothing more at this point so no quarterback controversy should ensue. Look for Plummer to pick up where he left off last season and continue to improve. The addition of Javon Walker gives Plummer a receiver who can go after the ball, nullifying Jake's tendency to be inaccurate. Plummer's line should look something like this - 3500 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions this year.

Next Week: The Defense

Toby Thorp is a free lance writer, Denver Broncos fan and contributor to the Broncos Update Message Board as BigHungry71. Read Thorp's "Keys and Predictions" before each Broncos game.



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