Three Broncos To Watch in Training Camp

Outside linebacker Robert Ayers was already going to be in the spotlight as a 2009 first-round pick who had no sacks as a rookie but was handed a starting job anyway. The pressure increased when he found himself in the doghouse during the Broncos' mandatory minicamp.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN TRAINING CAMP
--Outside linebacker Robert Ayers: Ayers was already going to be in the spotlight as a 2009 first-round pick who had no sacks as a rookie but was handed a starting job anyway. The pressure increased when he found himself in the doghouse during the Broncos' mandatory minicamp. He was held out of practice the first two days as a punishment, and when he returned it was with the third team. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said there would be an open competition between Ayers and Jarvis Moss, another former first-round pick. Given Moss' lack of production, the proclamation seems like mostly a way to motivate Ayers, who had been having a good offseason. But the Broncos' lack of depth at outside linebacker is an issue, and could be a big problem if Ayers doesn't respond with a good training camp. Although he didn't produce much as a rookie, despite playing nearly every snap in which Denver went to its nickel defense, the team saw enough potential from him to project a bigger impact this year.

--Tight end Richard Quinn: The Quinn selection in the 2009 draft was curious from the start, when the Broncos traded two third-round picks to move up to the final pick of the second round, and take a tight end virtually nobody -- including Quinn himself -- thought would go nearly that high. After all, Quinn caught 12 passes for 124 yards his entire college career. So Quinn was a leap of faith by the Broncos ... and he gave them almost no return on their investment last year. He didn't catch a pass and contributed very little. The Broncos liked him as a blocker coming out of college but they have Daniel Graham, who might be the best blocking tight end in the NFL. But with Tony Scheffler gone, the Broncos need Quinn to provide some depth. A poor offseason, in which he dropped many passes, isn't a good sign. With Graham aging, the Broncos need to see some signs of life from Quinn -- or admit a massive draft mistake and start over finding a tight end for the future.

--Tight end Marquez Branson: If Quinn can't deliver, Branson is an intriguing darkhorse at the position. To be fair the two are opposite players, but that might be why Branson gets a significant role. While Quinn is mostly a blocker, Branson is more of a big receiver who can step into the receiving tight end role vacated when Scheffler was traded. Branson is a good athlete and made some nice plays over the offseason. Denver doesn't use the tight end too much in the passing game, but McDaniels did have games in which Scheffler was a key part of the game plan. If Branson, who was on the practice squad last year, shows he can be a consistent threat with a good training camp, he could be a little-known source of some important production. With the Broncos very thin at fullback behind Spencer Larsen, Branson also lined up some in the backfield during the offseason. That gives the Broncos some intriguing possibilities, using Branson to get favorable matchups out of the backfield.

Hot seat: Safety Renaldo Hill is lauded for his intelligence and big role in communicating with the Broncos' secondary. However, in a secondary with some big names, he might be the weakest link. Hill is still a productive player, and for now the unquestioned starter at free safety, but this is one position where the Broncos have a hungry young player behind a veteran. Darcel McBath was one of the few bright spots for the 2009 draft class. He showed good range and ability when he was pressed into duty. He looks like the clear free safety of the future, and he could push Hill during the summer with a great camp. Hill turns 32 during the season and the Broncos -- who could employ eight defensive starters past the age of 30 -- need to start getting younger on defense at some point. The Broncos like leaning on veterans, so that gives Hill an edge, but it's one of the few starting position battles that bears watching in training camp.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Britton Colquitt's ascent to being the unquestioned No. 1 punter for the Broncos -- he's the only one left on the roster after the team cut A.J. Trapasso -- is surprising only because of what the Broncos ask of their punter and their seeming desire to have a veteran handle it.

Denver does a lot of directional punting, and decided very early last year that Brett Kern was unable to handle that. The Broncos signed a veteran, Mitch Berger, to handle all of those responsibilities. Berger struggled, but it showed the Broncos are probably more comfortable with a veteran. Colquitt has never punted in a NFL game.

While Colquitt has a lot of talent, it's possible the Broncos could again look into bringing in a veteran if he struggles right away.

--The Broncos moved rookie Zane Beadles from tackle to guard for the final few practices of the offseason, but they said a decision on Beadles' permanent position hasn't been made.

Denver could use some depth at tackle, with Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris coming back from injuries, but might also need a starting left guard.

"At some point, we will make a determination at where we think he has to stay, so we can focus on him improving and competing for a position," McDaniels said.

--Linebacker Darrell Reid didn't practice this offseason, coming off a knee injury, and the injury is a blow to Denver's depth rushing the quarterback. The timetable for Reid, who played extensively on passing downs last year, to return is uncertain.

"He may be one of the few that goes into training camp and can't really participate right away," McDaniels said.

--There will always be some struggles for a new quarterback in Josh McDaniels' offensive system. Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow each had some tough days in the offseason practices, so the coaching staff kept on them about correcting mistakes.

"You know I'm going to yell at them when they make mistakes and we're going to coach them hard," McDaniels said. "Right now we're showing them so many different things out there on defense, and a lot of times it's their first time seeing something. If that's the case, you're going to make some mistakes. That's what we go into the film room and work through.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's a no brainer he'll be here, because they know what they have." -- Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey on the prospects of a long-term extension for linebacker Elvis Dumervil.



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