Broncos Final 53
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Kyle Orton. Backups -- Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn.
This has truly emerged as Orton's team this offseason. Right tackle Ryan Harris said last week that the confidence that the quarterback and chip on his shoulder Orton has demonstrated has really rubbed off on the offense. More important, Orton is able to make quicker decisions, go deeper into his reads and get Denver out of bad plays. Tebow should play in some games in Wildcat-type formations to take advantage of his dual running and throwing ability. But, especially early in the season, Denver's in trouble if Orton goes down and either Tebow or Quinn has to play extensively.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Knowshon Moreno. Backups -- Correll Buckhalter, Lance Ball, Andre Brown, FB Spencer Larsen.
Moreno needs to produce more in his second season after failing to record a single 100-yard game and averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt. The revisions up front should help, but he also has to demonstrate that he can make people miss in open space and bust a big play every once in awhile. Buckhalter actually was more decisive and quick to the hole last season but has to show that he can stay healthy for a solid length of time. Ball made the most of extra snaps in training camp and because he's impressed with his pass protection, too, he may play some early in the season Moreno/Buckhalter getting back to full speed. Larsen concentrated solely at fullback after also playing linebacker last season and has concentrated on improving his lead-blocking techniques.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Daniel Graham. Backups -- Marquez Branson, Richard Quinn.
Graham never will be an Antonio Gates/Dallas Clark type in Denver's offense and isn't asked to within McDaniels scheme. He can occasionally pop loose and catch an intermediate ball down the seam. But his main contribution comes in the blocking game and the physical presence he brings along the line of scrimmage. Quinn can be described in much of the same manner but his hands leave much to be desired. If the Broncos are going to pass out of two tight-end formations, Branson could fill the role that Tony Scheffler once did with the Broncos. He's the best pass-catcher of the trio and will also align as a fullback and H-back at times. WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney. Backups -- Brandon Lloyd, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Matthew Willis.
Gaffney has been in McDaniels' system the longest and he's developed a non-verbal chemistry with Orton on sight adjustments. Really, Denver will be mostly a three-wide receiver team with Lloyd and Royal joining Gaffney. Royal will operate out of the slot and has the quickness to excel in tight spaces and take advantage of mismatches on linebackers in the middle of the field. Lloyd can stretch the field some and has been more consistent this summer, not just making the spectacular grab but the everyday catch. But what the Broncos really need here is for Thomas to get healthy. For a brief time in camp, he was using his size to leap over safeties and catch the ball through cornerbacks, bringing to mind a faster if only slightly smaller version of the departed Marshall. Decker and Willis will have to make special teams contributions to be active on game day, but a case could be made that Willis was the most consistent playmaker in August and that he's earned the right to play a sub role in the passing game.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Ryan Clady, LG Stanley Daniels, C J.D. Walton, RG Chris Kuper, RT Ryan Harris. Backups -- G/C Russ Hochstein, T D'Anthony Batiste, T Zane Beadles, T Chris Clark.
Clady is the key to the entire group, as the Broncos have always been confident to allow him to block one-on-one against the opponent's best pass rusher and freeing the tight end to either help on the strong side or go into the pattern. His recovery from knee surgery may not allow him to a 70-snap player, thus the move of Beadles to a reserve role where his G/T versatility will help. Expect teams to attack Denver up the middle with the rookie Walton and Daniels -- who has yet to start a game after being a practice squad player the last two seasons, via the pass rush. Kuper and Harris, coming off toe surgery, give the Broncos two experienced hands in the running game and should be the attack side for the running game with Graham, the tight end, helping provide extra push.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Ryan McBean, NT Jamal Williams, RE Justin Bannan. Backups -- NT Ronald Fields, DE Marcus Thomas, DE Le Kevin Smith.
Bannan is one of those lunch-pail players that coaches love, going hard every snap and able to stay on the field in virtually any situation. With the added beef Williams provides, and more depth from top to bottom on the line, the hope is that teams will have to attack the flanks more with the run game and that Denver can run out an effective rotation that keeps the line fresh and won't fade as the season progresses. The Broncos will show a variety of looks on pass rush situations, whether having Thomas and Bannan as down lineman and allowing their OLBs to play with their hands in the dirt, or even playing a single true defensive lineman as a changeup. Fields is better suited as a backup to Williams and should be effective in that part-time role.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WOLB Jarvis Moss, WILB D.J. Williams, MLB Mario Haggan, SOLB Robert Ayers. Backups -- ILB Wesley Woodyard, ILB Joe Mays, OLB Jason Hunter.
There's still an outside chance Denver leaves Elvis Dumervil on the roster in hopes of a November/December return. But the safer move would be to call it a lost season and try to develop players in more situational roles. Ayers is the key. The light has seemingly gone on for him in his second season and he's been the player drawing double-team attention in the preseason. His combination of quickness and strength is the best hope to replace, in part, Dumervil's production. More of a concern is how well Denver can defend the outside in the running game. The team has bulked up with players like Atkins, Hunter and Alexander in an effort to improve that weak area. Williams should be good for another 100-tackle season from his inside spot, especially given his comfort level in the second year in the defense at the same position after moving around for years. Another wild card is Moss. He has shown better quick-twitch movement off the snap than years past but it's still to be determined whether he would be a liability against the run as a full-time player.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Champ Bailey, RCB Andre Goodman, SS Brian Dawkins. FS Renaldo Hill. Backups -- CB/S Nate Jones, S Darcel McBath, S David Bruton, CB Perrish Cox, CB Syd'Quan Thompson.
Dawkins carries with him an intensity that could stare a hole in a wall and immediately impacts those playing around him. He should play closer to the line of scrimmage this season and he still packs a wallop in run support. His safety partner Hill is one of those players that dissects film and can quickly recognize those moving parts in live action. But the strength of the backfield is the cornerbacks. Champ Bailey in the first preseason game got physical with and batted passes away from Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and it set a tone for the season he's expecting to have. Opposite him, Renaldo Hill is a strong complement. He doesn't have the recovery speed and quick hips of Bailey but he's physical and knows how to play the ball in the air. Nate Jones, a free-agent signee, brings a feisty attitude to the group and he'll play the nickel and serve as a fill-in and in three-safety packages. Cox is a dark horse who had a strong camp and with continued improvement could lock down the full-time nickel job this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Prater, P Britton Colquitt, LS Lonie Paxton.
Prater has refined his game over the last several years from merely a kicker with a strong leg to a player who's learned that he doesn't have to boom the ball every time and can use his mechanics to be a more consistent performer. He's in the upper echelon at his position now. Colquitt has the family pedigree as an NFL punter and he's seemed like he belongs in camp, also demonstrating a strong leg. The question there will be whether he can perform in all types of weather and as a situational performer. If he can, he could be around awhile. Paxton is one of McDaniels' favorites from the New England days and is, in a word, reliable.
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