If there’s a team in the NFL that wants to get on the field more than ever, it’s the Denver Broncos, and training camp begins this week. Here’s what to watch for as the orange and blue take the field.
As all the fans know, things haven’t really gone in favor of the Broncos this off-season. Starting with the DUI’s of Director of Player Personnel Matt Russell and Director of Pro Personnel Tom Heckert taking place only a week apart, exactly one more week after that, news broke that Von Miller is facing a four-game suspension for violating NFL policy.
But training camp is beginning and that means it’s time to direct our attention to what’s happening on-the-field, and it’s time to break down the position battles to keep your eye on. So let’s start right there with what we’re going to see from Von Miller’s replacements. The likely candidate to step in Von Miller’s vacant cleats for the first four games of the season will be Shaun Phillips. Phillips, who came over as a free-agent from the San Diego Chargers, came to the Broncos on a relatively inexpensive 1-year, $1 million dollar contract. For that price, Phillips can be more than valuable to step in for Von.
With Dumervil no longer on this roster and with Von’s suspension, Phillips won’t have much competition at the linebacker position. With his 9 1/2 sacks in 2012 with San Diego, he can be productive for Denver. Stewart Bradley and Steven Johnson can get some snaps at camp, but look for the coaching staff to give Phillips the opportunity to earn his keep early.
Another very intriguing position battle to watch in camp this season is at running-back. With the release of Willis McGahee back on June 16th, the competition lies between Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, and former Wisconsin star Montee Ball. Ball, who broke all kinds of records for the Badgers, I believe has the “ball” in his court in terms of taking on the starting role for this team. Getting the seal of approval from John Elway and company being drafted in the second round, I believe that Denver is prepared to make Ball an every-down back if he performs well in camp.
Now while the starting role is there for him to take, John Fox won’t be hesitant to give the starting job to Knowshon Moreno if Ball doesn’t step up in camp. Moreno, who started in Week 12 when McGahee was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season, proved that he can still be a consistent back in this league. Moreno ran for 510 yards in the final six games in 2012 as the starter, and the patience he displayed in the first eleven weeks of the season when the starting role was given to McGahee showed that his maturity has also improved. Hillman, who proved he can be a consistent long-yardage third down back, will get his snaps in camp as well to showcase his off-season improvement. Even without McGahee on this roster, the running back battle will still be very interesting to watch as Moreno and Ball duke it out for the starting role.
One very interesting battle that you can’t keep your eyes off of this year, is in the secondary. As this area has improved mightily this off-season, and because we all know how the dreams of the 2012 Broncos came to an end in the secondary, these position battles are very intriguing. Firstly, you have the additions of Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie and Quentin Jammer to bolster the squad. Cromartie, who spent the last two years with the Eagles, has grown to be a respectable corner in the league. Cromartie will add depth with Chris Harris and Champ Bailey on the roster, and Cromartie’s addition is crucial, as you usually see teams stack up with three top-flight receivers or tight-ends in this pass happy league that it’s become.
The other addition to this secondary, Quentin Jammer, has played cornerback most of his career, but was brought in for safety depth. And with the insurmountable and unforgettable 70-yard touchdown allowed by Rahim Moore in the divisional round against the Ravens last season, many want to see if Jammer will beat out Moore in camp. Having said that, let’s try not to forget how solid of a year Moore had in his second year in the league. But because of that infamous play in the last minute of regulation, Moore’s 2012 campaign was stained and forgotten. Jammer, who rivaled the Broncos for 11 years with San Diego, now comes over to give Moore a battle for the starting role. I think the addition of Jammer is to give Moore that healthy competition in camp, but I believe either of them could earn the spot.
Let’s not forget one of the most important aspects to the game and one of the most intriguing battles you’ll see in camp this year; The pass rush. As I eluded to with the absence of Von and Elvis, you’ll see a very interesting package on the front line this season. With the addition of Defensive Tackle Sylvester Williams (who has yet to be signed), expect to see Derek Wolfe slide over to his natural Defensive End position where he should fill in nicely on the outside pass rush.
Opposite to him on the right, is where you’ll see Robert Ayers try and fill the shoes left by Elvis Dumervil. With Ayers finally given his chance to start this season, you might even see a bit of a battle from Quanterus Smith, who was drafted in the 5th round out of Western Kentucky of this year’s draft to add depth to the front-line. With that said, don’t be surprised if he gives Ayers a run for his money at the starting role. Smith, who suffered a torn-ACL in his senior season at WKU, was only available for Denver in the 5th round because of that devastating injury. Smith had a lot of promise as a high-round pick in 2013, but that knee injury dropped his stock. Many see Smith as a realistic shot to surprise the coaches and give the Broncos some production.
As interesting as those position battles are, it’s going to be a battle at every single position in this year’s training camp. Whether it be that linebacker role to fill in for Von Miller, the running-back battle, in the secondary, or the front-line pass-rush. Don’t forget that we’ll be able to watch Peyton Manning finally throw to Wes Welker in pads, and see how the 1-2 punch of Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker improved in the off-season. With all of that said, every member of this training camp roster is fighting to be on this 2013-14 Denver Broncos squad that has Championship aspirations. Stay tuned for a very exciting Training Camp.