With only one week left until training camp begins for the Denver Broncos at 8:50 AM on Thursday July 25th, there are a few things that fans should watch for when visiting the open practices.
1. The addition of Wes Welker and the interaction between Peyton Manning and the receivers.
Now that Manning (#18) is in his second season with the Broncos, he should feel comfortable with Eric Decker (#87) and Demaryius Thomas (#88). Their familiarity with each other showed last season considering they had the fifth-best passing attack in terms of yardage with 4,534 yards. This included Decker and Thomas both having more than 1,000 receiving yards.
With Wes Welker (#83) put into the equation it has the potential to make their production that much more effective. He is 32 years old with 9 years experience and 8,580 career yards. Last season he had 1,354 yards and 6 touchdowns as the New England Patriots’ top receiver.
Fans want to watch how these three fit together downfield and who Manning is favoring. Ideally all three should get an equal amount of catches with equal (hopefully great) success to keep it unpredictable.
2. With the running back position so undetermined training camp is a time for them to really prove themselves. It should be the most entertaining for fans, next to the WRs, to watch the competition between Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.
Knowshon Moreno (#27) is one of the RBs next in line because of his history with the team. He made quite the impression last season when he had to step up huge when Willis McGahee got injured midway through the season. He had 525 yards with a couple games above 100 yards.
Moreno shouldn’t think a starting spot is a guarantee when you consider the talent Denver has coming in as well as the talent that has been developing.
A couple of weeks ago I discussed the incredible potential that the rookie Montee Ball (#38) has. He is a player that, with enough learning and improvement this offseason, could have a starting spot. He is smart, quick on his feet and is very capable of spinning out of bad situations.
Coming into his second season Ronnie Hillman (#21) is also a player to watch. He has made it through his first year in the NFL and now knows what to expect from the Broncos. He has increased his size in the offseason by gaining 15 pounds of muscle and hopefully that means he has more power to push as well as protect.
It will be a treat for fans to see the live competition between these three.
3. Now that Elvis (Dumervil) has left the building fans want to keep an eye on who is going to step and not only be able to rush the quarterback like he did with 11 sacks last season, but also take on a leadership role.
The players returning to the Broncos that have the potential to fill that void are Wesley Woodyard (#52), Kevin Vickerson (#99) and Derek Wolf (#95). These three contributed greatly to the Broncos last season, each having shining moments.
Welsey Woodyard is used to being the leader; he’s been captain four years in a row. He also was the team’s top defensive player last season with 117 total tackles as well as 5.5 sacks.
In 2009 and 2010 Vickerson had seven quarterback hits, four last year. Although he has usually been a nose tackle he has shown versatility and is capable being an effective pass-rusher.
Wolfe had an excellent rookie season last year including six sacks. Watch for him to have more of a leadership role this year now that he has some experience with the Broncos.
The player additions that fans need to watch are Terrance Knighton (#94), Shaun Phillips (#90) and rookie Sylvester Williams (#92). In his 5-year career with the Jaguars, Knighton had 7.5 sacks and 95 tackles. Philips came from the Chargers with 9 years experience with 69.5 sacks (9.5 last year) and 355 tackles. In his senior year at North Carolina, Williams had 13.5 tackles and six sacks. Clearly these new guys can bring some power it is just a matter of how they fit on the team.
It will be hard to replace a leader and player like Dumervil so fans shouldn’t expect for one guy to be the shining star. All these players should be in the rotation in order to make for effective pass-rushing.
4. Unfortunately there will come a day when Peyton Manning is no longer the Denver Broncos starting quarterback. He is going into his 16th season. Fans, I know you might not want to face it just yet but it might be a good idea to start looking at the backup quarterbacks, specifically second on the depth chart – Brock Osweiler (#17), and their potential.
5. Bronco fans want to forget the last images they had of the corners last season (we know Champ Bailey is better than that) and therefore should focus on how our backfield will be better this season.
First and foremost it is important to see how Bailey (#24) is looking being that he is now entering his 15th season. Corners typically have an career of approximately three years according to livestrong.com because it is such a demanding position. He has been vital to the Broncos success so hopefully he isn’t slowing down quite yet.
Fans should want to pay attention to Dominique Rodger-Cromartie (#45) as well to see what all the hype is about. Considering in 2009 he played in the Super Bowl in his first season in the NFL with the Cardinals, since his rookie season he is ranked fourth in the league with the most interceptions in the NFL and is the 11th ranked 4-3 defensive end in the league, I’d say people should be talking about him this season.
Also watch Denver’s third pick, corner Kayvon Webster (#36). He will most likely be on special teams but he is a new player to keep an eye on his potential.