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2013 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Quarterbacks

Starter: Peyton Manning
Backup(s): Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Ryan Katz

Starting QB: Peyton Manning proved that he could play at a high level after the four neck surgeries that he had in 2011 as a member of the Colts. He immediately took charge with his new team and his leadership helped propel the Broncos to a 13-3 record and the number one seed in the AFC. His arm was strong enough to get through the year and he finished his first season as the Broncos starter with near career high numbers. This offseason the Broncos will be working under new offensive coordinator Adam Gase. The team is expected to run an up tempo offense featuring 11 personnel as the base set. This three wide receiver look and hurry up offense could push Manning's numbers past what he compiled last year. The Broncos made upgrades to their offensive line this offseason so Manning could have even better protection than he did in 2012. Denver is set up to make another run at the Super Bowl and Manning, the passing game, and that trio of elite wide receivers will lead the way.

Backup QB: Brock Osweiler will once again be the primary backup behind Peyton Manning. He impressed the coaching staff last year with his ability to learn quickly and his maturity as a professional. Osweiler cleaned up his poor footwork and bad release point as the Broncos worked to break him of old habits. Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said Osweiler would have been near the top or at the top of the quarterback class in 2013 had he chose to stay another year at Arizona State. Osweiler is being groomed as the quarterback of the future and should greatly benefit from observing Manning work. In the 2013 NFL draft the Broncos added Zac Dysert (Miami, OH) in the seventh-round. Dysert is seen as a developmental prospect and is no threat to Osweiler's position as backup quarterback or quarterback of the future. He's an athletic, tough, and intelligent player who improved every year he was in college even through multiple staff changes. After the draft the Broncos added Ryan Katz from John Fox's alma mater San Diego State. Katz could earn a spot on the practice squad but is merely a camp arm at this time.

Running Backs

Starter: Montee Ball
Backup(s): Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, Jeremiah Johnson, C.J. Anderson
Fullback(s): Jacob Hester

Starting RB: The Broncos will have an open competition for the starting job in training camp but most expect the rookie Ball to come out on top. Ball is your classic workhorse who compiled 983 touches at Wisconsin. He was extremely productive in college, breaking the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns (77) and total touchdowns (83). Ball is more than just a between the tackles banger. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry outside the tackles in 2012. Ball gained 36.1% of his FBS-leading 3,750 yards on rushes outside of the tackles over the last two seasons. He ran behind a behemoth offensive line where he could exploit large rushing lanes. Ball is not known as a creative or elusive runner and will have to work on his pass protection skills if he wants the starting job.

Backup RBs: The Broncos will use a RBBC in 2013. The second back in that committee could be Ronnie Hillman. He would give Denver the best change of pace behind Ball and is an explosive player in space. Hillman dropped below 180 pounds last year and the team is working this offseason to keep his weight up. In the playoff loss to the Ravens Hillman had 22 carries for 83 yards and didn't fumble the ball. Drafting Ball was not admitting a mistake with drafting Hillman. However, it is a sign of the role the team has in mind for him. The Broncos released Willis McGahee in minicamp and kept Knowshon Moreno on the roster. Moreno could give the team nice veteran depth as he's a good pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield. Lance Ball could stick on the roster because of his versatility and ability on special teams. Mario Fannin has failed to stay healthy after going undrafted out of Auburn in 2011. Jeremiah Johnson is a quick runner but has struggled to make the active roster and has not impressed when he's gotten touches during the regular season. C.J. Anderson was undrafted out of California this year but has a strong lower body and surprising speed.

Fullback: Jacob Hester was added last year after Willis McGahee was put on the Injured Reserve Designated to Return list. Hester did have a career high seven carries for 55 yards in week 17 against the Chiefs. However, he failed to make an impact on short yardage situations in the playoff loss against the Ravens. Hester could be moved around the formation as a running back, fullback, or H-back. His versatility creates mismatches when he's on the field.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker
Backups: Andre Caldwell, Tavarres King, Trindon Holliday, Greg Orton, Gerell Robinson, Kemonte Bateman, Quincy McDuffie, Lamar Thomas

Starting WRs: Thomas and Decker proved to be a dynamic duo in 2012. Both stayed healthy for the entire season (for the first time in their careers) and flourished with Peyton Manning throwing the ball. They combined for 179 receptions, 2,506 yards, and 23 touchdowns. The Broncos passing game received a huge shot in the arm when the team added former Patriots star Wes Welker in free agency. Welker gives them a threat at the slot position they didn't have last season and can also help them cure their short yardage woes. The team will feature a three wide receiver set this year in favor of the two tight end set they used most often in 2012. Finding targets for all three wide receivers shouldn't be a problem as the Broncos are planning on increasing the tempo of the offense in 2013. This hurry up offense will mean more targets and more opportunity for this trio. Decker may not be able to repeat the 13 touchdown catches he had last year and his targets may drop slightly because of the addition of Welker. Thomas should still be the team's primary big play weapon and will maintain his role as a force in the red zone.

Backup WRs: Andre Caldwell was added last year in free agency but could barely crack the active roster and only appeared in eight games. He has the speed to be a downfield threat but doesn't offer much as a special teams player. In the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL draft the team selected Tavarres King out of Georgia. He's a fast, linear athlete who can make circus catches seem routine. He may not be targeted much this season but could play an important role for the team in the future. Decker is a free agent in 2014 and should the Broncos not be able to keep him around then we would see more of King. Trindon Holliday was picked up by the Broncos after the Texans released him after week five last year. He's not much of a receiving weapon, but the 5'5 dynamo is one of the most exciting return men in the league. Greg Orton looked good in training camp last year but only earned a spot on the practice squad. He has been in the league since 2009 and may be running out of time to prove himself at the NFL level. Gerell Robinson didn't make the cut last year after going undrafted in 2012. The former Arizona State star has great chemistry with Brock Osweiler and that could earn him a spot on the practice squad.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jacob Tamme
Backups: Joel Dreessen, Virgil Green, Julius Thomas, Lucas Reed

Tamme will once again be the starter for the Broncos in 2013. However, the team won't use many two-tight end sets this year because of the addition of Wes Welker. That means Tamme's role (and number of targets) will change this season. He finished as the 26th best fantasy tight end in 2012 and his numbers may dip slightly in 2013. Joel Dreessen will see the number of snaps he plays cut significantly. He should still be a good red zone target for the team but has little fantasy value. Virgil Green has improved his game significantly from where it was coming out of college. He's more of a complete tight end now and is a much better blocker than he used to be. Julius Thomas is in a make or break year in 2013. Ankle surgery kept him out of the lineup most weeks in 2012 as Thomas appeared in only four games. He's a favorite of the coaching staff and the former Portland State basketball star still has upside because of his unique skill set. Reed is a sure handed rookie the team added as an undrafted free agent in 2013.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater: Heading into 2013, the Broncos again have Aaron Brewer as their long snapper and Britton Colquitt as their punter/holder, after he signed his tender offer and then got a long-term deal making him the highest paid punter in the NFL. Matt Prater remains the kicker. While he had more game winning heroics during the Tebow era of 2011, he saw far more production during the Manning era of 2012. After dropping to 26th in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010 and 28th in 2011, the Broncos jumped back into the top ten ranking 6th in 2012.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Andre Caldwell, Omar Bolden, Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah Burse [R]

Despite holding exclusive free agent rights with Trindon Holliday, the Broncos let their previous returner head to the Giants in free agency. Omar Bolden and Andre Caldwell may battle for the starting job in the preseason. While Bolden was higher atop the depth chart for much of the season, Caldwell might be the more talented returner. Another competitor could be receiver Emmanuel Sanders who maintained a 24.8 yard average over 41 returns for the Steelers. A wildcard could be undrafted rookie receiver Isaiah Burse, who returned 126 kickoffs his first three years in college, but for only a 22.5 yard average and no scores.

Punt Returners: Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders

Receiver Wes Welker initially broke into the league as a returner, and his fielding skills were sometimes called upon last season as they were more reliable than those of Trindon Holliday. With Holliday and Eric Decker both gone, Welker has the lead on the primary punt returner job. The team could go with Emmanuel Sanders instead, as Sanders did a solid job two seasons ago handling 9 punts in Pittsburgh with over a 10 yard average. Beyond those two, the team may have to look to players competing the make the roster to fill in the depth chart.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Ryan Clady, LG Zane Beadles, C J.D. Walton, Louis Vasquez, Orlando Franklin
Key Backups: T Chris Clark, T Paul Cornick, G Manny Ramirez, G Chris Kuper, C Phillip Blake

The tackle positions remain key for the Denver Broncos. Left tackle Ryan Clady is the Broncos' franchise player and he is one of the more athletic pass protectors in the league. But there are issues. Clady is recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery, but should be fine for the start of the season. Clady has not signed his tag yet, but is likely to do so before Week 1 and enjoy a ten million-dollar payday. Solid starter Orlando Franklin mans the right side and does a good job without issues. Chris Clark, restricted free agent swing tackle, is a capable backup with sixty games experience (six starts), and will take Ryan Clady's reps with the first team while Clady recovers. At left guard, Zane Beadles made his first Pro Bowl in 2012 and is blossoming into a fan favorite for his tough blocking. The tackle positions and left guard are the good news in the story of the Broncos' offensive line. However, the center and right guard positions can be upgraded upon. By the end of the 2012 season, two of the Broncos' starters (center and right guard) were seriously injured, which explains the lines' struggles down the stretch. Despite changes, these two positions could remain a problem for the Broncos. This season, the Broncos signed a new right guard in Louis Vasquez. Vasquez, formerly of San Diego, will compete with last year's starter Chris Kuper for the starting position. Vasquez is a larger player but both are vulnerable in pass protection. Meanwhile, the Broncos are throwing bodies at the center problem, as incumbent starter J.D. Walton will compete with at least four other centers to keep his job. Most threatening to Walton is former fourth round draft pick Phillip Blake, a second year man out of Baylor. The cohesion of this line is slightly impacted by the uncertainty at the center and right guard positions. But overall this line can improve if Ryan Clady answers all of his questions and has a big year.

Team Defense

The Broncos defense is anchored by linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Champ Bailey, two of the best in the business at their respective positions. Miller is a beast of a pass rusher that will be in his first season without Elvis Dumervil on the opposite side. Unfortunately it now looks like Miller will start the season serving a suspension and Bailey is questionable for the start of the season with a foot injury. In free agency the Broncos biggest splash was landing Dominique Rodger-Cromartie to play opposite Bailey. Rodgers-Cromartie has also been hit by the injury bug and struggled with an ankle issue for much of training camp. The addition will allow Chris Harris to move back to the slot and could give the Broncos one of the top secondaries in the conference. The rest of the Broncos offseason was seemingly devoted to improving their run defense and replacing Dumervil. Their additions along the line should solve accomplish the first goal but it's difficult to see anyone replacing Dumervil's 11 sacks from a year ago.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Kevin Vickerson, DT Terrance Knighton, DE Derek Wolfe, DE Robert Ayers
Backups: DE Shaun Phillips, DT Sylvester Williams

Starting DL: Tackles Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton will man the middle of the Broncos' defensive line. Both players are good against the run but struggle with penetration or getting to the quarterback. The defensive ends are less sure but will likely be Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers. Ayers has struggled getting to the quarterback and this may be his last chance to make an impact on the Broncos defense. Wolfe is a versatile player that can play anywhere on the line. He'll likely see a majority of his time on the outside while possibly moving to the interior on passing downs. Wolfe suffered a scary injury in the team's preseason game against Seattle but preliminary news out of Denver is good.

Backup DL: Thirty-two year-old Shaun Phillips was brought in as a pass rush specialist and the Broncos hope he can replace at least a portion of Elvis Dumervil's production. Phillips has been at his best when someone on the opposite side is attracting the defense's attention and that's exactly the position he finds himself in now. Of course if Von Miller is lost for a long period the team will be relying heavily on Phillips and it's unlikely he can be the predominant pass rusher at this stage of his career. First Round Pick Sylvester Williams will definitely be a part of the rotation but is likely to raw to play a majority of the downs as a rookie. Williams brings a quickness and ability to penetrate that no other interior lineman on the team has.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Von Miller, OLB Wesley Woodward. MLB Nate Irving
Backups: MLB Stewart Bradley, MLB Steven Johnson, OLB Danny Trevathan

Starting LBs: At only 24 years old, Miller is already one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. But with him facing a 6 game suspension, the Broncos will have to prepare for a large portion of the season without him. When he's back he'll see extra attention this year with the departure of Dumervil, but with his talents it's hard to see the extra attention stopping him. The Broncos are devoid of legitimate options to fill Miller's shoes. In the middle linebacker position is Wesley Woodward, a sixth year player that is coming off of a career year. Woodward set career highs in tackles (117), sacks (5.5) and interceptions (3) in 2012. Nate Irving has won th ejob playing outside backer across from Miller when Miller returns. Irving will likely come out for Shaun Phillips on passing downs.

Backup LBs: Stewart Bradley has excelled in the past in the 4-3 scheme the Broncos run and will make a strong push for a starting role. Bradley struggled at times in Arizona and took a one year with the Broncos to try and get his career back on track. Second year player Danny Trevathan will try to fill Miller's shoes in his six game absence.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Champ Bailey, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SS Duke Ihenacho, FS Rahim Moore
Backups: CB Chris Harris, SS Mike Adams, FS Quinton Carter, CB Tony Carter

Starting DBs: Champ Bailey has been a dominant NFL corner for more than a decade, but he may have started to show a few chinks in the armor in 2012. He was torched by Torrey Smith in the playoffs and turns 35 before the season starts. In hopes of getting younger at corner, the Broncos acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency. Rodgers-Cromartie is looking for a fresh start after he, and everyone involved, failed to live up to expectations in Philadelphia. Free safety Rahim Moore takes his share of the blame for the torching against the Ravens as well but there's good reason to think the 23 year-old will be improved. The third year safety has been working hard in the offseason with that loss to the Ravens serving as his main motivation. Strong safety Mike Adams looks like he may have been beaten out by second year player Duke Ihenacho. Ihenacho was an undrafted free agent that played only two games last year but had an excellent camp.

Backup DBs: With both Rodgers-Cromartie and Bailey dinged up, the Broncos will have to rely on their depth in the secondary. Chris Harris was a pleasant surprise when he was forced into a starting role in 2012. The third year corner out of Kansas had three interceptions and eleven passes defensed in his 12 starts. Harris will likely move to the slot in 2013, but he has potential to step in an succeed if either starting corner goes out.

Last modified: 2014-05-15 16:20:11