This article examines some key Denver Broncos veterans from last season who will see a diminished role in 2012. Whether replaced by free agents, draft picks, or other circumstances, some players who had a big part in the 2011 AFC West Championship campaign will take a back seat this coming season.
The most obvious and visible player who once fit this category is now no longer on the roster. Having dealt displaced quarterback Tim Tebow to the New York Jets on Wednesday, Tebow now no longer qualifies for this discussion.
Therefore, as the organization moves forward into 2012, the Denver Broncos are set to leave the McDarkness era behind completely, and so too will this examination of players who will not have the same impact with the team that they did one year ago.
Obviously, D.J. Williams will not have the same impact that he did last season. On March 9 he, along with teammates DT Ryan McBean and TE Virgil Green, were suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
This is very bad news for the Broncos, as Williams is a cornerstone of the Denver defense. He led the Broncos with 70 solo tackles, assisted on 20 more and also contributed five sacks last year. More importantly, Williams has a nose for "the big play." His sack, forced fumble and recovery in overtime against Miami on Oct. 23 directly led to the Broncos' game-winning field goal four plays later.
Williams currently faces a six-game suspension but is appealing the league's ruling. In the meantime, the Broncos will have to prepare for life without him.
Defensive tackle Ryan McBean, who was also suspended for six games on March 9, will have a considerably smaller impact than he did a year ago.
It's true McBean encountered some off-the-field issues in 2011, but afterward he seemed refocused in between the lines. His solid play in the second half of the season bolstered the Denver defense, especially in stopping the run.
Defensive tackle is already a position of need for the Broncos, and missing McBean for half of the season will make a thin position thinner. Hopefully Ty Warren, who missed all of last season with injury, will be returned to full health in 2012 to shoulder some of the burden.
When a football team's MVP is the punter, that's typically a bad thing. However, Britton Colquitt's precise skill and mastery of both distance and directional kicks was utilized as a weapon last season. And often. Colquitt punted 101 times last season, second most in the NFL.
Now, the signing of Peyton Manning threatens to limit Colquitt's role in 2012. With the Broncos offense hopefully able to move the chains more often than it did last season, Colquitt may be spending more series sitting on the sidelines rather than taking the field—which would be a good thing for the Broncos.
Fortunately, Colquitt is one of the best punters in the league, and it is comforting to know that when called upon, he will still be able to perform. Ideally, however, he will see far less field time than he did last season.
One way to describe the Broncos 2011 secondary was "experienced". Another way would be to call it "old."
Cornerback Andre' Goodman seemed to toe that line much of the time last season, at times showing the leadership that makes him a savvy veteran, and other times looking as though he had lost a step after 10 years in the league.
With the Broncos' signing of cornerback Tracy Porter on Thursday evening, Goodman could very well be one to play a more diminished role in 2012. Especially if the Broncos also add a defensive back in the draft, as many speculate will be one of their top priorities, Goodman could be relegated to nickle and/or dime packages.
While Goodman is still an above-average defensive back and a leader in the locker room, the Broncos are looking to get younger in the secondary. With Brian Dawkins still unsigned, plus the addition of Porter and safety Mike Adams, the Broncos are well on their way to doing just that.
Center J.D. Walton is one of the few holdouts on the active roster from the McDarkness era. Although an adequate center, Walton is not the most agile of linemen.
What's more, with the addition of Peyton Manning, the Broncos are taking a nice, long look at free-agent center Jeff Saturday, who played with Manning for 13 seasons in Indianapolis. Saturday visited the Broncos complex on Thursday, and many speculate a reunion with Manning in Denver could convince him to sign on with the Broncos. Along with several other interested teams, such as the Packers and the Titans, Saturday had also contemplated retirement.
If the Broncos land Saturday, Walton could take a backseat on the depth chart. Or, in that scenario, he could be moved to guard in an attempt to maintain some continuity on the line. Either way, Walton could be in line for a very different role than he played in 2011.
Having said all of this, the amount of veterans who will play diminished roles in 2012 are few. Major contributions will be needed from almost all of the returning veterans, especially if the Broncos intend to repeat as AFC West champions this coming season.