Denver Broncos: Report Cards for Every Positional Unit on the Roster
Heading into training camp, the 2012 Denver Broncos have high expectations.
With Peyton Manning now in the fold, the Broncos could be as good as Manning's health allows them to be.
When Manning was in Indianapolis, the Colts made it to the postseason nine consecutive times, consistently won 12 or more games and were always a threat to win the Super Bowl.
The Broncos made sure to somewhat revamp their roster during the offseason, adding key pieces such as cornerback Tracy Porter, wide receiver Andre Caldwell and tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme.
In 2011, the Broncos had an offense, led by Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee, that dominated opposing defenses, which led to the Broncos leading the league in rushing. The Broncos have an offensive line that will be entering their second season together as a unit, alongside a receiving core that features two bright young talents: DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
The defense had its bright spots, but generally they were an inconsistent group. On five different occasions, the defense gave up 40 or more points.
It will be up to the 2012 defense to provide a more consistent showing in order for this team to reach the expectations that are in place for it heading into the season.
Here are the report cards for every positional unit on the roster heading into training camp.
Currently, the Broncos have four quarterbacks on the roster.
All you need to know is that it features Peyton Manning.
Even with Manning coming off of several neck surgeries and having missed one full season, Peyton is still considered one of the best players in the NFL. He was recently ranked No. 50 on the NFL Network's "The 100 Top Players of 2012".
It would take a lot of space to list all of Manning's accomplishments. Simply put, he's the NFL's only four-time NFL MVP, holds numerous passing records and just might be the best pure passer in the history of the NFL.
His backups are Caleb Hanie, Brock Osweiler and Adam Weber.
With Chicago in the thick of the playoff race at 7-3, Hanie took over for Cutler and lost the four games he started for Chicago. Hanie was eventually replaced by Josh McCown, who hadn't started in an NFL game since 2007.
Other than an NFC Championship game appearance of two years ago, Hanie has been largely unimpressive.
Brock Osweiler is a rookie quarterback who started one season at Arizona State.
Adam Weber likely won't make the roster, but is being used for yet another season as a training camp arm.
The Broncos have eight current running backs on the roster, the most notable of which include Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball and rookie Ronnie Hillman.
Denver led the league in rushing in 2011, but that was with quarterback Tim Tebow leading the charge and the Broncos designing a read-option offense that would suit Tebow's running abilities, while disguising his weaknesses as a passer.
With Tebow out of the equation, it's safe to expect a drop-off in the running game.
With McGahee nearing 31 years old in October, Moreno as a question mark to even make the roster, and Ball nothing more than a decent, versatile backup, the running game should be a solid complement to Manning in 2012, but nothing too special.
Chris Gronkowski was acquired through trade by the Broncos. He'll most likely serve as the team's starting fullback, with Spencer Larsen signing with the Patriots during free agency.
The Broncos have 12 wide receivers and six tight ends heading into camp.
The most notable of these players include Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Andre Caldwell, Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen.
When you look at Denver's group of receivers you think of one word—potential.
Both Thomas and Decker are no older than 25. Both of them are entering their third seasons, and are coming off of a 2011 season in which both of them had bright spots.
Decker broke out quicker than Thomas, as Demaryius was sidelined with an injury until Week 7 at Miami. With Kyle Orton starting in Denver's first four games, Decker had 20 catches for four touchdowns.
He quickly cemented himself as Denver's top receiver—that is, before Thomas returned.
As the season came to a close, despite Denver's high dependency upon the running game, Demaryius established himself as one of the top young receivers in the game: Beginning in Week 13 vs. Minnesota, Thomas had 25 receptions, 550 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in just five games.
In two playoff games, Demaryius had 10 receptions for 297 yards and a touchdown.
Dreessen is a proven pass-catcher in this league, and Tamme himself had a career season in 2010 when he had 68 receptions while playing with Peyton.
This group very well could emerge as Denver's strongest unit during the season.
Entering 2012, Broncos fans should expect to see the same offensive line in place.
With the exception of the question mark associated with second year-man Orlando Franklin, Ryan Clady, JD Walton, Zane Beadles and Chris Kuper should all start.
Clady is one of the premier tackles in the league, and will be entering his fifth season in the league. Kuper's an underrated veteran who has been staple of the offensive line since 2007. Both Walton and Beadles enter their third years starting on the line.
Franklin started last season at right tackle for the Broncos last season. The rookie was somewhat inconsistent, and it remains to be seen whether he remains a starter, or if veteran Ryan Harris takes over.
The Broncos are a solid bunch along the offensive line. Clady is a former All-Pro and clearly the superstar of the line. Kuper is a grinder. He'll never be an All-Pro, but think of him as you did of Dan Neil in the late 90's and early 00's. Both Walton and Beadles are solid, and have made tremendous strides since their disastrous rookie seasons of 2010.
The Broncos were the top rushing team of the league last season, and were a somewhat-solid bunch in the pass-blocking department, despite the unpredictability of Tebow's scrambles.
Of Denver's 13 defensive linemen on the roster, only one stands out—Elvis Dumervil.
Everybody else along the line is either training camp fodder, mediocre, below-average or a question mark—most notably Ty Warren, Robert Ayers, Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe and Jason Hunter.
With the exception of Wolfe, expect at least one or two of these guys to be cut before the season starts.
The fact of the matter is that this is clearly the weak spot of the roster, and this positional unit may dictate whether or not the Broncos are true contenders in 2012.
Dumervil is an elite pass rusher who made a great return from missing the entire 2011 season due to injury. There is nothing to feel good about along this line aside from Dumervil.
With the departure of defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, the Broncos are in desperate need of a defensive tackle to step up to take his place. The Broncos are hoping it's rookie Derek Wolfe, but only time will tell.
Both Justin Bannan and Jason Hunter started on possibly the worst Broncos defense of all time in 2010.
This is a strong unit. In fact, it's probably the strongest unit on the defensive side of the ball.
Of the notable linebackers, Von Miller, DJ Williams, Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays stand out the most.
Miller was Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. He quickly emerged as one of the top defensive players in the NFL, and routinely made game-changing plays on a week-to-week basis.
Despite DJ Williams' trouble with the law in recent years, he remains a solid linebacker. Williams regularly racks up 100+ tackles a season, and although he's not the playmaker that Miller is, nevertheless, he always has his nose around the ball.
Both Woodyard and Mays are just hard-workers who never give up on any play.
In 2011, Miller emerged as the best defensive rookie in the league. Williams racked up a solid 90-tackle season and had 5.0 sacks in teaming up with Von. Through the first half of the season, Woodyard was in the league's top 10 for total tackles, and Mays had 75 tackles in 12 games started.
This is a solid unit that should only get better with time.
As I stated earlier in this article, the Broncos gave up 40 or more points in five different games last season.
It's been a well-known fact for years that the Broncos have had trouble defending against elite quarterbacks.
Aaron Rodgers torched the Broncos in Week 4 of last season. Rodgers became the only quarterback in NFL history to ever throw for 400+ yards, four touchdowns and then run for another two touchdowns.
Tom Brady only threw for six touchdown passes—with 28 minutes still remaining in the game—in the Broncos' humiliating 45-10 loss to the Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season.
The Broncos have Champ Bailey, one of the top cornerbacks in the league. With the free agent addition of Tracy Porter, the Broncos shouldn't have too many problems outside of the hashmarks.
A lot of the problems lie in the last line of defense. The Broncos simply aren't very experienced at the safety position. When recently-retired Brian Dawkins was lost at the end of the season due to injury, it forced the Broncos to start rookies Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter. This was a huge reason why the Broncos were absolutely decimated by Brady.
In order to solve the lack of experience problem, the Broncos added veteran safety Mike Adams, through free agency.
Depending upon the maturation of the safeties in the backfield, this unit—along with the defensive line and the health of Manning's neck—will likely make or break the Broncos' 2012 season.
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