Manning hand-picked the Broncos because of the allure of some top players, a quality coaching staff and a Hall of Fame quarterback in the front office. By choosing to bring his game to Denver, it also puts some major pressure on players on the roster already, whom he expects to elevate their games as well to achieve the ultimate goal: the Lombardi Trophy.
These three players are under the most heat in 2012 to perform for the Broncos to have a chance at the Super Bowl in 2012.
Ryan Clady’s performance has been called into question by an increasing number of sacks the past three seasons. He has been a source of 24.5 sacks during that stretch. ESPN reports that last year alone, he allowed a team-high nine sacks and was flagged for 12 penalties, mostly for holding. This was also with Tim Tebow under center for a Broncos team that was last in pass attempts in 2011.
Lindsay H. Jones with The Denver Post reports that Clady feels his 2011 season was “solid”, saying: "There were a couple of things here and there that could have been better, but overall it was solid. There is always room for improvement, and that's what I plan on doing this year."
Clady also recently began talks with the Broncos to extend his contract for years to come, which will come at a hefty price tag. However, this might go to the Broncos advantage, as players looking to make a big paycheck often perform better, hoping to secure that increase.
Also, playing in a more “conventional” offense in 2012 will help Clady protect a less mobile, pocket quarterback, such as Manning. But for 2012, the pressure will be on Clady, who is responsible for Manning’s blind side, where one big hit could end his career.
ESPN.com’s AFC West Blog writer, Bill Williamson, has recently reported on Demaryius Thomas’ excitement and expectations for a season with future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning under center in 2012.
Thomas feels the pressure, knowing that he has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity having Manning tossing him the ball and he doesn’t want to blow it: “That’s all I think about; just making sure I take advantage of this.”
Thomas is still working at living up to his first-round draft-pick status that has yet to materialize consistently for the Broncos. He has shown flashes of greatness and ability but has yet to put it all together for an entire season. His two seasons have been marked by injuries as he has only managed to be active for 10 and 11-game seasons, respectively in 2010 and 2011. During those seasons he also only grabbed six touchdowns and amassed 834 yards over a total of 21 games.
His spectacular game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, has gone a long way to quiet concerns, but the pressure will be on to perform with Manning at quarterback in 2012.
The last guy who will be under great pressure with Peyton Manning under center, is in fact the Broncos’ center, J.D. Walton, who will touch the ball as often as Manning himself.
The quarterback to center exchange is one of the most overlooked and undervalued parts of the game. Jeff Saturday and Manning were one of the greatest quarterback to center pairs in recent history. The Broncos passed on Saturday as an available free agent this offseason, which will ramp up the pressure on Walton to perform at a high level with Manning, who will keep him accountable for his blocks every play.
Walton was ranked last among centers last season by Pro Football Focus, who had upgrading at center as one of the team’s biggest needs going into the offseason. Walton gave up four sacks last year, but was second-worst in the league in total pressures allowed with 23.
Protecting the interior of the offense is one of the greatest needs for pocket quarterbacks. Center is also a position that often gets help from rushers inside by offensive guards. The Broncos see the need as a priority as they used an important fourth-round draft pick this year, to draft Walton’s replacement at Baylor in Philip Blake, who could be used if Walton doesn’t show improvement in his third season in the NFL.