After acquiring Peyton Manning in the offseason, the Denver Broncos are expected to be media darlings beginning July 26, the first day of training camp. Most people will be keeping a close eye on Manning to see how his repaired neck is rehabbing, but there are other Broncos being watched closely.
Let's take a look at some Broncos who are either new, competing for a position or working through the final year of their contract. These men are hoping to make a giant impact for the Broncos in 2012 or run the risk of being traded or released.
Matthew Willis finished the 2011 season with an 18-yard reception in the playoff loss to the Patriots and is looking to prove last year wasn't a fluke. After playing his first 16-game NFL season following three previous seasons on and off practice squads, Willis is looking to grow under the leadership of Peyton Manning.
Willis entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent but quickly signed a deal in order to stay in Denver. Willis needs to quickly learn a new offensive system and springboard off his 18 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown from 2011.
It definitely won't be a "die" season if Willis puts in the work and makes a statement at training camp. Learning and playing with Manning will be a great learning experience for this young wide receiver.
Knowshon Moreno is coming off a 2011 season where he played only seven games after tearing his ACL against Kansas City. He then lost his starting job to Willis McGahee, who immediately improved his numbers and the Broncos' win record with 1,199 yards and averaged 20 carries a game.
As if this injury weren't enough, Moreno was charged with DUI, no proof of identification and careless driving in February. The Broncos then selected a running back, Ronnie Hillman, in the third round of this year's draft.
After adding Hillman, plus the veterans McGahee and Lance Ball, Moreno could be fighting for a roster position. If Moreno wants to guarantee his spot in the Broncos lineup he needs to protect the ball more. In his 36 career games, Moreno has dropped the ball eight times. Working on his off-the-field issues would be great, too.
Moreno needs to make an impact in 2012 in order to prove he's durable and worth a contract extension after the 2013 season.
Ty Warren is the definition of a do-or-die 2012 season. Warren is a 31-year-old 10-year veteran who has not played in an NFL game since 2009.
There are eight candidates for four roster spots, and although Warren is in good shape after suffering season-ending injuries (hip, triceps), it will be a fight. Warren has played in 16 playoff games, accumulating 372 tackles and 20.5 sacks. Warren could be a great asset to the defensive line if he remains healthy and gets back to full strength.
The fact that Warren took a pay cut to stay with the Broncos shows his commitment to the team and that he owes them for last year. I'm pulling for him to have a spectacular year and impress Broncos staff and fans.
Jack Del Rio is the seventh defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in seven years. Along with the rookies and a new quarterback, the defense will also be adjusting to a new coordinator. If Peyton Manning's neck doesn't hold up, the Broncos will be forced to rely on a great defense under Del Rio and Rookie of the Year Von Miller. Talk about pressure!
The Broncos are hoping Del Rio will bring more consistency to a defensive line that was constantly subbing in and out in the 2011 season because of injuries and lack of rhythm from the NFL lockout. Here's to hoping John Fox has finally made the right choice and won't be having to adjust to another defensive coordinator in 2013.
The Denver Broncos will either succeed or fail in 2012 depending on how Peyton Manning plays.
If Manning is able to stay healthy and return to pre-neck surgery production, he will turn around the Broncos and get the team back to over .500. His impact would affect every player on the roster and Manning's style of play would greatly surpass Tim Tebow's previous passing yards per game.
If Manning's neck is unable to hold up once the pads are on and he is getting roughed up on the field, the Broncos must rely on Caleb Hanie and rookie Brock Osweiler. John Elway and the Broncos essentially put all their eggs in one basket by giving Manning a five-year, $96 million contract without proof of post-neck surgery production. The pressure is on Manning to remain healthy and carry the Denver Broncos in 2012.
Manning isn't exactly in a "do-or-die" situation, but more of a "Super Bowl or bust" situation. Broncos fans everywhere are expecting Manning to return to pre-neck injury greatness, and if he doesn't, it will be a huge disappointment. Anything less than a deep playoff run and possible Super Bowl berth would feel like a letdown.