What We Learned in Week 1 of Denver Broncos Training Camp
The Denver Broncos hit the practice field this week for their first few days of training camp. Fans swarmed the practice fields in Dove Valley by the thousands to see the first glimpses of Peyton Manning and the 2012 team.
Now that the players have had a few days of practice we will start learning the answers to the questions we've been asking all offseason. Many of the questions understandably have to do with Manning, but there are plenty of other questions that must be answered as well.
Sometimes we learn the answers to questions we never asked, but that's part of why training camp is interesting and helps us project how the team will do in the regular season when the games matter.
Peyton Manning Looks Great
Few people expected Manning to look old or broken down, and it was almost guaranteed that Manning would look good in training camp. There will be analysis on his arm strength compared to two years ago, ESPN will probably do a side-by-side video comparison but the bottom line is Manning can still throw.
If the velocity is back and indications are good that it has returned, it shows that physically Manning's neck is almost fully healed. There are still plenty of Peyton Manning questions to be answered, but early indications are good that Manning is well on his way to being the same great quarterback he was two years ago.
The next step will be Manning taking a hit, which we might not see until the regular season.
Eric Decker Is Manning's Early Favorite, Andre Caldwell Gets First Crack at Slot
The addition of Manning prompted other questions about how the Broncos would use the receivers and if he might favor one receiver over another. Early indications from Mike Klis of The Denver Post are that Manning might favor Eric Decker over Demaryius Thomas. It's very early in the process, but it's noteworthy when you see camp reports such as this tweet from Scott Hanson of NFL Network:
Peyton's first 11-on-11... Defense only going about half speed... I counted 24 plays... Manning 12/14 passing.Hit Decker most often.— Scott Hanson (@ScottHanson) July 26, 2012
As for the slot receiver, Andre Caldwell appears to be the favorite after catching a long touchdown pass from Manning in Thursday's team session and is a showing a quick rapport with Manning according to Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post. Caldwell was always the natural favorite to win the slot receiver's job and his size and speed are reminiscence of Manning's receivers in Indianapolis.
Knowshon Not Ready
If Knowshon Moreno is going to make the final 53-man roster in 2012, he's going to need to heal fast. It's been eight months since Moreno suffered a season-ending ACL injury and he's been mostly a spectator during team sessions.
Lance Ball and Mario Fannin are getting reps with the No. 2 offense and Ronnie Hillman figures to have a big role. Moreno is in a very difficult spot, coming back from a bad injury and also being on the roster bubble. If Moreno can't practice fully, he's not going to have much of a chance to make the final roster.
Caleb Hanie Ahead of Adam Weber
The Broncos aren't going to keep four quarterbacks, and Manning and rookie Brock Osweiler are locks to make the final roster. That leaves a brewing competition between Caleb Hanie and Adam Weber for the backup job.
Hanie has experience as a backup and starting in place of a backup from his time in Chicago, but the Bears didn't think much of his play at the end of last year and didn't re-sign him. Hanie's experience could be comforting to the Broncos' coaching staff behind Manning and he's getting reps with the No. 2 offense in training camp.
Weber is the only returning quarterback on the roster and was the backup to Manning during OTAs and minicamp, but being an undrafted player out of Minnesota makes him the most vulnerable to being cut in favor of Hanie. The two will battle and it appears that Hanie is going to get the first opportunity to make an impression.
Weber lost snaps as the No. 3 quarterback to Osweiler during practice on Friday, according to The Denver Post.
Broncos Might Use Tamme and Dreessen Equally
It's a copycat league. It's widely accepted reality that football coaches borrower ideas from other football coaches. It's borderline theft and if Apple Corporation was a football coach, they'd have patents on every play to prevent others from using their designs to compete against them. In the NFL, this practice is widely accepted.
There's a growing trend towards using the tight end in the passing game. Last season Rob Gronkowski produced numbers like that of an elite receiver from the tight end position, but the Patriots also used tight end Aaron Hernandez with good success.
In an attempt to bring Manning a safety net, the Broncos signed a tight end he is familiar with in Jacob Tamme and another talented tight end Joel Dreessen. It seems like the Broncos will incorporate a lot more sets with both tight ends in 2012.
Putting an extra tight end on the field allows the offense more pass protection options to protect Manning and more options in the passing game. History would suggest Manning having one primary tight end, but the NFL changes and even Manning will have to adapt a little in his first year in Denver.
Depth Chart at Defensive Tackle Is Fluid
With Justin Bannan recovering from left calf tweak, Mitch Unrein got the snaps with the No. 1 defense. Rookie defensive tackle Derek Wolfe wasn't elevated to the starter role even due to injury. The Broncos eased in the rookies and likely weren't going to run any rookies with the No. 1 offense or defense until they prove they belong.
Still it's odd the Broncos wouldn't take the opportunity to get Wolfe a few extra reps with the starters while others miss time. It's still early, but the rotation at defensive tackle appears very fluid.
Broncos Don't Care About D.J. Williams
The Broncos are basically going to let Williams rot on the bench during training camp and the preseason. With Williams facing a six-game suspension for providing a non-human sample during routine drug testing, the Broncos are using training camp to get the younger players ready to produce in his place.
It makes sense, but the Broncos must believe the young players can play well enough to make Williams irrelevant or they would make sure Williams had enough work so he could come back after six weeks and contribute. Now, it might take Williams two or three weeks once he returns from the suspension to get back up to speed. With such an abbreviated season, the Broncos could be preparing to release Williams when the time is right for them.