With the Denver Broncos' opening preseason game against the Chicago Bears just days away (Thursday, August 9 at 8:30 p.m. EST), head coach John Fox released the Broncos’ first depth chart of 2012 today. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the chart and see who now has the leg up at various positions throughout the team.
This is always the position with the most interest for any team. However, in 2012, who will backup Peyton Manning is the biggest question. Manning, who missed all of 2011 with a neck injury that required multiple surgeries to repair, could be just one hard hit away from early retirement and these guys are jockeying to back him up.
First string: Peyton Manning
Second string: Caleb Hanie
Third string: Brock Osweiler
Fourth string: Adam Weber
Analysis: Brock Osweiler is already impressing Broncos coaches in his first-ever training camp and offseason. He may be unpolished, but he appears to be the front office and coaching staff's hopes for life after Manning. However, for right now, the coaching staff is giving Caleb Hanie a chance to win the backup job. Hanie will suit up with the second string this week and we’ll see how it goes. Also, Adam Weber will see a lot more action than he did last offseason. But if he struggles, he could be a candidate to be released.
Willis McGahee continues to lead the pack in Denver. Ever since stealing away the starting spot from Knowshon Moreno last season, he has been dominant, even with his 30-year-old legs. The biggest development this offseason will be who is his backup. Don’t expect McGahee to be in there every down, especially with Manning as a quarterback who loves to utilize receiving backs out of the backfield.
First string: Willis McGahee
Second string: Lance Ball
Third string: Ronnie Hillman
Others: Knowshon Moreno, Jeremiah Johnson, Xavier Omon
First string: Chris Gronkowski
Second string: Austin Sylvester
Analysis: Ronnie Hillman looks to be the speedy change-of-pace back that Knowshon Moreno never was. The Broncos look like they are moving in a direction to go with Hillman over Moreno, who they may keep as a reserve or even let go. Manning to Hillman might be the most exciting combination out of the backfield in 2012 if Hillman lives up to the hype. We will see how that chemistry is developing Thursday in Manning’s first action in a year and a half.
Moreno’s stock is plummeting, even with the acquisition of Manning. Lance Ball as the team’s backup to McGahee is the biggest surprise from the depth chart. Ball has enjoyed occasional success but hasn’t been very consistent during his career. Johnson and Omon are also fighting for a roster spot in 2012. Watch for who makes an impact this preseason to see who ultimately wins the battle.
At fullback, newcomer Chris Gronkowski, brother of the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, has made waves at fullback ever since joining the squad in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts for DB Cassius Vaughn. Austin Sylvester’s short stint with the Broncos might come to an end if Gronkowski continues to outplay him in 2012.
Having Peyton Manning on the team this season has meant that the Broncos’ wide receivers cannot hide their lack of preparation studying routes and plays as Manning’s study will expose them. Manning has instantly challenged Demaryius Thomas’ preparation and will ultimately help the third-year receiver improve in 2012. Eric Decker got some work with Manning early on after he signed with the Denver Broncos this spring and it is paying off on the practice field. But outside of the incumbents, who will grab the next spot on the roster?
Wide Receiver No. 1 –
First string: Demaryius Thomas
Second string: Matthew Willis
Third string: Jason Hill
Wide Receiver No. 2 –
First string: Eric Decker
Second string: Andre Caldwell
Third string: Brandon Stokley
Others: Tyler Grisham, Mark Dell, Cameron Kenney, Greg Orton, Gerell Robinson
Analysis: Andre Caldwell and Brandon Stokley are competing for a position on the team as the slot receiver. As of now, Caldwell looks to have the best chance to land the spot this offseason. A recent string of injuries to D’Andre Goodwin (Injured Reserve) and Eric Decker has given some of the newcomers like Jason Hill, Gerell Robinson, Greg Orton, Cameron Kenney an opportunity to get some work in with Manning, Osweiler and Hanie.
The Broncos added new faces at tight end for Manning this offseason because they have been historically one of his favorite targets. Jacob Tamme was a familiar face for Manning as they developed chemistry together during their time on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster. Tamme will likely see the most passes his direction right away because of their history together. Joel Dreessen was the other major acquisition at TE this offseason who also figures to be a contributor on offense this year. Where the other tight ends fall remain to be seen.
First string: Joel Dreessen
Second string: Jacob Tamme
Third string: Virgil Green (suspended for first four games of 2012)
Others: Cornelius Ingram, Julius Thomas, Anthony Miller
Analysis: It’s a surprise to me to see Dreessen listed above Tamme. Dreessen looks to be impressing the coaching staff with the rapport he is building with Manning. Julius Thomas looks to be in danger of not making the team this season. After high hopes for Julius Thomas to be the next Antonio Gates, he will be hard pressed to even make the practice squad in 2012. My prediction will be that the Broncos have Green on the active roster as a blocking tight end, and keep either undrafted rookie Anthony Miller or second-year Cornelius Ingram on the practice squad and part ways with Julius Thomas, last year’s draft bust.
The biggest plot line of the offseason on the offensive line is the center position. The center touches the ball every play and his transfer to Manning is so critical. Manning and former Colts center, Jeff Saturday, spent 10 seasons together and developed a tight bond that Manning’s new center will need to work at developing right away. The Broncos have incumbent J.D. Walton whose play has been generally average during his three seasons in Denver and the recently drafted Philip Blake (fourth round) who replaced Walton at center after his departure from Baylor University. The two will be jockeying over the starting job on the Broncos this preseason.
Left Tackle: Ryan Clady
Left Guard: Zane Beadles
Center: J.D. Walton
Right Guard: Chris Kuper
Right Tackle: Orlando Franklin
Tackle: Ryan Harris, Chris Clark, Mike Remmers
Guard: Manny Ramirez, Adam Grant, Tony Hills, Austin Wuebbels, Wayne Tribue
Center: C.J. Davis, Philip Blake
Analysis: J.D. Walton seems to have gotten the message after the Broncos brought in rookie Philip Blake to push him. He has secured the starting job and Blake has been pushed all the way down to third string on the depth chart. In general, there weren’t any surprises on the offensive line.