The 2012 football season is one of change for the Denver Broncos. With a passing quarterback now in town, the offense will operate differently, allowing other players to step up and shine this season.
The addition of Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator will also bring a different angle, and hopefully, consistency to the Broncos on the defensive side of the ball. Having seven different coordinators in seven years has been tough to establish accord amongst Denver’s defense.
This training camp should provide a solid opportunity for both sides of the ball to learn from each other and elevate their performance on the field.
With some quality free-agent signings and a draft that filled most of their needs, the Broncos should be primed for a solid season.
Here’s a look at 10 guys to keep your eye on this season as the Broncos attempt a run at the playoffs.
Robert Ayers will have a breakout season due to the high level of players around him. He tends to fly somewhat under the radar due to his counterpart on the right side, Elvis Dumervil, getting most of the attention.
While the opposing offensive lines will be focusing on Von Miller and Dumervil, Ayers will find himself with more opportunities to wreak havoc in the backfield.
The addition of Derek Wolfe and a healthy Ty Warren should improve the production of the defense on the inside, which only benefits Ayers on the edge.
With Jack Del Rio’s aggressive style defense, Robert Ayers should have the season that he was drafted for in 2009 and put up some great numbers for the Broncos.
I know this is quite obvious, however, Manning couldn’t be left off this list.
All eyes are on this future Hall of Fame quarterback as he begins his first season with the Denver Broncos. While it has been determined that his neck is a non-issue due to his fusion surgery in September 2011, Manning’s arm strength has been a concern this offseason.
At the Broncos’ training camp, thus far, he has shown no sign of a decrease in arm strength and appears to be throwing accurately and with solid power.
With a young, talented receiving corps, the sky is the limit for Manning this season as long as he stays healthy. Look for him to return to his old form and lead this offense to great things in 2012.
In his third year in the NFL and as a Bronco, Decker is primed for a huge season.
The switch from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow last season didn’t exactly help to boost the receiver’s production on the field. We had just started to get a glimpse of his potential when the offensive philosophy switched from pass-oriented to, well, Tebow.
With Manning now behind center, Decker has the chance to catch balls from one of the best in the business. Manning will love his grit and great hands on the field.
From the looks of their chemistry in training camp so far, this could be a monster year for Decker, upping his production in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
In his first season in the NFL, Von Miller was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, recording 11.5 sacks and 64 tackles.
He was a powerhouse pass-rusher for Denver, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks around the league. After suffering an injury to his thumb requiring surgery, Miller’s level of play was just not the same.
He only missed Week 13 of the season, but was ineffective down the stretch for the Broncos while playing with a wrapped cast on his hand.
This season, his thumb is not an issue, and a healthy Miller is looking to propel that solid rookie season into a tremendous sophomore one.
Miller will also get to experience a full training camp, which he did not have in his rookie season due to the lockout. This can only benefit his game and set Miller up for a highly successful season.
Going into training camp, Caldwell sat behind Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and even Brandon Stokley on the Broncos’ depth chart. Some casual fans might not have even known he was on the roster.
So far in camp, Caldwell has gelled well with Manning as the signal-caller and has shown that he can be a solid route-runner.
With both Decker and Thomas garnering the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, this will allow Caldwell to make plays and get open for Manning downfield. This could prove to be a career year for Caldwell, who is a five-year veteran coming to Denver from Cincinnati.
D.J. Williams is out to start the season with a minimum six-game suspension stemming from a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. There is also the possibility of additional games pending a court date this month for a DUI from November 2010.
Wesley Woodyard is slotted to fill in for Williams and has been taking most of the reps with the team at camp.
A fifth-year pro, Woodyard is coming off a career-high season in which he recorded 97 tackles in just seven starts. He is looking to stay atop the Broncos’ depth chart and secure his spot as the starter. This offseason, Woodyard took up boxing to push him and prepare for this season both physically and mentally.
Look for Woodyard to make the most of his opportunity to fill in for D.J. Williams and put up another season of career numbers.
Jacob Tamme and Peyton Manning are very comfortable with each other.
Coming to Denver as a free agent from the Colts, Tamme signed with the Broncos not long after Manning made the decision to play in the Mile High City.
With Manning under center in Indy, Tamme stepped in as the starting tight end when Dallas Clark sustained an injury during the 2010 season. The two had great chemistry, and Tamme racked up 619 yards and six touchdowns that season.
With the entire preseason to build on their previous on-field chemistry, Tamme should have a breakout season and emerge as one of Manning’s top targets.
Thomas has all the tools to be a breakout star and an elite wide receiver in the NFL. He has the size, strength and speed to make it happen.
He will also have a major improvement at the quarterback position, allowing Thomas to elevate his game tremendously. Instead of a gimmicky Tebow-led system, he will have the opportunity to thrive in a pro-style offense.
Thomas is also coming into this year healthy, which has been an issue in his first two seasons. His rookie season was plagued by a foot injury, and he also suffered a torn Achilles tendon that threatened to keep him out for his sophomore year as well.
He will present a serious downfield threat, perhaps, the most talented Manning has had to work with. Watch for him to make jaw-dropping plays in the clutch and use his physicality to shine this season for the Broncos.
Whether the Broncos use their 36th overall pick at defensive tackle or end, Derek Wolfe is hoping to make an impact on the Broncos defense in his rookie season.
It is no secret that the weakest spot on the Broncos' roster is at defensive tackle. Their performance against the run last season was abysmal. With the departure of veteran Broderick Bunkley, Denver will need Wolfe to step in and clog up the middle right away, asking quite a bit from the rookie.
From what we’ve seen so far, he should be up for the challenge. Wolfe was solid against the run at Cincinnati and has the chops to have an impactful rookie season for the orange and blue.
The rookie from San Diego State should serve as a change-of-pace running back for the Broncos behind Willis McGahee.
While McGahee is coming off a productive season, he is approaching 31 years of age, a senior citizen in running back years. Hillman has fresh legs with the ability to be an explosive runner.
Hillman has been taking snaps on passing downs, which is an integral part of a Peyton Manning offense where blocking is just as important as running. So far, he has been successful in camp and will only continue to impress with his talent.
With other backs Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball not posing a threat thus far, Hillman has the potential to steal the starting job away from the aging McGahee as the season progresses.