What We've Learned About Every Positional Unit so Far in Broncos' Preseason

Clint DalyContributor IIAugust 18, 2012

What We've Learned About Every Positional Unit so Far in Broncos' Preseason

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    The Denver Broncos head into their second preseason game after a very tough week.

    No, it wasn't a tough loss or a physical game that has the Broncos smarting.

    They suffered two tough injuries to positions that are of major importance to their hopes for the season.

    First starting right guard Chris Kuper went down with a broken forearm that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks.

    Then first string defensive end Jason Hunter tore his triceps and may be lost for the season.

    Add in a guilty verdict for linebacker D.J. Williams in his driving while ability impaired court case and it has been a largely forgettable week for head coach John Fox and his team.

    So where do the Broncos stand?

    How is the depth chart shaping up and does this team have enough talent to truly be a contender?

    Breaking down each position on the roster, let's take a look at how each unit is faring so far.

Offensive Line: Must Be Great

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    Sorry, there's just not much room for error on this one.

    The 2012 Denver Broncos offensive line has to be great. They were excellent against the Bears.

    There are some very talented players on this line, now they have to come together and become one of the most proficient units in the league.

    It is a completely different mindset for this group from a season ago. Last year they were expected to control the ball and the clock, fire out and open up holes for the top ranked running game in the league.

    Now they will be expected to protect one of the top quarterbacks to play the game in Peyton Manning and make all the right reads to make sure they are on the same page.

    J.D. Walton is the starting center and will anchor a solid first team unit that includes Zane Beadles and Ryan Clady to his left side.

    With Chris Kuper out at right guard it opens the door for six-year pro Manny Ramirez or Tony Hills, a fifth year player out of the University of Texas.

    Orlando Franklin completes the line at right tackle and the Broncos were very impressed with Franklin last year in his rookie season.

    There isn't much depth at either tackle with Chris Clark backing Clady and the oft-injured Ryan Harris sitting behind Franklin. So this group needs to stay healthy.

    Football is won or lost in the trenches. This offensive line needs to shine.

Defensive Line: The Signs Are Improving

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    It's never a good sign when your defensive linemen rarely make tackles. That means you are giving up yards to the linebackers or even worse to the defensive backs.

    It isn't that your defensive line is going to lead the team in tackles. That just doesn't happen.

    But take a look at the 2011 Denver defensive leaders and you will go down the list a ways to find a defensive lineman who was making tackles.

    Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas ranked ninth in total tackles with 43, just 29 solo.

    Not surprisingly the Broncos defense finished ranked No. 20 in total defense.

    Once again, it all starts up front. 

    The defensive line can make your linebackers better, and they can make your defensive backs great.

    Want more interceptions? Improve your defensive line. And remember it isn't just sacks. It's the hurries and hits on opposing quarterbacks that pay the big dividends.

    The always dangerous Elvis Dumervil will once again line up at right end with Justin Bannan and Ty Warren anchoring the middle. 

    The loss of Jason Hunter will make things very interesting. 

    Will Robert Ayers finally live up to his potential? Or will the rookie Derek Wolfe make the move outside? Jeremy Beal has a chance and has looked vastly improved. 

    This group is improving and they will be the key to the entire defense.

Running Backs: Changes on the Way

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    Willis McGahee has come into 2012 looking better than ever. McGahee arrived at camp after spending the bulk of his offseason in the weight room. McGahee is weighing in at around 245 pounds and doesn't seem to have lost a step of quickness.

    While McGahee has the top spot all locked up the remaining roster spots are up in the air.

    Lance Ball is currently listed at the No. 2 spot. Ball is a dependable back who always runs hard and rarely turns it over, but he isn't overly explosive.

    The third back is the rookie Ronnie Hillman who has yet to play a snap just yet but the coaching staff likes Hillman's change of pace running and ability to catch the ball.

    Former starter Knowshon Moreno is currently listed as fourth on the depth chart with Jeremiah Johnson behind him.

    The player who may make some serious noise is the back listed dead last Xavier Omon.

    The fullback position has changed as well. Out is Spencer Larsen, in are Chris Gronkowski and Austin Sylvester.

    With all of these backs on the roster it is easy to see how different the running back unit could look from last year. 

Linebackers: More Aggression but Will It Pay Off?

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    It has been pretty apparent that so far one of the biggest changes in Jack Del Rio's defense this season will be the attacking style.

    The Broncos have some very athletic linebackers for whom this may suit perfectly.

    Joe Mays will start in the middle flanked by Wesley Woodyard on one side and AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 Von Miller on the other.

    D.J Williams is serving a suspension and it's hard to say whether he figures into the team's plans right now.

    There is youth and speed backing up the starters with players like Mike Mohamed, Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan.

    Plus the Broncos recently signed 15-year veteran Keith Brooking who is hoping to get healthy and bring leadership to this young group.

    The Bronco linebackers look like they will pursue and attack the football. 

    Now the question is can they maintain their assignments and be effective?

Quarterbacks: Top Heavy

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    No this isn't a crack about the size of Peyton Manning's cranium.

    Just a simple observation that if Manning does succumb to injury there isn't much hope.

    Manning is an all time great. And he has looked to be stronger than in either 2011 or 2010.

    If he stays healthy the Broncos will be a team that must be reckoned with.

    However there just isn't much behind him.

    Five-year veteran Caleb Hanie is currently the backup but he has looked very average thus far.

    The Broncos used a second round pick on Brock Osweiler and they think he may be the quarterback of the future.

    It is pretty apparent though that the hopes of Bronco fans lie with Manning and his ability to dominate a game.

    If Manning should go down so do the Broncos' season aspirations.

Defensive Backs: Hoping for Big Plays

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    The biggest beneficiaries of Jack Del Rio's defensive scheme may very well be the defensive backs.

    Pressure on the quarterback has a way of making defensive backs look better and it isn't like the cupboard is bare.

    Champ Bailey is a 14-year veteran and 11-time Pro Bowler who just never seems to age.

    While Bailey locks up one side of the field, Tracy Porter joins Denver from New Orleans and is very solid in his own right. 

    Chris Harris and Drayton Florence are both very capable backups who will see plenty of playing time.

    Mike Adams and Rahim Moore make for a tough safety tandem that can cause receivers to become jittery when heading across the middle.

    If the front seven can perform at a high level this defensive backfield is more than capable of making some very big plays.

Wide Receivers: Potential

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    The dreaded "P" word.


    It can be a gift or a curse depending on what you achieve.

    The Broncos have some talent at the wide receiver spot.

    Demaryius Thomas has the tools to be great. 

    Eric Decker, Matt Willis, Bubba Caldwell and Jason Hill can all be better than average contributors.

    With Peyton Manning throwing them the ball this group has a chance to be part of a very prolific offense.

    Now are they ready to step up?

Kicker: Powerful Now Add Consistency

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    Matt Prater is currently the most accurate kicker in NFL history from beyond 50 yards.

    Now Prater needs to grow just a little more consistent from close range.

    Not trying to pick at Prater who truly is one of the best in the NFL but take a look at the stats.

    When kicking beyond 50 yards he is an amazing 12 of 16.

    Yet when moving in to the 40-49 range he made just 21 in 36 attempts.

    Still, Prater is one of the best legs in the game and might be at his best when the game is on the line.

    This year could easily be a career season for Prater and so far in camp his leg has looked as strong as ever.

Tight Ends: Be Ready

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    The Denver Broncos' tight end unit is without question one that has been overhauled the most.

    And it's no wonder with the way Peyton Manning has historically used his tight ends.

    This group will get an opportunity to shine. They had better make the most of it.

    Joel Dreessen is the starter and can be a blocker or a receiver.

    Jacob Tamme has the advantage of playing with Manning previously in Indianapolis and he will get ample shots to show what he can do.

    Julius Thomas and Cornelius Ingram look to be the other contenders to make the squad and both have skill sets that allow them to compete.

    This is a unit to keep an eye on.

Punter: Underrated

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    Is there a less glamorous position in the NFL than punter?

    Probably not.

    But next time the Broncos offense is forced to punt wait just a moment before going to refill your drink.

    Britton Colquitt is pretty good.

    Last season Colquitt averaged over 47 yards per punt and dropped 33 punts inside the opponents' 20 yard line.

    Punting is all about net average. Booming punts are great but if they go into the endzone the opponent does get to start at their own 20.

    Colquitt averaged 41.6 net yards per punt.

    That's good enough for sixth in the NFL.

    And that can be a pretty good weapon that just might go overlooked.