Denver Broncos: 10 Players Feeling the Most Pressure Heading into Camp
When the Denver Broncos open training camp later this summer, many veteran players will be feeling the heat of someone trying to replace them on the depth chart.
Rookie mini-camp has commenced for the Broncos, and the first of several OTAs takes place on May 21. The Broncos will have several opportunities to get together, and the coaching staff will have many looks at what they have with this team.
The Broncos have assembled a very strong, deep roster that they feel will put them in the discussion for legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
With that said, it will be tough to make the final 53-man roster.
It may be due to a logjam of players at one position or a starter who will get pushed by a player with youth on their side.
The heat will be on this summer in Denver, in more ways than one.
Kevin Vickerson, Defensive Tackle
Kevin Vickerson posted 40 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble in the 2012 season, but both he and fellow starter Justin Bannan were both free agents following the campaign.
The team elected to keep Vickerson, who signed a new two-year deal (Mile High Sports) in March.
Still, it should have come as no surprise that they would go out and look for more depth at the position.
It looked like Vickerson and Knighton would be the front-runners to be the team's interior defensive linemen, but then came the NFL draft.
Sitting at No. 28 in the first round, the team decided it could not pass up on defensive tackle Sylvester Williams out of North Carolina.
With the combination of speed and power that Williams brings along with his ability to rush the quarterback, it's hard to imagine him not starting from day one.
Vickerson will be battling Knighton for playing time in that case.
Knighton is four years younger and was also drafted by the regime that current Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was part of in Jacksonville.
Vickerson will likely make the final roster, but a starting position on the defensive line may no longer be his.
Robert Ayers, Defensive End
To many, Robert Ayers is probably considered a "draft bust" at this point.
Ayers was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft and has a career total of 6.5 sacks.
But with Elvis Dumervil leaving for Baltimore (USA Today) this offseason, Ayers will be heavily relied upon going forward.
He won't be expected to duplicate the impressive sack numbers that Dumervil put up in his seven seasons as a Bronco, but he'll have to be a lot better than he has been.
The Broncos signed (ESPN) pass-rush specialist Shaun Phillips for insurance, but Ayers has an excellent opportunity to shed the label of being a bad draft choice.
Joe Mays, Linebacker
Middle linebacker was arguably the biggest position weakness for the Broncos in 2012.
Joe Mays was the starter when the season began, but he played in just six games.
Brooking is no longer with the team, but Mays is far from a sure thing to be the starter.
Steven Johnson, Nate Irving and free-agent signing Stewart Bradley will all push him for the job and for playing time.
If Mays doesn't impress in camp and preseason games, he could easily find himself being released.
Mike Adams, Safety
Despite being second on the team in tackles in 2012, Mike Adams struggled in pass coverage.
He also saw a lot more playing time than he probably should have due to Quinton Carter missing most of the year with an injury.
Carter will be back this coming season, and he and Rahim Moore will likely have to play their way out of the starting spots.
That leaves Adams to do whatever he can to convince the coaching staff he should still be given the chance to start.
Andre Caldwell, Wide Receiver
Andre Caldwell was to be one of the Broncos' key acquisitions last year.
In four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Caldwell caught 124 passes. Last season, he caught one.
Caldwell will find things even tougher at the receiver position this season with the addition of Wes Welker.
Caldwell will have to have an incredible camp and perform well in preseason games if he wants to make the roster.
Julius Thomas, Tight End
You may have forgotten this guy is still on the roster.
Once a promising fourth-round draft choice out of Portland State, Thomas has never really done anything in the NFL.
One catch for five yards. Those are his career statistics.
With Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen and Virgil Green all ahead of him on the depth chart, Thomas may have reached the end of his rope in Denver.
Willis McGahee, Running Back
Willis McGahee will have a lot of questions to answer in 2013.
After an incredible 2011 season in which he rushed for 1,199 yards, McGahee's 2012 season was cut short with a knee injury.
Along with running for just 731 yards a season ago, McGahee was prone to mistakes, as evidenced by some key errors in a loss to New England in Week 5.
Will McGahee, who has had issues with knee injuries in the past, be able to return to form? Will he have what it takes to keep the starting role despite a bevy of young, hungry running backs behind him?
McGahee will turn 32 years old in October. He will have to overcome the odds.
Lance Ball, Running Back
When he is called upon, Lance Ball seems to always answer the bell.
He is similar to a great utility player in baseball.
Yet the Broncos used their second-round draft pick on Wisconsin's Montee Ball, one of the most prolific rushers in NCAA history.
Ball will be looking for playing time in a crowded backfield that includes Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball and Mario Fannin, among others.
Ball will have to turn some heads in order to be a part of anything more than the practice squad.
Knowshon Moreno, Running Back
Knowshon Moreno will also be part of the Broncos' crowded backfield, and he will have his work cut out for him.
If not for his performance in relief of McGahee last year, it might have been even tougher.
Injuries have plagued Moreno throughout his career and have been the biggest reason for his lack of total production.
However, when given the opportunity and when he has been healthy, Moreno has shown plenty of talent.
It will be tough to make this team as a running back, but as long as someone like Mario Fannin or the undrafted C.J. Anderson doesn't show him up, he should be part of the roster.
If healthy, Moreno and Montee Ball could be a very potent combination.
Chris Kuper, Guard
Chris Kuper was easily becoming one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL. Then he suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the season finale in 2011.
The ankle hobbled him in 2012 as well, limiting him to playing in just seven games.
As a result, the Broncos went out and signed (Pro Football Talk) free agent guard Louis Vasquez, a former San Diego Charger.
This will be one of the best battles to watch in camp. Denver will give Kuper every chance to keep the starting spot, but will he be able to fend off Vasquez?