Stock Up, Stock Down for Denver Broncos Training Camp
The Denver Broncos began training camp over a week ago and have completed seven days of practices thus far.
As is the case every year, there are players—both young and old—whose stock is improving while some others' are declining.
The Broncos have a number of young players who are expected to make an impact in 2013.
What are the early reports on these guys and others early on in training camp? Let's take a look.
CB Chris Harris
Chris Harris, the third-year corner who started opposite of Champ Bailey for most of 2012, is making an impact one week into training camp.
And so far, it's a positive one.
Kyle Montgomery, of Mile High Report, noted that in his camp notes from Thursday, Aug. 1:
I saw Harris stepping up as a leader today. With DRC out and Champ Bailey still getting limited reps, Harris, who is only in his third year, is being looked to as the top cornerback, and he's filling that role by example and through giving advice. He fit the bill physically today as well; on one play he had a perfect angle on a Peyton Manning throw to Wes Welker, closed on the ball, and broke up the pass with ease.
Although the Broncos added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie through free agency with the expectation that he will start opposite of Bailey, Harris' role should not be diminished even if he doesn't win the No. 2 job.
Harris' role as a rookie corner in 2011 was as Denver's nickel cornerback. With the increasing emphasis upon passing offenses and Denver's lack of certainty at the middle linebacker position, look for the Broncos to often utilize defensive packages featuring at least five defensive backs.
That means you can expect to see a lot of Harris for the third straight year.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was brought in on a one-year deal by the Denver Broncos with the hope that he'd start opposite of Champ Bailey.
Due to an injury, that may not happen for awhile.
Cromartie suffered a high ankle sprain during a one-on-one drill early Wednesday afternoon while covering receiver Quincy McDuffie.
He is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks.
With Harris having experience in the system for three years and having an excellent training camp thus far, the injury damages Cromartie's chances of being the Broncos' No. 2 corner.
It's still early on in training camp, and it's expected that the former Pro Bowler will be back during the preseason, but there is nothing positive to spin from such an injury.
TE Julius Thomas
Another of John Fox's 2011 draft selections who is making an impression is Julius Thomas.
Unlike Chris Harris, however, the third-year tight end has had a rough start to his career.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2011, the Portland State product has gone through ankle injuries that have derailed his young career.
Not this year, though. Thomas has been impressing from the time of OTAs through the second week of training camp.
Ian Henson of Mile High Report said that Thomas has been stealing the show so far:
Thomas has been a one man highlight reel since Organized Team Activities and so far through the fifth day of Training Camp has kept his fuel intake spiked with nitrous oxide. Signed through the 2014 season, he will likely make some vested veterans nervous about their playing time this season.
With starter Jacob Tamme missing Thursday's practice with a quadriceps injury, Thomas once again received reps with the first team as he has throughout the offseason.
Tamme's injury opens the door for Thomas and Virgil Green, noted Kyle Montgomery of Mile High Report:
With Jacob Tamme out with a quadricep, it's an opportunity for Julius Thomas to continue to separate himself, and for Virgil Green to regain lost ground with more reps. Thomas is succeeding in his end; Green is continuing to struggle. He dropped another pass today and has not been as effective in pass and run blocks as in years past.
Barring an injury, it's hard not to envision Thomas being a integral part of Denver's offense in 2013.
TE Virgil Green
Virgil Green enters his third training camp with the Denver Broncos after having been drafted by John Fox in the 2011 NFL draft.
Unlike his counterpart, Julius Thomas, who is well known for his receiving abilities, athleticism and potential, Green's strength is Thomas' weakness: blocking.
The Broncos' other two key tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, are not considered great blocking tight ends so that is one of the reasons why the Broncos kept Green on the roster despite his four-game suspension to begin the 2012 season.
Denver kept Tamme, Dreessen, Thomas and Green all on the roster during 2012.
The Broncos may not go that route for a second straight season. While Thomas is impressing at practices and Green is struggling during those same sessions, it doesn't improve Green's stock.
As mentioned earlier, Virgil is struggling with increased reps while Julius continues to separate himself.
In Kyle Montgomery's Day 6 recap of Broncos training camp on Mile High Report, he lists Green as his runner-up for "Who Lost Today":
Runner Up: Virgil Green. Green had a tough day of drops and at least one missed assignment that I saw, as well as the rough go in one-on-one pass pro I mentioned earlier.
If the Broncos don't see the benefits of keeping a blocking tight on the roster over a tight end who lacks blocking skills, but has unlimited potential on the receiving end, that blocking tight end may not see a third season in the orange and blue.
S Duke Ihenacho
Second-year safety Duke Ihenacho bounced between the practice squad and the active roster during his rookie season with the Denver Broncos in 2012.
With the reps that Ihenacho has been receiving in training camp, it doesn't look like he'll be doing the same in 2013—it looks like he might start.
Although six different safeties have rotated on the first-team unit during training camp, it's notable that the second-year safety is receiving first-team reps considering the caliber of his competition—Mike Adams, Rahim Moore, Quentin Jammer, Quinton Carter and David Bruton.
But he's done just that, according to Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com:
Playmaking is why second-year veteran Duke Ihenacho continues to rotate in for snaps with the first team. His ascension happened quietly, and not with a "Eureka!" moment where a coach took him aside and told him he'd receive more repetitions.
“There wasn’t a specific moment when (Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio) told me, it just gradually happened over time," Ihenacho said. "I wouldn’t say there was specific moment so I didn’t have an ‘Oh My God!’ reaction; it just happened."
Ihenacho is also emerging as a special-teams contributor, which makes it more essential for him to prove he can flourish in various defensive packages if the need arises.
The safety battle is a toss-up right now, but the former Broncos practice squad member is in the thick of things.
CB Tony Carter
With the ankle sprain injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one would think that every cornerback who was below Cromartie on the depth chart would be a winner in training camp thus far.
That isn't the case with Tony Carter.
Although Carter has moved back up to his No. 3 role of last season due to the injury, the young corner has struggled to keep up with Denver's top receiver, Demaryius Thomas.
During Day 6 of Broncos training camp, Brandon Spano of 93.7 FM in Lakewood, Colo., pointed out Carter's struggles:
"Manning throwing at Tony Carter over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Poor guy is getting toasted"
Montgomery of Mile High Report lists Carter as the player "who lost" the most during Day 6 of Broncos training camp:
With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie down, and Champ Bailey sitting out the last few team drills (his reps are being limited this year, presumably because he's, well, old), it was Tony Carter squaring off against Demaryius Thomas for several of the plays during hurry-up and two-minute work.
It wasn't pretty. Manning went after DT and Carter again and again, with success each time.
The Broncos have a stacked defensive backfield. With Bailey, Cromartie, Chris Harris, recently drafted Kayvon Webster and second-year man Omar Bolden, Carter will be fighting for a spot on this roster as we approach the regular season.
C Manny Ramirez
Center is not a position of depth for the Broncos.
Although there might be competition for the starting center spot, Manny Ramirez has it locked up right now.
Ramirez started at guard for the Broncos last season while Chris Kuper was struggling with injuries. He played well in his absence, committing just three penalties in 11 starts.
It is now Ramirez's job to lose.
G Chris Kuper
As mentioned, the Denver Broncos signed Ryan Lilja.
According to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, Lilja's one-year contract is worth up to $2.2 million when including incentives.
That's a pretty high-priced backup for an offensive lineman.
The Broncos are pretty much set at offensive line. With Lilja's signing along with Denver's young backup options such as C.J. Davis, Chris Clark and Vinston Painter, it's hard to imagine the Broncos will end up keeping Chris Kuper and his $4.50 million base salary for 2013.
Kuper continues to struggle with injuries early on in training camp.
As training camp progresses, Kuper's days as a Bronco seem to be winding down.