Denver Broncos: Biggest Preseason Disappointments So Far
The Denver Broncos haven't exactly had the preseason they hoped for when August began.
In the past several weeks, the Broncos have undergone a six-game suspension to defensive leader Von Miller, according to an ESPN report, while suffering serious injuries to the likes of center Dan Koppen, defensive end Derek Wolfe, tight end Joel Dreessen and cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey.
Midway through the preseason slate, the Broncos had an impressive preseason debut, when they defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 10-6.
However, they followed that up with a 40-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that had all of the makings of a disaster.
During the first quarter of that game, Wolfe left the game by ambulance after suffering a cervical spine injury.
Bailey, Wes Welker and Louis Vasquez all left the game versus Seattle with injuries.
The Broncos turned the ball over four times, including three fumbles lost.
The Broncos have already had their fair share of ups-and-downs halfway through the preseason, but which players have been the biggest disappointments thus far?
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The second-year running back who entered the preseason as the Broncos' No. 1 running back has been underwhelming through two games.
Hillman has started both games with the first-team offense and has yet to show a strong hold on the starting running back job. Through two games, he has 16 carries for 43 yards with two fumbles (one lost) in the Broncos' 40-10 loss to the Seahawks last week.
The San Diego State product had his struggles during his rookie season with fumbling when he coughed up the ball twice in just 85 rushing attempts. The Broncos made an effort later on in the season as Hillman started to receive more carries, to limit his fumbles.
It remains to be seen if Hillman will remain the Broncos' starting running back when the season begins in two weeks.
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One of the biggest question marks entering the preseason for the Broncos was the void at middle linebacker.
Nate Irving was initially thought to be the favorite at middle linebacker, even being named the starting middle linebacker on the team's initial depth chart.
However, Stewart Bradley has started the past two games at MLB.
Although there were no expectations for Bradley coming into training camp, the fact that he's been given the opportunity to run with the first-team defense at middle linebacker and been exposed in pass coverage while doing it, makes him a disappointment.
The offseason signee will have to undergo wrist surgery and will be out for several weeks.
Bronco Mike of Mile High Report goes in-depth about Bradley's struggles versus the Seahawks, covering his weaknesses in pass coverage.
Due to Bradley's injury, the Broncos have shifted Wesley Woodyard to middle linebacker.
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Denver's defensive leader Von Miller has been suspended for the first six games of the 2013 NFL season.
And for that, he's a preseason disappointment.
Miller is the Broncos' best defensive player and leader of the defense. The Broncos should be fine without Miller, but there is no excuse for his six-game suspension.
Leaders are not supposed to get suspended.
Mark Kizla of The Denver Post has an article up about how Miller's actions have "failed teammates and fans."
Says Kizla: "When any player, whether he's an all-pro linebacker or a special-teams scrub, gets kicked out of the league for six games, it's the opposite of being a great teammate."
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You could create a slide for most of the Broncos running backs for this slideshow.
Montee Ball has not been a disappointment running the football so far. He has received limited carries in preseason game action, so it's hard to gauge his actual running ability from the game film.
However, as Kaptain Kirk's Mile High Report stat sheet from training camp display, Ball has ran the ball effectively, averaging 4.1 yards per carry during Week 2 of Broncos training camp.
Having said that, there have been notable weaknesses in Ball's skill set, and that pertains to his pass blocking.
As Rob Rang of CBSSports.com notes, "The rookie's struggles in pass protection could leave the Broncos once again searching for more consistency from the position in 2013."
His first opportunity to show the Denver coaching staff that he could be trusted with third down pass-blocking duties didn't go nearly as well, however. With the Seahawks threatening blitz with multiple defenders, Ball aggressively stepped up to take on middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
The Seahawks' second-year pro blew through Ball with an explosive pop, driving the rookie backward and sliding off to lay a big hit on Manning just as he got off a strike to tight end Julius Thomas for a gain of 31 yards.
On the next series, Hillman replaced Ball after his gaffe, and later on in the second quarter, Ball had confusion with one of Peyton Manning's audibles, which forced the Broncos to call a timeout. After the timeout, Hillman, once again, replaced Ball.
With the Broncos' injuries along the offensive line and at tight end, the Broncos cannot afford for their running backs to screw up on blocking assignments.
That's especially true when blocking for Peyton Manning.
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Nate Irving will serve as the team's starting strong-side linebacker during Von Miller's six-game suspension.
However, if it weren't for Miller's suspension and Stewart Bradley's wrist injury, Irving may not have found his way into the starting lineup.
As mentioned before, Irving was listed as the team's No. 1 middle linebacker when depth charts were first released during training camp.
Along the way, Bradley overtook Irving as the team's starting middle linebacker. He had started the team's first two preseason games.
For months, common sense suggested that it would take a bad training camp by Irving and an amazing one by Bradley and Steven Johnson for the Broncos to even consider benching Irving in favor of the latter two.
Via Mike Klis of The Denver Post, Jack Del Rio stated back in May that Irving would get "first crack at the job."
He's getting the first crack at it, yeah. Nate's going to get time in there, Stewart Bradley will get time in there and Stevie Johnson will get time, but Nate is getting the first crack. He's a bright guy. He's naturally a strong-handed guy, a thick guy. He can move. He's got a chance to play at a higher level and we're giving him that opportunity to earn that.
Now that Irving has received a second chance at being a Broncos starting linebacker in the event of injury and suspension, hopefully he won't disappoint.