The Battle of Dove Valley: Summer Battles to Watch

Mikey NorwoodContributor IMay 29, 2009

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MAY 03:  Quarterback Kyle Orton #8 particiaptes in practice during Denver Broncos Minicamp at the Broncos training facility on May 3, 2009 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

When Josh McDaniels was hired as the new head coach of the Denver Broncos, he declared that there would be competition at every position. Boy, he wasn’t kidding. Following one of the active offseason’s in NFL history, the Broncos head into training camp this summer with several starting positions up for grabs.

With a new football operations and coaching staff in place, each player on the roster should be given an objective assessment with the opportunity to compete for major playing time. Here are three of the key summer battles to watch at Dove Valley:

Quarterback:Nothing fires up offseason interest in a team like a good old fashioned quarterback controversy which is exactly where the Broncos find themselves after dealing Jay Cutler. Kyle Orton thrived at Purdue while playing in Joe Tiller’s spread offense; a very similar system to the one McDaniels brings to Denver from New England. The hope is that with improved coaching, a familiar system, and superior surrounding talent – Orton should be more than qualified to run the Denver offense.

His competition, Chris Simms, was initially signed to backup Cutler but now has the opportunity to finally reclaim a starting position. Once a promising starter with Tampa Bay, Simms’ ruptured spleen in 2006 sent him to the sidelines where he never reclaimed his starting position. Interestingly, when McDaniels lost Tom Brady to injury last season while directing New England’s offense, Simms was scheduled to come in for a workout before the team decided to go with backup Matt Cassell instead. Like Orton, Simms is an intelligent quarterback known more for accuracy than arm strength. Orton is the favorite, but Simms will get his opportunities as the position shakes itself out through the preseason.

Nose Tackle – The team is not short of options to fill the 3-4 defense’s most important position. The leading candidates are Ronald Fields and Marcus Thomas. Fields was a reserve nose tackle in San Francisco while playing for Mike Nolan, the Broncos new defensive coordinator. He’s regarded as a promising young defensive lineman but has never been counted on as the primary anchor of a defensive line.

Thomas started all 16 games for the Broncos last season but has never played the nose tackle position in the 3-4 defense. He’s currently bulking up from his listed 305 lbs. playing weight and has publically expressed excitement to learn the team’s new two-gap defense. It remains to be seen if Thomas can occupy multiple blockers as a nose tackle is expected or if he would be better fit at defensive end. Other candidates include Carlton Powell, who missed his entire rookie season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon; and Chris Baker, a talented but troubled undrafted free agent out of Hampton. While Fields is the leader in the clubhouse from his experience under Nolan, it’s possible the team could be looking at a rotation unless one candidate makes a major impression.

Defensive End – The Broncos have several players competing for two starting positions on the defensive line. The aforementioned Thomas and Powell should both be considered prime candidates as the 3-4 defensive end position may better suit their skills than nose tackle. Kenny Peterson, who resigned with the club, is the safest best to grab one of the starting positions. He’s played several positions across the defensive line in the past and is coming off a productive season in a reserve role.

Ryan McBean, a former draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a sleeper after spending last season on the Broncos’ practice squad. McBean has been working with the 1stunit throughout offseason mini-camps and looks to have impressed the new coaching staff initially. Other prospects include Nic Clemons, Mathias Askew and undrafted free agents Rulon Davis from Cal and Everette Pedescleaux from Northern Iowa. With roster spaces valuable, McDaniels and Nolan will likely be looking for players who can alternate between defensive end and nose tackle. More than any other position on the team, this one is wide open.

With a brand new offense and defense being installed, never before has one training camp seen so much competition as literally – every position is up for grabs. While the Quarterback and Defensive Line battles are likely to draw the most attention, there will be competition not only for starting positions but roster spots as well. If their offseason actions are any indication, the Broncos won’t be playing any favorites.