The draft season is well under way. Each team across the NFL is compiling a list of players they will eventually shape into a draft board.
One of the most important parts of the pre-draft process takes place over the next several days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine kicked off on Thursday. Most teams had at least one representative speak to the media.
When it was time for John Fox to take the stand, he gave us some clues about the direction of the team in 2014.
I’m at the scouting combine again this year. Here’s what Fox had to address at the podium.
The Ground Game
I opened up the questions with a couple of inquiries about how the ground game could look in 2014. I first asked Fox about the team’s faith in running back Montee Ball if he is going to be their lead back this season.
“Obviously, we think very highly of him. I thought he had tremendous growth as a rookie running back in this league.” Fox continued, “He got better with every week. We look for a big improvement next year and think he’s very, very capable.”
In the Super Bowl, it was evident the team needed a more physical presence on both sides of the ball. Next, I wanted to find out if Fox felt the Broncos needed a more powerful ground game to help soften up a tough defense.
“I think, offensively, you do strive for balance. You’d like to have that attitude, that mindset to be able to run the football. It is something that I think every year when you look back at your season and evaluate schematically or even physically where you go, that’s an area we want to improve in.”
Fox indicated Thursday that the Broncos have no plans to release Wes Welker.
"Wes Welker is under contract, so I don’t think it’s a tremendous decision," Fox said when asked about a decision coming up with Welker.
The team does have a decision to make regarding Welker’s $3 million roster bonus next month. At this time, it seems like the Broncos already made up their mind.
In 2013, Welker played in only 13 games, as he battled two concussions. He was targeted 111 times, hauling in 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.
We could see Eric Decker move on to a different team in free agency this offseason. It looks like keeping Welker around in 2014 is an easy decision.
When asked if Welker could be a No. 2 wide receiver for the team, Fox replied:
“I always tell guys, ‘Don’t let anybody define you,’ and that includes me. Wes, I think, has proven to be a very productive receiver in this league—whether that’s a one, two or a three—I’ve never really totally understood that. I understand the phrases, but we just let them compete, and he’s never been short on that.”
The Broncos need to get more pressure on the quarterback. They may get a boost to the pass rush with second-year linebacker Quanterus Smith.
We haven’t heard much about Smith since the Broncos put him on season-ending injured reserve. He was never fully recovered from the knee injury that cut his final season at Western Kentucky short.
On Thursday, Fox talked about Smith’s progress.
“He rehabbed his knee. He came in off an offseason rehab. He’s a guy that we saw early that we liked against [playing against] some top talent.” Fox continued, “He’s had a great offseason as far as being in the weight room with [strength & conditioning coach] Luke Richesson, so I’m real curious to see him. I like what I saw on tape a year ago, and we’ll see where he is in that process in the offseason.”
Fox was asked how long Peyton Manning is going to play. It’s a common question that many fans wondered about after the Super Bowl.
“I don’t know. That's something you would have to ask him. I think he had a very, very productive—maybe the most productive—season in history a year ago. I would say it looks pretty good for him moving forward.”
Manning threw for an NFL-record 55 touchdowns in 2013; He also threw for an NFL-record 5,477 yards. His production is far from falling off. So long as he passes his physical next month, we’ll continue to see Manning under center for the Broncos.
Fox was also asked about Manning’s routine during the offseason.
“Peyton has a program for everything (laughing). He’s in his program right now, and one guy I don’t worry about in the offseason is him. He’ll be just fine.”
The Broncos are still in a Super Bowl window. With the right personnel decisions, they could end up at the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
We could see a different offense in 2014. With Ball as the lead back, the team may try to establish more of a ground game in 2014.
If Decker leaves in free agency, then it could lead to a larger role for Welker in the offense. If he can stay healthy, then Welker could produce numbers similar to what he did during his time with the New England Patriots.
The defense could undergo a major makeover this offseason. If the Broncos can get added pressure on the quarterback with Smith on the field, it could help them perform better in big games.
The Broncos want to get rid of the bad taste of their Super Bowl performance. With the right moves, they could win the championship that has eluded them in the Manning era.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com. Draft grades all from NFLDraftScout.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.