Denver Broncos OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
The Denver Broncos begin minicamp this week on Wednesday. The team wants to make another run at the Super Bowl, and this minicamp is the start of that journey for a title.
Minicamp is a time offseason storylines begin to grow. No starting jobs are won or lost in the process, but the team will get an idea of how players are progressing in this early portion of the offseason.
The team will get the rookie class together with the veterans, and competitions will begin. This is an important part of the offseason for young players and veterans who may be on the roster bubble. All practices and drills will be recorded so coaches and players can go over the film to learn what needs to be worked on.
The Broncos will also get to monitor injured players from last year closely. Their recovery can be gauged, and the team will get an early idea of the health status of players who are banged up.
Let’s take a look at the latest buzz around the Broncos as they head into the next phase of the offseason.
Chris Harris Jr. Should Be Ready for Training Camp
According to Jeff Legwold from ESPN.com, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. hopes to be ready for the start of training camp. Harris is currently recovering from a partially torn ACL injury he suffered in the playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers last year.
His status for the start of training camp is up in the air right now. Harris is hoping to be ready, but the team is going to be cautious with him as he comes back from this injury.
Second-year cornerback Kayvon Webster would benefit from extra reps in practice. He filled in after Harris was injured, and he quickly became a target for Philip Rivers. Webster is a physical player who can play close to the line of scrimmage, but he struggles with coverage on longer routes.
In the first round of the 2014 NFL draft the Broncos selected cornerback Bradley Roby out of Ohio State. Roby is a candidate to start on the outside opposite free-agent addition Aqib Talib. The rookie would certainly benefit from some extra reps if Harris is out.
The Broncos could always put Harris on the physically unable to perform list at the beginning of training camp if he’s not quite ready. On the PUP list Harris could continue to recover at his own pace, and the risk of aggravating his injury would be minimized. He could be activated from that list at any time before the start of the regular season.
All reports about Harris have been positive up to this point. Even if he’s not on the PUP list to start training camp, Harris could still be eased back into action. Either way, at this time it looks like Harris should at least be ready for the start of the regular season.
Cody Latimer in No Rush for Playing Time
DenverBroncos.com recently posted comments from rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer. The second-round pick says he’s in no rush to get playing time as a rookie.
At this time, Latimer is fourth or fifth on the Broncos depth chart behind Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and maybe even Andre “Bubba” Caldwell. Even in this high-powered offense, the role in 2014 for Latimer could be smaller than some think.
Latimer has a fine size/speed combination, and he could be in line for a starting job in 2015. To begin his pro career, Latimer may be used primarily as a red-zone threat in a part-time role.
He’s a big receiver who knows how to use his big frame to box out smaller defenders. Latimer has a large wingspan which allows him to regularly pluck passes out of the air with his arms fully extended. This also helps Latimer win at the point of the catch as he plays “above the rim.”
Latimer has straight-line speed, and he has the ability to be a deep target for the Broncos. He does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder, and he will fight for contested catches.
With one of the best groups of wide receivers in the league, there is no need for the Broncos to rush Latimer into the lineup. He is currently recovering from foot surgery, and Latimer has been limited at rookie minicamp this offseason. Latimer is likely to be limited through minicamp as well, but he could be ready for the start of training camp.
Bringing Latimer along slowly could help his development as a pro. He’s only been playing organized football for five years, and the raw prospect could use some extra seasoning. Latimer is in no hurry to see the field, and neither are the Broncos.
The Competition Behind Montee Ball
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase recently reiterated that Montee Ball is the lead back for the Broncos. Ball greatly improved as his rookie season went on, and he should carry that momentum over to this season. He could be a more effective runner for the Broncos than last year’s starter, Knowshon Moreno, was.
Gase had praise when reflecting on Ball’s ability.
“We drafted him to be a guy that was going to be a big contributor for us. We’re looking for a guy that can start those games out, be consistent all year, make sure that he’s great in pass protection, great in route concepts, which he’s shown us that he has the ability to do. We just need to make sure that he continues that through this season.”
Behind Ball, the competition on the running back depth chart is wide open according to Gase.
“We’re looking for a guy that can compete with those three guys—four guys, really—that are already here. So it’s going to be how quick can we get caught up on the offense, then who can go out there and perform at the level we need them to perform? Right now, it’s an open competition for that spot—all those spots. So we need to see who is going to be the guy to step up.”
Second-year pro C.J. Anderson could be the front-runner to win the primary backup position behind Ball. He’s the team’s only true power back, but Anderson also has a good initial burst when carrying the rock. Over the second half of the 2013 season, Anderson was active more times than 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman.
This year could be a make-or-break season for Hillman. Gase expressed concern when talking about Hillman’s prospects this season.
“We’ve talked to him, [Running Backs Coach] Eric [Studesville] and myself, as far as, ‘Hey, this is a new start to the year. Whatever happened in the past, you’ve got to build off it. We’ve just got to start over.’ His goal is to become the best running back he can. I can’t say make-or-break, because I don’t know what that is. He’s just got to come out, he’s got to work his butt off and make sure he puts himself in a great position to contribute this year.”
Hillman is arguably the fastest player on the roster, and that speed would be a fantastic asset for the team in a change-of-pace role. We’ll see if he can focus more on becoming the best pro he can be and hold onto the rock in 2014. Fumbling problems and maturity issues have been Hillman’s biggest downfall to this point in his pro career.
Undrafted rookies like Kapri Bibbs (Colorado State), Brennan Clay (Oklahoma) and Juwan Thompson (Duke) will also be in the mix. So will Jerodis Williams, a second-year player who was with the Minnesota Vikings last year in training camp.
Ball is a durable player, but the Broncos will want to give him a breather from time to time. Who gives him a break this year is unknown right now.
Quanterus Smith Is Moving Around Well
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes what he’s seen from second-year defensive end Quanterus Smith. The second-year pro missed all of his rookie season last year due to a 2012 knee injury that cut his final season at Western Kentucky short. Before the injury, Smith led the nation with 12.5 sacks, including a three-sack performance against SEC powerhouse Alabama.
Del Rio is intrigued by the pass-rusher.
“On tape coming out, we liked his athleticism, his length, his ability to bend and his ability to rush the quarterback. So those are things we’re looking forward to seeing from him. I know he’s healthy. I see him moving around very well right now so we’re looking forward to getting him some of that experience, some of the reps, and let him earn his way.”
The Broncos have a strong group of defensive ends, especially after adding future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware. The squad will also be getting third-year pro Derek Wolfe back from a nerve/neck injury that cut his 2013 season short. Even with the depth, free-agent addition and players returning from injury, the Broncos still have a need to find more pass-rushers.
Ware is coming off a disappointing six-sack season which he was slowed down in by an elbow injury. If healthy, he should be able to regain his form and put up at least double-digit sacks for the Broncos in 2014.
Wolfe is not an elite rusher from the edge, but he gets pressure by being relentless and playing with a tireless motor. The team is hoping his growth as a player wasn’t stunted by his injury last season.
Outside linebacker Von Miller can be one of the best pass-rushers in the game today. However, he’s coming back from a Week 16 ACL injury he suffered against the Texans last year. There’s a chance Miller may not look like his old self until the midway point of the regular season at the earliest. Miller’s status for the beginning of the regular season is up in the air at this time.
Enter Smith into the Broncos plans.
The team should consider any production it gets from Smith a bonus this year. His ability at the pro level is a great unknown at this time. If Smith can regain the explosiveness he saw in college, then he could help the Broncos as a part-time player in 2014.
Trouble for T.J. Ward?
The Broncos made a big move in free agency with their opening move of adding T.J. Ward. The veteran safety recently had an arrest warrant issued stemming from an incident at a Denver strip club.
According to Noelle Phillips of The Denver Post, Ward is accused of throwing a mug at the bartender after a misunderstanding. This is not the news the Broncos wanted to hear, but that doesn’t mean any action from the team or league is going to be taken.
The next court date for Ward is June 23. The date could be moved back if Ward’s attorney feels it’s necessary. The charge is a misdemeanor, so if Ward is convicted the penalty would not be too harsh. Any following punishment from the team or the league would also likely be small.
Ward is an intimidator on the field and arguably the best addition the Broncos made to the roster this offseason. The legal process will have to be exhausted before we can expect any sort of fine or suspension from the NFL.
The veteran may not see any legal ramifications from this incident, and if that’s the case then he wouldn’t be in line for much (if any) disciplinary action from the league. According to The Denver Post, any league ramifications seem unlikely.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. All contract information provided by Spotrac.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.