The Most Intriguing Rookie Storylines at Broncos OTAs
The Denver Broncos begin the next phase of their offseason when minicamp begins on Wednesday. During this time, installation of the offense and defense will continue. It’s an important time for every player on the roster, but minicamp is especially crucial for rookies who were added to the roster this offseason.
Now is the time for early-round draft picks to prove their worth. They need to show off the skills and the attributes that made them so highly coveted in the draft.
This is an especially important time for late-round picks and college free agents added after the draft. They don’t have the same leeway as early-round picks, and that makes every single rep even more critical.
The rookie class, both drafted and undrafted, is full of quality talent at multiple positions. These players are the future foundation for the Broncos, and there are several storylines Broncos fans should be keeping tabs on throughout the rest of the offseason.
Here’s a look at the most intriguing storylines surrounding the rookies on the Broncos roster.
How Fast Can Bradley Roby Win a Starting Job?
In the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Broncos selected cornerback Bradley Roby from Ohio State. He has the speed and diagnostic skills to be a starter from day one if he impresses this offseason.
Roby’s speed makes him an outstanding prospect with shutdown corner upside. He has an explosive first step, and Roby can stay in the back pocket of receivers on downfield routes. When the play is in front of him, Roby has the closing burst to arrive quickly to the point of the catch.
He can win at the point of the catch because of his physicality and aggressive mindset. Roby has long arms to knock incoming passes away, and he does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes.
Roby is a quality run defender as well. He has strong hands to remove blockers quickly, and he’ll diagnose where the back is going to swiftly get to the ball.
We’ll see if Roby can replace Chris Harris Jr. as the starting cornerback opposite Aqib Talib. Harris is coming off a partially-torn ACL injury he suffered in the playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers. According to Jeff Legwold from ESPN.com, Harris is feeling good and should be ready to practice by the start of training camp.
However, Harris is going to miss time in minicamp and his status for the start of training camp is up in the air at this time. The team could decide to put Harris on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp if there’s any sort of delay in his recovery.
Roby has a real chance to get a head start in this competition during minicamp. The rookie is known as a hard worker, so picking up the Jack Del Rio defense may not take that long. Del Rio was impressed with the rookie’s intelligence at the team’s recent rookie minicamp.
“He’s very bright. He’s a good communicator in the meetings and all that and then coming out on the field. And he’s gifted physically. He’s got a lot of work to do, as most rookies do. But he’s got a lot of great tools.”
The Broncos have the option of moving Harris back inside to the slot. He’s a fantastically versatile player who can star at either position. If Roby proves himself worth of starting on the outside, then Harris could go back to his old position inside.
It’s no shame for Harris because in today’s NFL slot corners are essentially starters. The Broncos have an embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position, and Roby could star for them from day one.
Does Cody Latimer Emerge Faster Than Some Think?
The Broncos felt they had to make a move up the draft board in order to select wide receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Latimer has a nice size/speed combination, and he could develop into a star in this high-powered offense.
The rookie is a straight-line athlete with enough speed to get by defenders on deep routes. He also does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder. Latimer amazingly had only one drop in 119 targets during his final year at Indiana.
He has a basketball skill set, and that greatly helps him on the football field. Latimer has a large frame, and he knows how to use it properly to “box out” smaller defenders. This helps Latimer win at the point of the catch, a skill that may be the most important for a wide receiver in today’s NFL.
Latimer has a large wingspan which allows him to play “above the rim” in the end zone. At the team’s rookie minicamp, offensive coordinator Adam Gase gave us some clues as to how Latimer could get onto the playing field early in his pro career. He started out by praising Latimer for his ability to snare 50-50 passes.
“Absolutely. I don’t think I saw him—50-50 balls, he came down with it every time. That’s a dimension that we’re always looking to improve on, especially in the low-red area. That was probably one part of our red-area game we struggled on, where we probably kicked too many field goals inside the 5[-yard line], then to have a guy like that opposite whether it be ‘DT’ (WR Demaryius Thomas) or [WR] Emmanuel [Sanders], whoever is out there, to put another weapon out there in the low-red.”
He’s currently fourth on the depth chart at best. The team has a star-packed wide receiver corps with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders ahead of the rookie. Latimer may not see the field much unless there’s an injury on the depth chart in front of him.
However, his skill set is perfect for a part-time red-zone target. Latimer has a better nose for the end zone than does Sanders, so perhaps the team would use Latimer when they get close to pay dirt. This could make him more productive in 2014 than some are expecting the talented rookie to be.
Can Michael Schofield Win the Starting Right Tackle Position?
By losing one player (Zane Beadles) on the offensive line, the Broncos now have three positions up front which are currently unsettled. They need to find starters at left guard, center and right tackle before the start of the regular season.
Third-round pick Michael Schofield will get an opportunity to compete for the starting right tackle job in training camp. He’s got the athleticism and position versatility the team covets on the offensive line. Schofield will have a chance to impress in minicamp and training camp.
Schofield is huge, measuring in at 6’7”, 301 pounds. At this time, he’s working on adding even more weight to his frame. Schofield has the size to control opponents at the line of scrimmage.
He anchors well as a run-blocker, and Schofield understands leverage to hold his ground. Schofield is an intimidating prospect because of his aggressive mentality. He loves to rough up an opponent, and this leads to defensive linemen who can start playing tentatively against Schofield as the game goes on.
Schofield does need to improve his play in space. He will play flat-footed at times against more athletic pass-rushers, and this gets him in trouble. He has long arms, but he will reach too far sometimes after getting beat by a quick edge player.
In order to win the starting job at right tackle, Schofield needs to get used to the uptempo offense. He’s gotten a taste of that during the team’s recent rookie minicamp.
“Oh, yeah. You can tell for practice, especially individual, we’re going non-stop, and when you’re going non-stop at this altitude, it’s no joke. It gets to you. You start getting winded pretty quick.”
His main competition for the job is veteran Chris Clark. He filled in last year at left tackle once Ryan Clady was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury in Week 2 against the New York Giants. Clark did an okay job at left tackle, but he might be a better fit on the right side.
Clark has to be considered the front-runner for the starting job at this time. Schofield could push him for the job, but he might also get involved with the competition at left tackle. The rookie started 26 games at Michigan lining up at right tackle, but he also started 10 games for the Wolverines at left guard.
No matter what, Schofield is a valuable player for the Broncos with versatility and developmental upside.
Is Lamin Barrow a Sleeper for the Starting Middle Linebacker Job?
The Broncos tried to move up in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft to select middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. They were unable to do that, so instead they waited on the position until the fifth round.
Lamin Barrow was a valuable player in college for LSU, and now he’ll get a chance to prove his value for the Broncos. Jack Del Rio’s early impressions of Barrow are positive.
“From what I see right now, he’s (Barrow) got plenty of size. He’s got room to grow. He’s a guy that at LSU was allowed to wear number 18, which is significant there for their program. That means he’s a guy that does things right. A team leader, a guy that you can count on.”
Barrow has the ability to be a three-down linebacker because of his speed. He has the lateral agility to play from sideline-to-sideline at the pro level. In today’s pass-happy NFL, middle linebackers who can cover are highly coveted.
He needs work as a run-defender, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Broncos. According to Barrow, he’s doing a lot of work at middle linebacker. The rookie said he’s learning multiple positions for his new team.
I’ve been getting work at the ‘Mike.’ I’ve been kind of cross-training, learning the ‘Mike,’ the ‘Will’ and the ‘Sam,’ but primarily today, the ‘Mike.’”
Barrow has to be considered a long shot to begin the season as the starter inside. We’re likely to see Nate Irving win that job in training camp. Irving has worked well as a reserve strong-side linebacker, but earlier attempts to play him in the middle have failed.
If Irving’s struggles continue, the team may give an opportunity to Barrow.
Which One (or Two) Undrafted Running Backs Make the Final Roster?
Last year’s starting running back Knowshon Moreno was allowed to move on in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. This moves Montee Ball into the starting position for the Broncos, but behind him there is nothing but question marks.
We should see C.J. Anderson win the primary backup job behind Ball. He’s a power back with good initial burst and the leg drive to push the pile.
Ronnie Hillman could make the team as a third-string (or fourth) running back if he proves that he can hold onto the rock. Fumbling and maturity issues put him in the coach’s doghouse last year, and Hillman is looking to get a fresh start.
There is at least one spot open for one of the undrafted rookies.
Kapri Bibbs played one year of college ball at Colorado State, and he can contribute as a part-time player. Bibbs is an efficient runner who wastes little motion while toting the rock. With 31 rushing touchdowns last year, Bibbs certainly has a nose for the end zone, but he’s not much of a receiving option out of the backfield.
Brennan Clay was a standout player at Oklahoma, and he brings a big-play skill set to the backfield. He’s fast enough to score any time he touches the ball, and Clay toys with defenders in the open field. Clay was a standout player for me at the team’s rookie minicamp due to his soft hands, quickness and receiving ability.
Juwan Thompson is just like a John Fox reserve back. He’s versatile and can line up at fullback or running back. Thompson could be Fox’s next Brad Hoover or Nate Goings because of his versatility and standout ability in pass-protection.
Right now this race is narrowly led by Clay. That could quickly turn around if the other two start to impress in minicamp and carry that through to training camp.
Does Bryn Renner Push Zac Dysert off the Roster?
The Broncos are preparing Brock Osweiler to be the future successor to Peyton Manning, according to general manager John Elway. Behind Manning and Osweiler the Broncos have an interesting battle brewing for the third-string quarterback position.
Bryn Renner was picked up as an undrafted free agent with the idea that he could push Zac Dysert for the developmental job. Dysert was a seventh-round pick by the team in 2013, and his mixture of strong arm and athleticism makes him a favorite of general manager John Elway.
Renner is not as athletic as Dysert, but he is more accurate and more consistent as a passer. When the play breaks down, Renner can climb the ladder to evade pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. He’s not a threat to take off to run, but he’s also not a stick in the mud standing in the pocket.
Dysert has a rocket arm, but he struggles to throw it in the ocean standing on the beach. His arm talent in terms of velocity and distance is off the charts. However, he needs to learn better control and consistency.
Renner does not have similar arm strength, but he can make every throw required in the NFL. Most importantly, Renner is aggressive as a passer. He looks to attack downfield first, and Renner stays aggressive even after forcing passes, throwing interceptions and making mistakes.
This race may be too close to call right now. Dysert has the stronger arm, better athleticism and he’s got one year of experience in the Adam Gase offense. Perhaps he’ll win the job and the Broncos will put Renner on the practice squad. This battle could go any way, and training camp will be the proving ground for both of these young quarterbacks.
Is Isaiah Burse More Than Just a Return Man?
The talk of Broncos rookie minicamp mostly revolved around undrafted rookie wide receiver Isaiah Burse. The rookie flashed in a big way with his quickness and speed on the practice field.
Burse could immediately make the roster based off his ability to be a dangerous return man in the NFL. The team let Trindon Holliday (New York Giants) move on in free agency, and they are looking for a player to contribute on special teams as a returner. Burse could be more dangerous than Holliday, but he really stands out as a plus-player as a receiver.
He caught 100 passes last year for Fresno State, and Burse could develop into a fine slot receiver someday. Football fans will remember that both Wes Welker and Danny Amendola came into the league undrafted. Burse could be the next impact player who was hyper-productive in college but went without his name being called during the draft.
Burse said that he identifies with Welker.
“Just his body type and the things he does in the slot, and how successful he was. I feel like even in college, I did a lot of stuff he did. I was in the slot, I returned, and the fact that I became an undrafted free agent, that just all goes together. It’s funny how he was an undrafted free agent, too, and he became so successful. Just seeing him is kind of like a dream.” Burse continued, “For me, it’s like I know I can do it. If he can do it—not taking away from his ability or anything—but I know if he can do it, I can do it. I want to learn everything from him so I can be successful, as well, in the future.”
The Broncos have an eye for finding quality talent from the undrafted ranks. Chris Harris is a quality cornerback that the team found as a college free agent in 2011. Burse could be the next star the Broncos plucked from the talent pool after the draft.
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.