Denver Broncos Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts
This week the Denver Broncos begin their mandatory minicamp out at Dove Valley. The team already had full attendance at voluntary minicamp, and the only players that weren’t working out were guys who were banged up.
There’s no question the team will have full attendance now that the workouts are mandatory. This is an unspoken rule on a team with Peyton Manning as the quarterback. The veteran demands the best from himself, and the team follows his leadership.
The Broncos are trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. They would be the first team to get back to the Super Bowl after losing since the Buffalo Bills did it after the 1993 season. This time around the Broncos want to come out on top.
Players are working hard to impress coaches and teammates on the football field. This is leading to some players standing out above the pack.
Here’s a look at players who have turned heads during offseason workouts.
Coming off the best season of his career, some of you may be wondering “why is Peyton Manning on this list?” He’s guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame when his playing days are over, and Manning doesn’t need to turn heads because he’s already one of the best in the game.
The answer to that question is simple: Arm strength.
Manning is coming off a 2013 season that saw him throw the ball over 650 times. Some may be concerned with his arm strength as he enters the 2014 season at 38 years old. That does not seem to be the case.
As soon as minicamp opened up, Manning was showing impressive zip on his passes. Manning was firing passes accurately at all points of the field. He was even throwing downfield more than he had in his two previous minicamps with the Broncos.
If Manning can stretch the field vertically, then that will only make the offense more dangerous this year. Attacking deep will back up the defense and help open up underneath routes for the likes of Wes Welker. The addition of free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders could have emboldened offensive coordinator Adam Gase to run more deep routes this season.
Manning’s arm looks like it’s up for the challenge at this early point in the offseason.
Demaryius Thomas confirmed that Manning’s arm was stronger this year.
“I think he’s picked up where he left off last year. I know I had a pass today that I dropped. I really don’t drop a lot. But it came up on me quicker than usual. So I feel like he’s getting stronger still. He’s just amazed me with some of the things that you see every day on the field.”
After a season where he threw a single-season record 55 touchdown passes, Manning is showing no signs of slowing down this offseason.
The first thing that jumps out about Montee Ball is his larger upper body. In anticipation of a larger role in 2014, Ball bulked up to 220 pounds. Most of the added muscle was to his upper body.
He’s been focusing on multiple things this offseason, with conditioning being near the top of the list.
“Strength and speed—and flexibility, that’s part of speed. And really, it’s great right now. This playbook is second nature. So much easier the second time around. Now it’s just super easy. So I’m able to play a lot faster. I can play a lot faster back there which allows for me to make better plays and make bigger plays this year.” Ball continued, “But I’m really taking every single stretch and workout in the weight room—I’m not taking anything for granted because I’m sure it’ll help me out on the field. I’m not saying I did last year, but I’m really putting a major emphasis on that.”
Ball immediately stood out working with the first-team offense at minicamp. His size makes him a larger presence between the tackles, and he could be counted to grind down opponents. This is an especially important skill set to have when the Broncos build a lead and are trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
The second-year back has made improvements to his game as a pro. He became more patient as a runner between the tackles, and this helped his decisive style be even more effective over the final six weeks of the regular season.
Ball also became a better receiver out of the backfield. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase trusts Ball to be a receiver out of the backfield this year. “Montee has proven to me, over last year and so far this year, that his hands have gotten much better than what they were—at least [from] what we thought coming out of college.”
With an improved physique, better hands and learned determination as a runner, we should see Ball flourish as the Broncos’ lead back in 2014.
The Broncos added three college free-agent running backs after the draft. The one who has stood out the most through rookie minicamp and voluntary minicamp is Brennan Clay from Oklahoma.
Clay could be a fine change-of-pace back behind Montee Ball in 2014. He’s a speedy back who can change direction without losing much speed. His speed makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase likes what he’s seen from Clay and the other undrafted backs they added this offseason. “All these free agents that we’ve had out here, the rookies in that running back room have been very impressive. You can tell it’s not too big for them and they’re stepping up and getting their reps, and doing a good job at it.”
Clay does a good job as a receiver out of the backfield, and that may be his best role as a rookie with the Broncos if he makes the final roster. His speed and receiving ability could give opponents a different look out of the backfield.
According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Clay is getting the first chance to become the fourth running back with the Broncos at OTAs. The rookie has been impressive so far, but he has a long way to go before wrapping up a spot on the 53-man roster.
The talk of the team has easily been Emmanuel Sanders. He’s immediately wowed media in attendance for practice, teammates and members of the coaching staff.
Speed is the name of the game with Sanders. He has the speed to be a deep target for the Broncos, and he can fly by defenders to haul in passes over his shoulder.
In addition to being fast, Sanders is incredibly quick as well. This quickness helps him get off the line of scrimmage cleanly. Defenders playing press coverage at the line may find Sanders difficult to jam at the snap.
His speed and quickness also help Sanders pick up yards after the catch. He can run short routes, haul them in cleanly and is a threat to score every time he has the ball. Sanders can also pull away from defenders on deep targets with an extra gear in the open field.
Demaryius Thomas is excited about what Sanders brings to the offense.
“Sanders is too fast. He’s quick and fast at the same time. Some guys are quick [or] fast, and you’ve got [WR] Wes [Welker], who’s quick. Sanders is quick and fast. But I think it’ll be great for the team, because he can go over the top, he can be quick, he’s can go inside.” Thomas concluded, “I think it’s a big pickup for us. I think he’ll be great.”
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase likes what he’s seen from Sanders.
“When you watch him on film from when he was at Pittsburgh, you just see that quickness off the line, the vertical speed, his ability to separate down the field. We’ve seen basically all that same stuff we saw, so he hasn’t lost any of that within the last year—or the last four months, whatever it’s been. It’s a different kind of dimension for us.” Gase continued, “I think we’ve got a group of guys, every guy brings a little different element to our passing game, and not saying what we had before wasn’t any good, but it’s just a little different element for us.”
This different element could help the Broncos' high-powered passing game be even more dangerous in 2014.
The Broncos have a knack for finding quality talent from the ranks of the college free agents available after the draft. Just because a player is undrafted doesn’t mean they can’t play. Several stars in the NFL have been overlooked in the draft.
The Broncos could have a budding star in wide receiver Isaiah Burse from Fresno State.
Burse has tremendous quickness on the football field. He’s difficult to cover because of the ankle-breaking moves he has after the catch. Burse uses his quickness to get in and out of his breaks cleanly, and this helps him get open often.
He has the foot quickness to change direction without losing much speed. This makes his moves after the catch even more dangerous. Burse loves to set up defenders with double moves, and he can leave an opponent grasping for air as he runs by.
In addition to being a possible star as a receiver, Burse can also be relied on as a return man for the Broncos. Last year’s return man, Trindon Holliday, was allowed to leave in free agency and is now with the New York Giants. Holliday was not much of a receiving option, but Burse could be a budding slot receiver of the future in Denver.
I asked superstar Wes Welker why slot receivers often were overlooked in the draft. Like Burse, Welker was also an undrafted free agent when he came out of Texas Tech in 2004.
“I think a slot receiver is more of a savvy type, quickness-type deal. Not necessarily a straight-line speed-type deal. I don’t know if that’s it. Obviously we’re not the biggest specimens out there or anything like that. And not the guys that coaches sit there and see and think, ‘Wow we’ve got have this guy,’ or anything else.” Welker concluded, “But I think it’s just a lot of toughness and really just being a good football player, and understanding the game and really understanding what defenses are trying to do, and from there just adjusting.”
Burse looks up to Welker, and that’s humbling for the veteran receiver.
“It’s great. It makes me feel old, that’s for sure. But no, it’s very cool. As a young guy whenever I was coming in, I was in San Diego, it was Tim Dwight and Eric Parker, and some of those guys that I looked up to. So I think you have to have that guy, that mentor, that guy, that older guy to kind of show you, not only through watching him in practice and everything else, but asking questions and trying to get on the same page, and understanding what he’s seeing and why he ran his route like that, or whatever.” Welker emphasized, “That’s how you get better. And so that’s good to see from those young guys wanting to get better and asking those questions.”
Burse looks like he’s a quick study, and that could help him make the final roster this season.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey