The Denver Broncos were one of the best teams in the NFL last season. Despite their 13 wins and record-setting offense, though, their weaknesses were made clear when they faced Seattle in the Super Bowl.
John Elway knew the areas he needed to focus on, and it seemed he knew what his plan of attack would be almost immediately.
The Broncos were bullied by Seattle. They were pushed around, and Elway knew it.
In order to get back to the Super Bowl, this time with a different result, Elway knew he needed to carefully stick with what worked while altering what didn't. That is a lot easier said than done.
However, at least on paper, it appears Elway and the front office have accomplished the feat, and they now look forward to presenting an even more dangerous version of the Broncos in 2014.
So, what areas have the Broncos improved on the most?
Losses: Eric Decker, Trindon Holliday
Additions: Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer
How could the Broncos possibly have a better wide receiving corps than they did last year?
In 2013, Peyton Manning completed 268 passes for 3,696 yards and 38 touchdowns to the wide receiver position alone. Those are astounding numbers.
In the Super Bowl, however, Eric Decker was largely ineffective against the physical Seattle secondary, catching just one pass for six yards.
That made the decision not to make him a huge offer in free agency that much easier. Decker went to the New York Jets, but the Broncos responded by bringing in Emmanuel Sanders—a player who will give Denver more versatility than Decker.
Decker is a good receiver, but he won't catch 90 passes in New York.
Sanders, on the other hand, gives the Broncos a player who can get open consistently with his speed. Most importantly, he'll stretch the field with his ability to run the deep route.
This should open things up underneath even more for guys like Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.
But the Broncos didn't stop there. In the second round of the draft, they found Cody Latimer of Indiana sitting on the board.
A Broncos source to me on WR Cody Latimer: "He was considered as the best blocking WR in this class. We love (cont) http://t.co/093BBaz09k— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) May 16, 2014
Latimer is exactly the kind of receiver the Broncos needed. He's physical, has good hands and is an excellent blocker. Even with good depth at the position, the front office still had an eye on the future with this selection.
Losses: Zane Beadles, Chris Kuper, J.D. Walton, Steve Vallos
Additions: Will Montgomery, Michael Schofield, Matthew Paradis
The entire offensive line will be as important as anything related to this team this season.
Should the Broncos shift their offense to focus more on straight-ahead running, they will have to prove they can be physical and push people backwards.
Sure, Manning can throw the ball for over 5,000 yards again, but the team will find more success in the long run if he doesn't have to.
Will Montgomery and Matthew Paradis should both be in the running for the starting center role along with Manny Ramirez. After he sent the opening snap sailing over Manning's head in the Super Bowl, resulting in a safety, many fans probably wouldn't be sad to see Ramirez on the bench.
Still, he held his own last season and it will take a strong effort to unseat him.
Michael Schofield said he was shocked that #Broncos took him. Said playing in Big 10 prepared him for NFL.— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) May 10, 2014
The real wild card is Michael Schofield. The former Michigan Wolverine was selected in the third round of May's draft and has the versatility to line up at either guard or tackle.
However, the most important move the Broncos made along their offensive line was the change they made within their own roster—transitioning Orlando Franklin from tackle to guard.
With Franklin on the inside, Denver will allow itself to put its five best players on the field all at once.
Chris Clark filled in quite well for Ryan Clady last season. Having Clady and Clark at tackle along with Franklin and Louis Vasquez on the inside at guard will give Denver a very formidable offensive line—easily better than the one it ran with for most of last year, which was actually pretty darn good.
Losses: Robert Ayers, Shaun Phillips, Jeremy Mincey
Additions: DeMarcus Ware
Shaun Phillips played very well for the Broncos last season, leading the team in sacks. But when you are able to get the man who is No. 18 on the NFL's all-time sack list and still has some gas in his tank, you've done well.
The Dallas Cowboys were unable to keep DeMarcus Ware, releasing him in March. One day later, he was a member of the Broncos.
Ware has reached double figures in sacks in seven of his nine seasons in the league. However, the biggest impact he'll make on the team is what he'll do for someone else.
Von Miller will soon be back to the player that was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and with Ware on the same defense, opponents will have to pick their poison.
Miller wreaked havoc on quarterbacks when Elvis Dumervil was in Denver. With Ware in the mix, they should be able to at least duplicate—if not surpass—that level of play.
Losses: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Champ Bailey, Quentin Jammer, Michael Huff
Additions: T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby
There is no doubt that Denver is trying to build the same kind of physical secondary that it watched win a Super Bowl. These were the most important moves the Broncos made this offseason.
In fact, the argument can be made that no team in the NFL improved any one area on its team more than Denver improved its secondary.
If you need a dark-horse candidate for free-agent signing of the year, T.J. Ward fits the bill. Ward is not only a hard-hitting safety, but he can get out and cover guys as well.
In Denver, he will likely serve the team in more than one way, coming up as an inside linebacker on passing plays. This would be a smart strategy for Denver to take, allowing it to use Rahim Moore and a healthy Quinton Carter in the same defensive package.
Aqib Talib is a big, physical cornerback who can simply shut down the opposition's No. 1 wide receiver.
The knock on him is that he is prone to injuries—he hasn't played a full 16-game season in his entire career—but the upgrade he brings to the cornerback position is evident.
With the 31st overall pick in this year's draft, the Broncos knew they weren't going to get the middle linebacker they coveted—barring a big trade.
Instead, they sat back patiently and watched before pouncing on cornerback Bradley Roby from Ohio State.
Roby is a fast player who can run with just about any receiver. On top of that, his ball skills are very good. He played a lot of man-to-man coverage in college and should be able to be left on an island.
Pairing these two players with Chris Harris gives the Broncos an excellent trio of cornerbacks as well as a secondary that will be much more physical than the one we saw last year.