Denver Broncos' Training Camp To-Do List
The Denver Broncos begin training camp on Thursday. The team facility at Dove Valley is under construction at this time, but final construction of the roster has yet to begin.
The Broncos are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl this year. They spent the offseason acquiring the best possible talent they could through free agency and the NFL draft.
Defensive additions like strong safety T.J. Ward, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib will step in and start right away. First-round pick Bradley Roby could make an impact this year as a subpackage (nickel) cornerback.
Offensive addition wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be asked to start opposite Demaryius Thomas this year. Sanders has the speed to stretch the field, and he should be a big part of the league’s most dangerous passing game in 2014.
Many of the starting positions are pretty much filled entering training camp. However, there are still some spots to fill and work to be done before the start of the regular season.
Here’s the to-do list for the Broncos as they head into training camp.
Get Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller Healthy Enough for Week 1
The Broncos have two starters on defense coming back from knee injuries suffered last year. Both are quality starters who can help the team greatly if at or near full strength.
Superstar linebacker Von Miller suffered an ACL injury in the team’s Week 16 game against the Houston Texans last year. Miller had a disappointing season in 2013.
First, he was suspended for six games to begin the year. Then, Miller was not as effective when he came back after he added 15 pounds of muscle. Finally, Miller was injured and his season was over.
Miller looked good working one-on-one with coaches during minicamp. He did not participate in any team drills, but it looked as though he was ahead in the recovery process. Miller is an elite athlete, and he is arguably the team’s best pass-rusher when healthy.
The Broncos added his idol DeMarcus Ware earlier this offseason in free agency. Together, the duo could combine for 20 or more sacks in 2014. Having a tougher and more ferocious defense has been a goal for the Broncos this year, and a healthy Miller will help them be just that.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. partially tore his ACL in last year’s playoff win over the San Diego Chargers. The team added Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby to the cornerback mix this offseason, but Harris is vital to the Broncos because of his ability and versatility. Harris can start on the outside opposite Talib, but he could also move inside to nickel corner and be a standout player there as well.
According to Lauren Giudice, from DenverBroncos.com, it would be no surprise if Harris began training camp on the PUP list. Harris is scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews at the end of July to check his progress in recovering from the knee injury.
It doesn’t matter that much if Harris is on the PUP list to begin camp. He can come off the list at any time in the preseason, and the team will take it easy on him no matter what in order to have him near full strength by the start of the regular season.
Negotiate New Contracts for Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas
There are two contract situations the Broncos are currently working on. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are both entering the final year of their contracts. Both are integral parts of the offense, and the Broncos should work hard to wrap up both before either hit free agency next offseason.
General manager John Elway told Lindsay H. Jones, from USA Today, that the team will continue to work on contract extensions for Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas during camp.
Demaryius Thomas might be first in line to receive his big-money deal. The superstar wide receiver is likely to have a much larger contract. Looking over the top paid wide receivers in the league, Demaryius Thomas could make more than Mike Wallace’s (Miami Dolphins) $12 million annual average salary.
Julius Thomas tells Larry Brown Sports that he “absolutely” wants to stay in Denver. With Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) getting a new contract, the Broncos have a better map in which to follow for Thomas. Graham’s four-year, $40 million deal makes him the highest paid tight end in league history.
The Broncos won’t have to pay that much for Julius Thomas, but an annual average salary around $7 million sounds about right.
Elway operates with the ultimate clarity. Therefore, chances are we could see both Thomases signed to new long-term deals before training camp is over.
Establish the Depth Chart at Running Back
Montee Ball is taking over as the starter and featured back for the Broncos this year. According to second-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase, the depth chart is wide open behind Ball entering training camp.
“I would say everybody behind Montee right now is competing for the second spot. It’s wide-open. So whoever wants to step up, take the spot, that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Broncos are likely to carry four running backs this year, so that means three spots on the depth chart are up for grabs.
C.J. Anderson could win the primary backup job behind Ball this season. He’s down to 213 pounds after showing up to OTAs at 235. The coaches wanted Anderson to show up in better shape, so he’s worked hard to slim down before the start of training camp.
The team hasn’t given up on third-year pro Ronnie Hillman. He entered last year’s training camp as the starter but fumbled the job away in the preseason. Hillman gets another shot this year to prove himself worthy of playing as a change-of-pace back for the Broncos.
Jerodis Williams was an undrafted free agent for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013. The Broncos added him to their offseason roster earlier this year. Williams is a speedy back who stood out during minicamp and OTAs as a receiver out of the backfield.
The Broncos added three running backs after the draft as college free agents.
Kapri Bibbs was a standout player for the Colorado State Rams last year, and he racked up over 1,700 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns during his lone season in Ft. Collins. Bibbs was impressive during minicamp as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught passes cleanly, and Bibbs showed good burst when running after the catch.
Brennan Clay was arguably the most impressive undrafted free agent back during the offseason. He’s incredibly quick with the ball in his hands, and Clay can make cuts without losing much speed. Clay showed good vision when running through drills at minicamp.
Juwan Thompson is arguably the best all-purpose back on the roster. He’s great in pass protection and is a versatile ‘tweener who can play running back or full back (Thompson also played safety last year at Duke). He’s big enough to work as a lead blocker if need be, plus he can grind it between the tackles effectively and has good hands as a receiver.
The Broncos have many tough decisions to make when trimming down to the 53-man roster. Finding the right group of running backs might be the most difficult because of the talent at the position.
Find a Starting Right Tackle
Last year’s starting right tackle Orlando Franklin was moved inside to left guard earlier this offseason. The move should work for Franklin, as he’s a road-grader as a run-blocker but can struggle at times in pass protection. The move opens up a hole on the offensive line, and we’ll see Chris Clark and Winston Justice compete for the starting right tackle job in training camp.
Earlier this offseason, second-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase was candid when talking about whether or not Clark would be their starting right tackle this year.
“He’s competing at that spot with a couple other guys. I think if he does what he’s shown us last year, he’s going to have a good shot of competing and maybe taking over that spot. But as for right now, I can’t say, ‘Hey, he’s our automatic starter.’” Gase concluded, “We’ve got some good players that we’ve brought in or are returning that are going to compete for that right tackle spot.”
When left tackle Ryan Clady went down with a Lisfranc injury in Week 2, it was Clark who stepped in and started the rest of the season at the position. He performed well most weeks and proved his value to the team as a reserve player with starting capability. When Franklin was moved inside, most felt Clark would be named an immediate replacement.
That simply hasn’t been the case.
Justice has split reps with Clark this offseason as both get their chance to show what they can do at right tackle. While Clark is more athletic than Justice, it’s Justice who is a better run-blocker. The Broncos want to run the ball a bit more this year, and having an offensive line that can move defenders out of the way with ease is extremely important.
Clark should be able to win the starting job in camp, but Justice is not going to go away quietly. This is a competition that could last most of camp and well into the preseason.
See If Nate Irving Is Ready to Be the Starting Middle Linebacker
The Broncos have added multiple pieces to the defense this offseason. They want to be tougher and more aggressive as a unit, and they should be an improved defense in 2014.
A spot that still remains a constant question mark for them is middle linebacker.
For the second year in a row we’ll see Nate Irving get a chance to compete for the starting job. The Broncos went in a different direction last year after Irving failed to win the job. Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon played most of the snaps at middle linebacker last year, but neither are with the team in 2014.
Irving will be considered a favorite to win the starting job for the first time after showing improved ability in 2013.
He worked as a reserve strong-side linebacker for the Broncos last year, and Irving stood out in coverage. Middle linebackers are no longer the two-down thumpers that used to populate the NFL. With so many teams moving to pass-happy offenses, middle linebackers need to excel in coverage more than ever.
Irving already has a stout build which helps him be an impact tackler as a run-defender. He has a nose for the ball and arrives at the play with natural violence. Irving hits hard and is known as a sound tackler who won’t let an opponent free from his grasp.
Now that he’s proved that he can cover wide receivers or tight ends over the middle, Irving should have a better chance of at least beginning the year as the starter. His primary competition for the spot could be rookie fifth-round pick Lamin Barrow. Irving should be able to hold off the rookie for the time being.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey