Denver Broncos' Preseason Grades: Defense Ferocious, Offense Unspectacular
New head coach John Fox offered some promise, but many questioned how long it would take to turn around a team that went 4-12 last season.
The Broncos benefited most immediately from the 2011 NFL draft, but how much the 2011 NFL free agents might add for the Broncos remains to be seen.
With only one game left in the preseason, the Broncos look forward to their season opener under the bright lights of Monday Night Football in exactly two weeks.
How did the Broncos do this preseason? I have preseason grades for the Broncos right here.
Follow me on Twitter: @jamuckley
Check out my blog on Denver Sports: Denver Sports Streaming
Passing Game Grade: B-
Changes this offseason: None.
Kyle Orton is the unquestioned starting quarterback in Denver this season.
Orton outplayed the three other quarterbacks on the Broncos roster during the offseason and has shown poise and veteran leadership in handling himself amidst the media frenzy concerning Tim Tebow. He held off Brady Quinn as well, who looked much improved compared to last year.
Because of the passing game's performance during preseason games, however, I give the Broncos' passing grade a B-. In Orton's most recent performance against the Seattle Seahawks, he looked out-of-sync with his receivers; it seemed to take him a long time to get comfortable.
Orton does a good job in the short-yardage passing game, but hasn't really emerged as a quarterback who looks down the field to make plays.
Running Game Grade: B
Changes this offseason: Added Willis McGahee through free agency.
Knowshon Moreno is in his third season in the NFL. In his first two seasons under head coach Josh McDaniels, he rushed for 1,729 yards, had 585 yards receiving and scored 17 touchdowns.
Those numbers are good, but not great. For a first-round draft pick (No. 12 overall), the Broncos have expected more from him than he has done to this point.
This season, Moreno needs to show he can carry the running game and break through the 1,000-yard mark—or his time in Denver might be running out.
Good news for Moreno, he has shown a new spark and speediness that we haven't seen before in Denver. This positive sight gives fans reason to hope for the Broncos' run game in 2011.
The major acquisition that the Broncos made in free agency was to pick up Willis McGahee for $7.5 million over three years. McGahee has been utilized mostly in short-yardage pickups and red-zone situations. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and pound it to the end zone.
My preseason grade for the Broncos' run game is a B. If Moreno rushes for over a 1,000 yards and is a contributor receiving the ball out of the backfield, this grade would improve to an A-.
Offensive Line Grade: B-
Changes this offseason: Added Orlando Franklin through the NFL draft.
The Denver Broncos' offensive line is a young bunch. Between four of their five starting linemen, there are only five years experience. Last year was an up-and-down season on the offensive line, with injuries, inconsistencies and a myriad of penalties.
The O-Line is getting better with every game, but there will be growing pains again this season.
The Broncos need to help rookie Orlando Franklin improve with every game and avoid letting defenders into the backfield, giving rushing ends free shots at the quarterback.
The Broncos will rely heavily on their offensive line this season; it is head coach John Fox's intention to run the ball early and often to control games.
The offensive line remains grossly inexperienced, so I grade them as a B- for this preseason until I see major improvements on run and pass plays.
Pass Rush Grade: A+
Changes this offseason: Added Von Miller through the NFL draft.
Von Miller already appears to be the best NFL player from this season's NFL draft. He is a ferocious player with a knack to get to the quarterback.
Couple his addition with Elvis Dumervil back on the field, following last year's pectoral muscle injury, and the tandem makes the Denver Broncos the most feared pass rush in the entire NFL.
Dumervil had 17 sacks in his 2009 campaign. He came into camp after his injury in the best shape of his career, with a deep desire to get back to football. From the camp's opening, he has been far and away the best Denver Bronco on the field.
Von Miller is getting better and better. He is electrifying as he pursues opposing teams' quarterbacks. Some people are already chalking up Miller as this season's Defensive Rookie of the Year—he is that good!
The Denver Broncos are going to be the best defensive pass-rush team in the NFL this season, so I have graded them an A+.
Run Stopping Grade: B-
Last season, the Broncos defense against the run was 31st. Head coach John Fox was brought in to address those issues in 2011.
After passing on top defensive tackle options in the NFL draft, Fox looked to add talent to the DT position through trades and free agency.
The biggest defensive signing in free agency for the Broncos was the experienced Ty Warren from the New England Patriots. The Broncos suffered a huge blow when Warren went down during training camp a few weeks ago with a serious triceps injury. Following the news that he only suffered a partial tear, the team is hopeful he will be back by the end of season.
With Fox's "next guy in" approach, the Broncos will depend on the reliable Brodrick Bunkley to fill the gap in the middle along with Kevin Vickerson, who was brought in by the Broncos last season.
Bunkley and Vickerson have had mixed results stopping the run in the middle thus far during the preseason.
One bright note has been Elvis Dumervil's play at stopping on the edges. He has shown some ability to pull down running backs trying to get around the end.
Overall, several questions still remain as to how improved the Broncos will be in 2011. My grade is a B-.
Pass Coverage Grade: A
Changes this offseason: Added Rahim Moore through the NFL draft.
One of John Elway's first personnel re-signings during the offseason was retaining Champ Bailey with a four-year, $43 million contract.
This signing was one of the smartest moves by the organization in recent years. Bailey, a fan favorite, is still a dominating cornerback. He still shuts down half of the field every week.
Andre Goodman lines up opposite Bailey for a third-straight season. Goodman has been consistent and does a very good job breaking up passes. His biggest issue last season was injuries. If he can remain healthy, the Broncos look good at corner.
He has been the most consistent, reliable player for the Broncos since he arrived in 2004.
Also, the front office re-worked Brian Dawkins' contract to keep him at a significantly reduced rate in 2011. He will work with the rookie Rahim Moore, who appears to be the starting free safety for the Broncos this season.
Moore has some adjusting to do: to the speed of the game, to opposing receivers who run much sharper routes in the NFL and to more skilled quarterbacks who do not telegraph passes. He is the weakest link in defensive coverage unit right now.
Overall, however, the Broncos have some of the best cover guys in the league. My grade is an A-.
Denver Broncos' Overall Grade: B+
Overall, the Denver Broncos have made several key personnel changes this offseason and I believe they are much better because of it.
Not only have the personnel changes made an impact, but the defensive mindset that John Fox has brought to the Broncos will also give them a great edge this season.
The Broncos had a lot of great defensive talent the past few seasons, but the leadership that the defense needed to thrive was remiss.
I believe that in 2011 the Denver Broncos will be one of the best defensive units in the league. If the offense can do what's necessary to get a lead against opponents this season, the defense will have no problems holding a lead.
My overall grade of the Broncos for the 2011 season is a B+.