Predicting Denver Broncos' Training Camp Standouts
The Denver Broncos start training camp on Friday, July 31. Things are going to look a lot different at training camp compared to last year.
First, the staff has seen a major overhaul since the 2014 season ended abruptly with a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round. Head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase bolted for the Chicago Bears, and they have been replaced by Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, respectively. The new offense will feature a zone-blocking system and a more balanced attack that should feature a strong ground game.
Changes abound on the defensive side of the ball too.
Jack Del Rio is now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and he has been replaced by new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. With the help of position coaches like Bill Kollar, the Broncos should forge a defensive identity and have an aggressive unit that swarms to the quarterback.
The roster has seen turnover as well. The Broncos used free agency, trades and the draft to acquire new—and hopefully better—talent for 2015. In addition to the new guys, there are players already on the team who could see a bigger role this season.
Here are some players who could be standouts for the Broncos during training camp this year.
QB Brock Osweiler
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Brock Osweiler could get a contract extension with a strong performance in training camp and the preseason. The argument could be easily made that no player on the roster has more to gain in training camp than Osweiler.
The strong-armed quarterback has been waiting patiently for his chance to start since coming into the league as a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. He has been learning behind Peyton Manning for three seasons, and he’s considered the heir apparent for now. Manning has two years left on his deal, and Osweiler only has one year left on his.
Osweiler has a nearly perfect skill set for the Kubiak offense. In fact, he may be better suited for this offense (true to the design) than Manning. He has the athleticism to work from under center and quickly drop back to see the field. He also can bootleg quickly to the outside and make off-platform throws if necessary.
In many ways, Osweiler is similar to Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Last year, Kubiak was the offensive coordinator for the Ravens and brought out the best in Flacco. It’s not outlandish to think he could turn Osweiler into a quality starter at the pro level. If he’s signed to an extension, then it’s a sign that the team is ready to move on with Osweiler as their franchise quarterback when Manning is done.
RB C.J. Anderson
There might not be a better back in the league than C.J. Anderson. He has the power to run between the tackles and impose his will on a defense. Anderson has a nose for the end zone, and he can “get skinny” to create his own space as a runner. He can also be more than capable as a receiver out of the backfield.
Anderson burst onto the scene last year after both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman went down with injuries. Even after being inactive for one game, the team turned to Anderson as their starter, and not only did he not disappoint, he proved that he belonged in the conversation with the best backs in the game.
Over the last six weeks of the season, he led the league in rushing and touchdowns. He finished third in all-purpose yards during that time behind only New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Simply put, Anderson’s play catapulted him to the upper echelon of the league.
This year, he enters training camp as the starter—and the pressure is on to best the performance he gave last season.
Anderson is going to be pushed for the starting job by Ball in training camp—and that’s a good thing. Ball wants to prove that injuries (appendectomy, groin) were the reason why he struggled in 2014. Anderson is out to prove that there doesn’t need to be a running back committee in Denver.
He’s always played with a chip on his shoulder, and even if he’s the starter, Anderson is unlikely to take it for granted. He put in the time to stay in great shape this offseason. He looks more chiseled and powerful than ever, and he should really be able to show off his ability when the pads come on in training camp.
WR Cody Latimer
Yes, he didn’t do much as a rookie last year, but Cody Latimer is a talented player who should shine in August. The Broncos moved up in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft to select Latimer, but he was asked to play only a handful of snaps in his debut season.
He is now poised to prove his worth with a breakout campaign in 2015.
With the size to dominate at the point of the catch, Latimer can make difficult catches seem routine. He has an excellent “my ball” mentality, and he uses his body to box out smaller defenders away from the ball.
Latimer has the speed to stretch the field, and he does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder. His wingspan and leaping ability make him a good target in the red zone as well.
He really shines through with his run-after-the-catch ability. Latimer is big enough to create mismatches against smaller corners, and he can run away from bigger players tasked with covering him. He’s fearless running routes over the middle, and he could prove to be a reliable target this year.
With his disappointing rookie season behind him, Latimer is ready to prove himself as a potential star on the rise in Denver. His journey begins in training camp.
DE Malik Jackson
The Broncos now have a different plan on the defensive line than they did a week ago. It was announced Friday that right defensive end Derek Wolfe would be suspended four games to begin the regular season. Now, the team could turn to Malik Jackson to fill the role Wolfe vacated for the first month of the year.
Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he has the potential to rack up double-digit sacks under Phillips. He is a ferocious player who gets off the snap quickly. This ability helps him get to the passer quickly, and he has a motor that just won’t quit.
He’s relentless when it comes to getting after the quarterback, and Jackson often plays to the echo of the whistle. Opponents can get frustrated when blocking him, as he just doesn’t quit. Jackson can draw personal foul penalties with his playing style, so his incredible passion has to be dialed back at times.
As a right defensive end, Jackson will be asked to set the edge as a run defender. He has the length and strength to keep containment in this situation.
When Wolfe returns, Jackson may be the starter at left defensive end. He’s been getting better with each year in the league, and this could be the year where he takes his game to a completely different level.
LB Shane Ray
This was the first time the Broncos moved up in the first round of the draft under the watch of general manager John Elway. The Broncos did that so they could secure the services of linebacker Shane Ray.
The rookie from Missouri has the potential to develop into one of the best pass-rushers in the game. He’s an alpha male with a chip on his shoulder, and it looks like he hates quarterbacks when he's on the field. Ray’s aggression is unbridled, and he can be an intimidating presence on passing downs.
He’s a smart player who doesn’t let his emotions get the best of him. Ray knows how to set up opponents with multiple pass-rushing moves on his way to the quarterback. He’ll use any combination of tricks to get to the passer, and he enjoys the battle in the trenches.
Ray has been limited by a toe injury this offseason—even through the predraft process. The frustration he must have felt could be taken out on teammates during training camp. Ray wants to prove the Broncos were correct in moving up for him in the draft.
This year, he is likely to work as a part-time pass-rusher behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Coming off the bench will keep the rookie fresh, and it will give the Broncos a seemingly never-ending line of rushers.
In this aggressive 3-4 defense under Phillips, it’s not outlandish to think that Ray could snare five to seven sacks as a rookie. Even that number might be conservative.
The Broncos may have drafted the next superstar pass-rusher, and Broncos fans will be in for a treat watching Ray's development in training camp.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.