The 5 Biggest Issues Facing the Denver Broncos After Mandatory Minicamp

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor IJune 17, 2016

The 5 Biggest Issues Facing the Denver Broncos After Mandatory Minicamp

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos wrapped up the second week of mandatory minicamp and now have about a six-week break before the start of training camp at the end of July.

    The development of the team will continue through training camp, but Denver has made some real progress at certain positions. However, there are still several questions for this team, even after weeks of practice, which won’t be answered until the Broncos get through training camp later this year.

    Head coach Gary Kubiak explained what the team was trying to accomplish this week: “We’re jogging through some goal-line stuff and trying to do some teaching. We do still have some more stuff—[to] install. I tried to create a little chaos in practice today. I wanted to see how some of our young guys react to a little craziness on the field.

    “We’ve still got some things we’ve got to cover.”

    Here are the five biggest issues facing the Broncos after mandatory minicamp.

5. Is Jared Crick the Best Option at Defensive End?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Arguably the biggest loss for the Broncos in free agency was defensive end Malik Jackson. He signed an $85.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars and received $42 million in guarantees from his new team.

    Now the Broncos are left to find his replacement—and replacing a disruptive player like Jackson may prove to be difficult.

    The primary player to look at here could be veteran Jared Crick, but is he the best option?

    Crick has played under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before during their time together with the Houston Texans. He’s a seasoned veteran with the strength to hold up at the point of attack. Crick is not a liability as a run defender, as he can set the edge and force plays back to the inside of the field.

    Kubiak has liked what he’s seen from Crick so far this offseason: “Good things. I think we’re going to have a really good group. We’re going to play six guys. That’s what we do. We rotate them. I think it’s going to be really good.”

    As good as Crick is at stuffing the run, he’s not going to generate much pressure as a pass-rusher. Crick has a career high of only 3.5 sacks, which he recorded in 2014. In order to get quarterback pressure like Jackson used to, the Broncos may end up turning to Vance Walker.

    A free-agent addition last year for the Broncos, Walker played 337 snaps and snared 23 solo tackles and two sacks. He’s a bit more active than Crick off the edge, and Walker may be able to push his sack totals to five or six if he gets more playing time—especially in obvious passing situations this year.

    Crick may win the starting job, but the Broncos could rotate him and Walker to make up for the loss of Jackson in 2016.

4. Who Will Win the Strong-Side Inside Linebacker Position?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    This offseason we’ve learned that Brandon Marshall is going to play weak-side inside linebacker in 2016. With Danny Trevathan (Chicago Bears) moving on in free agency, the team had an opening in that spot and determined that Marshall was the best fit at "Will."

    With Marshall moving out of his strong-side position, the Broncos must have a competition in training camp to determine who will take over for him.

    Todd Davis and Corey Nelson are going to be the primary competitors here. Davis looks like he’s shot out of a cannon as a run-stuffer and arrives at the ball-carrier with nasty intentions. Nelson is a sound tackler but not a thumper like Davis. However, he’s more athletic and better in coverage, which could give him an advantage in this battle.

    Phillips admits there isn’t any rush to name a starter: “We’re going to wait and see. Corey [Nelson] and Todd [Davis] are doing really well in there now. We feel like we’ve got a good rotation if we have to or if one of them steps up and plays all the time. We can do both.”

    Davis might be considered the front-runner at this time, but Nelson should put up quite a fight in training camp, but a sleeper at the position may end up better than both of those guys.

    Zaire Anderson spent last year on the team’s practice squad as an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska. His skill set is like a combination of Nelson and Davis, and Anderson was known as a tackling machine who could cover for the vaunted “Blackshirts” defense.

    The starter at the end of training camp may not have job security, as the Broncos have a talented group at inside linebacker.

3. Which Tight End Will Emerge as the Starter?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The tight end is incredibly important in the Kubiak system, but the Broncos need to find out which player will emerge at the position.

    Last year, Owen Daniels led the way by running 407 routes and was able to snag 46 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos let Daniels go earlier this year, and he’s currently a free agent, so someone else is going to have to step up at tight end.

    Virgil Green has always been an underrated receiver but only has a career-high of 12 catches in the NFL. Last season, Green ran 101 routes but was only targeted 15 times, catching 12 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. He’s the best blocking tight end on the team, but Green is going to have to prove that he’s worthy of a larger role as a receiver.

    Jeff Heuerman missed all of his rookie season in 2015 due to a knee injury suffered during rookie minicamp. A third-round pick out of Ohio State, Heuerman is built like a super-sized wide receiver and might be the best receiving threat at the tight end spot. Now healthy, Heuerman is basically a rookie again as he tries to prove that he can be a capable starter.

    Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison believes Heuerman picked up a lot sitting out last year: “He looks pretty comfortable out there as far as knowing where to line up and what to do. It’s one thing to hear it, and the other thing is to practice it—any reps on the field doing anything. That’s a crucial part of learning—going through and doing it.

    “We’ll get him a chance. We like our group at tight end. We’ll see what happens.”

    Both Green (finger) and Heuerman (hamstring) have been banged up a bit through offseason workouts. This competition is too close to call right now, but we should be able to see some distance gained in training camp.

2. Will Von Miller Get a Long-Term Contract?

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Things seem dire at the moment, but is there a reason for optimism in the Von Miller contract negotiations? The simple answer is yes.

    Miller posted on Instagram that there’s “no chance” he'll play in 2016 under the franchise tag. This post sent several fans into a panic, and it’s not the first time Miller has posted something cryptic on social networking.

    After the team’s visit to the White House, Miller posted a picture on Instagram with general manager John Elway clearly cropped out. This was a picture first posted by DeMarcus Ware with Elway on the far right side. Again, Broncos fans began to worry that the relationship between the two had become fractured beyond repair.

    All that’s worrisome right now can be brushed aside with the July 15 deadline.

    Deals get done at deadlines, and this one should be no different—though it could be the largest deal for a defensive player in league history. Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier did a great job of showing why Miller is worth $60 million—at least—to the Broncos.

    The Broncos have proved in years past to get deals done with franchise-tagged players at or near the deadline in mid-July. Both Demaryius Thomas and Ryan Clady were designated franchise players, and Denver signed both with time running out.

    This season should be no different. The two sides can’t afford to stay apart in these negotiations. Simply put, the Broncos need Miller in a bad way, and Miller needs the Broncos.

    Holding out the entire season would prevent the Broncos from placing the exclusive franchise tag on Miller entering 2017. It shouldn't get to that point, as cooler heads should prevail when they need to—once the deadline is within 48 hours.

1. Who Will Start at Quarterback?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Broncos are going to have a training-camp battle at the quarterback position, which will be interesting to watch unfold. Peyton Manning retired, and Brock Osweiler moved on to the Houston Texans in free agency, so there’s going to be a new starter in 2016.

    Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian are the top two quarterbacks at this time.

    The team traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for Sanchez earlier this year, and he gives them plenty of veteran experience at the position. While Osweiler only had seven games of starting experience (all last year), Sanchez has 72 games of starting experience in the NFL—but only 10 over the last two years.

    This offense is different from the pass-happy Chip Kelly offense Sanchez played in during his time with the Eagles. However, it is similar to the system he ran quite successfully in college at USC.

    Siemian knows the offense better than Sanchez, as he’s got one year under his belt with Kubiak. A seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, Siemian has a strong arm but little control or accuracy. He spent last year holding a clipboard behind Manning and Osweiler, but this year he has a chance—arguably a small one—to win the starting job to begin the season.

    The future at quarterback is neither Sanchez nor Siemian. The team moved up in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft to select Paxton Lynch with the 26th overall pick.

    Lynch played college football at Memphis, where he operated out of the shotgun in a spread system. He’s got to get used to working from under center again, and Lynch has to understand the playbook at a high level so he can compete against the disciplined defenses he’ll face in the NFL.

    During the team’s recent mandatory minicamp, Kubiak praised all of the quarterbacks: “I think they’ve all done good things. What we’re trying to find is that consistent guy. I think Trevor [Siemian] and Mark [Sanchez] have kind of looked each other in the eye the whole offseason.”

    The veteran coach expanded, “When I sit there and watch them practice, I think they’re right there banging on each other. I think the young kid [Lynch] is extremely talented and young. He does a lot of great things, [but] he has his troubles. We’re trying to find the consistency somewhere, but as a group I think they’re battling their tails off.”

    The Broncos would like Lynch to start—if and when he’s ready. If the rookie shows that he needs more work in training camp, the team will turn to either Sanchez or Siemian at the beginning of the year. However, when Lynch has shown enough, the team should not waste any time and get their future franchise quarterback in the game.

    All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.

    Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac. Transaction history provided by Pro Sports Transactions.


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