Denver Broncos 2013 offseason recap. Part 1 – Offense

Before the new season started, Denver FO clearly saw that the interior of the offensive line had to be solidified. So the first move, few hours into free agency, has been to sign RG Louis Vasquez to a huge deal, stealing him to the closest competitor in the division. WOW!!!

Vasquez is a really good player that in Denver scheme could be even more effective. He should be a starter for years to come and provide better pass protection than Kuper. I loved that the first big move of the Broncos in free agency was on the OLine because is there where a game could be won.

It could be strange that Kuper and his 4,5M salary in 2013 is still on the roster but his actual roster status does not mean that he will be still there at the beginning of the season. I think that, if he can get back from the injuries he suffered in 2012, at full speed, then he could challenge Beadles at LG, Kuper always proved to be a mauler in the running game and Beadles will be FA in 2014. I still don’t see him remaining as a backup at 4,5 M salary, but him losing the position battle to Beadles would give the FO leverage on contract negotiation, he’ll be asked to have a big pay-cut.

Also Kuper back-up position in the roster could be challenged by some young player that last year were or on I/R or on practice squad: Philip Blake and Justin Boren. These two young players will have the opportunity to have a roster spot also because if Kuper would be healthy enough I don’t see Manny Ramirez being a Bronco when September 2013 will come.

The addition of Manase Foketi will make even more interesting the competition on the O-Line in training camp because I think he has a lot of upside and has all the tools to become a really good Olineman In the NFL with a chance of being either a G or a T (here more RT than LT).

At the Center position JD Walton is expected to be ready for OTAs and will be closely evaluated. His injury in 2012 slowed down what seemed to be another good development by him and the Broncos did not addressed the position neither in FA and the Draft. Kopper is still a free agent so he could be again a good solution if Walton does not show signs of being completely healthy and pass protection improvement.

Now, the interesting story is that the Broncos have on the roster other two players that played C in college: Philip Blake, whom is listed as G/C and I guess could be more suited for backing up at guard where he does not have to communicate assignment to the Oline mates on the scrimmage, and Quentin Saulsberry. Now this Saulsberry roster spot is really interesting to me because, if the official Denver Broncos page was right, he has been suspended by the commissioner in 2012 while he was a member of Denver practice squad. Why to keep on the roster a player that was suspended for who knows what and how and when it happened being him a fringe player? My only logical answer is that Denver coaches really like him and he could be the future of the Broncos at the position. In fact Walton will be a FA in 2014 and the Broncos didn’t tried to get a new player at C this year and giving him one year to learn to be ready in 2014 to be Manning Center. Take in mind that in 2014 free agency the Broncos will have to face tough choices because WR Decker, WOLB Woodyard, OG Beadles and C Walton will all hit free agency, among other players form this 2013 Broncos team including RBs McGahee and Moreno, and I don’t think that Denver FO could afford to re-sign all of them.

Now the Tackles positions: LT Ryan Clady received the Franchise tag and has still to sign the tender. Here I hope that Denver FO could work out a long term deal. Clady is widely recognized as one of the finest pass protector in the league if not the best. He is not exactly a mauler in the running game and I think that this is the reason why the Broncos are not willing to offer him the money he wants. If he signs the tender for the 2013 season, he could be tagged again for the 2014 season. If he then will sign again the tender is unknown and I guess he’ll try to force a trade. But the Broncos will have all the leverage there. Meanwhile in those two years the Broncos will try to develop 6th round pick Vinton Painter, the only O-line addition via Draft, and also will see what they have in 2012 practice squad member Paul Cornick and 2013 CFA Foketi. As I’ve already said, I have big hopes on Foketi being able to take a roster spot (more in 2014 that in 2013) at backup RT where Franklin is a mauler in the running plays and got better at pass protector in both of his first two years in the league, he was a great surprise 2nd round pick in 2011.

I have nothing personal against Chris Clarke but I saw him playing 3 snaps at RT against KC (week 17 in 2012) when Franklin went down with an injury, and he was atrocious, he could not block anyone and scared Manning. That was a 3&out at Denver own 10 or 15 yards line. I think Franklin was forced back in the game the next drive because Clarke was too unreliable. He signed a RFA tag but no money is guaranteed. If Painter could play a little, he will replace Clarke on the roster in the 2013 season, no doubt by my side.

CJ Wilson was, to me, roster filler at a position where depth was lacking. I think Philip Blake has to be atrocious in training camp to let Davis having a chance to maintain that roster spot.

I mentioned McGahee and Moreno little while ago as far as I said that they both will be FAs in 2014 (Moreno contract includes a clause that would allow him being a Broncos also in 2014 but his salary should be around 5 M if the clause is picked….and I don’t see this happening).

Here is another great reason why selecting Montee Ball at the end of the 2nd round in the 2013 NFL draft has been awesome. A part contributing in the running game, because he is a really good running back, he’ll have one year to learn how to block. Any RB coming to the NFL has to learn to block at a Pro-Level, even if the player was a good blocker in college, is not the same the speed and the power that NFL defenders have. This said I’m not sure at all that both Moreno and McGahee will be on Denver final 53 men roster coming September. IMO it would be still a good idea since both of them carry an average salary for a NFL veteran and they’d provide depth the one to the other at RB with blocking abilities. Hillman will remain the change of pace back and let’s hope he’ll pick up some blocking skills in his second training camp. Hester still could be interesting to have in the roster as a versatile blocker, runner and receiver out of the backfield. Lance Ball signed a RFA tender, offered by Denver FO, but with the addition of Montee Ball he could and should be the odd man out, him or one between McGahee and Moreno. Jeremiah Johnson also will have another chance to prove himself during training camp as Mario Fannin, that is still on Denver roster after two years of I/R and new CFA signing CJ Anderson which, IMO, is a mix between Moreno (great receiving skills) and Hillman (small back size) but does not have the speed to impress in training camp, he could be the front-runner for the practice squad spot.

Back to the Montee Ball selection in the second round my take is that was a great selection because Denver just needed new blood at running back and because the Broncos backfield is just way better and deeper with him on the roster. Plus it will not oblige Denver to draft a RB in the 2014 draft since I do not expect both Moreno and McGahee back with the team in 2014.

At Tight Ends I saw the Broncos set with the four players on the team. Dreessen and Tamme proved to be a reliable mix of starting TEs, the first is a great blocker and reliable red zone target and the latter being the vertical pass catcher TE. 2013 training camp is the moment when both Virgil Green and Julius Thomas will have finally to step up and show that they can take over Dreessen and Tamme. Green has already shown promises on the blocking game, even thought he blew up a couple of time last year, including a Phillips safety in Denver, but he has to become a more reliable pass catcher. Thomas is a mystery and he’s, IMO, really a bubble player at this point. He has to show up healthy and with a better understanding of routs and timing with Manning, if not he could be cut and a 3 year project finished. He had been a roster spot warming player up to now and the coaches have been quite patient with his game day production. He has to have a breakout offseason because his potential is still there. Being this my take at the position, I thought that Denver would have not sign a free agent and would have not spent a draft pick on a TE, but yes would have brought in a CFA capable of challenging at least Thomas. And Denver FO did, signing CFA Lucas Reed, who is the brother of Houston OLB and before 2012 season was on All-American watch list at TE for New Mexico. This is a player that had a dreadful 2012 season for whatever reason and fell undrafted, for the happiness of the Broncos I guess. He is a well-built player that has the frame to gain much more power and become a reliable blocker but the reason why he had so high reputation before the 2012 NCAA season is his pass catching and rout running skills.  Having a brother that is a proven NFL player will just help him. There will be great competition at this position during training camp, I guess and it will be fun to watch pre-season games.

Wide Receiver was the position where, when the new FO took over in 2011, the roster was looking really deep in potential. It turned out that the impression was true and the potential developed in real skills for both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Both are big, strong and young receivers that can block. And I guess that Denver coaches love them. Here the trouble will be to re-sign Decker in 2014. He had a great season in 2012, with some mistakes (self-tripping in SD) and some drops but he was extremely productive as his 85 catches for 1064 yards and 13 TDs show. He’s not an elite NFL receiver, and could be that he’s not yet, but a productive team guy like him is really functional to great teams. Thomas developed in an almost elite NFL nº1 receiver. He has the potential to be a top 5 receiver in the NFL and I think that if injuries won’t stop him in 2013, he’ll become a top 5 receiver. Off course, playing with Peyton Manning helps a lot any receiver, but the physical skills of both these receivers and their dedication and work habit helped them too. They are already one of the best tandem of receivers in the NFL.

Since off course the NFL becomes each year a more pass friendly league, Denver went out in FA and just grabbed the only slot receiver that was better than Stokley in 2012: Wes Welker. I don’t want to quantify how much his departure will hit the Patriots, I just want to focus in the fact that, barring injuries, he would make any WR around even better on Denver offense because the opposing defense will always have to pay too much attention to him. Being Welker on the roster is closing the door for a Stokley return? Probably but still there is a chance to see Brandon again in orange in blue after the beginning of training camp if the coaches won’t be happy in what they see in the young guys on the roster. Denver has Gerell Robinson (again) and Greg Orton that will try to get a better training camp result than last year (when they were cut), they are big guys that IMO the coaches will try to develop as C plan (more than B) for if Thomas or Decker could get injured or lost for the year (let’s hope not). Plus Denver drafted Tavarres King that is a shorter WR that is supposed to bring speed and deep threat skills. Now Caldwell was supposed to bring these skills to Denver in 2012 but he was never used in game day (1 catch?). I don’t know if because he was not good at all or because of schemes, or because Manning were not healthy enough to throw 5-6 deep balls per game. Anyhow, I’m not high on King and I think he will just take Caldwell spot on the roster at a cheaper price. I really didn’t like the pick, but now he’s a Broncos and I’m 100% rooting for him.

Denver also signed 3 CFA WR, two of them will be tried at returners mainly, even though I don’t know why, since Trindon Holliday is one of the best, or the best, special team returner in the NFL, just check the playoff game against Baltimore where he was simply unstoppable.

The two WR/returners are Lamar Thomas from New Mexico and Quincy McDuffie from Central Florida. About them as special teamers I’ll write more on the chapter I’ll write about that unit. As receivers I cannot find any video of them on internet….so I have no idea of what they can bring to the table, apart that Lamar Thomas looks to have the size and frame of a potential slot receiver at 5’11’’ and 187 lbs. The third CFA WR is an even bigger mystery for me, since I could not even find his height and weight on internet. He’s Kamonte Bateman and played for New Mexico State having two solid years in 2011 and 2012 in the reception stats (77 receptions in the span) and good yardage (almost 15 yards per catch in average). Could he be a slot receiver candidate? I don’t know. I think there is a good chance that at least one of these three players will be a practice squad member even if no one of the three will impress during training camp.

I want to add a note to the CFA WRs acquisitions. In a post draft interview, that can be seen in the Broncos official webpage, Elway after joking with rewarding the best scout turning into negotiator a part time job as salesman in his car dealership, said that the scout that signed the CFA WRs did probably one of the finest job. I would include Reed into this category and I’m quite surprise and impatient to see these players, since the team is thrilled by them.

To close this post, this is my take at the QB position.

Off course Manning is one of the best QB in football and could end up being considered one of the top 5 QBs ever. IMO, to get there, he needs to win one or two more Lombardi Trophies. And this is great news for the Broncos, because if he’ll win them, he’ll win as a Bronco. He had an incredible 2012 season and even if he’ll have a less perfect regular season in 2013, he’ll be selected again for the Pro Bowl. I just hope he could not attend the exhibition game because one week after he will have to play the Superbowl in New York.

Still Denver did a fantastic job bringing in really tough competition for Osweiler. My take is that he will still be the backup QB but both Dysert and CFA Katz are really great prospects. I hope that somehow Denver will be able to keep both of them, if they’ll perform as I’m expecting in training camp. One of the two should go on practice squad and I don’t think Denver is interested on having one of that spots occupied by a 4th QB, since basically the 3rd QB on the roster will play the scouting team. But both player are really good college QBs that need to get better in footwork, mechanics and have to get reps against the big pro boys in practice. They could easily end up being two good football players in the NFL, so having both of them is quite a luxury and great competition for Osweiler. Next training camp looks to be really interesting for Broncos Offense.

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