Jon and Styg have done great jobs with their fan posts projecting the roster: jobs I could only dream about myself. However, in this post I aim to jump-start the discussion and debate concerning the Broncos “toeing the line” this off-season. I’ll highlight a few important positions in terms of competition and the players battling each other to make the roster. Arguments for starting positions can come another day. I plan to examine the general consensus thus far and look at those players who might soon enter the realm of the ex-Bronco. Where are the battles at this early?
First we’ll start with the offense. The Broncos made some great acquisitions at wide receiver in the reloading season, and it’s only fair to expect that all of the said acquisitions earn a spot on the roster. That spells the end for a player like Glenn Martinez. Martinez did take back a kick for a touchdown against the Titans, but the twenty-six year old player fumbled the rock three times in 2007, losing one. Martinez didn’t have to shoulder much of a load last season despite the Walker injury and hauled in fourteen passes for 175 yards. Both Martinez and the man he’s battling (Samie Parker) seem capable of handling punt return duties. HOWEVER, a new rookie by the name of Eddie Royal may render their efforts not needed. If Martinez doesn’t beat out Parker – which seems to be the agreement here at MHR – is he worth a look for the practice squad?
Unfortunately it looks like our friend Mike Bell might not be in Denver come this fall. The recent addition of Michael Pittman could spell the end for this back. Bell averaged 4.3 yards per carry and rushed for 677 total yards his rookie season before the move to fullback the following year. Bell has been a victim of “too many cooks in a kitchen” at running back.
Also, some folks at the report have left Andre Hall off of their fifty-three-man roster. Hall did a decent job on kick returns and also averaged nearly five yards a carry on forty-four attempts. In his only game as a starter last season, Hall rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in two passes for a sixty-nine yard total. Pittman’s presence doesn’t necessarily change the back situation in Denver. The guy has played fullback before and can play the position for Denver next season. Pittman should do well, but I’ll bet a few guys in camp became a little apprehensive when they first read the news of his arrival.
The Broncos can’t keep more than six backs…right? With Pittman in town, nine backs now compete for a few spots on the roster. This is where Bronco fans will see one of the more heated competitions of the off-season. Styg mentioned the possibility of “stashing” a back on IR, which would be a pretty crafty possibility and could be smart, depending on what the Broncos are willing to risk. Unproven rookies make this mix of backs and competition even more intriguing. Peyton Hillis seems a sure shot to make the roster as more of a “true fullback” than past Broncos and Cecil Sapp realistically looks to get the start based on past experience. However, don’t count Pittman out: wherever he plays. I think the only guy safe right now is Selvin Young, who looks to be doing what it takes to get better, add muscle, and respond to his critics. True, Travis Henry will be probably be the starter, that is, unless he continues to ride his injuries downhill (then look for a seat on the IR). Lots of guys will compete for a small number of spots at the running back position.
Those two spots seem to be the big ones on offense. The quarterback position is set and Mustard doesn’t seem to factor into to the tight end picture next season. On the offensive line, the issue seems to be more about sorting the players in a depth chart rather than deciding who makes the roster or not. Who makes the roster on the O-line isn’t much of an issue, because Broncos fans seem to already know who will be there come the end of the summer. Fans still don’t know who’s going to start, but there’s a general feeling that a certain ten guys will make the cut. The practice squad provides a further outlet for any extra linemen.
Let’s move over to the defensive side of the ball now. The defensive tackle spot doesn’t seem to project too much of a battle. The problem with this season’s prospective DTs is the amount of improvement they’ll be charged with making. Not everyone is confident that Robertson can hold up in the long run. Most people consider Carlton Powell a member of the Denver Broncos already, and the last of four players who may factor into the rotation at the tackle position. Outside of those four (Robertson, McKinley, Thomas, and Powell) there isn’t one guy who fans will say really gives this group a run for its money.
How many ends the Broncos decide to keep depends on what the team does in other areas this off-season. An issue that may come down to the last month or so is the battle at defensive end. As recent draft picks and blossoming young stars, Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Elvis Dumervil should also make the roster without a doubt. Where the one subtle disagreement – if you can call it that – seems to lie is the Engelberger/Ekuban debate. Both remaining members of the Browncos line have played pretty well of late. Ekuban in particular had a great seven-sack season for the Broncos in 2006. He’d be a near shoo-in if not for a torn ACL suffered during a pre-season game last year.
Ebenezer is recovering nicely and Engelberger didn’t necessarily have a bad season last year. As styg said, “no one ever thinks he will be around, and he is always around.” In terms of the position battles on this roster, I don’t see this one ranking all that highly. This “DE Battle” may not even be an issue at all, but I figured I’d bring it up after seeing the difference of opinion on the boards. I guess the number of D-Ends kept comes down to the number of available spots after the first few cuts.
The Broncos do have a lot of players at linebacker though, but it looks like the Broncos will eventually stick with six or seven guys. A lot of fans felt that Wesley Woodyard out of Kentucky would be one of the UFAs most likely to make the roster, but remember, they’re fans. It’s still early and as of now, no one knows how the guy performs in practice. Until we know, we can only speculate and hope Woodyard impresses enough people to at least earn him a spot on the practice squad. Special teams will be a real driving point for UFAs if they are to make the roster in the first place. Winborn and Webster played well enough last season and can make a big impact on the special teams unit. Denver fans are excited at the prospects of these guys helping to improve a mediocre special teams unit. Styg’s thoughts on the linebacking corps were great and I’ll just leave it at that.
After quickly flipping the cornerback page without much of an issue, we’ve finally reached a point of debate on the defense: the safety spot. Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel came in to help provide depth at safety. Josh Barrett came along via the draft. Denver could take all five, but then again, the Broncos could also neglect a player. In the interests of length and word count, I’ll dial this battle down to Manuel and Barrett, neglecting to mention much of the extra curriculars. Again, styg did a nice job of that in his follow-up post. If Denver is to only keep four, Barrett and Manuel risk getting the boot. Barrett also may be too risky to put on the practice squad, if other teams spot his upside.
A lot has been said of the kicking and punting competition, as well as a bit about the long snapper. I’ll just direct you to Arturo’s and my recent posts concerning the ST unit, let you form an early opinion, and be on my merry way. There are certainly unknowns in these facets of special teams and even a possible battle at long snapper:
Camp will work out a lot of these battles, some of which I think are much bigger than others. To recap, I think the biggest slugfests will come at running back, safety, and wide receiver (not including the special teams spots available), with the biggest involving the backs. I won’t go ahead and decide who makes it and who doesn’t as of now, as that’s the coach’s job. Besides, a lot rides on how many of each position the Broncos wish to keep.