This is undoubtedly the best time of year to be optimistic. Every team has a fresh start, and the new players and coaches in every NFL city have fans giddy for September. So, with nothing major about the Broncos happening right now in the news, I figured I would put together a list of five (among many others) things that have ME excited for the 2010 season, and I hope they have you excited too.
In no particular order...
1. The Re-loading process is all but complete
Josh McDaniels has completely overhauled this team. Three years ago, every Broncos fan would have been sporting Cutler, Marshall and Scheffler jerseys. Now, some people are making money morphing Marshall jerseys into Tebow's, and possibly even some die hard's are getting their Scheffler's made into Thomas'.
The new vibe coming from Broncos camp is--to this writer, at least--overwhelmingly positive. There are some nicks and scratches here or there (see injuries to our two best offensive linemen), but the pendulum isn't seeming to swing one way or another in terms of whether or not the offense will have to carry the defense, or vice versa. There isn't a heck of a lot of arrogance, or players making outlandish predictions for their personal statistics.
These are a very new, very refreshing brand of Denver Broncos.
2. The quarterback position
Despite whether or not you believe the Broncos have talented quarterbacks, nobody can deny the increase in the level of competition. Last year, Kyle Orton had to compete with Chris Simms, a guy who hadn't played meaningful football for two seasons and Tom Brandstater, a sixth round pick.
This year, the Broncos cut ties with Simms and traded for former first round pick Brady Quinn. Not just that, but Josh McDaniels traded up for and drafted Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, almost a unanimous choice for the best college quarterback to play in the 2000's so far.
There is hype, there is excitement, and there is a lot of attention. The Broncos' signal callers have handled that attention better than anybody could have expected, and there was even sight at the most recent Broncos practice session of Orton giving pointers to young Tebow.
Not that any of us should be shocked by that, because Orton has always been a very high character, team-oriented player ever since he came to the Broncos last year. Those four quarterbacks are pushing themselves harder, and they are pushing each other to be that much better, whether it's direct or not.
ESPN's Matt Williamson said that the quarterback position is the Broncos' biggest weakness. If that's the case, it's going to be a great season.
3. The defensive line has depth
Say what you want about the "Browncos", but those guys were the foundation of the last "great" defense Broncos fans have seen. Perhaps they were extremely opportunistic, or perhaps they were the benefactors of the other seven players on the field, but those guys were guilty by association at the very least.
Since that line has deteriorated, the Broncos have had nothing short of abysmal production from their defensive line, and that all figures to change this season.
For the first time in a long time, the Broncos appear to have depth along their defensive front. McDaniels and company brought in a trio of free agent linemen in Jarvis Green, Justin Bannan, and Jamal Williams to add depth to a line that performed well at least in the first half of the 2009 season.
The biggest knock on the 2009 group was that they simply wore down, it wasn't a lack of talent. Now, that talent will have an even better chance to shine with fresh beef rotating in and out as the season progresses.
4. The rich got richer
And by that I mean the Denver secondary. One of the few areas of the team where every starter will return for the 2010 campaign, this group includes the likes of Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, team interception leader Andre' Goodman, and Renaldo Hill.
Though aging, this group of players is arguably the most cohesive secondary in the NFL, and this offseason, it only got better.
No matter what you may think about the guy, a year of experience and growing pains had to have helped cornerback Alphonso Smith, who many (including our head coach) expect to not only play a bigger role this season, but have a significant impact.
The Broncos also added Nate Jones, who was one of the more underrated free agent acquisitions this offseason. Jones emerged last season as one of the most efficient nickel and dime cornerbacks in the NFL. He is effective as a rushing corner on third down plays, and also can contribute on special teams.
I am also high on Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson, two of the team's third day draft picks in 2010. Cox had some character concerns and slid to the fifth round after some projected him as a 1st-3rd round pick. He was a great value in the 5th round, not unlike Thompson in the 7th.
Thompson was a fantastic, hard-hitting player for the Cal Golden Bears, and slid on draft day because of poor measurables. His high effort, high motor mentality and versatility are exactly what this coaching staff love. He can have an impact on special teams right away, and could be the nickel or dime back of the future.
Not to mention the undrafted Cassius Vaughn and Kyle McCarthy. Vaughn measures out at 5'11" 195 with a fantastic 4.35 second 40 yard dash. The speedster has good size and was productive for Ole Miss over the last four years.
McCarthy had over 200 tackles over the last two seasons for Notre Dame, and has already been impressive on special teams in practice. Both players could wind up making the practice squad and the final roster at some point in the future.
5. Even without Marshall, I love our receiving corps
I am a huge fan of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas being picked. I wondered why we didn't go with Dez Bryant in the first round after Josh McDaniels had nothing but good things to say about him, but Thomas was the first receiver picked for a reason.
The guy is absolutely huge and blazing fast. At one point before he hurt his foot, Thomas (6'3" 230) ran a sub-4.4 40 yard dash, which is something that has really only been done by Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson (and Vernon Davis). McDaniels indicated that Thomas reminded him a lot of Brandon Marshall, but we all know that Marshall is nowhere near that fast.
Thomas and Decker are two of the most football savy and intelligent receivers that were available in the draft, which is a large reason they impressed our coaching staff and front office. Not only that, but both Thomas and Decker are very close friends after having spent the whole summer working out together. They already have build a chemistry together, and I know Bronco Nation is excited to see these guys on the field.
And it's not just the rookies that are getting people excited. McDaniels has recently talked about how fan favorite Eddie Royal figures to see a lot more action this year than he did last year, and he has finally moved to where almost every Bronco fan figured he was a perfect fit: the slot.
Royal will be working the slot, but he will also be moving all around on the outside as well. Along with him, the other starting receiver figures to be veteran Jabar Gaffney. Gaffney has always been an intriguing player to me, dating all the way back to his days with the Houston Texans.
When Gaffney came over from the Patriots, the big thing that got me excited was his prowess in the red zone. Gaffney caught six of his eight touchdowns with New England inside the 20 yard line, which was something the Broncos really needed help with going into last year. Obviously, Gaffney finished the year with two touchdowns and they both came in the same game, but he will be playing a much bigger role in 2010 and I for one am excited about it.
This is a guy who was easily playing some of the best ball of his career in the last two games of last season. Against Philadelphia and Kansas City, Gaffney hauled in 21 passes for 282 yards and two scores. In the season finale against the Chiefs, he caught 14 balls for 213 yards, which was the highest yardage total for a Broncos receiver in 2009 despite Brandon Marshall's record-setting day in Indianapolis.
There also appears to be reason to be excited about second year receiver Kenny McKinley. We all know that South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier called McKinley the best wideout he has ever coached, so that in itself got Broncos fans pumped.
McKinley had very limited chances in 2009 to show what he had because the Broncos already had good depth at the top of their receiver rotation, and he didn't show the greatest punt returning skills in the league, but he had a respectable 23 yards per kick and 11 yards per punt return. So, the Broncos essentially stashed him away and used him sparingly.
Still, McKinley flashed his potential in the pre-season, and showed big play ability with his excellent speed. Along with former UCLA track athlete Matthew Willis, McKinley is considered to be one of the two fastest players on the entire team. Hopefully, the Broncos will see some of that speed in action over the course of the season.
There has also been good word out of Dove Valley about Brandon Lloyd, who "stole the show" at practice last week with his acrobatic catches. Lloyd finished last season with a 95 yard performance against the Chiefs, and after signing a two year extension with the Broncos, appears to have a good chance of unseating Brandon Stokley on the roster.
Bonus: Matt Prater, anyone?
This guy is on the verge of becoming a "star" kicker in the NFL, if you can call them that. For whatever reason, the guy is entering his third year with the Broncos, and he gets little to no love whatsoever.
After an up-and-down 2008 season, Prater came into 2009 better conditioned and physically ready for the rigors of a full season. Some were questioning the Broncos front office for not bringing in competition at kicker last year, and Prater proved that they were right for putting their full vote of confidence in him.
Prater had one of the more efficient seasons in the NFL among kickers. He connected on 30 of 35 field goal attempts, hit all of his extra points, and kicked 28 touchbacks. His accuracy was up 12.2 percent from 2008, and his touchbacks increased by nine.
The 5'10" 188 pound Prater is certainly not the most imposing athlete on the Broncos' roster, but he is one of the more unheralded players and is a guy that I will be picking up for my fantasy football teams this year because of his improved accuracy and extremely strong leg.
As a side note, I saw Prater kick an 80 yard field goal in practice one day, no extreme wind conditions either. Just the hot heat and the dry Denver sky one summer day two offseasons ago. This guy is a gem, and one of the better special teams acquisitions made by Mike Shanahan in a while.
There are more reasons to be excited for the 2010 season, so you can consider this somewhat of a preview or "Part One" type of deal, if you will. I am on record as saying the Broncos are a 10 win team this year, or that 10 wins is par at least. I know A LOT of games are won on paper, right? Even so, the Broncos at least appear to have put together a very competitive squad, one that can easily challenge the Chargers for the AFC West title in 2010--maybe more.