With nothing really happening in the news, and the Brian Westbrook saga dragging on longer than even talk of Brett Favre's impending ankle surgery, I figured the time was ripe for another installment of why I am excited for the 2010 season.
I am not shy about my optimism, and quite honestly, football is a game meant to be fun, and it's not life or death anyway, so we might as well all have fun with it while we can, because I certainly don't want any pre-mature gray hairs.
Anyway, without further adieu...
Again, in no particular order...
1. Sophomore slump, or breakout season?
Say what you want about the infamous sophomore slump and it's particular love for the NFL, but there's reason to believe the second year Broncos can buck the trend.
The first subject of a potential sophomore slump is running back Knowshon Moreno, who entered the NFL with high expectations after leaving Georgia after only two seasons of starting. Knowshon really struggled to find a groove in his first NFL season, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. Still, he managed a solid 947 yards, which were well below what many expected, and he also added 213 yards receiving on top of it all.
Many figured Knowshon simply hit a "rookie wall", but even that theory doesn't hold a lot of weight unless you think he hit the wall in every game. Every player goes through growing pain, and perhaps the pressure bestowed upon Moreno was too much to handle. The 12th pick in the draft was widely expected to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year in the NFL, and he certainly showed flashes of that potential.
Among Broncos fans, Moreno is largely given the benefit of the doubt, and most are expecting a big season from him in 2010. I have seen projections thrown around of 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns, and some NFL analysts are predicting Moreno to be one of the "sleeper" fantasy football picks.
Personally, I expect Moreno to become more of a focal point of the Broncos' offense. Denver is one of the best teams in the NFL at running off left tackle, and with the improvements made to the offensive line (provided everyone is and can stay healthy) the averages should only increase across the board. Head coach Josh McDaniels indicated at the team's recent passing camp that Moreno has a new confidence about him; one that he might not have been able to display as a young gun last season:
"Yes, I have. He's been able to help some of the other guys. He's a second-year player in a second-year passing camp and he knows what to do. He's smart - one of the smarter backs that I've had an opportunity to coach this young in his career. You can't put too much on him because he can handle it mentally. Physically, he looks good; he's got a burst to himself. He's always got a lot of energy and I'll say he's one of our guys who gets the offensive group kind of going. Maybe not always with his words but with the way he carries himself and the way he practices and the way he works. He's got a confidence about him that I don't know that he had as a rookie because I don't know that you can as a rookie."
Another second year player who has received high marks from the head coach is the other first round pick from the 2009 draft class, hybrid linebacker Robert Ayers. Many fans looked at Ayers' rookie season as a major disappointment, but you can't really say that because he had a very limited role and for good reason. The Broncos did not thrust Ayers into a role he wasn't prepared for, and it appears as though it could pay big dividends.
Ayers was introduced into the NFL by making cameos in nickel packages and on special teams as he not only became acclimated to a brand new style and speed of football, but to a position he has never really played before, doing things he has never really done before.
It will be very interesting to see Ayers as a starting linebacker for this defense. The coaching staff is extremely high on his versatility, and he has apparently not only made strides over the course of the offseason, he has been one of the team's top performers in workouts:
"Robert has taken a very professional approach that this is his job. I think for every rookie coming in, sometimes it can be overwhelming at times because there are so many different things coming at you and you're doing so many things for the first time. Last year, he contributed a lot in our nickel packages but right now I think he's really committed himself to our offseason program. He's one of our top performers in terms of the offseason program which is exciting for all of us. He's a big, strong guy as it is that can run and that can rush the passer. He's improved in his coverage techniques early in camp; we've seen some of that. He's just a versatile player that we can move into a lot of spots that we hope will become a no doubt three-down starter for our football team and help us stop the run, rush the passer and be a factor on third downs. If that's the case, then his role in the kicking game will probably diminish because of that but it won't be because of his attitude because it's been great."
One of the biggest knocks on Ayers coming out of college was his inability to respond to coaching and his work ethic had some questions. It appears as though, at least for the time being, that Ayers has put that all to rest and has become a new player.
"I'm definitely not comfortable with where I am right now. I still want to get better. That's why we're out here trying to compete and get better. Come time for the season to start, opening game, I still won't feel comfortable. I'll still be thinking there's more to improve on. So getting better it just doesn't happen for one year or two years. You've got guys like Jamal, he's still trying to find ways to get better. That's the attitude I'm trying to take."
Smith is a guy who has drawn plenty of mixed reviews. His role as the team's nickel back was taken over last year by Ty Law and eventually Tony Carter, but he battled injuries all season long and due to his injuries, he was nowhere near as fast or quick as many scouts said he was.
Still, Broncos fans should keep the hope alive for Smith. He has been splitting time this offseason with Nate Jones working as the team's nickel cornerback, and he will be given every opportunity to claim that role this offseason. As Josh McDaniels always says, the best player will play.
Smith's ball skills and instincts are likely what attracted this coaching staff to him in the first place, and despite a disappointing rookie year, I think you'll see Smith make major strides in year two, and potentially be a starter in year three.
Though he is technically entering his third NFL season, expectations are also high for Eddie Royal, which I touched on in my previous piece.
Don't forget about second year lineman Chris Baker, who essentially took a redshirt last year and will have a chance this year to crack the rotation and show off his athleticism along the defensive line.
2. How about them draft picks?
You all know how much I love the draft, and I know how much some of you love the draft also. It truly is one of the greatest times of the sports year, and this year it will be another extremely enjoyable draft for Broncos fans. Many thought the Broncos would utilize one of their extra second round picks from the 2011 Draft to move back into the 2010 Draft a time or two more, but Broncos fans should be glad they didn't.
Heading into the 2011 Draft, the Broncos are without only their 5th and 6th round picks, which can be recovered by one simple trade down if the need arises. We all thought the 2010 Draft was rich in talent, and simply looking over the available seniors for the up-coming 2011 class, I can tell you that we are once again in store for a real treat.
The Broncos are armed with three picks in the top 64, a number that could rise higher if the Broncos are not the Super Bowl champions, which none of us would mind in the least.
Thanks to the Brandon Marshall trade, the Broncos are once again armed to move around their draft board as they please this year, and in case you are looking for a sneak preview of some of the top players I hope the Broncos target, here are a few names to chew on:
- Adrian Clayborn, DL, Iowa
- Cameron Heyward, DL, Ohio State
- Prince Amukamura, CB, Nebraska
- Jared Crick, DL, Nebraska
3. Aggressive playcalling
One of my biggest issues with the 2009 season was that the Broncos were not aggressive. Apparently, Josh McDaniels wasn't too pleased with it either, because he indicated recently that the team will be more aggressive offensively and he let Mike Nolan bolt for South Beach in order to restore some of the lost aggressiveness on the defensive side of the ball.
McDaniels' chips are in the middle of the table, and if he goes down, he's going to go down swinging.
That might sound a bit cliche', but Broncos fans would have loved a bit more aggressive play calling last season, the home game against Oakland in particular.
This topic is pretty self explanatory, and something fans should really look forward to.
4. The negative publicity has ceased--for the time being
I'll keep this one fairly short, and very sweet.
For a while there, it seemed like the Broncos couldn't stay out of the news--and for all the wrong reasons. For the time being, that has subsided save for a small bit about Ronald Fields carrying some sort of weapon (a source would later confirm that Fields is indeed a ninja and was carrying multiple swords ;-) ).
I was tired of negativity surrounding the Broncos, and that's not to say that they are completely immune to it forever, but for the time being, the vibe coming out of Dove Valley is quite positive, and that is a refreshing breath of fresh air.