Tonight--yes, tonight--the Broncos will be in Cincinnati to take on Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Barnum, Bailey, and the rest of the Bengals. What a fantastic feeling it is--the feeling that football is finally upon us. The Broncos' travels will take them to play against a team that came seemingly from nowhere in 2009 to win the AFC North even after falling victim to "The Imacculate Deflection," which no Bronco fan will ever forget.
The Broncos and Bengals have fought a couple of epic battles the last couple of times they have played, and the intensity will be high again tonight as roughly 80 players fight for their NFL lives. The 80 who have made it this far have been in a two week camp for the Broncos at Dove Valley, one that has included no shortage of excitement--good and bad--for the Broncos.
I was able to attend camp for a brief period of time this summer, one that included watching Knowshon Moreno ride a cart off the field, and one that also included Tim Tebow's first few throws as an official Bronco. The high's and low's of training camp were aplenty, but here are some that really stood out. Follow me after the jump...
HIGH: Defensive Line
This should surprise nobody, given the amount of money the Broncos spent on the defensive line this offseason. When Justin Bannan first walked out of the locker room, the first thing John Bena said to me was, "I don't care about height/weight, that is the biggest d-lineman the Broncos have had in years." Bannan is certainly a big dude, and he appears to be one of the new anchors for what could be the strongest, most veteran-laden unit on the Broncos' roster.
Along with Bannan, the Broncos welcomed back to the practice field Jamal Williams, who has received rave reviews. If he still has it in the tank, he is a dominant force in the NFL and has proven it over and again.
A surprise (at least kind of) coming from camp was Ryan McBean, who was able to hold on to his starting spot from 2009, and he also stood out as a guy who made some plays. The Broncos also have a ton of depth behind these guys with Ronald Fields, Jarvis Green (who was signed some big money), Le Kevin Smith, Marcus Thomas, and Chris Baker.
This is a unit Broncos fans should feel excited about. As the Kaptain, Kirk Davis, recently pointed out, Wayne Nunnely can be heard shouting from the practice fields, "Nobody runs on the Denver Broncos!" If that doesn't get you geeked up, nothing will. I have said this time and again over the course of vthe offseason, but I am excited about the depth and size the Broncos have along the defensive front, and training camp confirmed that exictement.
This will be a major strength of the 2010 Denver Broncos, provided players can stay healthy.
This one was so obvious I didn't even have to write it. The Broncos had a bounty of injuries leading up to training camp, and then it seemed like they were dropping like flies. There were unconfirmed rumors of placing a bandage over the logo for a brief period of time, but nothing ever formulated.
Obviously I'm being a bit sarcastic, and every team has to deal with injuries, but it simply seemed the Broncos could not catch a break. The biggest hit obviously came when Elvis Dumervil tore his pectoral muscle, an injury that will sideline him for most of the 2010 season.
The one thing I like about injuries is that they test character. Players will have to step up in the absence of stars, and hidden gems will surface. The Broncos are fortunate that they will have a mostly healthy roster on opening day, or at least that is what we're being led to believe. Players are missing some valuable practice time, but again, it's important that they are healthy for the regular season.
The Broncos were one of the most healthy teams in the NFL last season, something they need to repeat in order to contend for the division title.
HIGH: Kyle Orton
Much has been being said about Kyle Orton, and for good reason. To see is to believe, I suppose, and I don't think I saw a single ball from Orton in the three practices I attended that wasn't a perfect spiral. Did he make some bad throws? Sure, he's human, and he's definitely not a superstar, but you can take it to the bank--Kyle Orton will help the Broncos win football games, and he is more than a game-manager.
Orton appears to have a firm grasp on Josh McDaniels' offense, something that will vastly improve the unit as a whole for this coming season. It's not completely unlike learning a second language, and Orton seems to have it mastered. He needs to get it done on the field to back all this up, obviously, but what I saw and the reports out of camp since I've left seem to confirm that Orton is going to have a big year.
I don't think 30 touchdowns is out of the realm of possibility, and I don't think 4,000 yards are either. I'm not trying to suggest that Orton is primed for a Peyton Manning caliber season, but he's so underrated right now it's beyond my belief. With as many targets as he has offensively, I'm looking for Orton to pick defenses apart this season in this offense, and I think the Broncos will take more shots downfield.
LOW: Running Backs
You can attribute much of this to the lack of experience to the line, injuries, inexperience in the offense, or any combination of those things. Whatever it was, the running backs stood out less than any other part of the team this offseason. When I was there, nobody really made any plays other than Moreno when he was out there for a brief time. Toney Baker was our most explosive back before White and Fargas arrived, showing great pop on the single-man sled in blocking scenarios.
In fact, I recall Baker being praised multiple times for his blocking prowess. That is hard to teach at this level, so he is already way ahead of the curve in that regard.
Overall though, I didn't get to see a lot from the backs, and I have not heard much great about them, but it's hard to gauge this area of the team prior to the pre-season games. Tonight's game against Cincinnat will reveal more about our running back talent and depth.
It just seemed like a different wideout stepped it up on a given day. First it was Matthew Willis. Then it was Thomas and Decker. Then it was Gaffney. Then it was Brandon Lloyd. Now it's Stokley. The only receiver you don't hear a whole lot about is Eddie Royal, and that's because he's going about his business as usual. Steady Eddie, there's not much more to it.
This unit is going to be fantastic. I have not seen an area on this team over the last couple years that is going to be harder to make a cut. In fact, the Broncos, may just keep seven guys if one can contribute on special teams. You have to figure Thomas, Decker, Royal, and Gaffney all have spots locked in. I think Lloyd has a spot on lockdown if he proves in the pre-season that his playmaking during training camp wasn't a fluke.
I think the Broncos will have a hard time choosing between Willis and Stokley. You have to gamble between the present or future, but you look at a guy like Willis who can contribute on special teams, but then you think about Stokley and how clutch he has been for this team and in his career overall.
Or you could just keep both, but that's just me.
This unit is deep, and though there is no clear-cut super-stud, this could be the deepest group on the team (gasp!).
And with that, I will leave you all on a high note!