It really felt like we had a ton of injuries last year that contributed to the Broncos horrible year. I understand that injuries aren’t an excuse (look at the Packers) but for a team lacking talent and depth in many positions it can really affect performance. I want to look forward to this year and examine what we will get to see from some healthy guys this year so let us take a look at the Broncos players who are returning from injuries or were affected by injuries last year and what kind of impact/contributions we might get from them this year...
Elvis Dumervil: (Starter)
We lost Dumervil for the entire season last year and our pass rush definitely suffered. We are moving back to a 4-3 and Dumervil had his best season in a 3-4, but he was productive in a 4-3 as well and I think he will have double digit sacks in Fox’s system this year. I am guessing somewhere between 10-15 sacks.
Andre Goodman: (Starter)
Played very little last year due to a nagging quad injury and struggled when he did play. Goodman isn’t a Pro Bowler but he is a solid veteran and can hold his own opposite Champ. Goodman will probably battle it out with Cox (if he doesn’t go to jail) for the spot opposite Champ and I think he will start. Cox had moments last year where he looked good but just as many where he didn’t. Goodman would make fewer mistakes and be an improvement over Cox this year.
A very talented and promising FS who has yet to play a full season. I was hoping he would surpass Hill last year but injuries hampered him once again. We drafted Rahim Moore and Quentin Carter and they look to be the future Safeties for this team so even if McBath remains healthy I doubt he is going to start over Moore, Dawkins, or Carter unless he really shows something special in training camp. At best, I think he provides great depth.
Robert Ayers: (Starter)
Ayers started off the year looking solid at OLB before breaking his foot midway through the season. He hasn’t shown he is the best pass rusher but is very good against the run even though playing out of position. I think a good training camp and moving back to a 4-3 LDE Ayers will have much more of an impact on the game. It would be nice to have him completely healthy to help shore up our atrocious run defense and move inside to rush the passer from on 3rd down. Ayers is not super fast and athletic but he is strong and has a very solid bull rush. I’m hoping he gets 5-10 sacks this year and he probably will have to in order to keep his job
Brian Dawkins: (Starter)
Dawkins missed some games last year and when did play his on field performance was pretty bad and I think some of it had to do with his nagging injury. Dawkins is definitely aging and looked like a liability in coverage but if he can stay healthy this year I think he will be strong against the run and most likely contribute on 1st and 2nd down. I think his biggest impact this year will be his leadership grooming of the young guys coming.
Knowshon Moreno: (Starter)
Knowshon had two pulled hamstrings last year that set him back in training camp and early in the season. I feel these injuries have really set him back in his development. He has underperformed for most of his first 2 years but started to look like a solid RB towards the end of last year. If Knowshon can stay out of injury trouble this year he may turn into the solid 3-down back we all hoped he would be when draft in the first round in 2009. We all now he will get help this year with Fox taking over but barring injury he should be our starter for the 2011 season and I think he will surpass 1,000 yards this year with our new run attack.
Thomas was hampered by foot and ankle injuries from the get go last year and looks like he won’t be back until mid-season this year due to a tear of his Achilles. We all know Thomas has huge potential because he is Big and Fast but he needs practice running routes and adjusting to the NFL game. Without that this year I don’t expect much from Thomas at all. I can only hope he comes back from his injury fully recovered and makes some progress at the end of the year so he can get a head start on becoming the big time receiver in 2012 that we drafted him to be.
Decker got off to a slow start after going down in training camp but finally got on the field towards the middle of the year and showed some potential. He has good size and great hands and if he stays healthy through camp and has some time to adjust to the NFL game I would not be surprised if he ends up our #2 receiver over Gaffney or filling in for Eddie at the slot. I am really high on Decker so I am going big and projecting between 40-60 catches this year.
Willis was the training camp standout last year that made some great plays. He is smaller but has good speed and hands. I doubt he pushes Eddie or Decker for the slot position but with Eddie coming off surgery you never know. I am guessing Willis will end up playing behind Eddie and maybe getting time as the 4th or 5th receiver on the depth chart and contributing to special teams.
Ryan Clady: (Starter)
Clady came back from his serious knee injury last year but wasn’t very effective for the first half of the season. He was noticeably affected by his knee and his performance was below par for a top tackle He looked much better towards the end of the year and I believe that with a full offseason under his belt without injury Clady will return to his dominant form in 2011 and it will drastically improve our O-line from the poor outing last year.
Lendale was signed on to play the role of our short yardage back and was looking good until he tore his Achilles tendon in our last preseason game. With White out and Moreno struggling through injuries the Broncos had one heck of a time rushing the ball, especially in short yardage situtation. My hope is to have Lendale back fully healthy for the start of training camp to help carry the load with Moreno and whoever else we bring in. If Lendale can fully recover it will drastically help in short yardage and goal line situations. I am thinking Lendale will get 5-10 carries a game and score 7 TDs.
Overall we had a ton of injuries last year that affected the play of a number of key players. I feel that with the amount of guys returning this year we are getting an extra draft. Hopefully we can finally lose the injury bug and have 10-15 players this year that can compete for starting positions or contribute considerably. Come on Broncos, lets stay healthy and prove we have some talent!!