As for every team, the 2011 Denver Broncos are going to have some questions going into camp. Depending on how this NFL Labor situation turns out, training camp really is not that far away. All 32 teams have needs to address and questions at certain positions. When you are 4-12, you are going to have more questions surrounding you than the Packers or Steelers. When you are about to be on your third head coach in four seasons (Mike Shanahan, 2008, Josh McDaniels, 2009-10, John Fox 2011-Incumbent), you know the team has a lot of problems.
The Broncos have been looking for someone to get them over "the hump." Mike Shanahan was relieved of his duties after several .500 seasons and Josh McDaniels was given the axe after not being able to get many wins for the Broncos and a spygate scandal put the final nail in the coffin. In fairness, Josh McDaniels did not have enough time I don't think to fix a defense that was very below average. It was no secret that he was an offensive guy, but questionable move after move such as trading Jay Cutler soon after McDaniels arrival, Mike Nolan leaving after one year, trading fan-favorite Peyton Hillis, trading a future first round pick for Alphonso Smith, need I go on.....?
So what are some of the questions and concerns that we are hoping that EFX (Elway, Fox, Xanders) ?
Might as well jump.. JUMP!
1) Quarterback - Most obvious question about this team and probably the most frustrating. Brady Quinn, in my honest opinion is not even a factor as much as Elway says he is. This is between Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. For the Orton supporters (any out there) you may get your wish the longer that the lockout goes on. How bad of an option would Kyle Orton be, really? I think with an improved running game that Fox will bring, along with the same passing offense with Mike McCoy, Orton can only do better. The problem that I have with Orton is the red zone production. With what is looking like a pretty strong quarterback class for next year, I think this is the season to see what Tim Tebow can do. We should take what we can get for Orton which is hopefully a 2nd and 6th. If Tebow can find a way to win us games and show that he has improved on everything mechanically, I think he will be the guy for today and tomorrow. John Fox likes veteran quarterbacks but depending on the interest for Orton after the lockout, he could be shipped off and I could see someone like Jake Delhomme finding his way to Denver and battling with Brady Quinn for number two.
2) Right Tackle - There are only two candidates for this position, but if indeed Tim Tebow becomes the starter, this becomes more important than ever for the Broncos. The battle right now is between Orlando Franklin, one of the Broncos second round picks, and Ryan Harris the veteran right tackle for the Broncos the past few seasons. It's been said already for Elway that he doesn't see Ryan Harris returning, but with about one month until training camp, I don't think anyones fate is determined. Ryan Harris has been solid for the Broncos, and arguably a top ten right tackle in the league. The problem is he is that great when healthy. He has had foot injuries and has had trouble playing a complete season, only playing in 19 of the Broncos last 32 regular season games. Orlando Franklin is a typical John Fox lineman, being a nasty and aggressive player. I am happy to see some physicality for the Broncos. Rookie offensive line is not an easy job as we saw last year, we had at one point basically three rookies playing on the offensive line.Still, I think we can get away with one. We drafted Franklin for a reason and that is for him to step in for Ryan Harris. We need a healthy core of offensive lineman. Hopefully they stay healthy this year, as it takes time for a unit to gel.
3) Wide Receiver - Wide Receiver? Why would I be concerned about this? Just because of injuries. Eddie Royal is coming off hip surgery and is hopefully ready for the season. I am starting to wonder about Eddie Royal's role with this team. He did not develop into the slot machine that we hoped in the McDaniels offense. I think part of this goes on him being in the return game. I am hoping that we don't use him there anymore and Eric Decker or Cassius Vaugn can take this role. Demarius Thomas we hope to have back by mid season. While training this year he tore his Achilles and if he has to I would rather him sit the season out to get to 100%. We hope he can be back as soon as possible as he showed signs of potential last year, with his massive frame. He did well just couldn't avoid injury. He was known to be a project coming out of college anyways, so I think in year three is when we can really expect it then. Thankfully, I think we have a lot of depth at this position. Of course Brandon Lloyd, our pro bowler last year. Then we have Jabar Gaffney, who set a career high in receptions last year. Last year's third round draft pick Eric Decker is expected to have a bigger role this year. He was one our better special teams players last season but this year I hope to see him catching more passes. He caught a touchdown late last season from Tim Tebow and has solid hands. Two other guys who I think will battle for a roster spot Brit Davis and Matthew Willis. Both looked really good last preseason and I think will battle for that final receiver spot for us.
4) Defensive Tackle - Call me captain obvious but this has to be addressed. The defense will not be fixed in one season. That is the reason why we did not draft defensive tackles. We will bring some in as soon free agency opens up. There are several possibilities but we are going to need someone to work for a couple years for us. As I wrote in a previous article, I think Justin Bannan should be brought back. If not Bannan, Jamal Williams would serve for one spot. I do not want both but someone who knows the rest of the team and would be interested in us again for sure. In a division that has two of the three teams are the top two rushing teams in the league (Chiefs, Raiders) it will hurt us this year. That is where our new loaded linebacker core will come in handy and I think there will be some growing pains this year in the run defense.
5) Second Cornerback spot - Depending on how the Perrish Cox situation turns out, we don't know where we sit at this spot. Champ is still at the top of his game but with Andre Goodman struggling with health last year, I'm not sure how I feel about Syd'Quad Thompson starting there for us. Cox developed well last year, and I truly believe our secondary was not as bad as it looked. You give any quarterback enough time, they will find an open receiver. Our outside pressure will be phenomenal this year.
A Few Things That Do Not Concern Me
Running Game - Our offensive line went through some growing pains. Knowshon Moreno I think will have a break out year if he stays healthy. We know John Fox likes to have a two back system and all the talk is about DeAngelo Williams, but I think a lot of people forget about LenDale White. He looked good last year in preseason before his injury and if he comes to camp in shape, we might have our smash and dash. Along with Lance Ball, we could be adding someone via free agency. I don't know who, but my prediction is that Correl Buckhalter is not a Bronco by the time the season begins.
Special Teams - Matt Prater is with the top kickers in this league. He has a super strong leg making a 59 yarder last year at home. He is cash late in the game. As a returner, I hope to see some returning from Decker or Vaugh. No more Eddie Royal. If DeMarius Thomas comes back healthy, than I would be okay with him returning kicks. He was pretty successful last year.
What concerns you the most about the team this year?