I did a couple of these in the preseason, but it's far more relevant now that we've made final cuts. What I'm going to do is look at each position grouping compared to last season, and see who has departed and who has arrived, and the verdict on how we have improved - Improved, Regressed, or Push. We'll be drawing from a pool of 61 players last season since there was some midseason churn, but that shouldn't affect the picture too dramatically since it was pretty limited to the edges of the roster. I'll also be ignoring the practice squad, and injured reserve, with one key exception.
Yup, we have the exact same quarterback class as last season. And it seems we don't really have any new knowledge on any of the quarterbacks. Orton might be helped by the offensive line, running backs, and scheme, but there's no real reason to believe he has improved on any of his own deficiencies. The question of if Tebow has improved has as many answers as Merrill Hoge has punctuation mistakes. And Brady Quinn looked vastly improved, but a black eye of a final preseason game leaves open the question of if it was just a mirage. The verdict? PUSH.
|Offensive Line||Ryan Harris*, Stanley Daniels, Eric Olsen, D'Anthony Batiste||Orlando Franklin*, Manny Ramirez, Tony Hills|
There are a lot of ways to judge Franklin versus Harris. Given that Franklin is a rookie, I'd consider him a step down from a healthy Harris given his experience. However, Harris was out half the season last season, and Franklin has no injury concerns at this point. As for the backups, it appears that Manny Ramirez has really come on strong in the preseason - he had some snap problems, but they improved, and it seems like he could be the quality C/G backup we've been looking for - and he beat out Stanley Daniels. Overall, with the additional experience of the line from last season, we'll mark this as IMPROVED.
|Running Back||Correll "Carl" Buckhalter, Laurence Maroney, Andre Brown||Willis McGahee|
In hindsight, everyone should have known upon the departure of Mike Shanahan that the offensive line was a time bomb waiting to happen, and that McDaniels and the running backs would have to suffer through a prolonged period of time where the line would be on its heels. I always liked Buckhalter, and he was showing sweet moves and great vision in the very last part of the season, so unless his age caught up to him in the offseason, I see his absence as a loss for the team. I also haven't seen a lot of flash from McGahee since early preseason. As for Maroney and Brown, they had minimal impact last season. So what really pushes me over the edge on this one is the renewed commitment demonstrated by Knowshon Moreno. IMPROVED.
|Wide Receiver||Jabar Gaffney*, Britt Davis||-|
We lost two players from the WR corp, including one starter, and didn't add anyone new. We're basically relying on our backups to be starter level. I think we have all sorts of fanboy reasons to believe things are improved, but I don't quite see it - I still think it is difficult to get the ball in Royal's hands (without identifying whose fault that is), and I'm not sure Decker will get the targets that Gaffney got. This is a close one, and I still think WR is one of the strengths of our team, but I'm going to say REGRESSED.
|Tight End||Daniel Graham*, Daniel Coats, Dan Gronkowski, Richard Quinn||Daniel Fells*, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green|
We got rid of three Daniels and added a fourth... if you believe as I do that Graham can still be an elite blocker, and is still an underrated pass catcher, then it's hard to see Fells as anything more than a minor improvement over him. Virgil Green seems to be the latest "project" tight end after Richard Quinn, so that seems to be a tie. But Julius Thomas appears to have far more upside as a receiver, so it's pretty clear at this point that our Tight End position is IMPROVED.
Overall verdict for Offense? We have obvious improvement with the tight ends and the line, which should help make the rest of the offense more reliable and consistent, and reduce pressure off of Orton, always a good thing for him. MODERATE IMPROVEMENT
|Defensive Tackle||Jamal Williams*, Justin Bannan*, Ronald Fields, Le Kevin Smith||Ty Warren*, Brodrick Bunkley*, Mitch Unrein|
When looked at this way, the changes don't look as extreme as it seemed earlier this preseason. We lost two starters and gained two starters. We're relying on Vickerson and Thomas to be much better than they have been in previous seasons, and according to several stats sites, Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan actually played very well last season. On the other hand, Bunkley looks like the real deal, and Ayers will be helping on the inside at times. All in all though, given Warren's injury, I have to say that the new situation is no more than a PUSH.
|Defensive End||Kevin Alexander, Jarvis Moss, David Veikune||Elvis Dumervil*, Von Miller*, Derrick Harvey|
This takes a little explanation since I think the clearest way to compare to last season is to look at our 5-2 fronts. Meaning, comparing our rush linebackers and DEs this season to our OLBs last season. For that reason, I'm considering Elvis, Von, and Ayers all as Defensive Ends. At any rate, we got rid of three backups, and replaced them with ... this is ridiculous to even go into it. I don't see how you can even look at this as anything other than CATASTROPHICALLY IMPROVED.
|Linebackers||Lee Robinson, Diyral Biggs||Nate Irving, Mike Mohamed|
We're looking at linebackers that don't line up on the edge in 5-2 fronts here. It's actually really difficult to weigh Mike Mohamed against Lee Robinson - they seemed to be very much the same player all preseason long. I've heard Mohamed's intelligence praised though, and he can apparently back up all the linebacker positions - so it may be a question of versatility. It's the presence of Nate Irving, though, that clearly marks this position as having better depth, and therefore IMPROVED.
|Safeties||Renaldo Hill*, Darcel McBath, Kyle McCarthy||Rahim Moore*, Quinton Carter|
This one is a tough one to judge. It's possible we've lucked out with Moore - but on the other hand, he's young, and I still believe that Hill was underrated, and an intelligent "quarterback of the defense". On top of that, we have only one true free safety right now, so if Moore runs into trouble, we might have problems - especially since we've lost Syd'Quan Thompson, who had safety skills. I'm dubious on this. If we had a free safety backup, I'd say improved. The Rahim Moore kool-aid sure looks tasty, but I'll guardedly say this is a PUSH.
|Cornerbacks||Nate Jones, Perrish Cox, Syd-Quan Thompson||Chris Harris, Jonathan Wilhite|
Cox, while a major problem child, had talent, and the loss of Squid hurts us. I think at this position we have clearly REGRESSED. The improvement at defensive end might very well make up for this tenfold, but we'll have to hope that injury doesn't bite us here.
Overall verdict for Defense? I'll stick to a general IMPROVED. We have some better depth in linebacking, some upside and youth at safety, and drastically better pass-rushing.
As for the team as a whole, you always have to get a bit younger due to the passage of time, but I think we've managed to do pretty well in one season - of course, some of that is due to an injured Dumervil returning, so there's an extra boost there. I think overall we're more rickety in the secondary - it could be awesome if things work out just right, but could be really bad otherwise - and have to hope and pray that we don't get another injury back there, which seems a risky hope given Dawkins' and Goodman's injury history.
Overall, it seems this team might be built towards keeping the game close, and pulling it out near the end, which doesn't seem to fit Orton's temperament very well. If I had to pick, I'd probably say 6-10. It's possible that there'll be a "virtuous cycle" of our pass rush leading to every single other game facet being massively improved, but I think that's only on the very outer edges of best-case scenario. I think we're several players away from being a contender - an elite strong safety, another great linebacker, a young shutdown corner, another couple DTs, a true downhill thunderback, and an A-grade quarterback.