Denver Broncos training camp is going to get started in about three weeks, and I couldn't be more pumped. I was excited the last two years to go and see Tim Tebow and the boys, but this year is a different kind of excitement. Since 2008, the Broncos and their roster have had a variety of makeovers, and I am pumped to see Peyton Manning.
At this point, most reports still indicate that Manning is not 100 percent, but I have heard that he's been looking great with no contact and players probably going 75 percent. I still haven't fully come to grips with the fact that Manning is on our roster. When he hits the field and we see him throw a few passes and march us down the field in quick, impressive fashion, I think it might start to sink in. It's very difficult for me to envision the change that is about to take place for the Broncos, because even though Manning isn't 28 anymore, he is still capable of playing at an extremely high level and immediately has propelled our guys to Super Bowl status.
Even led by Tebow, a guy who very few people thought could even start in the NFL, the Broncos made it to the divisional round against New England and though we were crushed, the team was resilient through a very tough stretch of the season when players were going down and our youth was incredibly evident.
I think for training camp, the culture is going to be entirely different. The Broncos made the move to get Manning knowing it would give them a 3-5 year window of "win-now" mode. Win now as in, Super Bowl-now mode. That kind of culture is going to rub off on other players. Even some of the other additions the Broncos made post-Manning acquisition signed with the team with the thought being they had a better chance of winning a ring in Denver than anywhere else, at least for the right price and the right fit.
The great thing about the Broncos' roster is a balance of youth and veterans, especially at key positions. By balance, I'm talking about Manning/Osweiler at QB. There is a difference of roughly 15 years there. Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman at running back. Joel Dreessen and Julius Thomas at tight end. You get the picture.
Denver also has quite a few battles going on at camp, but really when you are sitting there in the blistering heat on an uncomfortable grass hill, it's hard to pay attention to anything other than receivers and defensive backs. Unless you get a good 11 on 11 or 7 on 7 battle going,
Last year, I remember being particularly impressed by Von Miller, and he certainly didn't disappoint. Still, the players you can really tell who are making progress are the guys getting the ball and going full speed, and you see some great battles between receivers and defensive backs.
Obviously a big part of that is who is throwing them the ball, and the Broncos have some very interesting storylines at the quarterback, receiver, and defensive back positions. Even though some were disappointed with the selection of Brock Osweiler in the second round, it will make the pre-season extremely relevant for me, though I was already wildly entertained by watching all of the prospects anyway.
Not only am I excited to see how Manning builds chemistry with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, I'm excited to see what other receivers emerge. Here are some names and quick hits on the guys I'll be keeping an eye out for.
17 Andre Caldwell, 27 years old, UFA via CIN
I am really excited about Andre Caldwell working the slot for the Broncos. Peyton Manning has had a lot of really valuable receivers in the slot, guys like Brandon Stokley (also a Bronco again) and Anthony Gonzalez who were/are quick as cats and really solid after the catch. Specifically, I think while Caldwell was not as highly touted as Gonzalez, he has fantastic speed, athletic ability, and strength for a receiver. Unless he has serious problems with drops, he is going to be productive in this offense because he won't attract nearly as much attention as Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker on the outside, though I still expect those guys to be really productive. Last season against the Broncos, Caldwell had three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown.
83 Jason Hill, 27 years old, UFA via JAX
Nobody is really talking about Jason HIll, and maybe for good reason. Since he was a third round pick of the 49ers, he has been a disappointment despite having excellent size at 6'0" 205 pounds and elite speed (ran a 4.32 at pro day). One thing that Hill has not yet grasped as an NFL player is how to run routes very well according to scouting reports, though admittedly being in the San Francisco and Jacksonville markets, I haven't seen him play a lot.
Last year with the Jags, he had undoubtedly the best season of his NFL career with 367 yards and three touchdowns. Hill may have only an outside chance of making the team, but here's hoping at age 27 his skills have developed enough to the point that now that the Broncos have a QB like Peyton Manning, a star at the position, his game will be automatically elevated.
19 Eric Page, 20 years old, UDFA from Toledo
Page is one of the rookies I am most excited about on this team. He was an All-American return specialist at Toledo and had three straight 1,000 yard plus seasons as a Rocket. He's also extremely young, and while he doesn't time out nearly as fast as Caldwell or Hill, he is probably faster on the field than either guy. He has amazing quickness and agility, as well as vision after the catch. The Broncos have a void at both kick and punt returner, and he has excellent experience and success in both areas. I think he has a real chance to succeed.
Those are not the only receivers I'm excited to see develop, but they are some guys that right now really stand out as we get closer to training camp as names to keep an eye on. As we get closer, I'll begin to dig into some more battles, specifically at defensive back that I'm really excited about as well.