Training camp has come and gone. The whistles on the important pre-season games have been blown. Evaluation is in twilight, and the 2013 season is coming into focus.
Most loyal prognosticators, spitballers, and naysayers, I pronounce these inescapable truths about the Denver Broncos, having digested the appetizer and entree of this, our 2013 preseason.
1. The RB situation will not be solved by Week 1.
John Fox will "name" a "starter." But for all the debate, equivocation, and guesswork, what the stable of running backs did against the Rams was nothing but further complication of the matter. Hillman lost another crippling fumble. This makes it three fumbles in 22 rushes, a preposterously, hilariously bad average. Hillman finally came alive in the STL game, but ultimately his preseason line ended up like this: 22 carries for 77 yards (3.5 YPA). Yawn. Montee showed some strength at the goal line, quenching at least this Denver fan's thirst for a true goal line back. But he stonehanded a sure reception, missed yet another pass protection assignment, and has been marked by inconsistency.
And then, wouldn't you know it, everyone's favorite running back to hate (no, not you Lance Ball) came crashing into the party to remind everyone he's still the most reliable hand on deck. None other than Knowshon Moreno. Smart running. Sure hands. Great pass protection. Is this our week one starter?
2. The exciting new starters will come with headaches.
Julius Thomas is the ultimate enigma. The training camp warrior always looks like he is about to do something incredible. A solid lane-opening block! Eureka, he's a tight end! A missed assignment on an extra point. Dang, he's an inexperienced freak athlete. He makes a great catch in the backfield! He loses two yards. If you show me a healthy Joel Dreessen, I show the Juice the bench. But with the rumblings of Tamme's eventual departure, Julius Thomas will feature prominently on this 2013 team. He'll make you leap out of your seat. He'll make you bury your head in your hands.
Speaking of which, don't crown Duke Ihenacho the next Brian Dawkins just yet. He's young and athletic, and he plays inspired football. But every down consistency and aggressive, surefire tackling are still of immediate concern. He has to play smart, not just inspired. It takes a long time to master the intricacies of playing impeccable secondary defense. Temper your expectations. Veteran QBs will be targeting this young man, the least experienced in an otherwise very crafty secondary.
3. Trindon Holliday will never stop being Trindon Holliday.
He's small, and his hands aren't going to grow. Stop praying he's not going to drop some punts or fumble now and again. He will. Brock's interception falls directly on Holliday. He let the DB easily shrug by him and take position. Why? Because he's a 5'5" track star split out against a pro defensive back. Give him the ball in space and grab your popcorn. But the day will never come when you can stop holding your breath on punts or offensive plays called for him. He will continue to make questionable decisions mentally and physically. He'll always be Heart Attack Holliday. Or Trindon Hollidanger. The man is like a packet of Black Cats. When you light the fuse will they explode into a million pieces? Or be an utter disappointment and total waste? He certainly will never be anything in between.
4. There are some very likable names about to be shown the door.
Count me one who was excited to see Quentin Jammer sign. I'll be sad his story didn't work out. Is this the end of the Quinton Carter experiment? Perpetually injured, despite tantalizing potential. Mike Adams will edge him out for veteran presence and physical reliability. Q. Carter has "signed by another team in need, begins to flourish" written all over him. I'll cringe when I see him go, but I wouldn't advocate any differently. And what does a conservative coach like Fox do at TE? Dreessen is the best all around player. Green is the best blocker. Tamme knows the offense and was probably the most versatile and under-appreciated weapon in the entire offense last year. "We base everything we do on how the defense plays Tamme," Manning once said. Does the ever-spine-tingling Thomas really fill Tamme's role seamlessly? Is he going to be able to audible on the fly? Get ready to say goodbye to someone you like.
Bonus: Why, oh why did Lerentee McCray have to go and block that kick today? Now his fans, count me as one, will point to that as an exciting reason for him to make the roster as a potential playmaker. Naturally, it was a breakdown on St. Louis' part, and McCray simply executed when an opportunity arose. But his chances of making the team (slightly better with Von out for awhile) are still remote. Please pass waivers, McC!
5. Our defensive line is deeper and more talented than you think.
Derek Wolfe, he the most baddest of asses, is going to continue to crush pockets, penetrate the middle, and grow into the force we know he will (but please tap the brakes on the JJ Watt comparisons). Malik Jackson looks smarter and hungrier. Mitch Unrein continues to make plays as top-line rotational lineman. And while Knighton and Vickerson won't inspire Pro Bowl fantasies, when the stats count and the points matter, Broncos Nation will like the production from DL rotation. Everybody talking about Robert Ayers holding the keys to success see only part of the picture. Whether or not Ayers can get to the QB consistently is just a fraction of the occasion. Can they all universally apply pressure? Can they stop the run? Can they contain mobile quarterbacks? Ayers will not decide the fate of this talented group if he can't get to the QB. And if he can't, Quanterus Smith is lurking in the dark. (Jeremy Beal would gladly take his spot, and certainly deserves consideration for #4 above).
The Super Bowl expectations may have merit, but this team is decidedly different from the one that went 13-3 last year. It's a long season, and the suspension of he who must not be named will certainly impact the trajectory of the season, if not the final result. But while it certainly is no time to panic, sometimes one must remove the orange-colored glasses, polish them off, and slide them into a drawer until Baltimore comes to town.