Before the season starts, I think it's important to evaluate what you know so that you can consider what you still don't. Personally, I have a lot of questions left unanswered. Here's one question that I don't know the answer to, quite yet.
Will Eddie Royal's increased size (bigger muscles) help him beat press coverage?
Last season, he had a few problems with press coverage. When he would face physical corners, it took him forever to get off the line of scrimmage and really impeded his ability to get up the field into open space and give Orton an open man. Was press coverage the reason why his 2009 season wasn't as good as his 2008 season? Perhaps. Once defenses figured out that they just needed to get up on the line of scrimmage and push Eddie Royal off of his route, they did. It worked.
Eddie Royal has been notified of this, as well, and he has obviously put on some muscle to counteract that. The reason that I still don't know the answer to my question is because nobody has really pressed him in preseason. Eddie Royal does look stronger, but what I'm anxious to see is his technique. How is he going to use his hands and quickness to get off the line of scrimmage?
So, that's just one example of something that we don't know the answer to, yet. Let's continue on with a few things that we do know.
This team is being built through the draft.
We're talking about a team that has 9 draft picks that made the roster and figure to make an impact this year or next. Even more, 5 rookies may see significant playing time this season (Thomas, Decker, Cox, Walton and perhaps Beadles) while the other 4 show significant promise as backups and may get some starting time in the future if they continue to improve.
To me, this is one of the things that I am most excited about under the McDaniels regime. I like how we focus more on the draft than we do in free agency. The Shanahan "fill a hole with an expensive free agent" approach is fine if you are one step away from a Super Bowl, but it is no way to build a team. McDaniels seems to enjoy stockpiling picks and drafting tough, smart, physical football players to build a team around. I'm excited to see how much more tough we are than last season, where it seemed we were getting worn down as the season progressed. That's not what a tough football team does at the end of the season.
Kyle Orton will start.
This is one of the most obvious statements that we could make at MHR, but it's a statement that many in the MSM will find hard to hear. As much fun as it is to talk about Tebow playing in the NFL this year, he won't. Kyle Orton is going to start and he will be successful. He has had a very good preseason going 38/57 for 397 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (one of which was tipped by Lance Ball into the opportunistic arms of Dre Bly).
Orton has played with decisiveness, poise, and swagger for all the games he has participated in. A few bumps in the road have occurred, but he is vastly improved in comparison to the beginning of the 2009 season. This season, he has yet to be boo'd out of Mile High Stadium and he hasn't broken his finger on any helmets. Knock on wood.
The wide receiver depth on this team is fantastic.
I don't remember being this deep at wide receiver, ever. We may not have the big name wide outs, but we can put a 5 WR set on the field that will challenge every team in the NFL. Remember in the 2003 playoffs against the Colts where we were destroyed by Peyton Manning? It's a painful memory, I know, but I believe we have a group of wide receivers that will be similar to that. Who cares if we go against a team with a Champ Bailey equivalent? We'll just throw to the other wide receivers all day long.
The offensive line is young, talented, and nasty.
Our offensive line isn't afraid to bust you in the mouth... or the forehead. I love the fact that J.D. Walton showed a little bit of nastiness when he cut a gash in the forehead of James Farrior. Was it dirty? Perhaps, but I'd rather our offensive line put a guy on the bench and show some physicality than to just roll over and play dead. The ref's whistle had not blown and Farrior's helmet had fallen off after Walton lowered his head. It happens and I am of the belief that Walton didn't do anything wrong. Lowering your shoulder when a player is on the ground is a part of the game... right James Harrison?
It has been an interesting off-season along the offensive line. With acquisitions in the draft and injuries to both of our offensive tackles, many believed that the offensive line would be our biggest issue (especially the interior). However, I was taken aback in week 4 as I heard a lot of concern about our offensive tackles and not much talk about our interior. This speaks volumes for Walton and Beadles, in my opinion, who have played the majority of snaps during the preseason. The fact that people aren't moaning about two rookies giving up big plays all the time is a testament to how they performed during the past month. Granted, Beadles did not show enough to earn a starting role. However, he showed me that he has significant promise in the future and could certainly earn some starting time if an injury arises or a starter doesn't continue to perform very well.
We are getting healthier.
"Healthier" is a relative term, in this case. Especially when you consider how, a month ago, we would lose about 2 players a day due to injury. Doom won't be playing in 2010 and neither will Brandon Stokley, Lendale White or Kenny McKinley (for a second straight season). Other than that, we should have most of our guys returning to the playing field this week, which is comforting. To be honest, after a few weeks of training camp, I was wondering if we would even have enough guys to fill the roster. I'm happy to report that we did fill the 53 man roster and the only projected starter on injured reserve is Elvis Dumervil. We'll miss him, but it could certainly be a worse situation.
Thus concludes the things of which we can be certain. Now, let's explore some topics that we may not know the answer to but are eager to discover as the season rolls on.
What We Do Not Know
Never before have I had so many questions about what the season will bring. In addition to the Eddie Royal question that I proposed earlier, there are many other questions that I am hoping to have answered. Many of these questions I will address during the season, in hopes of answering them. Some may be answered in a matter of days while others may take years to pan out. With that said, here are a few questions that I am looking to have answered.
- Will Daniel Graham be healthy soon? To be honest, I had no idea he had a chest injury until Wednesday. There was no big news story about it and either the media didn't find out or didn't care enough to report it.
- If Daniel Graham can't play this week, does McDaniels trust Richard Quinn, at this point, enough to give him significant play time?
- If that's not the case, does he put his faith in Dan Gronkowski during his first full week as a Denver Bronco?
- Was Gronkowski brought into Denver because McDaniels didn't think very highly of Quinn?
- Has Demaryius Thomas fully healed?
- If not, how long will it take for Thomas to recover?
- Will Thomas ever be truly "healthy"? It seems like the guy has been injured forever.
- If Thomas plays in week 1, is it because he is fully healthy or because we just want to see him on the field? I hope it's the former.
- Is Darcel McBath injury prone or just the most unlucky person in the world?
- Can Nate Jones provide more for the 2010 Broncos than Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson can, despite their youth?
- Will Eddie Royal continue to return kicks, despite the work that Cox, Thompson and Willis put in during the preseason?
- Is Russ Hochstein the most versatile player on the Broncos roster? He is the backup for 3 positions on the depth chart. If not, what about Spencer Larsen, Eddie Royal, Nate Jones, other
The next two are in bold, so prepare yourself. I'll be playing particularly close attention to these questions as the season progresses.
Will our run defense last?
This is still very much a question in my mind after finishing 2009 as one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. Then we got run over in the preseason and I'm left scratching my head. Sure, much of the damage was due to poor tackling and lack of gap discipline from our second and third stringers but the big gains allowed against the Bengals, especially, keep me up at night wondering if we can put the pieces together when the real games start. We'll find out in a few days, won't we?
Will we fade down the stretch in 2010?
I mentioned in my fanpost "Orton Theories" from a while back, some reasons for Kyle Orton statistically fading down the stretch (along with the rest of the team. I said in my article how Orton's ankle and the offensive line contributed to the lack of production. This leads me to yet another thing I am looking for. I'm going to be looking for - and I'll tell you beforehand that it is a long term issue - how the passing game (Kyle Orton) has improved in 2010 (or not). Yes, our passing game looked outstanding in the preseason and there is no reason to believe that it will be unsuccessful on the road against the Jaguars. However, I want to see the full picture. Let's see a handful of games (about 8 to 10 games) so that we that we can have enough data points to determine a trend. If we dominate the first 5 games and then, for whatever reason, can't score points in weeks 6 through 10 then we have a problem. However, we won't be able to say after week one, "Yes, everything is better" or "Oh no, nothing has been fixed". One game is too small a sample size to determine the answers to these questions.
Like I said before, some of these things that I am wondering won't be answered in week 1. Many of them won't even be answered in week 10. For now, let's just keep some of these questions in the back of our minds and enjoy our week one victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.