Finally! Finally, football (in some form) is back. Yesterday’s practice was a breath of fresh air, and we heard a lot of good things about our Broncos. Von Miller is out there being his All-World Von Miller self. Bradley Chubb is impressing Fangio with his skillset. Phillip Lindsay is looking fit and sharp. Some of the young guys had a great day, and we’ll see if they carry that momentum into today’s practice as well. And it seems to have been a pretty solid day for most of the quarterbacks as well, with only Hogan struggling.
We’ll wrap up our Training Camp roundtable series today with an appropriate turn toward competition. Now that helmets are on and footballs are flying, it’s a perfect time to talk about position battles. Which battles are most interesting this year, and who do you think will come out on top?
With the team’s 1st round pick being used for tight end Noah Fant, and the team’s woeful production at the position in recent years, the competition to set the pecking order at tight end is pretty high profile this year. We’ve got the incumbent starter in Jeff Heuerman vs the rookie 1st rounder in Noah Fant vs the talented but often injured Jake Butt vs a couple of intriguing relative underdogs in Troy Fumagalli and Austin Fort.
Just_JoRo: “Tight end because it will probably have such a profound impact on the rest of the offense. Flacco has relied on a good tight end for most of his career and there’s only one guy on the roster I’d count on to become that guy.
“I don’t think he wins the job outright in camp, but Noah Fant should carve out a significant role early.”
Sadaraine: “I’m far and away most interested in our safety position and what happens in that unit. We have no more aging hold overs back there and are going to see a real battle for a bunch of young guns trying to solidify their role on the team.
Your starters are most likely Will Parks and Justin Simmons, but look out for Jamal Carter. He’s always flashed for me as a talented young player with the ability to read and react.”
Jeff: “In the vein of Sad’s comments, I think the secondary as a whole will be super intriguing to watch and see how that shakes out. We have 5 guys who I think could end up making the roster as a corner (Jackson, Harris, Callahan, Yiadom, Bausby), but Jackson also could fit into the safety position, where it is crowded as well with Simmons, Parks, Carter, and Cravens.
“Who gets those final spots and winds up being the 4th/5th corner is what I’ll be keeping an eye on.”
Kareem Jackson’s presence and position versatility have cornerback and safety intertwined for the Broncos to a degree we haven’t often seen before. There are several position battles to track in this group including starting safeties, backup safeties, and backup cornerbacks.
Adam: “I don’t want to say the same thing as everyone else, so I am going to give another battle that seems to be getting overlooked. Wide receiver. With Emmanuel Sanders coming back from injury, and Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, and Tim Patrick possibly making big strides, it will be interesting to see how that group shakes out. And will there be any other challengers, like 6th round draft pick Juwann Winfree out of Colorado. Not a battle as much as a group to watch that could have a huge impact on the offense.”
The sudden retirement of Aaron Burbridge, and his replacement by Steven Dunbar, shook up the bottom of this group right as camp started. While the top 3 guys in this group are pretty well set, there’s going to be intense competition between guys like Tim Patrick, River Cracraft, Juwann Winfree, and Trinity Benson over the 4th and 5th WR spots.
Kyle B: “Running back is an interesting one. Will this coaching staff believe in Lindsay the way the previous one did? Lindsay is a huge question mark coming off wrist injury, unsure if work load should remain the same.”
Keep an eye out to see how the 1A/1B setup between Lindsay and Freeman is sorted out, though it may end up being a week-to-week thing. But don’t forget about the rest of the RBs either. Is Devontae Booker really entrenched as the 3rd RB? Devontae Jackson impressed yesterday, Khalfani Muhammed has a ton of speed, and the team seems likely to bring back 2018 7th round pick David Williams to boot.
Ian St. Clair: “Safety and tight end are at the top of the list, but I’ll add another one just for intrigue — backup quarterback. I know Lock is setup to sit a year and just learn, but what if he does enough to warrant being the backup? I have no idea if Lock will or can do that, and there is certainly no expectation that he does. But that lack of pressure is why Lock is one to watch over the course of camp and the preseason.”
Taylor: “The backup QB battle should be pretty intriguing. There are lots of questions to answer there, though I won’t be surprised if the team is intentionally pretty quiet about this position battle. Can Hogan show enough to earn a veteran backup role? Will Lock develop enough to overtake him and be trusted as the backup? How will Rypien shape up beside those two? Is there a chance the two rookies could wind up knocking Hogan off the roster completely? Fingers crossed for a strong competition on the practice field, and calm and patient interest from the fanbase... do I ask too much?”
Joe Flacco is the unquestioned starter, but Kevin Hogan cannot afford to take it easy in his spot as the backup QB. The outcome may not even be in Hogan’s hands if Lock does well enough.
Bonus: Backup Edge Rushers
None of our staff members chose this battle when I polled them, but it’s an important one. The Broncos have arguably the best pair of edge rushers in the NFL- Miller and Chubb did in fact have more sacks combined than any other pair of edge rushers in the NFL in 2018. But the position group gets thin fast behind the dynamic duo.
Miller & Chubb may well both play 85-95% of the snaps this year, but there will be times when they’re given a break. The Broncos need guys to step up so that the defense can’t be taken advantage of in those moments. Moreover, the team needs someone to be able to step up if either of them misses a few weeks with an injury.
In that regard, Jeff Holland and Malik Reed are two young guys to watch. Both have the potential to be the next Shaq Barrett to come out of the ranks of the Broncos’ undrafted players.
Double Bonus: Inside Linebacker
I’m including this because the staff discussion happened well before yesterday’s injury to Todd Davis. Davis will be back before the regular season begins, but in the meantime Josey Jewell with his 9 starts and 459 career snaps is the lead guy in a very young inside linebacker group.
Jewell himself needs to step up from his 2018 performance, and this is a perfect opportunity for him. But someone else will need to be playing beside him in base packages, and the role is basically wide open for whoever can step up and claim it. 5th round rookie Justin Hollins is a name to watch, as is veteran Dekoda Watson. But beyond them there are also Alexander Johnson, 2018 6th rounder Keishawn Bierria, Joseph Jones, Joe Dineen, and Josh Watson.
One also wonders if the team might make some personnel moves in this position group to address the issue. But with any luck one of these guys will shine in the coming days.
Triple Bonus: Returner
On the MHR Radio Podcast (ApplePodcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher), Andrew Mason from the Broncos said he’s fascinated to see how the battle for kickoff and punt returner shapes up. He also talked about the gunners for added fun. In somewhat of a surprise, Mase thinks Booker will win the kickoff return job, and Hamilton will be the hands punt returner, a la Rod Smith in the early 2000s, inside the 10-yard line.
Which position battle is the most exciting or intriguing to you?
This poll is closed
Backup Wide Receivers
Backup Running Backs
Backup Edge Rushers