Murder charges in New England, Broncos executives driving under the influence, idle speculation about 20-year-old Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel’s decision-making ability and personal life — it is high time training camp gets underway so we can start hearing about actual football news for a change. And with that, Broncos rookies and veterans report to camp Wednesday; practices start Thursday.
After a long off-season, here are some story lines to watch for as camp gets underway.
Position battles are usually the lead news going into training camp and preseason, but for the Broncos there’s really only one right now: running back. Who’s going to be “the guy?” While the NFL has increasingly gone to the running-back-by-committee approach, there’s still usually a lead back. Who’s going to be seeing the most carries? Ronnie Hillman has said publicly that he wants to be the guy. But at 5-10, 195 pounds and with more of a speed rushing game, it’s hard to imagine him as an every-down back. Then again, Reggie Bush made a transition to it for a while in Miami. Still, the odds-on favorite would have to be rookie Montee Ball, out of Wisconsin, who may prove to be a steal after being drafted late in the second round. He’s built to run up the middle, and he did it well playing in the Big Ten, recording a record 77 rushing touchdowns. Knowshon Moreno comes in at a distant third in the three-horse race. While he showed some flashes of long-forgotten potential last season, injuries are still a factor. It’s going to take a strong preseason for him to move higher up the depth chart. With those three, and additional depth at the position, the loss of Willis McGahee should be a non-issue.
While the acquisition of wide receiver Wes Welker made a big splash, making an already strong receiving core one of the best in the league, the Broncos made some other solid moves that may have gone under the radar. Adding defensive backs Quentin Jammer, from the Chargers, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, from the Eagles, makes for an impressive defensive backfield. While Rodgers- Cromartie apparently lost some spark in Philidelphia playing for a train-wreck of an Eagles team, he could be primed for a resurgence. He was a young corner with big upside when he left the Cardinals. Neither he nor Jammer, who is moving from defensive back to safety, are expected to unseat future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, but look for them to give him some competition. There was speculation last season that Bailey was losing a step.
Grabbing linebacker Shaun Phillips, also a former Charger, may also prove to be key with the loss of Elvis Dumervil, courtesy of “Fax-Gate,” and the possible suspension of all-pro linebacker Von Miller.
Von Miller’s story will be one to watch; he has a four-game suspension pending, but it is still unclear exactly what for. Sources have said it is not because of a performance-enhancing drug violation, and may be marijuana related.
In a statement, Miller said he “did nothing wrong.” The suspension is being appealed.
What effect the suspension of executives Tom Heckert and Matt Russel, due to DUI arrests, will have on the team is yet to be seen. Since they are not coaches it seems their suspensions could be fairly inconsequential, for now. As part of their roles involves scouting and player acquisition, it could have an effect on additional player moves the Broncos intend to make. But with a pretty solid roster in play, it would appear to be less of a concern.
Who’s ready for football?