Broncos face questions as offseason heats up
The Denver Post
For all Peyton Manning has accomplished as an NFL quarterback, he has zero completions and zero touchdown passes in the 2013 regular season.
Montee Ball had all those carries and rushed for all those yards and touchdowns at Wisconsin. He has zip, zip and zip as an NFL running back.
Wes Welker compiled — get this — 672 catches in his previous six seasons with the New England Patriots. He has zero catches for the Broncos.
With the start of organized team activities (OTAs) this week, the Broncos in some ways will start their 2013 season. OTAs are offseason practices, so there will be no contact, but there will be 11-on-11 sessions with Manning’s offense (No. 2 in NFL scoring last season) lining up against Von Miller’s defense (No. 2 in total defense).
In honor of the new team football operations boss John Elway has assembled, here are seven questions the Broncos can begin to answer through their 10 OTA practice sessions that will be held over the next three weeks:
1. How will Welker alter the offense? Last season, the Broncos were right at 50-50 between two-tight end sets with Jacob Tamme and three receiver groupings with slot man Brandon Stokley.
The Broncos didn’t sign Welker to be a 50-50 guy. He has been a 112-catch guy, on average, over the previous six seasons with New England.
2. Is Peyton Manning’s arm stronger, or older? Manning was question mark No. 1 last season, when he was coming off four neck surgeries that forced him to miss the entire 2011 season with the Indianapolis Colts. He is a quality season removed from those neck surgeries — but he’s also a year older at 37.
Manning’s overall efficiency last season showed that whatever arm strength he may have lost, he still had plenty. He must continue to pop a deep pass or two a game to keep defenses honest.
3.How will the running back reps shake out? Incumbent starter Knowshon Moreno should be ready after suffering a knee injury in the playoff loss to Baltimore. Willis McGahee’s attendance at Dove Valley for the Phase I and II offseason program has been spotty, as veterans occasionally see the word “voluntary” and think “don’t have to,” or he’s trying to send the Broncos a message he’s not pleased with his situation.
And there isn’t much doubt the Broncos want Ball, a second-round draft pick this year, and Ronnie Hillman, a third-round choice last year, to be their 1-2 running punch. The question is: How soon will they be ready?
4. Can Nate Irving, Steve Johnson or Stewart Bradley handle the middle linebacker position? The people who like Irving most are the people who drafted him in the third round two years ago. The thinking is Irving is ready for the “Mike” position, which comes off the field during nickel packages. And Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio used his nickel a little more than 60 percent of the snaps last season.
5. Can the new defensive front continue to bring the heat? Elvis Dumervil is no longer a Bronco. The nature of his departure will be recorded for infamous posterity — unless the Broncos show their front is better off with the promotion of Robert Ayers, signing of Shaun Phillips and first-round draft selection of defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.
6. Can the revamped offensive line keep Manning healthy through another season? Left tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder, contract dispute), center J.D. Walton (ankle) and right guard Chris Kuper (ankle) will not participate in the OTA sessions.
Denver gave its largest offseason contract to right guard Louis Vasquez, a former San Diego Charger. The team also returns its two top backups from last season in tackle Chris Clark and interior lineman Manny Ramirez.
7. Can Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie become the missing piece to the secondary? Except for the occasional late-game letup while trying to protect a decent lead, the Broncos’ secondary played admirably during the 2012 regular season. Then came the postseason, and the Broncos’ secondary was exposed.
The team signed veteran corner Rodgers-Cromartie to fill the role Tracy Porter couldn’t last season. If Rodgers-Cromartie works out, Chris Harris can concentrate on the nickel position and the safeties can occasionally help left corner Champ Bailey.
The Broncos are trying to sign veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, who visited the team last week but didn’t sign.
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