Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Case Keenum. Backups — Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly.

For the first time in his career, Keenum heads into training camp as the clear, unquestioned starter. His presence provided a stabilizing influence for the offense during OTAs. While the Broncos hope he can be explosive, his primary job is to eliminate the mistakes from the quarterback position that plagued them last year. Lynch, who has started four games the last two seasons, gets a chance to hit the reset button on his career as a backup. Kelly, who had flashes of brilliance and periods of difficulty during OTAs, is the wild card in the group; after spending last year recovering from wrist and knee injuries, he is in his first training camp. General manager John Elway has said that Kelly will compete with Lynch to be the No. 2, but during offseason work, Lynch had the second-team reps.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Devontae Booker, FB Andy Janovich. Backups — Royce Freeman, De’Angelo Henderson, Phillip Lindsay, Dave Williams.

No position on the roster is more wide open as the Broncos try to replace C.J. Anderson, who was cut in April and subsequently signed with Carolina. Booker has the edge with his experience, but head coach Vance Joseph liberally rotated his running backs during OTAs and minicamp. Even Lindsay, an undrafted rookie from Colorado who projects as a third-down back, got some first-team repetitions during springtime work. Freeman looks like he could be an every-down presence, but with this group stacked closely together, the Broncos could opt for a committee approach.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jeff Heuerman. Backups — Austin Traylor, Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli, Matt LaCosse, Brian Parker.

Heuerman has the advantage of repetitions with Keenum throughout OTAs, but he is in the final year of his contract and hasn’t produced as the Broncos hoped he would have after struggling with injuries his first two seasons. The primary hope for the position rests with Butt and Fumagalli, although Fumagalli was injured during OTAs and watched from the sideline. Butt missed his rookie season in 2017 because of a torn ACL suffered at Michigan, but shined during OTAs and could become the red-zone threat the Broncos have lacked from the position the last two seasons.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders. Backups — Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Jordan Taylor, Isaiah McKenzie, Carlos Henderson, Kenny Bell, John Diarse, Jimmy Williams, River Cracraft, Tim Patrick, Jordan Leslie.

When healthy, Thomas and Sanders remain an effective and productive duo. The intrigue rests behind them on the depth chart, where 2018 draft picks Sutton and Hamilton could be a future starting duo. For now, they will battle for the No. 3 spot. If the Broncos go for a traditional slot receiver, Hamilton has an edge. If they want to move their receivers around — including Sanders to the slot in sub packages — Sutton could get the nod. Taylor will start camp on the PUP list following two hip surgeries and could be sidelined into the regular season. McKenzie and Henderson could be fighting for a single spot after disappointing rookie seasons led to the addition of Sutton and Hamilton in this year’s draft.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Garett Bolles, LG Ron Leary, C Matt Paradis, RG Connor McGovern, RT Jared Veldheer. Backups — G Max Garcia, G/T Menelik Watson, G/T Billy Turner, G Sam Jones, T Cyrus Kouandijo, T Elijah Wilkinson, G Jeremiah Poutasi, C/G J.J. Dielman, T Andreas Knappe, T Leon Johnson.

Denver did not have its intended starting quintet together during OTAs; Leary and Veldheer both watched from the sideline as they recovered from injuries. Watson worked at right guard throughout the offseason after a disappointing 2017 campaign at right tackle; the Broncos want desperately to get some value out of him after signing him in free agency last year. The competition for reserve spots is wide open and could be settled by versatility, which could help Turner, who can handle both right-side spots and can work on the left side in a pinch.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DE Derek Wolfe, DE Adam Gotsis, NT Domata Peko Sr. Backups — DE Shelby Harris, DE DeMarcus Walker, DE Clinton McDonald, NT Zach Kerr, DE Stanley Maponga, DE Caushaud Williams, DE DeShawn Williams, DE/NT Paul Boyette Jr., NT Kyle Peko.

Much of the Broncos’ strength against the run came from up front, with Domata Peko looking young and spry before he suffered a late-season injury. The Broncos need Wolfe to stay healthy and for Gotsis to take the next step in his development. Harris and Kerr provide solid depth. Walker, who struggled last year at outside linebacker, moves back to his originally intended position, which should allow him to use his quickness to his advantage against interior offensive linemen.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Von Miller, OLB Shaquil Barrett, ILB Brandon Marshall, ILB Todd Davis. Backups — OLB Bradley Chubb, OLB Shane Ray, ILB Zaire Anderson, ILB Josey Jewell, ILB Keishawn Bierria, OLB Jeff Holland, OLB Marcus Rush, ILB Joe Jones, ILB Jerrol Garcia-Williams, ILB Bo Bower.

With Ray starting camp on the PUP list as he recovers from wrist surgery, Barrett and Chubb have the chance to play extensively. Barrett, a starter early last season while Ray was injured, will have to hold off Chubb, who looked dominant at times during OTAs. Jewell will have the chance to earn playing time if he flourishes this summer. Marshall has dropped 11 pounds this offseason to improve his work in coverage.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Chris Harris Jr., CB Bradley Roby, S Darian Stewart, S Justin Simmons. Backups — CB Tramaine Brock, CB Brendan Langley, S Will Parks, S Su’a Cravens, CB Isaac Yiadom, CB Marcus Rios, S Jamal Carter, S Dymonte Thomas, S Jordan Moore, S Trey Marshall, CB C.J. Smith, CB Michael Hunter.

The March trade of Aqib Talib moved Roby up to an every-down role as he plays on his fifth-year option. While Roby has proven he can be an opportunistic and aggressive cornerback, questions loom behind him. Brock has experience, but the Broncos would love to see one of their recent third-round picks — Langley (2017) or Yiadom (2018) emerge as at least a reliable No. 4 cornerback, if not challenge Brock for the No. 3 role. The Broncos have solid depth at safety, with Cravens and two special-teams standouts in Parks and Carter, both of whom could eventually challenge to start.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Brandon McManus, P Marquette King, LS Casey Kreiter, PR Jordan Taylor, KOR Phillip Lindsay, KR/PR Isaiah McKenzie, KOR/PR Brendan Langley, PR DaeSean Hamilton, KOR Carlos Henderson, KOR De’Angelo Henderson.

McManus hopes to get back on track after a sub-par 2017 that included unexpected struggles at home. King, who the Broncos signed in April, should upgrade the punting game, especially at mile-high elevation. The return competition is wide open, but McKenzie will be given every opportunity to earn back the job while Taylor remains sidelined as he recovers from two hip surgeries. If McKenzie’s fumbling problems return, he will be on thin ice, opening the door for competitors to emerge.