Posted August 16, 2013

NFL Training Camp Snapshot 2013: Denver Broncos

AFC West, Denver Broncos, Snapshots
Wes Welker's arrival in Denver gives Peyton Manning even more weapons to play with.

Wes Welker’s arrival in Denver gives Peyton Manning even more weapons to play with. (David Zalubowski/AP)

With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.

Were it not for Joe Flacco’s timely deep ball to Jacoby Jones in last season’s divisional round, would the Broncos have been the ones raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February? That question probably haunted Peyton Manning and his teammates all offseason, following a crushing 38-35 postseason setback against the Ravens.

The Broncos were the AFC’s top playoff seed, having finished the year with 11 consecutive victories. They have to be considered one of the favorites in this conference again, if for no other reason than that the Broncos still appear to be leaps and bounds ahead of their AFC West rivals.

A few key additions, both from the draft and free agency, may put Denver over the top in 2013. That is, if the Broncos can get that loss to the Ravens out of their minds.

Biggest storyline: The arrivals of Wes Welker and Montee Ball.

In Peyton Manning’s first season in orange and blue, the Broncos piled up nearly 6,400 yards of offense, good enough to finish fourth in the NFL in that category. They were second in points scored at just a touch over 30 per game. Is it feasible that this offense could be even better in 2013?

The Broncos certainly believe so after signing Welker away from New England and using a second-round pick on Ball.

Welker could make an already lethal passing attack impossible to defend. Manning’s top three receivers from a year ago — Demaryius Thomas (94 catches), Eric Decker (85 and a team-high 13 touchdowns) and Jacob Tamme (52) all return, so Manning’s biggest challenge may be keeping everyone happy.

Ball brings a different dimension to the offense, certainly one the Broncos missed as they played musical chairs at running back after Willis McGahee suffered a season-ending injury a year ago. The record-setting Wisconsin back still has to win the starting job, with Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno also in the mix. Expect Ball to do that … and to elevate the Broncos’ average ground game.

Most intriguing positional battle: Safety.

Get to know the name Duke Ihenacho. The second-year, undrafted player out of San Jose State began pushing Mike Adams for the Broncos’ starting strong safety job earlier this offseason, and now he’s threatening to run away with the competition. Ihenacho was extremely impressive, arguably the Broncos’ best defensive player in a preseason-opening win over the 49ers.

Adams has the experience edge. Now in his 10th NFL season, Adams started all of the Broncos’ games last season, including their playoff loss to Baltimore. But it was that game that may have convinced Denver it needs more playmakers in the secondary. Adams was steady in 2012, providing a reliable complement to Rahim Moore. He had very few game-changing moments, though, and failed to pick off a pass the entire season.

Ihenacho brings more of that risk-taker element to the secondary. He forced a fumble in that preseason game with San Francisco and forced 14 turnovers during his time at San Jose State.

New face, new place: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB.

The Broncos swung for the fences in free agency, signing Rodgers-Cromartie after two disappointing years in Philadelphia. Does the former star in Arizona have what it takes to revive his career? We may not know the answer until the regular season, because Rodgers-Cromartie continues to deal with a high-ankle sprain, which is threatening to keep him out for the entire preseason.

Should Rodgers-Cromartie bounce back to pre-Philadelphia form, the Broncos could have one of the AFC’s best cornerback duos in DRC and veteran Champ Bailey. Add in nickel CB Chris Harris, a very pleasant surprise in 2012, and Denver would be able to answer the tests presented to it by some of the league’s top passing offenses.

Impact rookie: Sylvester Williams, DT.

That we’re focusing so heavily on the defense in this preview is a hint that the offense, no matter who starts at running back or how many centers fall to injury, will be explosive.

The Broncos used their first-round pick in this year’s draft on Williams, a beefy, 310-pound defensive tackle from North Carolina. The Broncos entered the draft hoping to find some help for their thin defensive line, and Williams more than fit the bill. He’s expected to form a rotation at defensive tackle with Kevin Vickerson and free-agent signing Terrance Knighton, giving the Broncos some options along their front line.

Williams may wind up starting in the not-too-distant future, too. He’s a hard-worker with the ability to get off the line and into the backfield quickly, to which his 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks at North Carolina last season attest.

Looking at the schedule: The Broncos open with three of their first four games at home — good news, considering they may be without standout linebacker Von Miller, who has an upcoming appeal on a pending four-game suspension. Weeks 1 and 2 will be tricky, with or without Miller. Denver kicks off the NFL’s regular-season with a Thursday night rematch against Baltimore, then heads to New York to take on the Giants a week later.

The home schedule is extremely friendly after the Ravens visit. Denver also hosts Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Washington, Kansas City, Tennessee and San Diego in 2013, the Redskins being the only 2012 playoff team in the group. Denver’s road slate should provide more of a test. Games at Houston, New England and Indianapolis dot the landscape on top of that visit to the Big Apple.

Can the Broncos keep their intensity up all season if the rest of the AFC West struggles again? That and the quest for home-field advantage may be the only elements up in the air as Denver heads down the stretch.

19 comments
dketernal
dketernal

It's sooo true!  Did you see them in Seattle on Saturday?  Looked like a team with everything clicking..  Oh wait... nevermind.

USPM
USPM

Ah,......no they are not!!!

Scoreboard--and don't tell me it's preseason.  The donkey's were exposed just like they were last year by the Ravens.  Manning can't win a game in the postseason, even if he was matched against that perennial playoff loser, Shottenheimer. 

sporra01
sporra01

Hey Chris Burke.......how do ya like that a$$ whuppin my Seahawks put on the Broncos tonight?? Why don't you jerks at SI stop writing so many stories about ow great the Broncos are and recognize the actual talent of the NFL. Go Hawks!

OraPike
OraPike

Peyton is playing----so I will be watching the Broncos on Sundays---end of story.

Jean
Jean

Peyton will be let down by the frickin' defense--Again.

DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

@FredFlintsone uh huh.  peyton manning = great regular season qb.  beyond that, a total joke.


enjoy another playoff round exit.

Mark112
Mark112

@OraPike  

Completing a statement with "end of story" is so lame; it's even worse than "at the end of the day."

The Broncos had the title virtually gift wrapped last year until the El Foldo against the dreaded Ravens. That was Denver's last opportunity; the Broncos are "so yesterday," as you might say.  

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

@Jean  Horrible coaching. Dont think with game and Super Bowl on the  line Peyton has ever been asked on 3rd and 6  to hand the ball off for a low percentage running play followed by taking a knee on next play as  the brilliant coaching minds for Denver told him to do  in AFC championship game, horrible coaching

JeremyJanishewski
JeremyJanishewski

@Jean That's what we said in Indy for years. He is a choke artist and has terrible playoff numbers. Bob Sanders won him his only ring during a playoff run that was Manning's statistical worst. Overrated stat QB, no guts for the important wins. He's Trent Dilfer with a fresh coat of paint.

AlanHerzberg
AlanHerzberg

@JeremyJanishewski @Jean This might make sense if we were talking about Jay Cutler or Tony Romo. But really, to call Peyton Manning a "choke artist" undercuts whatever point you are trying to make. Come on.  I can accept someone's opinion that Manning is not Montana, Unitas, Favre, or whomever. But "choke artist" and "no guts?"

Alex37
Alex37

@AlanHerzberg @JeremyJanishewski @Jean 

Favre and Manning are two of the best quarterbacks of all time. They each has won multiple MVP's and each has won a Super Bowl. Both of them will be first ballot Hall of Famers. How in the world are they chokers? Is Dan Marino a choker? How about Brady? Brady lost 2 Super Bowls to the same team!! No player or team can win a championship every year. That's why we have so few dynasties in the NFL. These are the best players in the world and all great players "choke" at one time or the other if they play enough games. 

Mark112
Mark112

@AlanHerzberg @JeremyJanishewski @Jean  

Favre is the biggest choke artist of all time and you're doing Manning a disservice by comparing him to Favre. Manning did blow it against the Saints however. That's pretty difficult to refute.

AlanHerzberg
AlanHerzberg

@JeremyJanishewski @AlanHerzberg @Jean I think we are just going to disagree on this.  I will concede that Cutler is unfairly criticized, especially for his injury against the Packers in that playoff game.  Favre, I'll take him anytime, even with all his flaws, but I can respect your point of view. He's an ulcer-inducer, for sure.

But even if Manning isn't in your top 10 of all time, I can't buy the choker/gutless label.  That said, it's refreshing to see a reasoned point of view, not just the usual ranting troll.  Thanks.

JeremyJanishewski
JeremyJanishewski

@AlanHerzberg @JeremyJanishewski @Jean Look up the playoff stats and record. Believe me, I saw every game. There were a couple you can put on poor run defense later in his time in Indy, and maybe one on a drunk kicker, but most of his playoff losses came with him not coming through in the clutch. As for the guts, watch some of those games if you get the chance. Look at his face and body language when he overthrows a receiver at the worst possible time. Pouting , aww shucks shoulder dip. He's not a leader. Also, I would not put Cutler in a choke role, when did he choke. He did not choke when he ran for and passed for 2 TD's each against Seattle ( only 2nd QB to do that in the playoffs), and please let's not talk about the game where he tore his MCL and yet was called every name in the book. Also, Farve is a bigger choke artist than any. Personally cost Green Bay at least 3 rings. Against Falcons, Rams, and Giants, not to mention his historic f'up in Minnesota. Most overrated QB of all time. Sorry if you disagree man, but I saw, at least 90-95% of Mannings games in an Indy uniform and I stand by my comment.