ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos take the field for their first full practice of training camp Friday morning, it will officially start the clock on the decisions to get the roster to 53 players in the coming weeks.
And for a team coming off four consecutive AFC West titles, that has won 13, 13 and 12 games over the past three seasons, they still have some big-ticket items to check off the list as they move forward. The biggest questions as they take the field Friday morning will be:
Who starts in the O-line? Louis Vasquez is a given at right tackle and the only no-questions-asked given in the starting lineup right now. Rookie Ty Sambrailo will open camp with the starters at left tackle, but things are potentially in flux at center, left guard and right tackle. Gino Gradkowski, Ben Garland and Chris Clark each got the most work with the starters at those three spots in the offseason workouts, but coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday the team will try plenty of combinations in the camp’s early going before settling on a lineup. The Broncos did work out Jake Long on Thursday, but elected not to sign him.
How long will it take Demaryius Thomas to get up to speed? Thomas skipped the team’s offseason workouts as his representatives and the Broncos negotiated what became a five-year, $70 million deal. The Broncos will limit Thomas, at least early on in camp, as they gauge his conditioning level and his grasp of the new offense. Thomas said earlier this month he believed his conditioning was at a "high level" and the Broncos had sent Thomas a playbook early in the offseason as well as video from organized team activities. But Thomas is a key part of the offense and the Broncos see no reason to risk an injury in the early going because Thomas tries to do too much.
How will the Broncos handle Derek Wolfe? Wolfe, who has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season, can participate in training camp practices and preseason games until his suspension takes effect the week before the start of the regular season. Kubiak said Thursday that despite the suspension the Broncos will give Wolfe his usual practice reps with the starters to keep him engaged in camp. "He needs to get ready for the season. We don’t want him feeling like he doesn’t have to be ready until Week 5, we want him to get ready like he’s going to be there Week 1." When Von Miller faced a five-game suspension to open the 2013 season, the Broncos had adjusted Miller’s practice time and playing time in preseason games to get other players ready.
What will quarterback Peyton Manning’s workload be? Much like they did in the offseason workouts, Kubiak will give Manning some practices off in the preseason. The hope is it will result in two benefits -- that Manning will be more physically ready for a quality stretch run and the extra work will benefit backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, whose contract is up following the season. As John Elway, the team's executive vice president of football operations/general manager, put it: "I think Peyton is on board with it, is though you can’t feel it now, if you’re doing too much work now eventually it’s going to catch up to you. It’s important that he’s going to be a part of the management process." Kubiak believes Manning already sees the benefit of the plan and the Broncos hope they get a chance to see the results deep into the postseason.