ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos have plowed through their opening two weeks of training camp and will open the preseason Friday in Seattle.
So with that, some camp observations.
Youth will be served: In the offensive line it isn't a question of whether young players will be in the starting lineup but how many. The Broncos worked the past week with a center (Matt Paradis), left guard (Max Garcia) and a left tackle (Ty Sambrailo), with zero combined games of NFL experience, in the starting lineup. Sambrailo and Garcia are rookies while Paradis was on the team’s practice squad last year. That grouping, however, with Ryan Harris at right tackle and Louis Vasquez at right guard, even with some stumbles, was the most consistent combination the Broncos used in camp’s early going. Garcia will need to even out his work in pass protection – he’s almost all highlights or bobbles at this point – to keep the job, but the Broncos have already shown they will not back down from the idea the youngest position group may be the one protecting quarterback Peyton Manning.
Patton flashes: Solomon Patton, whom the Broncos claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has an excellent opportunity to go from a guy who was waived by a team that finished 2-14 to a spot on one that believes it’s in the Super Bowl conversation. Patton, though undersized, has been the best punt returner in the early practices and has shown some playmaking chops at receiver. Of the group of wideout trying to make a case for the final spots on the depth chart, Patton has been the best finisher of the hopeful group. If he flashes the same kind of consistency on offense in the preseason games he has repeatedly shown in practice, his return skills put him on track for a job waiting to be filled.
Manning will throw on the move: As soon as Gary Kubiak was hired by the Broncos there was plenty of conversation devoted to how Manning would fit into Kubiak’s version of the West Coast offense. And certainly while the proof will always be in what happens in the games, the early returns are that everybody is going to get along fine because it will be a combination of what Manning has done and what Kubiak wants. Manning will be under center more, but the Broncos have worked in the pistol formation to put him away from center and still keep the running back behind him the way Kubiak wants it for the play-action game. They’ll do no-huddle and yes, Manning has been accurate on the move. What makes the cut for the regular season remains to be seen, but former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer called this shot in January when he said Kubiak “will build it so Peyton can run it, because they’re both ultra smart.’’
It might really, really be Miller time: Linebacker Von Miller has been nothing short of dominant in practices. It still remains to be seen just how much Miller and some of the other defensive regulars will play in the preseason, but on a fast unit that features plenty of star power, Miller has made plays all over the field in practice, dominated 1-on-1 rush drills and is poised to put an exclamation point on a contract year.
Still need answers: The Broncos still have some wrinkles to iron out as well. At some point, with enough time to let them work a bit together, the Broncos will have to make a call in the offensive line and name the group and let them get to work. They have tried a bevy of combinations through the offseason workouts and early in training camp and they are closing in on the time when the decisions get made. The Broncos also have to choose a kicker – Brandon McManus or Connor Barth – and one of those guys has to show a little more late-game reliability to tip the scales. McManus is a better option on kickoffs, while Barth is more proven as a place-kicker. But the Broncos don't want to keep an extra kicker on the roster so one of those guys has to do both jobs and neither has made it a clear choice yet.