ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have a handful of organized team activities remaining in their offseason program before they adjourn for the football summer.
But this past week they closed out their mandatory three-day minicamp, and that's the best time to take pause and what questions remain for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Whither Von? The Broncos say they want a long-term deal with linebacker Von Miller -- as John Elway put it "Von knows how I feel about him" -- and Miller has said he wants to be "a Bronco for life." But a six-year, $114.5 million offer, with $58 million in potential guarantees, $38.5 million of those guarantees in the first two years of the deal, weren't enough to make it happen. If no deal is made by July 15, then Miller can either play under the one-year, franchise player tender (just over $14 million) or sit out. If the Broncos will move some of the guaranteed money and Miller’s representatives are willing to live with something on the order of the $114.5 million (which would be the largest deal ever for any position other than quarterback) a deal could be made. If everybody is more interested in "the win," then the defending Super Bowl champion will have to explain why it couldn’t sign one of "its guys" and Miller will have to explain why he turned down the biggest contract ever for a defensive player. And that’s not conducive to a Super Bowl repeat.
Who’s the quarterback? It’s Mark Sanchez until coach Gary Kubiak does something that indicates otherwise. The Broncos worked with a traditional depth chart look in minicamp and Sanchez worked with the starting offense all week. Trevor Siemian is pushing Sanchez with purpose and consistently has shown his year in the Denver offense in 2015 helped. But Sanchez looked comfortable in the role as the offense's leader through the week, and if he remains efficient in red zone opportunities in particular in training camp and the preseason, he'll still have the look of the starter for the regular-season opener.
If the Broncos played tomorrow? The offensive line looks like it would be Russell Okung at left tackle, Ty Sambrailo at left guard, Matt Paradis at center, Max Garcia at right guard and Donald Stephenson at right tackle. Sambrialo, who had shoulder surgery last season, got some limited work as minicamp progressed, while Okung still is working back from offseason shoulder surgery. But that’s the group the Broncos want when training camp breaks. And Paradis, who was the only Broncos player on offense or defense to play 100 percent of the snaps last season, said Okung already has shown the veteran leadership needed with the kind of turnover the Broncos have had up front. Paradis could be the only Broncos offensive lineman who started the Super Bowl to start this year’s opener in the same spot.
What will be the tightest position battles in camp and into preseason? Start at running back, where C.J. Anderson showed up intent on being an every-down back and in the best shape of his career. "Just watching him, I think his conditioning level is the best that I’ve seen it since I’ve been here," Kubiak said. "He’s had a really good offseason." Ronnie Hillman looks like he came in dialed in as well. Rookie Devontae Booker already has made it clear it will be difficult to keep him off the field with his ability as both a runner and receiver, while Juwan Thompson plays both running back and fullback to go with a full slate of special teams. Toss in the fact fullback Andy Janovich was a draft pick, and you have the makings of a tight squeeze where somebody who could play in the offense doesn’t fit on the roster. Also, it will be a tight race for the third, fourth and fifth receiver spots, and get out your stopwatches to measure hang time in camp because rookie punter Riley Dixon and veteran Britton Colquitt will be under the magnifying glass every day.
So, are the Broncos ready to defend their title? They compete hard in practice -- the seven-on-seven drills this past week with their front-line receivers and the starting secondary offered high-quality skirmishes, for example -- and the core of a title winner is still in place. But what happens with cornerback Aqib Talib, who suffered a gunshot wound in an incident still shrouded in plenty of mystery, and the ongoing Miller saga are just the kind of big-ticket dramas that can derail a team, even one as good as the Broncos, if they aren’t handled right.