ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In just more than a week, the Denver Broncos players will report to training camp to formally begin an arduous déjà vu trek from the most painful of lost football opportunities through a new season.
Last season the Broncos turned the crushing disappointment of a double-overtime playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens to close out the 2012 season into a Super Bowl trip this past February. This time they have tried to excavate themselves from a 35-point Super Bowl loss and emerged from free agency and the draft in the on-paper discussion about title contenders.
“Every guy on this team knows what kind of team we have," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “Everybody knows what it will take to get where we want to go. If they don’t, they won’t be here."
So, now the plan becomes action. And over the next week we’ll take a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.
How many coming to camp: 4
How many will the Broncos keep: In two of the previous three years of the John Elway/John Fox regime, the Broncos have had three quarterbacks on the opening-week roster -- 2011 and 2013.
Last season they kept rookie Zac Dysert on the roster for the entire season as well as the playoffs. Dysert, a seventh-round pick in in the 2013 draft, spent the season as what quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp calls "a young 'un" in the room with Peyton Manning. And in the end, if the Broncos saw enough from Dysert last season -- even through a pile of injuries on defense that saw five starters eventually go to injured reserve -- to keep him on the roster all year, it would seem to take a rather large change of heart this time around for the team not to keep three passers once again.
Elway, after all, has made preparing for the team's eventual life after Manning a priority on the depth chart.
However, because of players coming back from injury or switching positions, there will be a lure to keep an extra offensive lineman or defensive lineman and a return specialist this time around. If that is indeed the case, that roster spot may have to come from the luxury that is a No. 3 quarterback.
The guy to watch: Manning is the unquestioned alpha dog in the quarterbacks’ meeting room and the locker room overall. Monitoring his health over the course of the season, including arm strength, will mirror this team’s performance for the most part.
But the guy to keep a particular eye on is No. 2 quarterback Brock Osweiler. Because it’s time, in his third season, for Osweiler to repeatedly show proficiency and efficiency running the team’s offense in both practice and any gameday snaps he might get.
The Broncos like his work, his power arm, his approach and his confidence in the huddle as he has continued to show progress at almost every turn. Now it’s time for Osweiler to show the skills he does in some of the two-minute work he gets in practice on a more consistent basis. It's time for him to look more, well, ready. It will take a rather conflicted mix of patience and aggressiveness for him to keep his edge as he continues to wait for his turn, but that's exactly the line he must walk for a team that wants all its "what ifs" covered in a potential Super Bowl run.
Break it down: Even after hanging a single-season record 606 points on opposing defenses last season, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase did not go quietly into the good night of an offseason status quo.
No, the Broncos tweaked the playbook plenty as they look to be more efficient running the ball, even as they keep their foot to the floor in the passing game. Minicamp practices showed Gase has no intention of reeling things in.
They do, however, need to protect Manning better than they did in '13. He was sacked just 18 times last season, but while his anticipation and knowledge of defenses will always keep the sack totals down, the Broncos have to better limit the premium hits on Manning.
Those are the kind that force him to wear ankle braces, as he did last season, after several of those premium hits from Jacksonville and Indianapolis -- the kind that come when the Broncos can't hold the blind-side edge, but especially when they allow a rusher to warp the pocket in the middle of the field. The post-surgical Manning has a more lower-body-driven throwing motion and he needs slightly more room to step into the throw than he did before his spinal fusion. That makes those precious yards in front of Manning in the pocket the most prized real estate for players on both sides of the ball.
And those protection schemes will get a long look in training camp as the Broncos look to settle in on the lineup in front of Manning.