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Broncos still have questions, but Peyton Manning not one of them

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will formally close their offseason program, which began April 13, with their last set of organized team activities (OTAs) this week. But with last week’s mandatory minicamp now formally in the books, here are the top three offseason takeaways on offense:

It ain’t over till it’s over: The battle for the starting running back job will leave no room for complacency and could very well end up in what Montee Ball has already described as a “1-A and 1-B" rotation.

And while that would be an endless source of aggravation to fantasy football players, it is a potential Broncos reality. C.J. Anderson will exit the offseason workouts at the top of the depth chart, as he has shown better conditioning and performed better in team work than he did in last year’s offseason program, when he exited at No. 3 on the depth chart.

But Ball is driven to regain a starting job he lost because of injury last season and has performed that way this spring. The position group is young overall with six backs -- Anderson, Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Jeremy Stewart and Kapri Bibbs -- the Broncos believe they could use in a game if needed. And it’s unlikely six make the roster, even with a fullback now in the mix.

Still a work in progress: The Broncos lost two front-line players -- tight end Jeff Heuerman and tackle Ryan Clady -- to season-ending ACL injuries during the offseason program.

As soon as Clady suffered his injury, the Broncos had four starting jobs open on the offensive line.

And as minicamp drew to a close, here’s where coach Gary Kubiak put things: “I think that if right now we went to camp, we would have a pretty good idea how we’re going to line up and go. ... So, I think we know how we’re going to line up with ones and twos and threes right now. But how it’s going to end up, I don’t know. We’ll see."

The Broncos like what they’ve seen from rookie Ty Sambrailo at left tackle, as Clady’s replacement, and have had some optimism confirmed with Ben Garland at left guard. If Garland can take the final step and show physicality to go with quality decision-making when the pads go on, he should be able to keep the job.

Matt Paradis is pushing veteran Gino Gradkowski at center -- Gradkowski took most of the snaps with the starters in the offseason work -- and rookie Max Garcia has performed well enough to push himself into the conversation.

The Broncos saw Michael Schofield, a game-day inactive each week last season, respond to Clady’s injury. And at this point the thinking is Schofield could still power his way into a starting job at one of the tackle spots, most likely right tackle, with some quality work early in training camp.

Kubiak, who said early in the offseason he’d like to know the five starters up front when training camp opens, has clearly shown he’ll wait a little longer to make those decisions. But the Broncos, despite saying they'd be willing to wait until the week before the season opener to formally make the call on the open starting jobs, really would like to put a bow on it sooner rather than later, so the first three weeks of training camp could very well tell the tale.

"All in" means all in: So much of the offseason conversation around the Broncos has been expended about whether or not quarterback Peyton Manning does, or doesn’t, fit the offense Kubiak wants for the Broncos.

For his part, Manning said he’s "committed" and "all in" for the new playbook. And while they kept plenty of what’s to come under wraps, it’s evident Kubiak has done exactly what former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said Kubiak would do. Plummer, who has run an offense with Kubiak as offensive coordinator, predicted shortly after Kubiak was hired that Kubiak would build a scheme to fit Manning and not simply jam Manning into the offense.

"Kubs is smart, maybe the smartest guy I've been around in football. He knows what to do and how to do it, there's no way he would look at a guy like Manning and not make it work," is how Plummer has put it.

Some of what the Broncos ran in the offseason workouts had a little-of-this, little-of-that feel about it as they kicked the tires on a lot of things that may, or may not, actually find their way into games. But Manning looked fit, made a variety of throws to all parts of the field and showed he still knows his way around a play-action play when needed.