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Broncos believe Class of 2014 still has plenty to offer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When all was said and done for the Denver Broncos last season, the contributions of the rookies could largely be summed up in two words.

Bradley. Roby.

And while Roby’s play was heartily-welcomed by the team, it was clear when the Broncos exited their offseason program that there are bigger plans for the now second-year draft picks. Beyond Roby, the Class of ’14 still has some work to do to carve out some roles.

“We like that group,’’ said Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway. “We have high expectations for all of our young guys, we’re going to need them, and this coaching staff is good with young players and embraces the idea of playing young players. ... But last year’s draft picks, we picked them because we think they can contribute and be good Denver Broncos, and we still think that.’’

Elway was adamant he believed some of the team’s rookies last season could have, and should have, played more. In the end, John Fox’s staff used Roby plenty, but the rest of the 2014 rookies were little more than spot players.

Of the 999 snaps played in the regular season by the team’s 2014 draft picks last season, Roby played 805 of them -- or 80.6 percent.

Two of those picks -- tackle Michael Schofield and center Matt Paradis -- played no snaps last season, as Schofield was a gameday inactive for every game and Paradis spent the year on the practice squad. Wide receiver Cody Latimer, a second-round pick who flashed plenty of potential in training camp, struggled at times with the learning curve and the team’s scheme, finishing with just 37 snaps in 2014.

“I felt like I kept myself ready to contribute last year, but this year I feel like I’m much more prepared,’’ Latimer said. “... I think the study part of it, you learn what it takes. I think I can contribute, and I just want to do what I can to be ready when they want me to play.’’

For his part Roby is certainly ready for more, and the Broncos are ready to do whatever they can, which includes the consideration of playing him at safety at times, simply to get him on the field more.

With Demaryius Thomas having skipped the Broncos’ offseason workout after they put the franchise player tag on him, Latimer spent the offseason largely working as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver (he did miss some of the work with a sore hamstring). The Broncos see Latimer as the No. 3 behind Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders, as well as quarterback Peyton Manning, believe Latimer is ready for more when the team opens camp later this month.

“No doubt, Cody has everything he needs to be one of those guys to make an impact in this league,’’ Sanders said. “We expect big things … you could see it in practice last year; he’s ready to do some things.’’

Schofield is still in the mix to battle for the right tackle job. Chris Clark worked with the starters throughout much of the offseason program. But after left tackle Ryan Clady suffered a season-ending injury during OTAs, coach Gary Kubiak said he saw Schofield respond in practice like a player who could power his way into the lineup.

For the rest of the group, they will need to push hard to squeeze into the lineup. Paradis was the team’s No. 2 center behind Gino Gradkowski as the offseason program closed, but in the final days of the practices, Kubiak still called the competition at center “close.’’

The Broncos are deep at linebacker so Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson -- their fifth- and seventh-round picks last season -- project as special-teams options. However, the Broncos believe the two showed enough in workouts to play more on defense, if needed, if there are injuries to other players.

“I tell the guys they write their own story,’’ Kubiak said. “We’re going to play the guys who earn it, but we know we’re going to need all of those guys at some point, and we think they’re ready for what we ask them to do.’’