2015 Season Preview: Denver Broncos

  An impressive four division titles in four years, 46 regular season wins, and a Super Bowl appearance weren't good enough for John Elway and the Broncos to retain Head Coach John Fox following the 2014 season. To replace Fox, Elway hired close friend and former Houston Texan coach Gary Kubiak. It will be interesting to see how the players perform under Kubiak, who has an entirely different personality than Fox. Quarterback As long as Peyton Manning wants to play, he will be the starting quarterback in Denver. While Manning isn’t what he used to be, he is still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. What I have seen the last two seasons is that his arm velocity falls off in the later part of the season. He also has very minimal movement skills and needs a solid offensive line to be effective. If you want to beat the Broncos, make Manning scramble. If Manning goes down, the backup is Brock Osweiler. Osweiler has not had much playing time in the last three seasons and if he has to play it would be akin to a rookie playing. Running Back With his play the second half of last season, C.J. Anderson become the lead back for Denver. He ran for 849 yards in 2014 and also caught another 34 passes for 324 yards. While Anderson isn’t a breakaway type, he is a tough physical runner with quickness and power. Behind Anderson will be former starter Montee Ball. The former second round pick had a strong rookie year but was setback with injuries last year. The battle for the third spot will be between Juwan Thompson and Ronnie Hillman. At fullback the job should go to recently signed James Casey who spent the last two seasons with Philadelphia. Casey played for Kubiak in Houston and can play some tight end as well as fullback. Wide Receiver and Tight End The wide receiver corps will have a bit of a different look this year as Manning favorite Wes Welker is no longer with the club. The starters will be Demaryius Thomas, who recently signed a new lucrative long term contract. Opposite Thomas will be Emmanuel Sanders who was an outstanding UFA signing last year. Sanders and Thomas had 212 receptions between them last year for 20 touchdowns. They are as good a duo as there is in the league. The Broncos would love the third receiver to be second year man Cody Latimer who did nothing as a rookie. I am not a big Latimer fan and I feel that Jordan Norwood more than likely will win the spot. With Julius Thomas gone, the tight end will be Owen Daniels who played for Kubiak in both Houston and Baltimore. Backing him up should be Virgil Green who is athletic and still has upside. The blocking tight end will most likely be Dominique Jones who doesn’t give much as a receiver. Offensive Line The offensive line took a big hit during the off season when starting left tackle Ryan Clady went down with an injury and will be lost for the season. With Clady out, the starter will most likely be rookie Ty Sambrailo who Denver wanted to pay on the right side. After the Clady injury the Broncos signed former Bronco Ryan Harris who has experience on the left side. Many around the Broncos feel second year man Ben Garland will win the left guard spot. Garland is a late developer because of time spent in the Air Force. The center will most likely be Gino Gradkowski who the Broncos acquired in a trade with Baltimore. Gradkowski played for Kubiak last year and this is a player that the head coach wanted on his club. He will face a training camp challenge from Matt Paridis. At right guard will be reliable vet Louis Vasquez. Denver feels he will perform better on the right side. The right tackle will be either Michael Schofield, a third round pick a year ago, or veteran Chris Clark. Clark can play either tackle spot but has played better when on the left side. Defensive Line Just as the offensive line took a hit with the loss of Ryan Clady, the defensive line was hard hit Friday when starting end Derek Wolfe was suspended for the first four games because of PED’s. Wolfe is the Broncos best defensive lineman. While Wolfe is gone, the job will most likely go to Antonio Smith who is a valuable reserve. The other end is Malik Jackson who in his fourth year is one of the more productive linemen on the team. The nose tackle will be former first round pick Sylvester Williams. While Williams has been a tackle for all his career, he fits what new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wants in a nose. The backups should be Vance Walker, Marvin Austin and Kenny Anunike. Walker is going to get some serious playing time while Wolfe is out. Linebacker Looking at the outside ‘backers first, the Broncos are as strong as any team in the league. The starters are Von Miller, who I feel is one of the best edge players in football and 11 year vet DeMarcus Ware. Ware isn’t what he was in Dallas as a young player, but he is still very productive. Backing them up will be first round pick Shane Ray. Ray was one of the most productive sack artists in college last year. He may be bothered early by a foot injury that he suffered late in the college season. On the inside there is some worry as both projected starters are coming off serious injuries. Danny Trevathan had his kneecap replaced and Brandon Marshall has a Lisfranc injury. Both could be slowed at the beginning of camp. Behind them is: Todd Davis, who played well as a rookie last year; Steve Johnson, who is best versus the run;  and Lamin Barrow, a second year man with upside. Secondary Denver has a very strong corner group headed by starters Chris Harris Jr. and Aquib Talib. The third corner is Bradley Roby who was Denver’s first round pick last year. Roby may also be able to play some safety. The fourth corner should be promising rookie Lorenzo Doss from Tulane. Doss has very good quickness to go along with excellent ball skills. At safety Rahim Moore is gone and he will be replaced by Darian Stewart, a free agent who was with Baltimore last year. The other safety is T.J. Ward who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl a year ago. The backups will be David Bruton and Omar Bolden. Both excel on special teams. Outlook The Broncos have won the division title the last four years and it may be tough to repeat in 2015. Peyton Manning isn’t getting any younger and the loss of left tackle Ryan Clady could be huge in keeping Manning on his feet. While the defense is strong and will play an aggressive scheme under Wade Phillips, the loss of Derek Wolfe at end will be huge. Kansas City and San Diego are improving and it wouldn’t shock me to see one of those teams win the division.   Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe    

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