The waiting game continues for the Broncos and the other 31 NFL teams. Waiting to meet as a team. Waiting to train at the club. Waiting to see which rookies appear. And wait and see which veterans no longer fit into the master plan.
Since ending last year with a victory over the Raiders, the Broncos’ front office and coaching staff have drawn up an aggressive offseason strategy that could lead to seven new starters. They added former Pro Bowlers (A.J.Bouye, Jurrell Casey and Melvin Gordon). They signed right-wing guard Graham Glasgow. And they added a 10-player draft class, led by receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.
The goal: to end a series of four consecutive years from the playoffs, the third longest series in franchise history.
Was it enough? Even at this time of year it is impossible to know, but the arrival of OTAs in May at least gives an idea of what the coaches think of their players.
When the Broncos come together as a team and finally hit the field (likely after some sort of acclimatization period), here are 10 questions to wash down before the September 14 opener against Tennessee:
1. Which returning players are on the bubble?
Some of them, matching a team with a sophomore head coach (Vic Fangio) who has had a season to judge the selection and a new offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur) who is implementing his playbook.
Violation: Recipients DaeSean Hamilton and Juwann Winfree (additions from Jeudy / Hamler). … Tight ends Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli (additions by Nick Vannett and Albert Okwuegbunam). … And guard Austin Schlottmann (addition of rookie Netane Muti).
Defense: Defensive ending DeMarcus Walker (additions by Casey / rookie McTelvin Agim). … Inside linebacker Josh Watson (addition of rookie Justin Strnad). … And cornerbacks Duke Dawson, Davontae Harris and Shakial Taylor (additions by Bouye and rookies Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey).
Special teams: Returner Diontae Spencer (addition of Hamler).
2. Is there room for Jeudy and Hamler to have both major rookie seasons?
Unlikely. The passing game of the Broncos may pass through the receiver in sequence Courtland Sutton, tight ending Noah Fant and Jeudy.
Jeudy should be a 1 week starter and working opposite Sutton should give him opportunities. Hamler should be thought of as an option for home use – insert it into the slot and let “go” routes run through the seams, similar to how Kansas City used rookie Mecole Hardman last year.
3. Should Fangio have confidence in the angular back depth?
After the concept, Fangio said he felt “good” about it, referring to Bouye, Ojemudia and “a bunch of young players we acquired last year, like Dawson and (Davontae Harris). … We have a good group to play with. ”
The Broncos, however, gamble. If Bryce Callahan (two foot operations since his last game) doesn’t make it to the camp or season, who will be playing against the final receiver? It is not Bouye’s field, so Fangio should return to Dawson, among others.
4. How does the crowded, tight end space become smaller?
The Broncos have eight tight points under contract and a conservative estimate is that five make up the first 53 man squad.
The locks are Fant, Vannett and Andrew Beck, who are expected to serve as a core player for a tight end / fullback / H-back / special teams. That leaves two places. Okwuegbunam is the favorite and doesn’t rule out Austin Fort, who tore his ACL in last season’s second game, or Jake Butt, whose career has been plagued with knee injuries, from sticking to the roster.
5. Is the status quo inside linebacker good enough?
Hard to say it’s good enough. In the combination, Fangio admitted that the Broncos had to play better in the linebacker, but the team handled it only with Strnad (fifth round pick).
“He’s just thrown into the mix there and we’ll see how he develops and competes with the other guys,” said Fangio.
Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson should have been happy after the design as they remain the starters.
6. Who plays center?
The Broncos reportedly attempted to trade in for Temple center Matt Hennessy in the third round, but he was selected by Atlanta. Later in the round, the Broncos selected LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry.
Last year at this point, it was already clear that Dalton Risner would be the rookie’s left-wing guard, but the absence of a rookie camp or OTAs has kept the plan in the center under control.
Cushenberry should be given every chance to win the track, as that would mean that Glasgow is well guarded. If Cushenberry isn’t ready yet, the Broncos can move Glasgow to the center Elijah Wilkinson to the right guard.
7. Who plays left tack?
Fangio and general manager John Elway said they would open the left tack to competition between Wilkinson (last year’s right tackle) and former first round pick Garett Bolles.
The Broncos rejected Bolles’ 2021 contract option earlier this month, but that doesn’t mean anything for the time being. The best case should be that Bolles keeps the track and Wilkinson can be used in a variety of ways (starting guard, filling in proper gear, and valuable backup).
8. Has enough been added to save special teams?
The Broncos ranked 21st in the annual special teams rankings of professional footballer Rick Gosselin, the usual gold standard among team managers and coaches.
New are the long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer and punter Sam Martin. The return game is open to competition, although Spencer showed some flashes last year. Among the core players, the Broncos need Beck, Malik Reed and yet to be determined rookies to establish roles.
9. Will Gordon and Phillip Lindsay have an almost equal share of bears?
Last year, 12 teams had two traffic jams with at least 100 carrys – Baltimore, Buffalo, the Broncos, Green Bay, Kansas City, the Chargers, Minnesota, New Orleans, the Raiders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay – and San Francisco had three.
If Shurmur wants, there is nothing wrong with an almost even split between Gordon and Lindsay. Even if the attempts are equal, Gordon expects to play more snaps because of his third-down experience.
10. Wait, no questions about Lock?
No. Teammates say Lock was impressive at the video conference meetings, with an understanding of the offense and a willingness to speak.
The off-season plan was to surround Lock with offensive talent in general and offensive talent with speed in particular. Now it is up to him to act.