A way too early breakdown of the Broncos, AFC West (column)
Yeah, it’s too early, but what else does one do on a rainy Saturday afternoon?
The Broncos had their first day of training camp down in Englewood on Saturday, July 28, and there are only 42 days until Denver hosts Seattle in the season opener. What do we need to watch at camp and where do the Broncos fit in the AFC West?
Well, the most notable addition is quarterback Case Keenum, fresh from the Minnesota Miracle during last year’s NFC Divisional Playoffs against the Saints. Clearly after two years of swapping out Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler, something needed to be done. But is Keenum, the answer?
Remember that in Minnesota Keenum had a solid defense, a good ground game, and good receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
OK, the Broncos have a good defense, but a running game and good receivers? At running back, we’re still looking at Devontae Booker (79 carries for 299 yards in 2017) and De’Angelo Henderson (all of seven carries for 19 yards). The three other backs in camp are rookies — Royce Freeman (Oregon), Phillip Lindsey (Colorado) and Dave Williams (Arkansas).
The hometown story would be that Lindsey becomes a stud having gone to Denver South, CU and now the Broncos. We’re one day into camp, so we’ll hold off on that narrative.
Of course, a lot of the issues with the quarterback carousel and the lack of a running game have to do with the offensive line’s issues.
Right now, we’re looking at Garrett Bolles at left tackle; Ron Leary at left guard; Matt Paradis at center; Menelik Watson at right guard and Jared Veldher at right tackle. Leary’s moving from right to left guard. Waston is shifting from tackle to guard and Veldher’s played most of his career at left tackle. Three linemen at different positions is a little scary.
Provided Keenum isn’t flat on his back, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are his main targets. We presume they can still catch the ball, but we really haven’t seen much of them the last two years. In fairness, that was more on the offensive line and a multitude of quarterbacks.
As much as the preseason is an issue of making sure players don’t get hurt, the Broncos are going to have to work their offensive line and backfield in August, so we can see if bringing in Keenum was worth it.
As for Keenum, he’s more mobile than his predecessors, but he does have a tendency to throw across his body. Watch for that because that usually doesn’t end well.
Von Miller has a new toy. His name is Bradley Chubb, the team’s first-round pick out of North Carolina State. Wanna double Von? Chubb should be able to rampage.
The Broncos front seven is a handful for every team and the bedrock of Broncos-dom.
Keep an eye on the secondary though. Yes, Aqib Talib was a bit of loose cannon, but he was talented. Do the likes of Justin Simmons, Will Parks and Bradley Roby keep improving with the additions of Tramaine Brock and Su’a Cravens to sustain “The No Fly Zone?” That would be another thing to watch.
Head coach Vance Joseph has been on the job for one year, but he’s already on the hot seat. During last year’s 5-11 campaign, he looked a bit like he was thrown in the deep end.
General manager and general Colorado legend John Elway kept Joseph over the offseason. We’ll see how it pans out. A slow start for the Broncos would not be good for Joseph.
The good news
Who’s going to run away with the AFC West?
While in some ways, Broncos fans will miss quarterback Alex Smith, now in Washington, the Kansas City Chiefs are leaning essentially on a rookie quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. Yes, he has good skill players around him, but it’s a learning curve for young quarterbacks, as Broncos fans have seen the last two years.
The Los Angeles Chargers were the first team out when if came to making the playoffs last year at 9-7, so they’ll be a sleeper pick. However, the reflexive response of all Broncos fans is, “But they’re the Chargers.” It’s my reaction, too.
Jon Gruden is back with the Raiders, so cue the “Chucky” intros. Oakland, yep, the Raiders were still there at last check, is talented, but has a general tendency to shoot itself in the foot.
The Chiefs finished 10-6 last year, winning the division after a 5-0 start, with the Chargers one game back. Oakland was 6-10 and the Broncos 5-11.
Does anyone really scare you here? Nope.
A record of 9-7 could win this division with 7-9 bringing up the rear.
That leaves the Broncos right in the mix.