Neil’s NFL Daily: July 26, 2013
Thursday, July 25 – Broncos Camp (Englewood)
After flying into Denver on Wednesday afternoon, and taking in the Marlins game at the Rockies, the training camp tour started in anger yesterday with the Broncos’ practice at Englewood.
It was an uncharacteristically sloppy affair from Peyton Manning, and the second- and third-string offenses too, as ball after ball hit the ground or was intercepted. However, just as following their equally slovenly late post season, with two player personnel guys suspended and Von Miller facing up to four games out of uniform, this team will endure with a degree of calm assurance born of demonstrated ability.
They know they are a very good team (particularly on offense), indeed many people’s favorites for a Super Bowl berth and without undue arrogance accept that mantle. One of the reasons for this is a very settled roster; it’s difficult to see many “battles” for starting roles and most on the conjecture relates to depth. However, there were some items to note, so let’s explore them in a bit more detail now:
Ramirez Starts at Center
I guess I was mildly surprised to see Manny Ramirez with the starting group and Dan Koppen with the second string. While Ramirez had filled in for J.D. Walton during OTA’s, when Walton was ruled out for the year and Koppen signed, I assumed given his relatively strong performance in that role last year, the ex-Patriot would take over. After taking his time to get settled, Koppen played well late and Ramirez’s demotion in favor of Chris Kuper in the postseason (a disaster of a decision with Kuper grading -7.4 in the Divisional Playoff including three penalties) suggested it may be Koppen again.
However, examining the analysis more closely, Ramirez was having a similarly strong finish himself and looked to have overcome his earlier struggles, where up until week 15 he had graded -9.5 as a run blocker. My guess is that this job is now his to lose and he’ll be the starter in week one.
[NB: Chris Clark was the starting left tackle yesterday but this is only a temporary measure while Ryan Clady rehabs from shoulder surgery. He’s expected to back in mid-August.]
It’s been common knowledge for a while that the Broncos intend to rotate their backs situationally (and perhaps otherwise) with Ronnie Hillman the nominal starter. That’s how things looked today as well with nothing to dispel that view. Well, nothing other than last year’s actual performances, that is. In 2012 Hillman looked what he’s been called: a change-of-pace back without the power to make things happen consistently against base defenses. He fumbled twice and averaged a league second-worst 1.8 yards after contact.
In principle Montee Ball on early downs with Knowshon Moreno brought in for his pass protection on third downs, seems the most pragmatic solution but that is not how things currently stand.
Pressure from the Line
Regardless of Von Miller’s recent problems Denver’s most pressing team issue was always going to be where else is the pressure coming from? Whether it’s as a 4-3 end or hybrid, stand-up role, Robert Ayers seems the most likely to take up the slack. In the last eight games of the season, he graded “green” as a pass rusher in five and notched a creditable two sacks, seven hits and 10 hurries in 130 attempts to get to the QB.
He’s currently joined on the line by Terrance Knighton, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe but none of them have “form” when it comes to terrorizing the passer.
Obviously there is Shaun Phillips and a return to form from him, while welcome, would be unexpected.
This leaves us with one Quanterus Smith. It’s unusual for a fifth-round player, coming off an ACL and sporting a leg brace so large it looked like he had a small child hanging off his leg, to garner much attention. However, such is the dearth of options in Denver, sans Miller, that’s the case.
[NB: First round pick Sylvester Williams signed today but not in time to participate in practice]
– Mike Adams and David Bruton both lined up as the first team strong safety on occasion. Maybe this is one of the few starting roles up for grabs.
– It appears the dime role, filled by Jim Leonard last year, is in the hands of Quentin Jammer. Leonard played 271 regular season snaps last year o expect a similar number for Jammer.
NB: I’ve amended the Denver depth chart accordingly, added in the position battles in purple and the update is below:
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