The Denver Broncos wrapped up their offseason program on Wednesday and will now enjoy a five-week break before the start of training camp. By now everyone knows that the Broncos are loaded at almost every position after an active offseason in free agency and the draft.
However there are still some positional battles that will be worth watching through the preseason. Here’s an early look at some of those competitions and who holds the early advantage.
Right tackle is the only position up for grabs on the offensive side of the ball. The front-runner, if there is one, is Chris Clark. Clark filled in for the injured Ryan Clady at left tackle last season and did a decent job considering he was playing out of position. Clark is a natural right tackle and should head into camp with a very slight edge over veteran Winston Justice.
Justice was signed by the Broncos last season to provide depth after the Clady injury, and re-signed in the offseason. Justice has been a starting right tackle in the NFL before and brings a ton of experience. While Clark may be in the lead now, it would not take much for Justice to overtake him for the starting nod. This battle is likely to go through the first three preseason games.
A name to keep an eye on through camp, though, is rookie Michael Schofield. Schofield was drafted from Michigan in the third-round and has a lot of upside as a young player. The key for him will be how quickly he can master the offense and adjust to the professional game. It would be a surprise if Schofield won the job out of training camp, but he should see playing time as the season unfolds.
As with the offense, there is only one position up for grabs on the defensive side of the ball and that is the middle linebacker spot. The leader coming out of the offseason program is Nate Irving. Irving is a natural outside linebacker and is a bit undersized to play inside, but is good versus the run. Irving would also give the Broncos one of the fastest groups of linebackers in the league; he can run sideline to sideline and is a decent cover guy.
Irving’s primary competition will come from rookie Lamin Barrow who the Broncos selected in the fifth-round. The coaching staff loves Barrow and thinks he can contribute early. Like Irving, Barrow is undersized but he has the speed to cover running backs and tight-ends. As with Schofield at right tackle, the key for Barrow will be how quickly he can learn Jack Del Rio’s defense especially because the middle linebacker makes all the defensive calls and is responsible for the positioning of others.
As mentioned Irving will enter training camp as the favorite but if Barrow shows well in the preseason, then it would not be a shocker to see him starting on opening night versus the Indianapolis Colts.
While right tackle and middle linebacker are probably the only two starting positions up for grabs, there are some interesting competitions at other spots.
Montee Ball is the unquestioned starter at running back but the competition for playing time behind him is intense. Second year back, CJ Anderson has the inside track as the primary backup and is the only power back on the roster. If Anderson has a solid camp, then he should see plenty of action once the season kicks off.
Behind Ball and Anderson is where the real competition begins. Ronnie Hillman enters his third season with a lot of talent, but even more questions. Hillman was the starter going into camp last year but literally fumbled the job away. The Broncos still love Hillman’s speed and big play ability but he needs to prove he can hang onto the ball. If Hillman falters, then a rookie free agent could find his way onto the final roster.
Kapri Bibbs played his college ball just 50 miles north of Denver at Colorado State and signed with the Broncos following last month’s draft. Bibbs has had an impressive offseason with the Broncos and has all ready demonstrated a grasp of the offense. In college he had a nose for the end zone and runs well between the tackles. Bibbs has also surprised some with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield which is a key for a Peyton Manning led offense.
Second year player Kavon Webster figures to make the team because the Broncos love his talent and he was playing well as a rookie before breaking his thumb late in the year. The player who could be in trouble is Tony Carter. The Broncos like his coverage ability but he is a liability versus the run, and commits too many penalties.
If some young players like Louis Young, Jordan Sullen or Charles Mitchell show well in August, then one of them could unseat Carter as the fifth cornerback.
There are other areas where the competition for roster spots and playing time will be intense, and we will certainly get to those once camp begins. This much is true, the Broncos have talent everywhere and other teams will certainly be interested in who they let go in late August. Because they will be some good players that the Broncos are forced to part ways with.
Training camp is now only five weeks away, hang on football fans; we’re almost there.