It started on February 4th for the Denver Broncos, two days after the Super Bowl disaster. What started, you ask? The re-tooling of an all ready talented roster that will hopefully lead to one more victory in 2014. It started when General Manager John Elway took offense to a series of questions that all implied, how can the Broncos possibly recover from the 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Elway said, and I’m paraphrasing, that he would do whatever it took to improve the roster and the goal has and will never change; win the Super Bowl. Elway then concluded the end of the season press conference by issuing a warning; anyone who is not on board with that plan better get out now.
Seven months later, the Broncos finalized their 53 man roster on Saturday and will begin preparing for the regular season opener on Monday morning. The practice squad will be set on Sunday but for now, here are my observations on the roster as it sits today.
- Depth: I’ve been following the Broncos for close to 40 years and this might be the deepest team I’ve ever seen. They have players like Marvin Austin, Malik Jackson and Quinton Carter in reserve roles. Those three players could be starting for a handful of teams.
- Speed: One of Elway’s goals was to increase the overall team speed and he’s done that. Aqib Talib is one of the fastest cornerbacks in the NFL. All of the linebackers can run sideline to sideline and the defensive line is extremely quick. Where the speed and depth will be the most apparent is on special teams. The Broncos were exposed in that area in the Super Bowl and it was an area that needed to be fixed, it was.
- Toughness: This is the big one, the Broncos needed a nastier attitude and they got it in free agency. Talib, TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware all bring an edge to a defense that has been soft for too long. Moving Orlando Franklin from tackle to guard gives the Broncos one of the most physical interior offensive lines in football. All of those moves have resulted in a tougher attitude that even includes Peyton Manning getting in defenders faces. This was Elway’s number one goal when the offseason started and that goal has been met, at least on paper.
- Ben Garland: This has to be the best feel good story on the roster. Garland played defensive line at the Air Force Academy but was moved to the offensive line a year ago. After spending 2013 on the practice squad, Garland made the final 53.
- Toughest cut: Kevin Vickerson was a huge part of the Broncos journey from 4-12 to championship contenders. He was and is the ultimate pro but he was caught in a numbers game. As touched on all ready, the Broncos are extremely deep especially on the defensive line. It came down to Mitch Unrein or Vickerson and Unrein’s ability to do more things eventually won out. It also didn’t hurt that Unrein is younger and as Elway said, he has “more upside.” Vickerson will catch on and probably start somewhere else but his days in Denver are over.
- The streak continues: Both Isaiah Burse and Juwan Thompson made the Broncos as college free agents, extending the streak to 11 years in a row. Burse figures to be the teams punt returner and Thompson provides depth at the running back spot.
- Surprise keeper: It was a mild surprise to me that the Broncos kept cornerback Tony Carter. However he is now the fifth cornerback and provides excellent veteran depth at a key spot.
- Two quarterbacks: The roster is so deep that the Broncos elected to keep only Manning and Brock Osweiler on the roster. Elway said he was hopeful that the Broncos could bring Dysert back to the practice squad but he will draw interest, young quarterbacks always do.
- Brandon McManus: He will be the kicker at least through week one. If he struggles, then the Broncos might look to a veteran but not before week one. Why? Because if a veteran is on the active roster for week one, their salary is guaranteed for the whole year. The Broncos do not want to pay a guy for 16 games when they only need him for four weeks.
- Average age: Most believe that the Broncos are an older team because of Manning. However, that’s not true. The average age is only 25. As Elway continues to say, “The goal is not to win now, it’s to win from now on.”
Keep in mind that their still could be additions and subtractions to the roster over the next couple of days. The Broncos, like every team, will scan the waiver wire and see if there’s anyone who can help them. It’s just a guess but I believe the Broncos would like to add a veteran offensive lineman for depth if there is one they like.
Barring any of those changes, the roster is set and the Broncos begin preparing for the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. Elway and his staff have done their job, now it’s up to the coaches and players to complete the mission.