DENVER — Next week the Broncos begin training camp with 90 players.
Within seven weeks that number will be decreased by more than 35.
Who will be among the 53 active players? Who will be placed on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List? Who will make the practice squad?
Who will stay? Who will go? Who will be starting? Who will make the team? Who will be in the POOL (Players Out of Luck)?
This is an early examination of position-by-position on the offense and special teams, saving the most important for last. (The next column will be about the defense.)
Begin with the most obvious.
Kicker – Brandon McManus has no competition. In three seasons McManus has converted 26 of 26 field goals from 20-29 yards, 20 of 21 from 30-39 yards, 14 of 20 from 40-49 yards and 8 of 15 from 50 yards and beyond. Overall, has made 82.9 percent of his attempts. He is 108 of 110 on extra points (including those in the new era of the longer kicks) for 98.2 percent. Kickers are interchangeable on a lot of teams, but McManus has a strong leg for kickoffs and lengthy field goals and is dependable enough, although he could be better in that 40-yard zone.
Punter – Riley Dixon, drafted in the seventh round by the Broncos last year, has no competition, either. He averaged 45.7 yards per punt, and 41.3 net, and 28 of his 89 punts were downed inside the 20. He certainly deserves another season or several.
Long-snapper – Nor does Casey Kreiter. So the three special-team specialists will stick together. Kreiter did miss three games last year, his first with the Broncos, because of injury, but he’s healthy and knows where his punter and kicker want the football, and there were no errant snaps.
Returner – Best belief here is that Is rookie wide receiver Isaiah "Spuds" McKenzie, out of Georgia, will return punts, and, possibly, kickoffs. He was dynamite for the Bulldogs and dynamic in the OTAs on returns, and he also would be the final receiver. He’ll beat out Kalif Raymond, who was flashy on a few occasions, but too often unreliable, in 2016 on punt returns.
Fullback – Andy Janovich is the only one in camp, but the question might be: Will the Broncos keep a fullback? Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy did have a fullback when he was head coach with the Chargers, and presumably will again. Janovich is an excellent blocker and special teams played, but he played only 11 games because of injury, and didn’t always contribute when he was on the field, carrying only four times with one reception. He does have to worry, anyway, despite there not being another fullback (unless one counts Juwan Thompson, who is an occasional running back and, rarely in his on-off-on career with the Broncos, a fullback.
Tight end – The Broncos are full up, with seven tight ends in camp, but, as legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel once said of the Mets, "Can anyone here play this game?" Rookie Jake Butt is supposed to be the Broncos’ tight end of the future. He told me a couple of weeks ago he moved here for the off-season and was in rehab practically every day (a statement that was reiterated by a Broncos’ official), and that he was ahead of schedule for working out again. But Butt has said this week he fully expects to be a PUP when the season opens – and couldn’t return until at least a month into the schedule. So that leaves six fighting for three-four slots. Veteran Virgil Green has been an underachiever since he was picked in 2011 (the only player other than Demaryius Thomas remaining from that draft), but the Broncos always have hoped. He can block and sometimes can catch. A.J. Derby was acquired from the Patriots during last season. The former college quarterback showed some signs, briefly, after joining the Broncos, and likely will be the starter. Jeff Heuerman was supposed to be the answer when he was drafted in ’15, but was hurt on the first day of rookie minicamp. He hasn’t been a question instead. He finally got on the field at the end of last season, but who knows. There are three younger players, but the Broncos can be expected to keep Derby, Heuerman and Green (and alternate them) and hope Butt is a quick developer when he can get healthy.
Wide receiver – Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, then who? Rookie draft pick Carlos Henderson will be given every chance to earn the starting slot receiver spot. Cody Latimer claims he finally has matured, but he’s been nothing but a major disappointment. McKenzie will be one. And it also comes down to veterans Bennie Fowler III, Marlon Brown and Jordan Taylor, and rookie free agent Anthony Nash. I think Taylor is kept as a deep threat, and Latimer gets a final opportunity.
Offensive line – Matt Paradis has the double-hip surgery and won’t be pushed in camp, but he’s one of the top three centers in the NFL. Ron Leary was brought in as a free agent, and he will start at one guard and Max Garcia at the other. The Broncos haven’t decided which will be where. So, the interior of the line will be solid. Tackles? Garett Bolles will be the starting left tackle by the conclusion of camp, and Ty Sambrailo will be the backup tackle. Veteran free agent Menelik Watson will be the right tackle, if he doesn’t experience injury issues, as he has throughout his career. Michael Scofield, an ex-starter, will be a backup guard-tackle, and another former draft pick, Connor McGovern, will be a guard-center floater reserve. Dillon Day, who has been a practice-squader, looks like a football player, and will get serious consideration, but he’ll probably end up on the practice squad, with another team or in professional wrestling.
Running back – Simple as ABC. C.J. Anderson, Dovantae Booker, Jamaal Charles. And D – as in De’Angelo Henderson, the rookie who will be kept as the fourth running back. Anderson will start; Booker will be in the rotation, and Charles will be the main third-down.
Quarterback – Guess who? Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly, Kyle Sloter. Kelly will be put on the PUP and red-shirt for the year. The Broncos will slip Sloter onto the 10-man practice squad. And there’s the duel. As Troy Renck of thedenverchannel.com, the Broncos have 49 offensive coordinators. Actually, just five from previous teams. And one head coach. But one vote overshadows all of those, I feel. And if Lynch can have an excellent training camp and prove he can play in the first two exhibitions, he’ll be the starter and Lynch the backup. But it’s very possible that both will play in most games, depending on situations.
Let’s get on with it. Woo-Hoo.