CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- When the Broncos spiraled to a 5-11 finish, humility and hunger enveloped Dove Valley. The Broncos missed the playoffs for the second straight season. They left the embarrassing season bent on avoiding back-to-back losing records for the first time since 1972.
With first waves of free agency over, the draft complete and the rookies initiated, OTAs arrive next week. It represents the first significant step with Case Keenum in charge. When looking for reasons the Broncos will execute the anticipated U-turn, it begins and ends at quarterback. In Keenum, the Broncos want a leader, a game manager, a playmaker, someone capable of caffeinating an offense that ranked 27th in scoring at 18.1 points per game.
Keenum leads the Denver7 things to watch during OTAs:
1) On the Case
Keenum arrives in a perfect situation, embraced by a new team desperate for an answer at quarterback. He has already drawn high marks for his leadership and work ethic. This week represents a time to plant roots, to show the role is not too big for him.
"I’m going to accept it. I know there’s a responsibility with that. It’s not something where I feel like, ‘I’ve made it.’ That’s not ever my mentality. I’m going to stay hungry; I’m going to stay consistent to the same mindset I’ve always had. That’s what’s gotten me here, and that’s who I am. Nothing has ever been handed to me," Keenum said. "I’ve earned that right and I’m going to continue to earn that right, being in this building, being in the weight room, media room, practice field, then on game day in the game field. That’s my mentality.”
2) Offensive no more?
The Broncos offense scared no one last season. Other than run the ball adequately, Denver did nothing well. The key for coordinator Bill Musgrave, who took over the offense for the final six games, is to create concepts around Keenum's strengths. Former boss Mike McCoy drew grumbles for his complicated play call sheet on game day, three-wide receiver sets and the deep five and seven-step drops in pass protection. Will the ball be leaving Keenum's hand quickly? That would solve a primary concern.
3) High and tight
Expectations for tight end Jake Butt remain lofty, bordering on unfair. He did not play a single snap last season after his second ACL surgery. However, talk to defensive players, and they praise his route running and believe he can make an impact. Here's the goal: become Hunter Henry. The Chargers tight end has averaged 40 catches and six touchdowns over his first two seasons. If Butt can match those numbers, the Broncos offense will feature a makeover worthy of folks screaming "Move That Bus!"
3) Von on point
Outside linebacker Von Miller represents the Broncos best player. He is in the conversation as the league's best. What can he show next week? That his leadership continues to grow. I fully expect for him, and the occasional visit from the retired DeMarcus Ware, to accelerate Bradley Chubb's development. Chubb's emergence is critical. The Broncos also need defensive line depth to develop. Adam Gotsis will continue to practice as the Fulton County Georgia district attorney remains undecided on whether to press charges for an alleged rape five years ago. And DeMarcus Walker has returned to his college playing weight of 272 pounds after a misguided attempt to make him an outside linebacker last season.
4) Healthy Shane Ray
Outside linebacker Shane Ray has everything to play for even if it means he might not play for the Broncos after this season. The Broncos declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Ray is poised for a big year with his left wrist healed and weight gain complete. The NASCAR package with varying combinations of Miller, Ray, Shaq Barrett and Chubb could create a bevy of turnovers.
5) He is living in Paradis
Center Matt Paradis has teeth. He smiled this offseason. Why? He was able to work out without hip pain or rehabbing from hip surgery for the first time since early in his college career. Paradis brings consistency. He never misses a snap. Working with new strength coach Loren Landow, look for Paradis to post a career season.
6) Running down a dream
Royce Freeman brings a padded college resume. He played for three different college coaches. He experienced tremendous highs and cavernous lows. It should prepare this unique athlete to begin pushing Devontae Booker for the starting job. De'Angelo Henderson is also in the mix after avoiding injury after his car was struck by an alleged drunk driver last weekend. Henderson is easy to root for. He hurt his arm and was left with a sore body following the accident. Yet, when motorists who witnessed the accident arrived to check on him, he told them he was "happy he was hit instead of them." He is a selfless man, and an interesting player to keep an eye on this offseason.
7) Hey, Rookie
Rookie talk dominates conversation this time of year. Then reality clobbers the kids. The NFL is hard. Which one of the players, besides Chubb and Freeman, will take baby steps forward next week? Receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton remain intriguing prospects. Can one of them become a third receiving threat? Hamilton has the easiest path to snaps as a slot receiver.