DENVER -- The reality remains sobering. While optimism swirls around the Broncos' retooled offense — as it should with the addition of Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Melvin Gordon and Graham Glasgow — the schedule explains the challenge of a fast start.
There will be no preseason games. The first traditional training camp practice, in coach Vic Fangio's mind, is Aug. 14. So, the Broncos are trying to integrate an influx of talent with a new offensive coordinator's scheme in a quarterback's first full season as a starter. What is the best way to buy time for the group's development? An elite defense.
The Broncos boasted a playoff-caliber unit last season, holding eight of their final 12 opponents to 20 points or less. The Broncos added game wrecker Jurrell Casey in the middle, will benefit from a full starting season from linebacker Alexander Johnson and know Kareem Jackson is entrenched at strong safety.
The biggest question involves the cornerback position. The Broncos replaced free agent Chris Harris with A.J. Bouye, who must return to his 2017-18 form. The more salient concern is Bryce Callahan. Is he healthy after missing all of last season — his first in Denver — when a screw bent in his foot and required a second surgery.
I asked Broncos coach Vic Fangio about Callahan's health and his role moving forward.
"He came back to (Denver) and got sick. Not COVID sick. He had a stomach virus and he lost some weight so we have to get that back on him. His foot right now is fine, no problems," Fangio said Tuesday. "We are going to work him at both spots. He will play corner along with inside at nickel, along with obviously a bunch of other people."
When healthy, Callahan is a terrific inside defender. He excelled for Fangio in Chicago, leading the former Bears defensive coordinator to push for his signing. It failed to pan out as his foot betrayed him. In several social media posts this offseason, Callahan appeared much better physically, demonstrating balance and agility.
The Broncos have no concrete answers at cornerback, but plenty of options. Those include DeVante Bausby, Devontae Harris, Duke Dawson and promising third-round pick Michael Ojemudia.
Tackling the issue
The Broncos offensive line suffered a setback Monday when starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James opted out of the 2019 season, citing family concerns. James' left knee was healed, leaving him in position to contribute this year after logging 63 snaps in his firs season in Denver.
James said he look forward to his future with the Broncos, and said the fans' opinion of him was shaped by a "false narrative" regarding his injury. It appeared to be a shot at Fangio, who said multiple times last season that James was cleared to play. The second-year coach was asked if he felt that impacted James' decision to opt out.
"I don’t think it factored into it at all. We had several conversations during the offseason, and they were very good and productive. He was ready to have a good season," Fangio said.
With James gone, Elijah Wilkinson is the frontrunner at right tackle. Fangio believes it will benefit him since he played 800-plus snaps there a year ago, along with the practices. As for left tackle, Bolles is again left with no real challenger with Wilkinson moving. Fangio is cautiously optimistic.
"Right now I would have to say it’s his to lose. I think he took a step forward last year during the season, and played better the last half and the last third of the season," Fangio said. "He had a really productive offseason as far as workouts. I think he’s in a better position mentally and emotionally than he has ever been this time of year. He has Mike (Munchak) coaching him a second year. He’s gotten bigger. I think he’s gotten more knowledgeable."