Last season’s disappointing end in the post season at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts left a bitter taste in the mouths of Bronco fans. This year fans are looking forward to the new season with anticipation and questions.
The off season was filled with turmoil and change for the Broncos. The team lost a lot of talent to free agency and coaching staff changes. Gone are veteran tight end Julius Thomas, nose tackle Terrance Knighting, safety Rahim Moore, tight end Jacob Tamme, and line backer Nate Irving. Perhaps the most serious blow to the Broncos was the loss of veteran offensive guard, Orlando Franklin and Center Will Montgomery.
This year the Broncos kicked off the preseason with a young inexperienced offensive line. Three offensive linemen on the first string depth chart had never played a snap in an NFL game, including 2015 second round draft pick, left tackle Ty Sambrailo and 2015 fourth round draft pick, left guard Max Garcia as well as center Matt Paradis, a 2014 sixth-round draft pick by the Broncos who spent the past season on the team’s practice squad. Sambrailo, who is a highly touted second round draft pick started in place of veteran Ryan Clady, who tore an ACL last May. On the right side of the ball new addition Ryan Harris bumped Chris Clark out at right tackle. Louis Vasquez will move to right guard.
Arguably, the biggest change this off season was with the coaching staff. Gone is head coach John Fox and a host of assistant coaches. Gary Kubiak, former back up QB to John Elway and former head coach for the Houston Texans returns to Denver as the Bronco’s head coach. Kubiak brought back some more ex Broncos to round out this year’s coaching staff including offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who was the Broncos head coach from 1993 to 1994. It’s a virtual Bronco alumni reunion.
Perhaps the biggest question of the new year was: How will Brock Osweiler handle the offense in his first start as the Bronco’s quarterback? The short answer? He did just fine. Osweiler showed poise, great touch and his release was quick and determined. He read the defensive schemes well and completed 15 of 20 passes for 151 yard and 1 TD pass to Virgil Green.
At running back Ronnie Hillman carried 8 times for 66 yards, his longest a 23 yard burst. Hillman was often maligned last year for inconsistence and a tendency to fumble. He played well Friday night and had no fumbles.
Demaryus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both sat out the game giving the second string receivers a chance to show their stuff. Cody Latimer snagged 4 passes for 49 yards, but Bennie Fowler, an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State, who spent last year on the Broncos practice squad, had a break out game including a diving catch. Fowler led the receivers with 3 catches for 67 yards. Fowler is a big kid at 6’1” and 212 pounds. Last year Fowler had a bad case of the drops and his future looked dim, but his performance Friday night caught the eye of the coaches and he may give Latimer a run for his money come time for the final roster cut. Remember, all pro Bronco receiver Rod Smith was an undrafted free agent too.
As expected, the Bronco defense showed some serious attitude that was somewhat lacking last year. On the second play of the game, Von Miller smacked Seattle’s right tackle Justin Britt and flew by him sacking Russell Wilson and causing a fumble that Denver recovered.
Both the Denver offense and defense have a lot of young talent this year and the young guns made the most of their big show debut. Bronco’s 2015 1st round draft pick outside line backer Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett and Kenny Anunike all showed flashes of brilliance. The defense performed at a high level, chalking up 7 sacks, forced 4 fumbles and held Seattle to a total of 181 total yards.
The sore spot for the Broncos was a lack luster performance on special teams except for the field goal team. Connor Barth connected on both of his field goal attempts, his longest of 28 yards and Brandon McMannis hit 3 of 3, his longest a 52 yarder. The Bronco kick coverage team, however, was terrible allowing one kickoff return to go the length of the field for a TD and allowed a total of 138 yards on kickoff returns. Punt returns against the Broncos fared a little better only allowing 18 yards total.
It’s only preseason, but the outlook is favorable for a Bronco run to the Super Bowl this year. There has been a lot of concern that in the past the Broncos didn’t pay enough attention to developing young talent. This year they have and the seasoned veterans are hungry and focused. It’s gonna be a hell of a year.