The Seahawks play the Broncos today in preseason "action" so to get reacquainted with the Seahawks' Super Bowl opponents, I chatted with Mile High Report's Kyle Montgomery. Here's a scouting report on a team that Seattle will face off against tonight, but also importantly in a real game (or two) this season.
My questions in bold, his responses follow.
1. The Broncos had a rash of injuries toward the end of last season -- how is the overall health of the top contributors looking heading into the preseason?
By the time the Super Bowl came around, the Broncos were missing starters left tackle Ryan Clady, linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end Derek Wolfe, and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. All are aiming to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, but some of them are in "just in time for the regular season" mode. We likely won't be seeing Harris at all in the preseason (ACL), and we probably won't see Miller or Vickerson for this first preseason game either, as both have been limited through training camp.
As far as new injuries go, starting running back Montee Ball had an emergency appendectomy this week and will likely miss the entire preseason. He'll reportedly be ready for Denver's regular season opener, but it's Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson splitting reps with the ones while Ball recovers. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the free agent the Broncos signed to replace Eric Decker, has a recently-developed quad strain and is questionable for the Seahawks game Thursday. I'm guessing the Broncos will sit him.
2. How is the 2014 rookie class looking so far? Any guys to keep an eye on this Thursday?
The 2014 class is looking pretty good. First round draft pick cornerback Bradly Roby is having his ups and downs, with a pinch more to be optimistic about coming out of the practice reports of late. He and second round draft pick wide receiver Cody Latimer have been going at it during practice, just like the former Buckeye and Hoosier did in college. Latimer's actually been the highlight of camp, and personally my biggest surprise. He's been making big plays in practice from the first day, and while you try to temper expectations from practice, the fact that he's been continuing that domination in several practices since - with either Peyton Manning or backup Brock Osweiler throwing the football - has a lot of fans excited about his potential.
I'm eager to check out offensive lineman Michael Schofield in the preseason; linebacker Lamin Barrow has impressed enough to leap over a veteran or two in the depth chart into the 2nd unit. Among undrafted guys, defensive end Kenny Anunike has made a big splash in camp, so I'm excited to watch if he can apply some pressure in a game scenario.
3. Have there been any surprise breakout players in training camp (non-rookies)? If so, who, and what kind of impact could they have this year?
The biggest story is defensive tackle Marvin Austin, a former 2011 second round draft pick who just hasn't panned out in the NFL to this point. The Broncos signed him this offseason, months after spinal surgery, and he is simply shining in Broncos camp. It's giving Jack Del Rio somewhat of a reputation of a DT-career-redeemer.
This is the third straight year the Broncos defensive coordinator has molded a defensive tackle into more than anyone expected (Kevin Vickerson in 2012 and Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton in 2013). I expect Austin will be in the mix with Knighton and Sylvester Williams in the starting rotation Thursday; he has earned some starting reps in camp. Williams has had a surprisingly good camp as well; the Broncos defensive front looks impressive so far.
I wrote about six surprise stars in Broncos training camp, and Anunike, Austin and Williams all made my list - it's a pleasant surprise to have so many defensive linemen exceeding expectations in camp.
4. What free agent players did the Broncos add over the offseason and what will their roles be this year?
The Broncos were very aggressive in free agency this offseason, as most people are aware. DeMarcus Ware will add another pass-rushing element and complement Von Miller in tantalizing ways; Aqib Talib is a more-or-less even exchange with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who left in free agency, but is a bit more physical.
The biggest addition in my mind is T.J. Ward, the Pro Bowl safety, because it's the biggest upgrade the Broncos experienced this offseason. In a lot of ways we have the Seahawks to thank for that; I think the Broncos saw the difference a smart, hard-hitting safety can make for a team the second Kam Chancellor knocked Demaryius Thomas down in Super Bowl XLVIII.
5. What players did the Broncos lose and how will that impact the early part of the season?
There was a minor exodus out of Denver in 2014, but the Broncos filled the gaps pretty well. Out goes Eric Decker; in come Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. Out go Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers; in comes DeMarcus Ware. Out goes Zane Beadles, so the Broncos shuffle around their offensive line to make a potentially stronger unit with Orlando Franklin at left guard and Chris Clark at right tackle.
I think, on paper, this Broncos team is more talented than the 2013 unit. It's probably the most talented Broncos team in franchise history. But that's the catch - fans are so eager to get back to the Super Bowl and right that wrong that they're not prepared to sit back and enjoy another great season of Broncos and NFL football. Hopefully the players don't fall into the same trap.
No game in the NFL is easy, and the Broncos can't be counting their Super Bowls before they're berthed. That interesting mental aspect of "one week at a time" might be my biggest concern for the Broncos in the early part of the season.