Cecil's Blog

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Broncos Mailbag 4.14.2014

Apr 14, 2014 -- 10:26am

With less than a month left to go before the 2014 NFL draft, it’s time to check in with Broncos fans to see what’s on their mind. I invited questions through Twitter, and these are some of the best ones to answer.

There are a few center and guard prospects that are worthy of premium picks in this year’s draft class. It’s not a strong class at either position, but here are a few players the Broncos could add to start. Center, Weston Richburg, Colorado State: He has the athleticism to move well in space. Richburg controlled the line calls for the Rams, and he’s used to an offense which audibles frequently. With the addition of free-agent center Will Montgomery, it seems like the Broncos won’t add a center in the draft. Guard, Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA: He’s a mature player who has experience playing both tackle and guard in college. He started every game of his college career, and is known as a dependable and durable player. Su’a-Filo lacks a mean streak as a run-blocker, but he has the athleticism to work well in pass-protection. Guard, David Yankey, Stanford: Yankey is a smart player with a strong core and the ability to use his hands effectively. He can be a sticky blocker at the second level and can easily hit a moving target.

At this time, it seems like the Broncos will not spend a premium pick on a guard either.

I’ll consider an early pick a first- or second-rounder. I would say no at this time. However, the Broncos will select a running back in this draft class. That pick should come on the third day of the draft where there will be plenty of value picks—and perhaps a pick with the highest upside of any back in this class. In the fifth round the Broncos could select Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State, Georgia transfer). He’s arguably the most naturally talented back in this draft class. Crowell was kicked off the Bulldogs after his freshman season when he was charged with possessing illegal weapons. The charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence, and Crowell found his way to Alabama State. He stayed out of trouble there for two years, and now he’s ready to take his skills to the NFL. The Broncos have a history with Georgia backs (Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Garrison Hearst, Knowshon Moreno), and I feel it would be in their best interest to add Crowell. He has a complete skill set, and has the upside to be a quality starter in this league. If the Broncos want a specialist at the position, they will have several different options to choose from late in the draft. If a speed back is wanted, the team could select a guy like James White (Wisconsin) or LaDarius Perkins (Mississippi State). If a power back is wanted, then the Broncos could add somebody like Tyler Gaffney (Stanford) or James Wilder Jr. (Florida State). With Moreno moving on to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, the Broncos do have a need at the position. They’ll fill that need in the draft.

The starter for Week 1 at the cornerback position is a bit of a mystery opposite of free-agent addition Aqib Talib. Chris Harris Jr. is coming back from a partially torn ACL injury that he suffered in the playoff game against the Chargers. All reports indicate that he is ahead in his recovery and that he should be ready for the start of the season. The Broncos may choose to put Harris on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list to begin training camp. Even if he’s ready for the start of camp, I would expect the Broncos to bring him along slowly so there’s no aggravation of the injury. If Harris suffers a setback, then the Broncos are likely to turn to a rookie cornerback or second-year pro Kayvon Webster. At this time, it seems like the Broncos are zeroing in on a middle linebacker or cornerback as their first-round pick in 2014. Thanks to everyone for your questions! I’ll do another Broncos mailbag as we get closer to the draft.

What John Fox’s new contract means for Adam Gase

Apr 05, 2014 -- 3:30pm
The-Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Adam Gase walks on the sidelines during the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Aug. 22, 2009, at Qwest Field in Seattle. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The-Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Adam Gase walks on the sidelines during the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Aug. 22, 2009, at Qwest Field in Seattle. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos announced Saturday that they had signed head coach John Fox to new a three-year contract through 2016. Fox was entering the final year of his contract in 2014, and this move was anticipated for some time.
 
General manager John Elway said he was confident a deal would get done, and he expressed his satisfaction in keeping Fox around.
 
“We are pleased to reach this agreement with John Fox, who has played a key role in the success and improvement of the Broncos during the last three seasons,” Elway said. “While our team has made progress each year under coach Fox, we both understand that there is still work to be done for us to reach our ultimate goal.”
 
The ultimate goal is compiling as many championships as possible.
 
Fox is a great man who is beloved by the staff, the players and the media. Under his guidance, the Broncos have won three consecutive AFC West titles. They are set to win another title in 2014.
 
The immediate future of the Broncos looks bright, but what about after the Peyton Manning era?
 
What does this extension of Fox mean for the future of offensive coordinator Adam Gase?
 
Gase was a first-year offensive coordinator in 2013. The former quarterback coach took over for Mike McCoy when he left Denver to be the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
 
Gase took the system already in place with Manning and put his own spin on it.
 
And that spin led to record-setting numbers from Manning and the Broncos offense.
 
The 2013 season was so successful for Gase that he became a hot head coach candidate in January when the Broncos were making its playoff run.
 
Gase turned down any opportunity to interview for a job with another team so he could concentrate on the task at hand. By the time the Broncos season was over, all the head coaching vacancies had been filled.
 
Entering the 2014 season, what does Gase do for an encore?
 
It’s inconceivable to think the offense could best the numbers established in 2013. Instead, they should have a more balanced attack that features a stronger ground game led by Montee Ball.
 
This doesn’t mean Manning is getting the ball taken away. It just means he could have around 45 touchdowns rather than the 55 he had last year. Manning should still end up passing for around 5,000 yards in 2014.
 
With that type of offense, Gase will once again draw interest for teams looking for a new head coach.
 
In recent years, the Broncos have lost two coordinators –– McCoy and Dennis Allen –– to division rivals looking for a head coach. Gase looks like he could be the next one.
 
On Ridin’ Shotgun, I’ve often called Gase a brilliant offensive mind who is up-and-coming in league circles. I firmly believe Gase can be the next “great” head coach that everyone talks about in the NFL. Seeing Gase operate at Dove Valley, it’s easy to see why.
 
Gase has a strong personality –– and strong opinions about how his offense should run. Many mistakenly think that Manning runs the offense. Nothing could be further from the truth.
 
Manning is certainly a big part of what the offense does, but it’s still under the design of Gase. The veteran quarterback works with Gase to craft a scheme that is incredibly effective.
 
To put it succinctly, Gase got the best out of Manning in 2013.
 
Think about that.
 
Manning is going to be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot he’s eligible, and under Gase he put up career-best numbers. That’s incredible to think about when you step back and look at the big picture.
 
Gase has a brilliant mind for offensive football, and there will be teams trying to lure him away from the Broncos. Now that Fox is extended through 2016, the chances are likely we could see Gase leave before getting his chance at being the head coach of the Broncos.

It's Ball's Time

Mar 26, 2014 -- 7:55pm
At the NFL Owners Meetings on Monday, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox said the door was open for free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno to return to the team.
 
 
Fox continued to say that the free-agency process is a fluid one—and he’s correct. Moreno COULD return to the Broncos, but it would have to be as a backup behind second-year running back Montee Ball.
 
It’s Ball’s time.
 
This is his time to shine as the lead back for the Broncos. They selected him with a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft with the idea that one day he would be the featured back. That time is now.
 
Last year, Ball struggled early in the season. He was not adept in pass-protection, and he failed to hang onto the rock. His two fumbles in 2013 put him in the dog house early, but he slowly climbed his way out.
 
Ball improved as the season went on, and he became a better pass blocker. This meant the team could trust him to protect quarterback Peyton Manning.
 
He also did a better job of securing the rock when he ran. This also built the trust the coaching staff had in him. When Ronnie Hillman lost a fumble near the goal line against the Colts, the door of opportunity was open for Ball.
 
Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Nov. 17 in Denver. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Nov. 17 in Denver. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
He took the opportunity and ran with it — literally.
 
Ball was an immature runner at the beginning of the 2013 season. Too often he could bounce a run outside that he would have best been served going between the tackles.
 
As the season went on, Ball became a more intent and determined runner. He was taking what was blocked, and Ball did not try to cut back against the grain or bounce carries outside. This ability caused him to be a more effective and productive runner.
 
In fact, Ball was the number one running back in the league when determining percentage of carries that resulted in a first down. In 2013, 29.2 percent of Ball’s carries moved the chains.
 
In addition to moving the sticks, Ball has a nose for the end zone. He finished his college career with more touchdowns (83) than any other player in college football history.
 
Broncos general manager John Elway commented earlier this offseason that the team needed to get more from their ground game in 2014.
 
Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, reports the Broncos could be a little more grounded on offense in 2014. Elway said “no question we have to be better in the run game."
 
That means the team needs to improve on the numbers Moreno posted last year. Ball can do that.
 
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Bringing Moreno back is not the answer. He’s had plenty of opportunities to prove himself since being a first-round pick in 2009. During that time, Moreno has only one 1,000-yard season under his belt and he missed plenty of time due to injury (or being inactive).
 
The Broncos could draft another back this year for added depth, but Ball is first in line to get a crack at the starting job.
 
In 2014 it’s Ball’s time. Broncos fans should be anxious to see what the young runner can do with a more prominent role on offense.

 

DeMarcus Ware the mentor as important as DeMarcus Ware the pass rusher

Mar 15, 2014 -- 2:53pm
Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware looks onto the field during the game playing for the Dallas Cowboys against the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 29 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware looks onto the field during the game playing for the Dallas Cowboys against the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 29 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos made the biggest splashes so far in free agency. They’ve mainly focused on strengthening the defensive side of the ball by adding guys like strong safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. All three should make huge impacts on the field each Sunday. 
 
However, Ware’s presence will make an equally large impact off the field.
Ware is going to be a fierce pass-rushing presence opposite Von Miller. He’s also going to be a great mentor for the young playmaker. Ware will be the mentor the team lost when Elvis Dumervil moved on in free agency last year. 
 
At his introductory press conference, Ware talked about his relationship with Miller. 
 
“When Von first came in, before he got drafted, I talked to him a little bit. I’ve been mentoring him,” Ware said. “Being able now to have the opportunity to play with him is a whole different thing. I’ll be in the same locker room with him, being able to teach him some things. I’m looking forward to that opportunity. I just think that it’s going to be great.”
 
Miller is a player who saw his 2013 season cut short first by a six-game suspension and then by a Week 16 ACL injury. It was a season to forget, and Miller’s stats didn’t match up to his previous production. In nine games in 2013, Miller finished with only 27 tackles and five sacks. He added 15 pounds of muscle to be a better run defender, but Miller seemed to lose a bit of his edge quickness. 
 
Under the guidance of Ware, we could see a bounce back season for Miller provided that he’s ready to go by Week 1. Miller’s knee injury has put his status for the start of training camp in question. We may see the Broncos put him on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list to begin camp with an eye on him starting in Week 1 of the regular season. 
 
Miller’s six-game suspension was for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Having a seasoned, well-respected veteran like Ware around should help keep Miller on track. This upcoming campaign is a contract season for Miller, and he would make himself a lot of money if he could stay out of trouble and put up the numbers we’ve become used to during the first two years of his career. 
 
All these defensive moves have made a statement. Ware talked about what he believed the statement was. 
 
“I think the thing is we’re trying to make a statement, a statement that we’re a team this year to be reckoned with,” Ware said. “It hurt hard enough playing as well during the regular season and not being able to finish, and they’re saying we’re going to act right now and not let that happen again.” 
 
The statement on the field is clear. Off the field, there is also a statement. Ware will be able to continue mentoring Miller so they can both put up huge numbers in 2014.

How do the Denver Broncos replace Champ Bailey?

Mar 06, 2014 -- 1:00am
Former Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey takes a knee during Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Former Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey takes a knee during Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
News broke Wednesday night that the Denver Broncos would be releasing veteran cornerback Champ Bailey. He was due $10 million in 2014, but there was zero guaranteed money in his contract. That made him a prime candidate for release or restructuring.
 
The Broncos went ahead and decided to cut ties with Bailey. It’s a painful decision for Broncos Country, as Bailey has been a long-time fan favorite.
 
Before Bailey was cut, the Broncos had about $17.9 million available to spend in free agency. Now that they have $10 million more, Denver will have nearly $28 million to spend. With a few more moves, like possibly releasing Chris Kuper and/or Joel Dreessen, the Broncos could have well over $30 million available to them.
 
Now the question becomes: How do the Broncos replace Bailey?
 
Looking over the available free agents, the cornerback position is full of talent. The Broncos will have a nice group to pick from, and they’ll have plenty of money to throw around on the open market.
 
First and foremost, I expect the Broncos to re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He was the team’s best cornerback in 2013, and Rodgers-Cromartie regained the swagger he lost during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.
 
His contract could pay him around $9 million annually. That price tag is a fair price for a player who was an impact starter for the Broncos in 2013.
 
Chris Harris is coming back from a partially torn ACL injury he suffered in the playoff game against the San Diego Chargers. His status for the start of training camp is up in the air right now. The Broncos need to add more talent at the cornerback position so they have better depth in the secondary.
 
One free agent available is Nolan Carroll (Miami Dolphins). He played as a nickel corner with the Dolphins, and he could be a decent spot starter for the Broncos if Harris is delayed in his recovery. Carroll had a $677,000 cap number last year, and his new contract may not pay him more than $2 million to $3 million annually.
 
Another corner the Broncos could go after is Alterraun Verner (Tennessee Titans). The 25-year-old played for $1.4 million last year, and his new contract will be much larger. It would be a significant investment for the Broncos to sign him, especially if they spend big money on a safety upgrade like T.J. Ward.
 
If the Broncos are OK with spending a larger amount, then Sam Shields (Green Bay Packers) could be an option. He’s one of the best young corners in the game today, and he could earn a salary that pays him $6 million to $7 million annually.
 
How do the Broncos replace Champ Bailey? Replacing a future (likely first-ballot) Hall of Famer is incredibly difficult, but the Broncos need to get younger and faster in the secondary. Any of the players I’ve listed would be fine additions for the Broncos as free agency is set to open up on March 11.

The Denver Broncos have faith in Montee Ball

Feb 20, 2014 -- 4:48pm
Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) carries the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Jan. 12 in Denver. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) carries the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Jan. 12 in Denver. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Once again I’m at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Here, every coach and general manager in the league speaks to the media on the first two days of activities.
 
Broncos head coach John Fox spoke to the media Thursday at the Combine.
 
I immediately asked Fox about the faith the team has in second-year running back Montee Ball. If the Broncos let Knowshon Moreno move on in free agency, then Ball would get the first crack at being the new lead back. Fox was definitive with his answer.
 
“We think very highly of him. He had tremendous growth as a rookie running back in the NFL. He got better every week, and we’ll look for a big improvement next year and feel he’s very, very capable.”
 
I also asked Fox if the team needed more of a power game on the ground to help soften up tough defenses like Seattle. Fox said, “Offensively, you do strive for balance. You like to have that attitude —that mindset —t o be able to run the football. Every year, when you look back on your season and evaluate schematically and physically where you want to go — that’s an area we want to improve in.”
 
Striving for balance in 2014, we could see the Broncos actually focus a bit more on the ground game and a bit less on Peyton Manning and the passing game.
 
It’s not out of the question to think Ball could rush for over 1,200 yards in 2014. He improved his running style as the 2013 season went on. Ball stopped hesitating behind the line of scrimmage, and he became more decisive with the rock in his hands.
 
In order to soften up a tough defense, the Broncos would be wise to use a power ground game. This does mean less of a focus on Manning, but it means the team will complement him the proper way.
 
John Elway won two Super Bowls with Terrell Davis leading the way on offense. Ball is not T.D., but the team could use the 1-2 punch a power ground game could give them.
 
Instead of throwing for 55 touchdowns, how about Manning throws around 40? Instead of throwing for nearly 5,500 yards, how about Manning throws for 4,700? Those numbers are still incredible, and the team would have the balance they seek.
 
Ball has a tremendous opportunity in front of him. He’s likely to face a bit of competition from C.J. Anderson and maybe even a rookie the team takes in the 2014 NFL draft. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos spent a pick on a running back at some point during the draft.
 
Ronnie Hillman was inactive for most of the games after his fumble near the goal line against the Colts. With only an $807,708 cap number in 2014, Hillman’s spot on the roster is not guaranteed.  If the Broncos move on from Hillman, they would have to pay out $345,416 in dead money.
 
The Broncos could move forward by going back. The power-ground game is old school football. I’m not saying the Broncos should run the T-Wing offense, but emphasizing the ground game a bit more could lead to the championship that has eluded them in the Peyton Manning era.
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