Cecil's Blog

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Nate Irving Agrees with “Super Bowl or Bust” Statement

Jul 15, 2014 -- 9:14am

The Denver Broncos are set to make another run at the Super bowl this year. They would be the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to get back to the big game after losing it the previous year. The expectations are high in Denver, and the players are not shy when talking about the goal for this season.

In a recent interview with Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, Broncos starting cornerback Chris Harris said the team had high hopes for this year.

"Guys know what’s at stake this year, at least they should -- it’s Super Bowl or bust for us," Harris said.

On Monday I was able to interview Broncos starting middle linebacker Nate Irving. At the end of the interview I asked him what he thought about the declaration from Harris.

It’s clear that the Broncos are not shying away from expectations this year. Broncos fans should consider this a great mentality for the team to have. Some teams could crumble under the expectations the Broncos have had since Peyton Manning arrived in 2012.

Instead of falling apart, the team rallies around their goals and thrive. The Broncos have won 26 regular season games over the last two year, and they are set to win at least 10 or more games this year. Winning the AFC West and getting to the AFC Championship would be great goals for most every team in the conference. That’s not enough for the Broncos…and they’re okay with that.

Multiple Options at Middle Linebacker for the Denver Broncos

Jun 23, 2014 -- 12:16pm

The Denver Broncos haven’t had a quality starting middle linebacker since the days “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson roamed the field. He was forced to retire in 2006 due to a neck injury, and the Broncos have been scrambling to find an enforcer in the middle ever since.

They’ve tried everything over the last few years. Players like Keith Brooking, Paris Lenon and Joe Mays (among others) have started at the “Mike” with varying results. None have been the long-term answer the Broncos have been looking for.

Today’s NFL is changed. The league has transformed into a pass-happy game, and defensive players have had to adjust. Middle linebackers are no longer the two-down thumpers they used to be. Today’s “Mike” linebackers need to first and foremost be able to stand out in coverage.

The Broncos have an interesting mix of players at middle linebacker right now, and they have multiple options at the position. They even have some options for “Mike” ‘backer that come from other positions on the defense.

According to Mike Klis, from the Denver Post, fourth-year linebacker Nate Irving will enter training camp as the starting middle linebacker for the Broncos. Irving was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft with the idea that one day he could be the team’s starter inside. He’s athletic enough to cover, and Irving arrives at the ball with natural violence.

Over the first few years of his pro career, Irving failed to stay healthy and impress when given the chance at middle linebacker. Irving was considered the frontrunner last year at the position entering training camp, but he ended up losing the job to converted “Will” linebacker Wesley Woodyard.

As the season wore on, Woodyard was injured and replaced by Lenon on the inside while Irving stayed on the bench. Irving did become a standout player as a reserve “Sam” linebacker. He received more playing time for the Broncos after starting linebacker Von Miller went down with an ACL injury in Week 16 against the Houston Texans.

That extra playing time caught the eye of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “I think Nate played well last year when he was called on. And the things that he got an opportunity to do, he played well. So I know he comes in with a lot of confidence based on the way he played last year, and the fact that he’s very familiar with our defense, understands where he belongs.” Del Rio concluded, “He’s a heavy-handed guy, a bright guy, good communicator, and he’s having a good camp.”

Irving has carried the momentum over from last year, and he’s looked good at his new position in minicamp. It will be interesting to see if that carries over when the pads come on in training camp.

He will face the most competition for the starting job from two players; veteran Steven Johnson and rookie fifth-round pick Lamin Barrow. Johnson has been a standout player on special teams, and he loves to initiate contact. Barrow is a “new school” middle linebacker because he is rangy, athletic and can make plays in coverage but needs work as a run-defender.

Irving may begin the year as a starter at middle linebacker, but he could be replaced on passing downs. When the Broncos go into their nickel package it won’t be surprising to see Irving replaced by Barrow or by strong safety T.J. Ward.

The first move the Broncos made in free agency was to add Ward to the defense. He’s a hard-nosed intimidator with the nickname “Boss”—and he certainly lives up to the hype. Ward is an enforcer with the ability to play close to the line of scrimmage to stuff the run, plus he can turn and stay with receivers or tight ends on downfield routes.

Ward’s versatility gives the Broncos an interesting option in the middle of the defense. The Broncos played in their nickel package on nearly 65 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013. The pass-happy nature of the league isn’t going anywhere, so the number of snaps in the nickel may be the same—or more—this year.

Denver also sees more passing early on than other teams do. Opponents are forced to the air quicker when Peyton Manning and the offense build a big lead early. The Broncos defense has to be better in coverage earlier than other teams in the NFL.

The Broncos have the most dominant offense in the league. They have made moves like adding Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Roby to be a dominant defense as well. No matter who starts at “Mike” linebacker for the Broncos, they will be able to give opponents several different looks defensively in 2014. 

Denver Broncos Sign First-Round Pick Bradley Roby

Jun 10, 2014 -- 5:44pm

On Tuesday it was announced that the Denver Broncos have reached a contract agreement with their 2014 first-round pick, cornerback Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Details of the contract have yet to be announced. At 5-11, 194 pounds, Roby started all 37 games played during his career at Ohio State. During his college career he totaled eight interceptions and 44 passes defensed. He was named a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection in 2013 after recording 69 tackles (54 solo), three interceptions (120 yds.), and 16 passes defensed for the Buckeyes. He also led the nation with 19 passes defensed as a first-team all-conference selection in 2012 and was the only player in the country to score touchdowns three different ways (INT, FR, BP). The rookie has speed to burn. His speed is immediately evident when watching him on the football field.

Roby was excited to sign on the dotted line. “It felt great. I was the last one to sign so I was just ready to get it over with and be officially a Bronco and I’m happy that I did it today.” He’s been a standout player in minicamp thus far, and Roby has been holding his own against the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Roby believes this high level of competition will really help. “That’s great for me. When I first got drafted, that’s something I thought about, ‘I’m going to be going against D.T., [QB] Peyton Manning and Emmanuel Sanders every day. [WR] Wes Welker every day. Just preparing with them guys, I know that there’s nobody out there I’m going to see that’s too much better than them, if any. I’m delighted about that, I love to compete. So I just want to do that every day.” Roby could be a starter for the team from day one. With Chris Harris Jr. coming back from his partially-torn ACL injury, the Broncos need to have a quality third corner. Roby is all that and more. He could play outside in the nickel defense with Harris moving inside to cover the slot. The rookie has the upside to eventually be a shutdown corner in the NFL. His speed and aggressive mentality will help in the transition from college to the pros. The Broncos feel they added one helluva corner in Roby, and he should be able to pay dividends for this team immediately.

It’s a Make or Break Year for Ronnie Hillman

Jun 03, 2014 -- 12:51pm
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 23: Running back Ronnie Hillman #21 of the Denver Broncos runs with the ball against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on September 23, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Ronnie Hillman is entering his third year in the league. The 2012 third-round pick has had an up-and-down career in the NFL, but it was mostly down last year. He’s hoping the third year is the charm after suffering through a disappointing 2013 season.
It didn’t start out that way. Rewind one year ago, and Ronnie Hillman was atop the depth chart at running back for the Broncos. He had about 75 percent of the workload last offseason with the first team, and it looked like he was going to hold off veteran Knowshon Moreno and rookie Montee Ball for the starting job. Things were going well for the speedy back from San Diego State until the preseason came around.
During the preseason games against the Rams and Seahawks, Hillman couldn’t hold onto the ball. He fumbled three times during those contests and two of them were returned for touchdowns. Ball security is a must on this high-powered offense, so the Broncos turned to a player they could trust—Moreno. Hillman began the regular season as a backup, and he was splitting time with Ball when Moreno needed a breather.
The regular season rolled around and Hillman looked okay in a reserve role. His speed really gave the team a different look offensively, and he was working well as a change-of-pace back. However, things fell apart once again thanks to fumbling.
In Week 7 against the Colts, Hillman fumbled near the goal line in a game the Broncos eventually lost. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Hillman was only active in three more games after that. He was also inactive during the team’s postseason run as rookie C.J. Anderson took his spot on the gameday roster.
Hillman enters this year fighting for a roster spot. Every spot on the depth chart is wide open behind Ball this year. Hillman should make the final roster, but he’s not a lock to do so because the team still has Anderson and added three talented undrafted rookie backs in Brennan Clay, Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson.
If the ball security problems, focus issues and motivation problems continue, Hillman’s time in Denver could be winding down quickly.
After a recent minicamp workout, I asked offensive coordinator Adam Gase if this was a make-or-break year for Hillman.
“We’ve talked to him, [Running Backs Coach] Eric [Studesville] and myself, as far as, ‘Hey, this is a new start to the year. Whatever happened in the past, you’ve got to build off it. We’ve just got to start over.’ His goal is to become the best running back he can. I can’t say make-or-break, because I don’t know what that is. He’s just got to come out, he’s got to work his butt off and make sure he puts himself in a great position to contribute this year.”
Hillman knows he has to start playing up to his potential. He recently talked about what he learned most last year.
“You’ve just got to be accountable. Just don’t relax and just come out here and give it your all every day. I probably got a little relaxed last year, but it’s not going to happen again.” 
Even though Ball is penciled in as the starter, Hillman is competing for that top spot.
“You’ve just got to come to work with a chip on your shoulder. It’s easy to say you’re going to practice hard and work hard, but you’ve just got to show it. Right now is the time. These next couple of months are crucial. The job’s open, and I’m going after it. I’m not working to be No. 2.”
Hillman has the speed to be a dangerous back in the NFL. He was an incredibly productive starter for two years with San Diego State, but he’s yet to play up to his potential in the pros. With more emphasis on the ground game this year in Denver, Hillman could be in for a larger role than some think—if he makes the team. 

Future Star Cody Latimer

May 21, 2014 -- 12:03pm
By Cecil Lammey
Denver Broncos/ NFL Insider
Denver Broncos' Cody Latimer catches a pass one handed during NFL football rookie camp, Friday, May 16, 2014, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
In the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos moved up so they could select wide receiver Cody Latimer from the University of Indiana. He was one of my favorite receivers in this talent-rich class, and I was thrilled when the pick was announced at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Latimer has a fine size/speed combination that gives him elite upside as a pro. He has a large wingspan and can play “above the rim.” This makes Latimer a fine target in the red zone where he can use his size to dominate at the point of the catch.
With defensive backs so aggressive in today’s NFL, winning at the point of the catch is the most important attribute a young receiver can have. It’s more important than route-running, more important than speed and more important than the ability to gain separation. If you can win at the point of the catch, you can win in the NFL.
Latimer does a good job of squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage when he turns to make a catch. This presents the largest possible target for his quarterback, and it also helps to keep defenders away from the ball. Latimer was a former basketball player, and he uses those “rebounding” skills to dominate on the football field.
The rookie has great straight-line speed. Running on a surgically repaired foot, Latimer clocked a 4.39 second 40-yard dash at Indiana’s pro day. That speed also shows up on film when Latimer goes vertical. This will help him take the top off the defense, and he gives Peyton Manning another deep target to throw to.
At Broncos rookie minicamp Latimer talked about his experience during the week of practice. He was limited as he recovers from foot surgery, but Latimer still learned a lot.
“Just learning this offense pretty much. It’s a tough offense; a lot of different checks and things like that with [QB] Peyton Manning]. It’s high powered, very fast tempo, which I did in college. Pretty much just learning and getting good coaching points. That’s about it.”
Latimer could immediately contribute as a rookie because of his ability in the red zone. He summed up his red zone prowess when talking to the media after practice.
“Just my competitive nature. Down in that red zone you’ve got to be competitive. You’ve got to be able to high point the ball and be physical with the defender. So I’m glad they’ll be putting me in that position and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
One stat that stands out for Latimer is his lack of drops in college. He dropped just one pass among 119 senior-year targets. Latimer explained why he rarely drops a pass.
“My coach always brought it [to our attention]. That’s always one of my emphases, just to catch the ball, that’s why I play receiver. You don’t want to waste any passes. That’s the emphasis we had. My coach, we kept track of drops and he always let me know, ‘You didn’t have any drops,’ or, ‘You dropped this,’ but it wasn’t many. So it was just something we focused on as receivers.”
Latimer has the ability to be a dominant player in the NFL. The future of the Broncos wide receiver position could have Latimer on one side with Demaryius Thomas on the opposite side. That keeps the Broncos with an incredible 1-2 punch at an incredibly important position in today’s pass-happy league. 

Bradley Roby Notes and Quotes

May 09, 2014 -- 4:43pm
By Cecil Lammey
Denver Broncos/ NFL Insider

With the 31st pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos selected cornerback Bradley Roby out of Ohio State. They have a need at cornerback even though they added Aqib Talib in free agency. Roby could be asked to start early in his rookie season if Chris Harris Jr. struggles to return fully from his partially-torn ACL. Broncos general manager John Elway was excited to add Roby. “We saw him workout in Indianapolis (at the NFL Combine) and also met with him in Indianapolis—he was in our room in Indianapolis, so we got to know him a little bit there. He was a guy that again, was ranked very, very high. So we spent a lot of time on him, and when we’re going through the process he was a guy that we weren’t really expecting to get to us. So, even though we had spent a lot of time with him on the film and we didn’t work him out, but saw plenty of what he did in Indianapolis. So, like I said, when he fell to us at No. 31, we were thrilled.” Roby was an impact player for the Buckeyes. He had 35 passes defensed over the last two years, the second-most for any player in the FBS. On Friday, Roby talked about his playing style with reporters at Dove Valley. “I think I definitely bring a certain edge, physicality and aggressiveness to a defense. I think every defense should have corners like that. I think I bring that to the table, along with athletic ability and playmaking ability, instincts, things like that.” Nate Kreckman and Tom Nalen interviewed Ohio State defensive back Kerry Coombs on Friday. He was complimentary of Roby, and he praised the rookie’s game.

Roby could help out early as a rookie, but the team needs him to contribute in the postseason.

The Broncos added a playmaker that Elway described as a “gem” at the end of the first round. Roby will begin his pro career as a part-time player. He’ll compete with second-year pro Kayvon Webster for the nickel corner job. If he plays up to his potential, Roby has the upside to be a quality starter on the outside. For breaking draft information, follow me on Twitter @CecilLammey

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