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Denver Broncos

Stadium: Sports Authority Field | Coach: John Fox
Team RankingOverallRushingPassing
Offense4th111.3 (16th)289.4 (4th)
Defense4th71.6 (2nd)237.8 (16th)

Broncos report: Strategy and personnel

The Sports Xchange
 
Inside slant · Notes, quotes · Strategy and personnel
 

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS
Starter -- Kyle Orton. Backups -- Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn.

Orton's fast start was long forgotten by the time he hurt his ribs in December, opening the door for Tebow. It's highly likely Orton will be dealt to make room for Tebow, who has energized the fan base. Quinn adds a veteran presence as backup in that scenario.

RUNNING BACKS
Starter -- Knowshon Moreno. Backups -- Correll Buckhalter, Lance Ball, Laurence Maroney, LenDale White, FB Spencer Larsen, FB Kyle Eckel.

Moreno showed improvement in his second season, running with more authority at times. But he still doesn't have the makings of a star-caliber NFL runner. Buckhalter and Maroney figure to be gone, while Ball's hard running style and offensive grasp may keep him around as a reserve. White is coming off a torn Achilles. Larsen continued his learning curve as a former linebacker turned lead blocker before he hurt an ankle.

TIGHT ENDS
Starter -- Daniel Graham. Backups -- Richard Quinn, Daniel Coats, Dan Gronkowski.

Graham and Quinn are essentially the same entity at this point, in-line blockers with little downfield ability. Coats was a late-season pickup after Gronkowski went down. Gronkowski has some ability to work the seam; still, a three-down tight end will be a top target either in free agency or the draft.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal. Backups -- Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Britt Davis, Matt Willis.

Lloyd's league-leading performance in yardage came out of nowhere and will be difficult to replicate moving forward. Gaffney had a solid season and is a complementary offensive part who's likely maxed out his production. Royal has tended to disappear for long stretches as a slot receiver and could be pushed by Decker in 2011. Thomas has the length, build and attitude to succeed at a top-tier level but needs to stay healthy. Davis was a late-season addition from the practice squad. Willis was Denver's best preseason performer at the position but had just one catch in six games before going on injured reserve.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters - LT Ryan Clady, LG Zane Beadles, C J.D. Walton, RG Chris Kuper, RT Ryan Harris. Backups -- C/G Russ Hochstein, G Stanley Daniels, C Jeff Byers, G Eric Olsen, T Chris Clark.

The group as a whole underachieved in 2010. Part of it was growing pains with rookies Walton and Beadles inserted into the lineup. Clady went from an All Pro to just all right after suffering a serious knee injury in the offseason. He should be much better with a full offseason to balance his strength to both legs. Harris was benched after turning an ankle in the preseason, then playing subpar initially after returning. Kuper is the leader of the group and the player Denver will build around moving forward. The group gets exceedingly thin behind the starters. Hochstein could be released. Daniels yo-yoed from starter to bench to practice squad to released and back again. Clark spent two years on Minnesota's practice squad and is an unknown quantity at the key reserve role at both tackle spots.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- RDE Kevin Vickerson, NT Jamal Williams, LDE Justin Bannan. Backups -- NT Ronald Fields, DE/NT Marcus Thomas, DE Ryan McBean, DE Louis Leonard.

All three of Denver's starters would make solid rotational reserves. Bannan's the best of the bunch, consistently playing with a high motor, but Williams is nearing the end and while he stayed healthy can't play significant snaps and doesn't draw the double-team attention of his All-Pro days. Vickerson was picked up off the street after training camp and quickly surpassed McBean, pointing at the weakness of this group overall. Thomas could be a free agent and may go. Ronald Fields can spell a top-notch nose tackle but isn't starter material. Leonard was a late addition to the roster in December, his third team in 2010.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- ROLB Jason Hunter, SILB Mario Haggan, WILB D.J. Williams, LOLB Robert Ayers. Backups -- David Veikune, Wesley Woodyard, Elvis Dumervil, Braxton Kelley, Joe Mays, Lee Robinson.

The Broncos' plans went to tatters the moment Dumervil -- the 2009 NFL sack leader -- tore a chest muscle in a blocking drill in camp. His healthy return is Part 1 of the rebuilding process on defense. Mario Haggan was a standout with his leadership and versatility, splitting time between outside and inside linebacker. Hunter struggled at times holding the edge as he transitioned from a 4-3 defensive end. Williams got on the organization's bad side with a DUI arrest and had his captaincy stripped. His future is cloudy, despite his team-leading tackle production. Ayers still hasn't demonstrated the burst off the edge necessary to be an effective NFL pass rusher to complement Dumervil. He'll need a big offseason. Mays was a surprise on defense before going down with his hustle and grit, and should remain a special teams fixture, along with Woodyard, who lacks the bulk to be a consistent defensive performer.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- LCB Champ Bailey, RCB Andre Goodman, FS Renaldo Hill, SS Brian Dawkins. Backups -- CB Perrish Cox, S/CB Nate Jones, CB Syd'Quan Thompson, CB Cassius Vaughn, S David Bruton, S Darcel McBath, S Kyle McCarthy.

The potential free agency of Bailey will be a top offseason storyline. He didn't have the interceptions of past years but proved to be a shutdown corner against the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Dwayne Bowe and Reggie Wayne in single coverage. Bailey's return is needed not only for his talent but because the rest of the secondary may also be in flux. Goodman was dogged by quadriceps injuries all season and at age 32, could be cut. Cox's off-field arrest for felony sexual assault could mean an NFL suspension. The Broncos love Dawkins' leadership but he isn't the impact playmaker he once was, with slower foot speed increasing the difficulty covering tight ends. Hill has a tremendous work ethic but hasn't made many plays. Jones provides needed versatility but he is only average in coverage and doesn't have the size to pack a wallop from the back end of the defense. Safety will be a top priority in free agency and the draft. Thompson and Vaughn were pleasant surprises and provide depth and special-teams skills.

SPECIAL TEAMS
K Steven Hauschka, P Britton Colquitt, KR Eric Decker, PR Eddie Royal, LS Lonie Paxton, K Matt Prater.

Hauschka filled in well after Prater suffered a nagging groin injury in December and likely earned himself a look in another camp. But Prater converted 16 of 18 field goals before he was hurt and has 67 touchbacks since 2008, No. 2 in the league, so he's the man moving forward. Colquitt had six games with a gross punting average of 50.0 or higher and rewarded the faith of the coaching staff that didn't bring in a competitor in the offseason. Decker only had 22 runbacks on kicks but averaged 25.3 yards while taking the ball north-south without much fuss. Royal is sure-handed and elusive enough on punt returns, averaging 11.9 yards -- sixth in the NFL. Paxton is rarely seen during game action, a good quality for a long snapper.

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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