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Gray Matter Mailbag: Counting Down to Football

Posted Jun 21, 2013

This week's fan mailbag addresses the running backs, the center position and what to look forward to in training camp.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Well, it's been a week since players and coaches have been in the building, which makes this stretch until training camp really feel like the true offseason.

Of course, that doesn't mean news around Dove Valley stops, as this week the team brought back center Dan Koppen after it was announced that J.D. Walton could be sidelined until mid-October.

We talk the center position, running backs, training camp and more in this week's Gray Matter fan mailbag -- so let's get to the questions.

As always, you can send me your questions via Twitter all week long to appear in a Gray Matter mailbag, which I post every Friday on DenverBroncos.com.

Got this question right after game seven of the NBA Finals. Zach and I are on the same page -- this final stretch until the football season seems like it takes forever. Maybe in the interim the Tar Heels can win the College World Series. Anyway, to answer the question, we're exactly 48 days away from the Broncos-49ers tilt to open the preseason. We're 76 days from the NFL Kickoff Game -- Broncos vs. Ravens. And before all of that, we're only 34 days from my best guess for when training camp will begin -- though an official date hasn't been announced yet. I know the final season of Dexter starts up next Sunday, so hopefully that will help pass the time.

Just that -- the pads will be on. It makes everything that much more competitive on the field. In particular I'm looking forward to seeing how the interior of the defensive line comes together. Kevin Vickerson's back, as are Mitch Unrein and Sealver Siliga. I want to see how newcomers Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams fit into that rotation. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio has talked a lot about producing a pass rush from the inside of the line, not just relying on edge rush. That's what Williams did best at North Carolina -- he notched six sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and led all defensive tackles in BCS conferences with 25 quarterback pressures in 2012. I know they can't hit the quarterback in training camp -- that's a pretty good rule -- but all of a sudden it seems like defensive tackle is one of the Broncos' strengths. I'm looking forward to seeing that group get to work.

No, I don't think so, if only because Chris Kuper has never played center -- at least not in college or the NFL. I'm not sure which offensive line positions he played in high school, but I do know he was a two-way lineman and recorded 10 sacks as a senior. But I digress. Kuper started 41 games at North Dakota, and they all came at either right guard or left tackle. In the NFL, all of his starts have come at either left or right guard. So I don't think he'll be in the conversation to step in at center. That job likely belongs to Dan Koppen again, with Manny Ramirez as his backup.

I think all five of those backs make the team, actually. Way back in the first-ever Gray Matter, we looked at how many running backs made the team in each of the past five seasons. It was six in 2008, five in 2009, five in 2010, four in 2011 and five last year. I think five might be the magic number again this season, and you called it -- Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, Jacob Hester and Lance Ball, who has proven his value on special teams as well.

OK, you're asking who appears to be leading right now, not necessarily who will end up with the job. At the end of the club's final minicamp, I'd say Nate Irving was in the driver's seat at middle linebacker, Ronnie Hillman looked to be taking a lot of the first-team reps at running back, with Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno getting their fair share as well, and the defensive ends appeared set with Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers. I know I skipped safety, because it's the hardest to judge right now. By the end of OTAs and minicamp, a lot of guys were getting reps back there, including David Bruton and a college free agent from last season, Duke Ihenacho. But I wouldn't count out either of last season's starters -- Rahim Moore and Mike Adams. Then Quentin Jammer has been added into the mix, and Quinton Carter hopes to be healthy and ready to contribute by training camp, so it's arguably one of the deepest positions on the roster and at the moment seems to be the most unpredictable in terms of who will actually grab the starting roles come September 5. You certainly pinpointed some of the position battles we'll be keeping an eye on throughout training camp.

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