ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --I'm excited to kick off a new feature on DenverBroncos.com today -- a fan mailbag.
Over the past few days, I've taken your questions via Twitter and compiled them for the first edition of Gray Matter. For the record, my name is Gray. Get it?
The hope is that this will become at least a weekly feature. Anyway, let's get to the questions.
There are a number of names that come to mind. It would be a good year for linebacker Nate Irving to have a breakout season -- he has a chance to take over as the club's starting middle linebacker. A breakout campaign from safety Quinton Carter would certainly be welcome, as injuries kept him off the field for most of 2012 after a rookie season in which he snared two postseason interceptions. Defensive lineman Jeremy Beal -- a seventh-round pick in 2011 -- was working his way up the depth chart last training camp before an injury forced him to injured reserve late last August. But the Bronco in the best position for a breakout seems to be defensive end Robert Ayers.
With Elvis Dumervil out of the picture, Ayers is currently slotted as the team's starter at right defensive end. In his first four seasons, Ayers has shown flashes -- he posted the longest fumble-return touchdown by a rookie in club history in 2009 and notched two sacks in the team's 2011 postseason win, to name a few -- but has an opportunity to show that he can produce on a consistent basis in 2013. Derek Wolfe said Ayers has been a leader so far during the club's voluntary offseason conditioning program, and John Elway said the team has faith that he will have a great season. Ayers -- who is in a contract year -- Beal, Carter and Irving are four names that stick out at the moment to keep an eye on this year.
How the team shapes up position-by-position is always one of the most interesting parts of the cutdowns in August and September leading to the final, 53-man roster. Taking the last five seasons into account, the Broncos have had anywhere from four to six backs on the Week 1 roster (six in 2008, five in '09, five in '10, four in '11, five in '12). In each of those seasons, at least one fullback made the cut, though the Broncos don't currently have a fullback on the roster -- unless you count Jacob Hester, who is sort of a hybrid of a running back and fullback.
If five is the magic number, you're most likely looking at Willis McGahee, Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, Hester and Lance Ball, who recently signed his restricted free-agent tender. If the Broncos draft a running back, though, the team would have a decision to make -- keep six and take away from another position, or take one of the five aforementioned backs off the roster. That's not to mention past preseason standouts Jeremiah Johnson and Mario Fannin, so running back in particular looks to be one of the most interesting position battles once training camp arrives.
One of the most important parts of Gase's promotion to offensive coordinator is the continuity that the move brings with it. Peyton Manning's second year under center wouldn't be as big a milestone if the entire offense underwent massive changes. Don't expect Gase to alter the offense too much. He wants to do what previous OC Mike McCoy did -- play to the strengths of his players. That familiarity, especially between the play-caller and quarterback, is expected to allow the offense to play even faster this year. That's something Gase, Manning and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas all mentioned this offseason. Gase described his offensive strategy as "pedal to the metal," and Thomas explained that the pace could only go so fast in 2012 because of so many new parts. In 2013, he sees the tempo speeding up, and "it's going to be hard for guys to stop us."
While I don't think I'm the show's target audience, I'm sure there's plenty of interest in the new E! reality show. As far as whether it will be a distraction, Decker might catch a little heat in the locker room, but it won't affect him on the football field. Manning has consistently praised his work ethic, and that shouldn't be deterred by cameras in his house during the offseason. Elway said Decker asked for his blessing before signing off on the show, and he even jokingly praised the receiver for agreeing to take part in the show as part of the "give and take in a marriage." In case you missed it, Decker addressed the subject on Twitter, saying that his priorities remain intact and that his goal is the same as his teammates' -- to win a Super Bowl.
That's the big question right now. Last season, the Broncos traded out of the late first round, picked up a fourth-rounder and still got the player they coveted, Wolfe, early in the second. This year, Elway indicated the team is "open to anything" in terms of a trade, but seemed comfortable standing pat at pick No. 28. The consensus in this year's draft is that while there might be a lack of instant impact, Von Miller-type talents at the very top of the draft, the depth of "very good" players is stronger than usual. At the Combine, NFL Network's Mike Mayock said he'd be laughing if he were in the personnel department of a playoff team, because the picks in the Broncos' range seem to be just as valuable as the fifth or sixth overall selection, just because of the type of prospects in this year's class. Elway seemed confident the team could get a player it wants at No. 28, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Denver trade back if there's a big demand and the club feels it can still get its guy later on. As far as moving up, Elway noted that it can be expensive, but that wouldn't prohibit Denver from making a move "if there was somebody there to be able to go up to."
The short answer? Yes. Contract situations are always tricky, but the feeling in Dove Valley -- as Elway maintained in his pre-draft press conference Monday -- is that something will eventually get done. And in the meantime, expect Clady to sign his franchise tender.
Never. But don't tell her I wrote that. Go Heels.