ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Thanks for the response to Gray Matter so far. I've been getting a lot of good questions via Twitter, Facebook and even some through email. Most of this week's queries are related to the team's 2013 NFL Draft class, so let's get started.
@McLemoreRhonda asked: How do you think Osweiler's development under Manning is going? Is he our future at the QB position?
From what I hear, the team couldn't be happier. John Elway mentioned that the offseason workouts, OTAs and June minicamp will be important for Brock Osweiler, as he might see extra reps as Peyton Manning watches the amount of throws he makes this Spring. Jacob Tamme said he has already noticed some of the natural progression in the young quarterback from year one to year two, and noted that he seems a lot more comfortable in the offense. Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, who was Osweiler's position coach last season, said the signal caller "made a lot of strides," and he was impressed with how hard Osweiler pushed himself last year, preparing for every game like he was the starter.
To answer the second part of your question, yes, right after the season Elway and John Fox both expressed confidence that he is still the future of the quarterback position. Elway said he's "thrilled" with his progress and Fox was happy with his in-game performances -- and the fact that the team didn't have to use him in very many games, though he did finish off five victories. The club is still excited about Osweiler's upside whenever it's his time to take over the reins of the offense -- Elway went so far as to say he might have been the first quarterback taken had he been part of the 2013 NFL Draft class.
In a related question, @Broncos_RN asked: Any chance of Dysert pushing Osweiler for the #2 spot on the depth chart? Or was he brought in purely as a long-term back-up?
As Elway said to wrap up the draft, you can never have enough good, young quarterbacks. Certainly Zac Dysert can help push Osweiler, as he broke Ben Roethlisberger's Miami University record with 12,013 passing yards in his career. He put up ridiculous numbers in one game in particular -- at Akron last season -- when he became the first FBS player to pass for 500 yards and run for 100 in a single game, and his six touchdown passes in the contest set a Miami University record. But make no mistake, Osweiler is being groomed to eventually take over for Manning. It's more likely that Dysert's main competition will be against undrafted free agent quarterback Ryan Katz from San Diego State. Those two will most likely battle for the Broncos' third quarterback spot on the active roster, if the team elects to keep more than just Manning and Osweiler. One or the other could also end up on the practice squad.
@RSH089 asked: How do you envision the #Broncos offensive backfield looking like come Week 1 of the regular season? #GrayMatters
Good question, and one that will play out throughout training camp and the preseason. But second-round pick Montee Ball seems to have every opportunity to take over the starting role come September. One of the most productive running backs in college football history, Ball racked up 5,140 rushing yards and 77 rushing touchdowns -- along with six receiving scores -- in his career. Taking him so high in the draft shows that the Broncos anticipate big-time production from the back, and earlier rather than later. His ability to pass block, which he showcased when Russell Wilson was the Wisconsin quarterback, will help him step into that role early. Ball's running style combined with last year's third-round pick Ronnie Hillman as the "change-of-pace back" is certainly an exciting possibility going forward for the club.
But it's also too early to count out last year's starter, Willis McGahee, and Knowshon Moreno, who impressed the team with his professionalism last season as well as his ability to step in and produce down the stretch when McGahee went down with an injury. Coach Fox also has a history of playing a veteran back ahead of a promising rookie, at least early on (see: DeShaun Foster over DeAngelo Williams, then Williams over Jonathan Stewart). But as we discussed in last week's Gray Matter, the team kept five running backs last season. With Lance Ball, Jacob Hester, Jeremiah Johnson and Mario Fannin also on the roster, that competition will be one of the most intriguing throughout training camp, as at a minimum it seems two -- maybe even three or four (the team kept just four backs in 2011) -- of those players won't make the roster. And keep in mind special-teams contributions are important for backs farther down the depth chart -- McGahee and Moreno don't play on special teams. If I had to go out on a limb right now, I'd say Ball will emerge as the Week 1 starter. Coach Fox did, after all, call him "a three-down back."
Charles Curles, Monty Eskew and Josh Bezucha, among others, asked via Facebook: Why Montee Ball over Eddie Lacy?
Elway addressed that directly just after the draft. While he described it as a "close call" between "two great backs," in meeting with the club's medical staff, the scales were tipped in Ball's favor. There are reports that Lacy had a toe injury that required surgery, and Packers General Manager Ted Thompson acknowledged that could have been a reason he wasn't drafted earlier. Another aspect that gets brought up is the "tread on the tires" argument. Lacy had just one year as a starter since he was behind Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, respectively, for his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa. Ball, meanwhile, racked up 663 carries in his final two seasons at Wisconsin.
But Ball didn't miss a single game in that span. In his introductory press conference, he said it's a point of pride that he doesn't leave himself vulnerable to big hits, and he takes care of his body. "My body is a temple," he said.
Looking deeper into the numbers, those 663 carries in a two-year span aren't outrageous. In their final two years at college, Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Ray Rice all exceeded those total carries. It didn't exactly hurt their NFL potential -- they've combined for 12 Pro Bowls and three rushing titles, and Jackson and Rice are still going strong. Even Ronnie Hillman had 573 carries over his final two years at San Diego State, and no one discusses him as a player who wore himself down too much in college.
I assure you the Broncos have already begun thinking about that, though the team does have an option to add a fifth year to the contract, per the new collective bargaining agreement. Every year, the front office -- including Director of Football Administration Mike Sullivan -- not only looks at the current year's salary cap, but they forecast several years in advance. A couple weeks ago, Team President Joe Ellis touched on Elway's plan for sustained success -- he's looking not only at the short-term, but getting the team ready to keep its window consistently open -- not just in one- or two-year spans. The idea is always to keep the best players in orange and blue, and Miller certainly fits that description.
@27ChaseVallery asked: What do you think Tavarres King's role will be with Thomas, Decker and Welker there already?
King's biggest strength appears to be his ability to stretch the field as a vertical route-runner. He displayed his speed at the NFL Scouting Combine when he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, and he capped his Georgia career third all-time with 21 touchdowns and fourth all-time with 2,602 receiving yards. King will most likely be a backup behind either Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker on the outside, using his speed to beat defenders down the sideline. Meanwhile Andre Caldwell could serve as Wes Welker's backup in the slot. With so much pass-catching talent on the team, including tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, it might be hard for King to break through as a rookie. But if he impresses in training camp and the preseason, he could spell either Thomas or Decker or even find himself on the field in four-receiver sets, looking to break free on deep routes. And with Decker's contract expiring after this season and Thomas and Welker's contracts up next, developing the fifth-rounder could help the Broncos as those tough decisions arise.
Jack Frost asked on Facebook: Who has the edge at being the starting MLB week one?
Fox and Elway have noted they have high hopes for Nate Irving, and it seems to be his job to lose at the moment. Free-agent addition Stewart Bradley will have a chance to push him for the job as a veteran with much more experience -- he was a starter for two years in Philadelphia -- as will an undrafted free agent from last season, Steven Johnson. During the draft, NFL Network reported that Joe Mays is one of many veterans across the NFL available via trade, but he's currently still on the roster and has a change to re-take the middle linebacker role as well. But Irving was taken in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft to step into the starting Mike role, and 2013 appears to be his best chance yet to do just that.
@davega1130 asked: Why didn't the Broncos take a safety in the draft?
The team has faith in Rahim Moore, Mike Adams and Quinton Carter to handle the position. Coaches, Elway and even Champ Bailey marveled at how much improvement Moore made in year two, and they expect it to continue into his third NFL season. Safety David Bruton also just re-signed with the team -- mostly as a special-teamer, but he'll have a chance to push for playing time on defense as well. An undrafted free agent from last season, Duke Ihenacho, is also still on the roster after spending last year on the practice squad. There were more pressing positions to address in the draft.
@MellowMaxG asked: What do you see as the biggest wildcard for this team going into the season?
Health. The Broncos showed last season they have the talent to compete with anyone in the league -- their No. 1 seed in the AFC proves that, and the only team to beat them after Week 5 of the regular season happened to be the eventual Super Bowl champs. So remaining healthy -- in the short-term, if the four offensive linemen that underwent offseason surgery are healthy in time for Week 1, for example -- seems to be one of the most important wildcards entering 2013. But that's the same story for all 32 teams, so putting that aside, I'd say the ability for young players to step into new roles or continue growing in their previous roles is the most important wildcard.
Irving has a shot to step into a starting role for the first time. Chris Harris has a chance to continue his remarkable ascent from undrafted free agent to one of the league's best cornerbacks. Carter has a shot to unseat Adams, perhaps, for one of the safety spots, and Moore can put last year's deep Divisional Round touchdown behind him with continued growth in year three. With Elvis Dumervil gone, Derek Wolfe and newcomer Sylvester Williams could help fill that pass-rush need from the outside and inside of the D-line, respectively. The Broncos have plenty of key veterans, but they're also a relatively young squad. How that youth steps up will have a lot to do with the success the team sees in 2013.