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Ask Aric: What the Broncos should expect from KJ Hamler

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos enjoy a day off from training camp, we're forging ahead to answer your questions about the first day of camp and the impending regular season.

In this edition of "Ask Aric," we'll dive into KJ Hamler's performance on Friday, how training camp feels different in 2020, which player could earn a game ball in Week 1 and much more.

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Which Bronco player will earn a game ball in the season opener? - Marty S.

Marty, I like the positivity. The Broncos typically only hand out game balls after wins, so I'm glad you have confidence ahead of a game against one of last year's AFC finalists. I think that the Broncos' Week 1 game against the Titans will be a close, low-scoring game, so I'll lean toward a defensive player to get a game ball from Head Coach Vic Fangio. I considered linebacker Alexander Johnson, because I think if the Broncos find success, they'll have a player who helps limit Derrick Henry. But let's go with Bradley Chubb instead. I think he'll be motivated to perform in his first game back, and I could definitely see a multi-sack game for him against Ryan Tannehill. If he were to record two sacks in his first game back, that's the sort of inspired performance that typically leads to a game ball.

I know Judge Jeudy is the truth, but what about KJ Hamler? - Ronald S.

Ronald, we've heard a lot about how polished Jerry Jeudy is, and he showed that during the Broncos' first training camp practice on Friday. Hamler is talented as well, but I think he'll need a bit more work to perform at a consistent level. In Friday's practice, Hamler made the play of the day when he extended for a deep, diving catch. Later in practice, a pass deflected off his hands and led to an interception. I suspect we'll see more of this during camp: flashes of greatness that are followed by mistakes. That's not a knock on Hamler; plenty of young players struggle to be consistent. The key for Hamler will be to try to avoid making the same mistake on multiple occasions. I do think he certainly has the talent to make a big-time impact for Denver early in the season.

Has Bradley Chubb been practicing at full speed or is he being brought back in slowly? - David P.

David, Fangio has mentioned the team will monitor Chubb during training camp, but we're not quite sure what that will look like yet. On Friday, he rotated in normally and was out there for 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 action with the starting defense. As camp progresses, it will be interesting to see if he takes fewer snaps, is held out for more rest days or if he practices in a "normal" fashion. At least through one day, I didn't notice any limitations. Even with a brace on, he looked like his old self in individual drills. I'm excited to see what he looks like when the pads go on.

Will a free-agent rookie make the team this year? - Vince V.

Vince, we received several questions about rookie free agents, and that makes sense given Denver's historic aptitude for finding quality undrafted free agents. Plain and simple, it's going to be harder to identify those players this year because of fewer practices and the lack of preseason games. In fact, a few undrafted rookies were waived without ever hitting the field when the NFL announced teams would have to cut their roster to 80 players to work out as one unit. I'd keep your eye on LeVante Bellamy, who could push Royce Freeman for the third running back spot. Personally, I think Freeman has tremendous value as a third running back and has veteran experience that would prove helpful if Melvin Gordon III or Phillip Lindsay ever had to miss a game. That's why I think the more likely player to make the roster may be safety Douglas Coleman III. Behind Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, Trey Marshall is really the only proven reserve at the position. If Coleman can push past Alijah Holder — a converted cornerback — and P.J. Locke, he'll be able to earn a spot. He had a nice pass breakup in the end zone in Friday's practice, and he intercepted eight passes during his final season in college. Don't be surprised if you hear about him being around the ball a lot.

How many regular-season games will it take to get our team ready to really put out a decent game? - Charlie M.

Charlie, I'm optimistic that the Broncos' offense will be serviceable by Week 1 because of the (admittedly limited) experience of Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Gordon and Lindsay. I think that will be enough, when paired with Denver's likely strong defense, to be right in the mix in the first couple weeks of the season. If you're looking for a game when the team's offense breaks out and reaches above the 24-point barrier that has been somewhat elusive in recent years, I'd look to Week 3 against Tampa Bay. I think two weeks into the season, Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur should have a good feel for what his offense does really well, and Lock and Co. will have enough experience running the plays. We could see a shootout that week against Tom Brady and the Bucs.

Who do you believe will be the MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year of this team? — Ben B.

Ben, we polled members of the Denver media earlier this summer about their picks for these awards and several others. You can find those results here, but I'll save you a click for my picks. I think Lock will be the MVP, Sutton the Offensive Player of the Year and Chubb the Defensive Player of the Year. I really struggled with OPOY, because I think Fant will be heavily involved in that conversation. The volume of Sutton's targets, though, put him over the top for me.

Has it been hard for the rooks trying to adjust to Denver's altitude? - Nathan C.

Nathan, I think everyone struggles to adjust to Denver's altitude. It's why the Broncos have one of the best home-field advantages in the entire league. During a recent interview with DenverBroncos.com's Phil Milani, new right tackle Demar Dotson brought up the altitude and the impact it had on him in practice. The rookies, though, seem to be fine at this point. They've been working out and conditioning for several weeks. Now, they can just focus on football.

Could Dotson be somebody we use next year as a left tackle when Garett Bolles leaves and Ja'Wuan James returns to help with cap space issues/because of the possible lack of a college season making draft prospects possible huge unknowns? - Carl W.

Carl, Dotson signed with the Broncos on a one-year deal, so the team would have to re-sign him for that to be a possibility. He'll turn 36 during the 2021 season, so the Broncos will have to evaluate if he can still play at a high level. He's played right tackle exclusively in seven of his last eight seasons, so he may not want to transition over to the other side of the line of scrimmage. All of those factors will come into play. Still, you bring up a good point about the college season. Personnel departments may have to base their evaluations off game film that is over a year old and project more than usual. With Bolles, Elijah Wilkinson and Dotson all set to become unrestricted free agents after the season, the Broncos will definitely have to make a decision at tackle. It could, though, be a lot harder to find guaranteed plug-and-play starters in next year's draft. Luckily for the Broncos, nearly every team has a pressing need to fill in the draft. Everyone will be impacted equally by a likely odd evaluation season.

What in training camp has been most affected by the preventative health measures? Are there otherwise unnoticed changes to replicate past "normals"? - @UppercutOfJustice

There's a few noticeable differences, including coaches wearing face coverings and equipment staffers spraying down blocking dummies with disinfectant during practice. The biggest change, though, is the lack of fans on the hillside. It was noticeably quieter, and Head Coach Vic Fangio mentioned on several occasions Friday how much the team missed having the fans out there. As a way to adapt, the Broncos positioned a TV screen outside of building entrance that featured live shots of fans. Players that were headed out to practice could stop and interact with the fans, and thank them for their support. It was a pretty ingenious solution, and I hope we see more of it as camp continues.

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