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Denver Broncos News: Broncos' Mailbag


Mason's Mailbag: Inside LBs, draft chatter and Broncos on Thanksgiving?


As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.*

Now that the television networks can move games back and forth independent of the old AFC-NFC constrictions, a Broncos-Lions Thanksgiving game is a distinct possibility. (Under the old rules, Broncos-Lions in the afternoon would have been locked onto CBS, and the Lions' Thanksgiving possibilities would have been restricted to two NFC opponents, because Fox and CBS alternate between the Cowboys and Lions, and next year is Fox's turn in Detroit.)

The only matter to consider is that if Broncos-Lions is on Thanksgiving, you remove the Broncos from consideration for any Thursday night game not played in Week 1 (or the week after Thanksgiving), because the league prefers to limit each team to one short week a season. And recent Thanksgiving matchups (like Raiders-Cowboys in 2013) prove that the audience is there for any matchup on the holiday.

Nevertheless, the Broncos have not played on Thanksgiving since a prime-time game in 2009 against the Giants. The current five-year gap between games is the Broncos' longest since going from 1990 to 2001 without a game on the holiday.

I'm not a fan of short-week games -- except on Thanksgiving. That's the exception I make because of the tradition of football on the holiday. And I, for one, hope that Broncos-Lions kicks off the tripleheader.


Now that Wade is back in the saddle, are all the coaching positions that needed to be filled, completed? What ever happened with all talk about possibly Kyle Shanahan being offered the position of Offensive Coordinator?** -- Roger Willis

You can expect a few offensive/defensive assistants and quality-control coaches to fill out the staff, but for the most part, the group is set.

As for Kyle Shanahan, the notion was nothing but talk. Just because something is the subject of chatter and speculation does not mean it is an actual possibility.

Radio is part of my job description -- and while I try to make sure as many of my opinions and statements are grounded in fact, sometimes, you end up getting into the flow of conversation and tossing out hypotheticals that begin with "If I were in charge …" or "Maybe this is a good idea …"

There's a difference between a report that has sources and chatter just to stir the pot and stimulate conversation. I'm not saying you shouldn't listen to the chatter; it keeps those of us on the airwaves in business. But accept a lot of it as precisely that -- chatter.

"Finally"? The Broncos drafted an inside linebacker last year -- although in the 4-3 they Broncos used, fifth-rounder Lamin Barrow was listed as a middle linebacker. The initial intent was to use him in the 'mike' spot, but he ended up behind both Nate Irving and Steven Johnson.

In the Wade Phillips 3-4 alignment the Broncos are expected to adopt, inside linebacker doesn't appear to be a pressing need. Phillips likes his inside linebackers fast and without excess bulk to slow them down. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are both within three pounds of the average size for 3-4 inside linebackers, but have speed and pursuit abilities that should fit well.

An insurance policy in case Trevathan's knee injuries improve could be Todd Davis, who started the last three games of 2014 and saw improvement from game to game (in the playoff, the play where Coby Fleener beat him jumps out to many, but Davis actually played well on the whole, particularly against the run). And Barrow will be in the mix after playing mostly on special teams.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos draft a linebacker at some point, but I expect it to be a 3-4 weakside linebacker. Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware enters his 11th NFL season, didn't have a sack in the last five games and his snap count could be under close watch, although a return to the 3-4 in which he flourished with the Cowboys could help him. Third-year backup Quanterus Smith is a more ideal size fit for 3-4 work on the weakside than as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, must deal with another recent injury to the left knee in which he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in college.

If the Broncos play free agency right, they can go into the draft without any pressing needs and the freedom to select the best player available. And if that's a linebacker, they could add one. But they've done quite a bit to address inside linebacker already.


Do you think there's any way the Broncos would trade up for Marcus Mariota in this year's draft? Even if Peyton stays it would probably only be for this year. Or maybe Garrett Grayson?**
-- Ethan Cox

It's not a realistic possibility unless the Broncos do something that a draft-and-develop team is unlikely to do: send a collection of picks away for one player. An example of this is in the trade the New Orleans Saints executed to get Ricky Williams in 1999, when they sent all six of their picks that year -- plus first- and third-rounders the next year -- to move up six slots in the first round. (I don't include the 1989 Herschel Walker deal in this because it was not a draft-day trade, although after the Cowboys were done cutting the veterans they received from the Vikings, Minnesota's draft plan was shredded.)

Twelve years later, with teams a bit wiser to the consequences of such a move, the Falcons paid a bit lower of a price to move up 21 picks to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones: two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders. Cleveland's eventual return wasn't great; the Browns used one of the picks to move up and get nose tackle Phil Taylor, and kept the rest and added wide receiver Greg Little, fullback Owen Marecic, quarterback Brandon Weeden and, finally, sent the fourth-rounder in 2012 to Minnesota to move up and pick Trent Richardson, who provided more value when the Browns dealt him to the Colts than with anything he did in a Cleveland uniform. In the end, Atlanta won that swap.

So if you believe in a player enough, you do it. And the Broncos likely have extra third-day picks this year that they cannot trade (compensatory selections), so that could compel some aggression and a move up the board knowing that they can still find players later. As we've seen in recent years, the Broncos have ample reason to trust their ability to mine Day 3 gems (Julius Thomas, Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson, for examples).

As for Grayson, I expect you wouldn't have to move for him. I think it's between him, Baylor's Bryce Petty and UCLA's Brett Hundley to be the No. 3 quarterback in the draft.

Which one you like depends on how much stock you put in factors such as Hundley's judgment lapse at not calling back Senior Bowl director Phil Savage (a former Ravens and Browns personnel executive) to formally decline his invitation to that game, and whether you feel Petty can learn how to work under center (I think he can; he looked more comfortable as Senior Bowl week progressed after an early spate of bobbled and fumbled snaps).

I think that's a rash move.

I hate to lean on the "This isn't Madden" crutch I occasionally use, but this applies here. You can't simply take a young cornerback who hasn't played safety before and expect him to go back there, learn it, and succeed. And if you do this, you a) weaken your No. 3 cornerback spot, creating another need that can be tricky to fill, and b) create two uncertainties: nickel corner and free safety. And what if he doesn't fare well at the position, and has to move back?

Emergency position shifts are sometimes a necessity: see Domonique Foxworth working at safety late in the 2006 season and Louis Vasquez moving to right tackle midway through last season. But the odds are against long-term success. Foxworth quickly went back to cornerback, and all indications are that Vasquez will be back at right guard by the time the Broncos reconvene for OTAs in the spring.

Roby made palpable progress at cornerback. The best play is to leave him there. If Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib stay healthy, Roby will still play a majority of the snaps. If one of them gets hurt, then the Broncos' base defense would minimize its dropoff with a No. 3 cornerback of Roby's potential and quality.

I read that Julius Thomas isn't interested in giving the Broncos a hometown discount like Demaryius is, is this true? If so, would it be better to get Vernon Davis in free agency? He's a better blocker and still very effective in the red zone and middle of the field.
-- Justin Pizmmore

Only Julius Thomas and his agent know the answer to that, although his response to NFL Network during a Friday interview -- "depends on what a hometown discount is" -- offers a hint.

Demaryius Thomas and Terrance Knighton have point-blank said they would consider taking less money than they might get on the market to stay, and we know that Chris Harris Jr. has already made that choice. Given that Thomas has yet to make it through a full 16-game schedule because of various ankle injuries, it's a tough call.

And if you want Vernon Davis, you'll have to wait a year, unless the 49ers release him with one year left on his contract (which would save just under $5 million in salary-cap room).

I'll have a better idea once we get through the Combine and workout process. That's where you see guys tumble because of heights and weights that were less than expected (we already have an example with Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who measured two inches shorter at the Senior Bowl than Stanford listed him), bad 40 times, poor results in the bench press, etc.

Trevathan and Todd Davis are good examples of players whose draft stock fell after bad results in the 40-yard dash leading up to the draft. This is where you are most likely to find value: players with outstanding film and shaky measurables. With linebackers, for example, you ask, "Do they always seem to be around the ball?"

One player who already jumps out to me as a value pick is Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke. He put up big numbers in a program going through a rough transition from FCS to FBS and played well in East-West Shrine Game practices. The negative number on him is his hand size: 9 1/4 inches.

Compare those hands to other prospects like Colorado State's Garrett Grayson (10 1/4 inches) and Baylor's Bryce Petty (10 inches). Heinicke isn't big (6-foot-1), and usually shorter quarterbacks need bigger hands, mobility, and preferably both, to compensate for hands less than 9 1/2 inches. (Take Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, for example; they have 10 1/4-inch hands.)

For the briefest of moments, I did. But he asks thoughtful questions, so I can overlook anything.

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