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Mason's Mailbag: A dose of reality and patience is needed for fan evaluations of rookies

*As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase or use the submission form to your right (if you're viewing on a standard browser) or at the bottom of the page if you're on the mobile site.

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As at least one coach has said during an injury-plagued season, "No one's coming to save us." The most viable solutions will likely come from within; as you saw on the offensive line with Tyler Polumbus last year, you can find some rotational help, but likely nothing more than that on the market unless you wanted to make a trade.

So you need Adam Gotsis to continue improving and developing, Billy Winn to generate pressure in his opportunities, Jared Crick to be disruptive -- he had two quarterback hits last week -- and Sylvester Williams to keep growing into a more expansive role, especially in the pass rush, than he had last year. The practice-field development of Kyle Peko bears monitoring, and he could push his way into the rotation, as well.

This isn't an ideal situation for the Broncos. Patience will be required. But few coaches at any position anywhere in the sport are better at extracting every drop from their players than Defensive Line Coach Bill Kollar. He did that last year, and got across-the-board improvement from his linemen. Expect improvement from this group once again over the next few weeks.

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Riley Dixon may not be the answer. Doesn't seem to be able to punt under pressure and I'm not impressed with his holding either. Is there a Plan B or competition coming to be evaluated?**

-- Andrew Hunter

First, let's evaluate your basic premise here: deeming a rookie replaceable after one game.

If you would have used the same standard for Peyton Manning, you would have been thinking about "Plan B" after he went 21-of-37 for 302 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in his 1998 debut. Chris Harris Jr. might have elicited frustration after his first regular-season game with extended action, a 2011 contest in which Detroit's Matthew Stafford beat him for eight completions.

As for punters, the league's best punter last year, Johnny Hekker of the Rams, posted a net average of 37.6 yards in his regular-season debut in 2012. Good thing the Rams weren't talking about contigency plans after that game.

Dixon's debut wasn't all it could be, but it was better than plenty of others I've seen in the NFL. As Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis said, it was "inconsistent." Good coverage helped Dixon and gave him a net average of 42.7 yards, 10th-best in the league after Week 1. But his hang times had a wide variance -- from 3.85 to 4.78 seconds -- and only his 54-yard punt outside the numbers in the third quarter, which had his best hang time of the game, was what he wanted.

"We're going to have to see better, and that's what I said going into last week," DeCamillis said. "I want to see him progress as the year goes on."

And that's the point -- progress. Not just for Dixon, but every young Bronco.

"I think the thing you just realize, those young guys, all of a sudden went from preseason to that game and to watch the intensity pick up -- everything picks up and the importance of every play picks up," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "I'm expecting all of those kids to grow this week."

The progress won't be on a straight incline.

"We've just got to keep working, and I think he will. I think he's going to be a really good player down the road."

"Down the road" is the key part of that. Proper development takes time, and this sport does not have a minor league in which mistakes can be made. Players must learn on the job, and mistakes go along with it. All of that is incompatible with this hot-take, satisfy-me-NOW-damn-it culture.

This is not just a football thing or a sports thing, it's a 2016 thing. It's the natural by-product of microwaves, on-demand viewing and the dream of transporters like in Star Trek. And it needs to stop. All of society could use a little more patience and a little less overreaction to the moment.

So no, there is no imminent competition or Plan B. As with any player, if there is a pattern of struggles, change could come. But that will not happen unless there is a pattern of poor play — and if you're in the top 10 in net punting average, that can hardly be described as "poor."

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Will Kapri Bibbbs be ahead of Devontae Booker for the fumble last week?**
-- Taylor Christensen

There is no indication that will be the case. Further, you don't want to go shifting the depth chart willy-nilly just because of a mistake or two by a player making his debut.

"It's tough to start your career with that, but I can think of a lot of great [players] that may have started with some bad opening days," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We believe in 'Book.' He's going to be a really good player."

Don't be surprised to see continued cameo appearances from Bibbs; although this summer saw his third training camp, he, too, is young, and the Broncos want to see progress from him. But Booker's potential and his play throughout the summer is such that one fumble and one missed blitz pickup in his first game won't knock him down. If those issues persist, then the depth chart will be altered accordingly.

"Questionable" used to imply a 50-50 shot, but now under the current, redefined injury-report parameters, it's not so clear. Still, it will ultimately depend on Thomas and how he feels Sunday after practicing on a limited basis all three days this week.

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With all the chatter since the last game about the hits on Newton, did the NFL or the Broncos investigate Derek Wolfe's neck injury? I read an article where Wolfe was quoted as saying his neck was twisted several times by the Panthers but only one call for face mask. Looks like he is still not at full practice.**

-- Sarah Beard

Any investigation would be the purview of the NFL. The Broncos would not -- and cannot -- have anything to do with it beyond pointing out any infractions that were not called in the collection of officiating calls and non-calls they (and each team) sends after its games to the league office.

Wolfe did not have full practice this week, but as he noted Friday, he's not injured; he's hurting. He got some respites in practice this week with the hope of having him available on a full-tilt basis Sunday.

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Revisiting the active roster expansion from your last post; I like the idea of some expansion as well as your explanation of the "waiver wire" aspect. What if roster were expanded to only 55, with the expansion of two active players after the 53-man cut down? Much like the practice squad, teams could sign two players to the active roster as well.**

-- Tom Pomarico

I assume you mean that teams could add those two players once they've had 24 hours to pass through waivers. That is an intriguing option.

I've never been a fan of the game-day inactive list. To me, if you're on the roster, you should be able to play. Reduce the rosters to 50 players, but have them all available. The compromise for this is a change in the structure of injured reserve: instead of being able to recall only one player per season, you could recall up to 10. Then the injured-reserve list would have two categories: 14-day and season (which would be roughly analogous to the 15- and 60-day disabled lists in Major League Baseball). A player on the 14-day list would have to miss at least two weeks, but could be reactivated at any time after that.

This would be a compromise that allows for a bit more specialization on the game-day roster (as you would have 50 players active). It could be perceived as helping competitive balance for the lesser teams, even though I don't think it would affect the players on the waiver wire that much (for example, the Broncos could have opened the regular season by placing Bennie Fowler on the two-week injured-reserve list).

There are some downsides to the idea, but this and other roster proposals like yours, are worth exploring.


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The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

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