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Mason's Mailbag: Broncos' future is already here

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In a way, but not completely. The new rules on kickoffs work against extra defensive linemen and more in favor of linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. But for some teams, the extra special-teamer could come from outside linebacker or safety, rather than inside linebacker. It depends on the skill sets of the reserve offensive and defensive players who make up most of the special-teams units.

With the Broncos in particular, it's worth noting the contrast between Zaire Anderson and Joe Jones. Anderson is an in-the-box thumper; Jones is more of a coverage linebacker who can get up to speed from a standing start in a hurry -- the attribute that is necessary for kickoff-coverage work under the new rules.

Denver also wanted to keep Alexander Johnson, who could contribute on special teams at some point this year, but is still working his way back to full football readiness after being out of the game for three and a half years. Johnson's skill set is similar to that of Anderson.

One of the key aspects of the initial 2018 practice squad is that the Broncos get the chance to continue seeing what they have in some of their recent draft picks. Running back David Williams, cornerback Brendan Langley and wide receiver Carlos Henderson all clearly need more time for development and evaluation. Henderson, in particular, has only worked in a handful of OTAs over the last 12 months after missing all of training camp and the preseason.

Beyond them, you have two undrafted rookies -- offensive lineman Austin Schlottman and safety Trey Marshall -- and two players with previous Broncos practice-squad experience who have never known another NFL team -- wide receiver River Cracraft and defensive lineman Kyle Peko. This builds off the Broncos' re-commitment to developing as much young talent as possible.

Including the practice squad, injured reserve and physically-unable-to-perform list, the Broncos have 68 players. Forty-four of them -- 64.7 percent -- are homegrown. Thirty-two of those 44 have come aboard in the last three seasons. Nine of those 32 are significant enough to this year's plans that the Broncos held them out of the preseason finale.

When you watch the Broncos, the team's future is already sitting right in front of you.

I expect Kelly will remain the No. 2 quarterback in the short term. Hogan could offer a more experienced option once he learns the Broncos' scheme. 

He's already checked off plenty of firsts in his career -- first game, first start, first touchdown, first interception, etc. He's also trending in the right direction, and while his passer rating was higher in the 2017 preseason with Cleveland (123.0), his 96.7 rating in August came with more repetitions; he led Washington in completions, yardage and touchdown passes, and was a late game-standout against the Broncos on Aug. 24.

You'd like to see him improve his sack rate (one every 12.4 pass plays, including preseason and regular-season work), but his overall trend is positive. 

Hogan gives the Broncos the best of both worlds. He has some experience, but plenty of growth potential with a body of work that shows he can reach higher levels.

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