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Mason's Mailbag: Team focus, the future and "what ifs" in Broncos history

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.

#AskMase Who are the leading candidates to replace Bruton as special teams capitan? @MaseDenver — ~ (@TheRightDevice) July 20, 2016

Some of the top candidates include veternas such as Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Cody Latimer, Kavyon Webster, Juwan Thompson and Bennie Fowler. All have extensive special-teams resumes and were significant contributors to the massive improvement shown by the unit last year.

While watching old Broncos highlights, I came across Bobby Humphrey. So good those first two years before a contract holdout derailed his career. Could've been so great. Is he the greatest 'what if' in Broncos history? Who else -- either through circumstance or injury -- left was wondering what might have been?

-- Mike DeCicco

He might be, but there are a few others who come to mind.

One is another running back, Otis Armstrong. When he first arrived, he looked like he might be able to surpass his predecessor, Floyd Little. But he was plagued by injuries -- including rib and hamstring problems -- in 1975, and was never quite the same after that, although he had one more 1,000-yard season in 1976. Armstrong led the league in rushing in 1974 (1,407 yards) and prior to his 1975 injuries, averaged 5.16 yards per carry; after that, his average was just 3.98 yards per rush. When Red Miller arrived in 1977, he favored a platoon, which limited Armstrong's chances to get into a groove; after averaging 18 carries a game in 1976, he never averaged more than 13 carries a game in a single season.

And although Ryan Clady was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro, I'll always think of him as a "what if," because of the injuries that robbed him of nearly two full seasons and hindered him in some capacity from 2010 onward. In 2008-09. Clady looked like an all-timer, perhaps the next Hall of Fame left tackle. And as good as Clady was even after his offseason knee injury in 2010, he would be ground down by more physical woes: a shoulder injury and a Lisfranc tear. Clady is in the conversation with Gary Zimmerman to be the best tackle in Broncos history; had he been blessed with good health, he might have been considered clearly the best -- especially since he had multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections despite the injuries.

But the biggest "what if" of all is one that is particularly painful to think about ... Darrent Williams. In 2005 and 2006, he became an outstanding partner with Champ Bailey, while also providing an explosive, game-changing threat on punt returns. He was resilient and tough, often playing through injuries. It's hard to believe nearly 10 years have passed since he was killed.

If I'm not mistaken, Matt Paradis was an exclusive rights free agent after last year (2015). After doing my research, it says he will become an ERFA after this year (2016) as well. My question is, after what year will he become a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent?

-- Lucas Moeller

Paradis will be a restricted free agent after the 2017 season, his third full season, and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2018 campaign, his fourth full season. This is because his rookie season on the practice squad (2014) does not count as a year of service toward free-agent eligibility.

I don't want to make the Nalen comparison this early in the game -- that's a bold leap, and it's unfair to Paradis to put that kind of comparison on him at this point. But like Nalen, Paradis is intelligent and able to quickly apply what he sees and studies into action on the field.

Not particularly. There isn't one team in the NFL that hasn't had some players have some hurt feelings upon leaving. This is part of the business; it's not unique to the Broncos or anyone else.

Further, quite a few players have gotten big deals: C.J. Anderson, Chris Harris Jr., Brandon Marshall, Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Demaryius Thomas, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe, to name a few.

Under a salary cap, you're not going to be able to sign or keep every player you want. You need to make tough choices. The less you can get for one player under the cap, the more room you will have for talent either on the market or that you retain.

I'm not listening to all of the "noise" about them being in trouble with NO QB -- give me a break. And that they lost some defensive players, and that will hurt them. People that doubt don't know the Broncos' depth at several defensive positions. And they picked up some players and drafted some great ones too. So I feel great about the team on paper.

My question to you is do you believe this team is focused to make another run? So many times you see teams get distracted after all of the post-Super Bowl appearances, commercials, interviews, attention, celebrating, contract issues, etc.

Is this Bronco team under Elway focused to get back to work and put all of the fun distractions and things behind them and be just as hungry as they were last year?

-- Bronco Tom Williams

The players are saying the right things, and certainly you get the sense that there are plenty of chips on plenty of shoulders. Demaryius Thomas has spoken repeatedly of wanting to prove what he can truly do after struggling with drops last year. Several players on defense have discussed a lack of respect from outside the team and its fans, and a desire to show that its elite status isn't just a one-year comet across the sky, but can be a sustained run of success.

But focus isn't enough. You can have the right mindframe throughout the offseason, but if a crucial injury or two happens and the "next man up" struggles to meet the standard of the first-teamer, then you've got a gap for which you must compensate. Chemistry must be built with new players. Others who will be asked to step into larger roles must adjust.

And the Broncos will break in a new starting quarterback, no matter whether Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch is the starter. No quarterback who had never started with his current team before the season has won a Super Bowl since Tom Brady in the 2001 campaign, and in the past 20 seasons, just five quarterbacks have made the Super Bowl in that scenario. (But one of them was another club with an all-time defense -- the 2000 Ravens with Trent Dilfer, who had just arrived from Tampa Bay.)

Yes, it seems like the focus is there. But that guarantees nothing.

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Looking into the future a bit, the year 2020 kind of scares me. Big names like Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Demaryius Thomas's contracts are all up, among others. What do you think the Broncos are planning once that year rolls around?**

-- Nathan Seiler

2020? Slow down there, buddy.

Between now and 2020, dynasties can rise and fall, more than half of the players currently in the NFL will no longer be in the sport. Half of the teams in AFC West may not even be in the same cities in which they now reside.

There are too many moving parts and changing circumstances between now and 2020 to have a firm plan, let alone be scared about it. Let the future come when it will and focus on the present.

Andrew - thanks for doing such a great job giving us fans the inside scoop on the Broncos! I was wondering if the Broncos would consider live casting the open to the public practices. You are already filming everything that goes on so I would think it wouldn't be too much extra work. Even if it was a day's delay that was available for viewing -- I think it would be great to see practices -- for those of us who will probably never be able to attend live. What do you think?

-- Steve Horton

First, thank you.

Second, although a live broadcast of a training-camp practice sounds good in theory, in actual execution it's unworkable.

I think if the Broncos had a live broadcast of their practices, that you'd have the Bengals, Buccaneers, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, Panthers, Patriots, Raiders, Saints, Texans and Titans all devoting at least one person in their pro personnel department or coaching staff to watching the broadcast, taking copious notes and studying each practice looking for tendencies, formations and tactics. So, no, live broadcasts of the practices are not and will not be a consideration.

Broncos TV staffers are not shooting video of everything that is going on, anyway. One or multiple cameras might be devoted to following a player around for a mic'd up package. And even if everything in practice was shot, it would be a tremendous amount of extra work to produce a live broadcast.

Do you believe that some of these wide receiver like Jordan Taylor could become a key weapon on third-down situations if he makes the 53-man roster or could he be used for special-teams purposes?

-- Caleb Mathias

Sure, he could. But unless he is miles ahead of the other receivers in the competition for backup spots, Taylor will not make the 53-man roster without establishing some kind of role on special teams. Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler already excel on multiple special-teams units, and Jordan Norwood has more experience on punt returns than anyone else in the mix for the job.


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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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