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Mason's Mailbag: The deep ball, necessity of long snappers and more

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.

What do you think Paxton Lynch will bring to the Denver Broncos this year that we might not have seen with Brock or Peyton?

-- Matt Droual

If Lynch starts, an improved deep ball. Manning's foot injury prevented him from getting as much strength as he needed deep, which led to accuracy problems, as witnessed dramatically against Kansas City last November. Osweiler's deep numbers weren't what you hoped they'd be; according to ProFootballFocus.com., he completed just seven of 30 passes deep for 256 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, good for a 46.0 rating.

There are certain aspects of the game where you cannot expect Lynch to match veteran quarterbacks right away -- pre-snap reads of a defense's intent, commanding the huddle, etc. These will take time. But if Lynch does start, you can expect him to be given game plans that play to his strengths, which could mean an emphasis on no-huddle work with calls at the line of scrimmage and bootlegs and moving pockets that allow him to use his mobility.

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Is Zaire Anderson a potential answer at inside linebacker?**

-- Josh Lawton

In the future he could be, but for now, the lack of regular-season experience has Todd Davis and Corey Nelson ahead of him. He has terrific instincts, is rarely in the wrong spot and can contribute on multiple special-teams units, so he has a good shot to be on the 53-man roster and get a jersey on game days.

But Davis and Nelson have both done well enough throughout OTAs to justify their spots. Davis was able to show his command of the entire defense by relaying the calls and setting up his teammates before the snap while Brandon Marshall recovered from his dislocated finger.

Davis, Nelson, Anderson and, of course, Marshall ensure that the Broncos don't have much to worry about at inside linebacker, even with Danny Trevathan now in Chicago.

It can be more important -- along with the placement of the punt. A punt with good hang time that is placed outside the numbers will not be returned very often. If you get a 42-yard punt that hangs in the air and comes down outside the numbers, then that's obviously going to be better than a line-drive 56-yarder that is returned at least 15 yards, to say nothing of the fact that the 42-yard hanger yields, at worst, a minimal risk of a substantial return.

One aspect of Riley Dixon's candidacy that is worth noting is his success at placement punting -- something Britton Colquitt did exceptionally well in the postseason, which involves not only preventing returns, but also avoiding touchbacks. Dixon forced fair catches on 42.14 percent of his punts the last two seasons, and just 6.43 percent of his punts the last two years ended in touchbacks. Both figures are better than the NFL averages.

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I was hearing so much about Kenny Anunike's potential last year; what happened to him? Figured he was gonna turn heads this year with no Malik Jackson.

-- T. Cough

He has to get healthy first. He was completing recovery from his season-ending knee injury during OTAs and is expected to return at some point during training camp.

Injuries have been a constant companion to Anunike. His last two seasons ended on injured reserve, and the extent of his injury woes at Duke led the NCAA to grant him a rare sixth year of eligibility. It's why he was undrafted in the first place; edge pass rushers with his skill and instincts and array of moves usually don't last beyond the second day of the draft.

When he returns to health, then it's a matter of whether he can show the same flashes of brilliance in an inside-rushing role as he did last year after moving to 3-4 defensive end before being hurt in the preseason.

Jackson's departure leaves a vacancy for someone to step in for sub-package work. It could be Anunike -- but only if he can stay healthy and be as explosive as he was last August.

Two-part question: I know you are big on a developmental league. Thoughts on using CFL as that league? Part 2: how much of info on Von Miller's contract situation is "rumors" and gossip? Seems a lot of information comes out in media that contradicts other stories. Love your column in North Dakota!

-- Justin Ingold

The CFL will not go for that -- nor should it. Canadian football has a unique style of play that needs to be preserved: the three-down, 12-on-12, larger-field version of gridiron football has a rich history unto itself. Its differences from the U.S. iteration of football also prevent it from being a true developmental league; there are skill sets favored by the width of the field -- and the quick pace of play with only three downs -- that don't necessarily translate (although there have been exceptions, of course).

Second, it's hard to gauge how much of Miller's contract situation is rumors and gossip. The only people who know for certain what is going on are those on each side of the negotiation. What we are left with are unconfirmed, unnamed "sources," posturing and leaks. And remember, if something is leaked, it's usually done for a reason.

There's a lot of noise, and sometimes it ends up meaning nothing in the long term. We're now within two weeks of the July 15 deadline, and if anything happens, it was always most likely to be near the deadline, anyway; the majority of franchise-tagged re-signings to long-term deals have come within days of the deadline.

I've enjoyed your Top 5 positions countdown in team history but I have a question about the Top 5 Safeties list. How far off would Brian Dawkins be from be from No. 5? I felt he was just as good if not better than Lynch during most of his time in Denver.

-- Nikolas Persons

Just on the cusp. What gave Lynch the edge was a longer tenure in Denver (four years instead of three), and the fact that his first two seasons in particular stacked up with his prime years in Tampa Bay; he actually had a bit of a renaissance after coming to Denver. Dawkins was slowed down by neck problems, especially toward the end, which cost him a chance to be a part of the postseason in 2011. Both brought the same level of leadership to the defense, but having watched them both, Lynch was at just a notch higher level than Dawkins over the length of their Denver careers.

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Many teams carry a 'long snapper' on the 53 man roster. WHY? Why not utilize your backup center as the long snapper? That backup has to have proficiency as a snapper too. So why not allow the team another space vs. carrying an 'extra' center be an exceedingly specialized player.**

-- Tom Thompson

Long snapping is a completely different discipline than snapping to quarterbacks. Just take a look at the distance, particularly in the snaps to punters. Then consider that a snap to a holder on an attempted placekick must not only arrive accurately, but with the ball spinning in the right direction to avoid the split-seconds lost when the holder has to spin the ball to avoid having the laces face the kicker, which increases the risk of a missed kick (see Minnesota and Blair Walsh's misfire in the divisional playoffs last January).

When a player is devoted exclusively to long snapping, that means he can focus on that specific skill, rather than dividing his time between that and work with the offense.

All that is with a simple goal: to minimize the risk of a game-altering bad snap.

With a 46-man gameday roster, there's more than enough room for a player who specializes in one of the game's most difficult tasks -- one at which failure can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

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Is there any chance that Sylvesster Williams could slide over to defensive end and take Malik Jackson's old spot? The scouting report on Williams coming out of college was that he was a dynamic player capable of getting upfield and pressuring the quarterback, just what Jackson excelled at. Why is he stuck at nose tackle?**

-- Mitchell Reiter

Length and size. Williams doesn't have the same type of build as the players who flourish at defensive end in Wade Phillips' scheme; players like Derek Wolfe, Vance Walker and Adam Gotsis are longer and less squat than Williams, and better suited to using their size and length to create mismatches against opposing guards.

Their reach also makes them more effective at deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage. Williams' size, conversely, gives him an advantage in bull-rushing against centers.

You could see Williams get some extra work as one of two defensive linemen in sub packages, but he's not a candidate to move to Jackson's defensive end role.

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We played 3 seasons in a row at New England. I was certain Belichick paid off the NFL, or had something on someone there! Now we have 2 seasons in a row in Denver. Will there be 3 in a row here? Isn't that an incredible circumstance?

-- Wayne Yakes, M.D.

Not at all. It's just how the NFL's schedule rotation works.

The schedule rotation starts with pre-set games against the Patriots in the years that the AFC West is paired with the AFC East for interdivisional, intraconference play. With the venues alternating, that meant a game in New England in 2008, in Denver in 2011 and in New England in 2014, and will bring a Broncos-Pats game to Denver in 2017.

Then you have the rotation for the games in other years, when the Broncos face the AFC East team that finished in the same place in their division. For 2009 and 2010, that meant AFC East teams came to Denver; the Patriots visited in 2009, and the Jets flew in for a 2010 game. In 2012 and 2013, the AFC West teams traveled to the AFC East, so it meant two games at New England. For 2015 and 2016, it's back to games at AFC West clubs, which brought the Patriots here for the first two seasons of what will be three in a row by 2017.

In 2018 and 2019, the Broncos will have one game at an AFC East team, which could be the Patriots. So if the Broncos and Patriots continue mirroring each other in the standings, another three-year stretch with games at New England.

There's nothing sinister or conspiratory here. It's just how the NFL's schedule rotation works, and it evens out over time.


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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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