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Mason's Mailbag: The return of the fullback

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

Will the Broncos be signing or drafting a legitimate fullback to go with the new system and hopefully bring back the glory days of the Super Bowl championship zone blocking scheme?
-- Scott Berry

One way or another, a fullback will be on the roster in 2015. It's just a question of where the Broncos find him -- in the draft or the undrafted free-agent market, via free agency or from within, even though there is no fullback on the roster and there has not been since the 2012 season.

A possibility that I mentioned earlier this month is , and Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway noted Thursday that he could be a potential fullback. The Broncos have had success with running backs who became fullbacks -- two prime examples are Howard Griffith and Mike Anderson. They possessed the ball skills to make plays in their own right.

"I think to be real effective in the running game, you've got to run with the fullback, you've got to have 21 (two backs, one tight end) personnel and put somebody in the backfield," Elway said. "Whether that be a fullback, or a combination of a 'Y' fullback type thing or whatnot, but we'll have people that will be playing the fullback position, and Gary (Kubiak) will have more 21 personnel."

And if the occasional run is necessary for a fullback, Thompson is ideal. As a rookie, he became an effective short-yardage runner while adding the Broncos' longest run since Nov. 6, 2011.

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The inside linebacker position seems to be one of the positions with the least amount of depth. Is there anyone that could give them an immediate boost at that position in the draft?**
-- Chris Bray

I don't see inside linebacker as one of the positions with the "least amount of depth." Quite the opposite.

If the Broncos show faith in their young players -- as Elway has suggested -- the depth may already be there. Elway noted Thursday that Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan will be the middle and "moe" linebackers working from the inside in the 3-4. Backup Todd Davis showed promise in his three starts, improving from week to week; although he was beaten for a deep pass to Coby Fleener in the divisional-round loss, he showed promise, particularly against the run. Steven Johnson, the middle linebacker for the second half of the season, has experience and is a solid two-down linebacker. That's two starters who are your backups, and Davis, in particular, has tremendous upside.

And last year's third-day picks, Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow, will get a chance; if they progress, they can be assets. That's more depth than most teams can boast.

@MaseDenver if you were picking. Who would you take as your first pick? — Matt Rivera (@mattdrivera) February 17, 2015

If I needed a quarterback, I'd try to trade down a few slots and pick Marcus Mariota. At that point, I think the risk-reward ratio would be ideal, and Jameis Winston's character concerns make me nervous about picking him in the top 10. (Again, I come back to risk-reward ratio; if Winston remains available at the 10th pick, that's about the right spot.) If I didn't need a quarterback, I'd take USC defensive end Leonard Williams, the most talented player in this year's class.

Can this statement you made about the running back position -- "Why? You have a Pro Bowl running back who is six years younger and doesn't have the accumulated wear and tear to go with 2,469 career touches. There would seem to be plenty of better ways to use that money, with seven starters due to become unrestricted free agents and pressing needs elsewhere." -- also apply to the QB position with Manning? seeing how C.J. Anderson only made the Pro Bowl by default? Spending the money on a younger free-agent QB that has some promise or merely giving the reins over to Osweiler?
-- Douglas Moulton

Apples and oranges. Running back is a high-wear, high-attrition position. Drop-back pocket quarterbacks peak in their late twenties to their thirties, and Manning had the best statistical season in league history at age 37. And quarterbacks do not have the same plug-and-play flexibility as running backs.

If you make a change at the quarterback position, you have to be prepared for the risk involved. With Manning playing 16 games, your floor is probably in the 9-7 range -- and even that might not be giving him and his team enough credit, given that no team he's quarterbacked since 2002 has failed to win at least 10 games, and the Broncos have a 40-13 record since 2012. With any other quarterback, the potential variance skyrockets.

If Osweiler gets the call, he could be good. He could struggle. The offense should have enough weapons and enough tactical strength to be effective, but with a new starting quarterback with only a handful of meaningful regular-season snaps to his name, no one knows what could be happen, and if they think they do with certainty, they're lying.

Elway and Kubiak understand this. They know their best shot is with an experienced hand at the controls and an offense that, as Elway noted Thursday, can enhance the prospects for a great veteran nearing the end of his career. That's why they've been consistent in saying they want Manning back for over a month.

And as for Anderson making the Pro Bowl "by default" ... when you consider that he didn't become the first-teamer until more than halfway through the season, and he still managed to justify alternate status, well, that's impressive in my book.

@MaseDenver odds on Knighton becoming a Bronco? Would we rather have Knighton or JT? — Jake Moir (@YourAverageJake) February 19, 2015

Becoming? Last I checked, he is a Bronco. Has been for nearly two years. And could be for longer if the team and Knighton can work out a deal; Elway will meet with his agent in the coming days during the Scouting Combine.

If Terrance Knighton elects not to stay in Denver, is Ndamukong Suh a viable candidate for nose tackle or is he better suited for DT?
-- Mike Ray

Suh is better off in a 4-3, and at the price he'll command, he will eat up too much salary-cap space to be a viable for a team trying to keep as many of its own players as possible. He is not a viable candidate.

With all the Broncos new coaching changes. Is there a chance we could see Champ on the sidelines as a coach? #askmase #Broncos — chase courington (@ChaseCourington) February 18, 2015

No chance, at least not this year. Bailey is likely to explore broadcasting opportunities, and I doubt he wants to put in the rigorous hours that coaching requires.

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Houston made J.J. Watt a comic book in his honor ... They have made him into a superhero of sorts ... Do you think this helps raise players' play to meet expectations? Would it work for someone like Von Miller?**
-- Mike D. Mize

I was at the game where they handed out the Watt comic books, and while it was a nice promotional touch, a player shouldn't need something like that to raise his level of play. I don't think Watt needed it to reach a stratum where he was an MVP candidate and I don't think Miller needs it to reach his potential, either.

Why have we not heard of any contract negotiations going on? And are there any going on?
-- Justin Guddendorf

Although we know that Elway will meet with representatives of some Broncos, including those of Terrance Knighton, Rahim Moore and Orlando Franklin, among others, most negotiations do not take place in the public eye. Just because there isn't a news report about a negotiation does not mean it isn't happening.


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