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Mason's Mailbag: The value of patience and the benefit of zone blocking on the passing game

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

Why can't they get Demaryius Thomas' franchise tag done? Do you think it's going to create a problem with him holding out on offseason practices similar to Chris Johnson when he held out for the Titans?
-- Curtis Harrington

Those two situations could not be more different.

First of all, Thomas is not a holdout. There is no such thing as a holdout from offseason work that is officially voluntary in nature (which is the case for all sessions but June minicamp). Further, he's not under contract until he signs his franchise tender or a new deal, so he cannot take part. Johnson was under contract when he held himself out of Tennessee's training camp in 2011.

The ball is in Thomas' court to sign the franchise tag or wait. But the impatience regarding Thomas' status is a bit pointless. If he's not at organized team activities, that just gives more repetitions to Cody Latimer, who needs them to work on his timing with Peyton Manning.

Thomas and Manning have three years of collaborative success under their belts. There's more to gain for the entire offense -- and the progress of a key part of the Broncos' future -- by getting Latimer work right now.

And the last two players to receive the franchise tag received long-term deals in July -- kicker Matt Prater (2012) and left tackle Ryan Clady (2013). The Broncos and Thomas continue to work on a long-term deal.

OTAs do matter. But for a seasoned veteran like Thomas, not taking part in them is not be a be-all, end-all to his hopes of a successful season. Thomas is a mature pro; he'll stay in shape and prepare, even if his contract situation forces him to remain away from Dove Valley.

So, regarding Thomas: chill. These situations often take months to resolve.

If recent history is a guide, it will be sometime this month, likely a few days before the NFL Draft begins April 30. On the day it's announced, the league will reveal the slate via a simultaneous release at NFL.com, team websites and the NFL Network. Last year, the schedule was released April 23, but the draft was not until May 8. In 2013, the NFL announced the schedule April 18 -- seven days before the draft.

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How is the zone blocking scheme better for Manning, in your opinion?**
-- Darby Day

The best answer on how zone blocking can help Manning will not come from me, but from Hall of Fame offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, who was with the Broncos in 1995 when Gary Kubiak returned to the club as offensive coordinator after the hiring of Mike Shanahan.

"It's going to take a lot of pressure off him, for one. In the past, the [offense] was one-dimensional, it was pretty much a throwing team, and that's what everyone prepared for, and all the pressure was on Peyton, so when you have a zone-blocking game, if the run's not working, you go to the pass, and if the pass is not working, you go to the run," Zimmerman said in an interview for a story posted April 2.

"I think the biggest thing in the zone blocking is that the defense has a lot more to think about, because a lot of plays look alike, and there's a lot of pass plays that look like run plays. It kind of puts a little more thinking on the defense as in the previous years, where they just lined up and played, and knew that the pass was coming. Now they're going to have to first determine if it's a run or a pass, and then go from there."

So if the defense has to pause before identifying the Broncos' intent, that plays into Manning's hands. Even a half-second of hesitation could be enough for Manning to exploit a defense. And with a 2013 All-Pro (Louis Vasquez), a 2014 Pro Bowler initially drafted because of his zone-blocking potential (Ryan Clady) and offensive linemen designed to fit in the scheme, Manning could prosper.

Why are NFL experts saying that the Broncos aren't going to the playoffs again?
-- Jose Casillas

According to NFL analyses the Broncos will not return to the playoffs and they have taken a dip in power rankings -- why? I still believe we are playoff material and should be rated higher.-- Josh Norris* *

You'd have to ask these so-called "experts." I don't read offseason power rankings -- unless they're analytically driven, they're entirely subjective, and, thus, pointless -- but given the round in which the Broncos finished the 2014 season, somewhere between fifth and eighth would be about right.

Further, why should anyone care about predictions in April? The draft is still nearly three weeks away and players haven't even reported for voluntary offseason workouts, although they will on Monday.

The 12-month NFL cycle is nice for the business of the sport, but people need to step back, take a deep breath and focus on their team and its players, and not someone's predictions or rankings.

They have the freedom to draft the best player available, as their recent pickups ensure that they are not without an experienced option at any position, and they now have enough defensive ends to fill a four-man rotation with Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Vance Walker and Antonio Smith.

Their first-round choice will be based on which prospects they like -- but also how they expect the board to fall. Take running back, for example. A runner might be the "best player available" at pick No. 28, but the Broncos have ample depth, this year's class has talented running backs that will drop into the third day, and this coaching staff has proved it can develop running backs from all areas of the draft -- and the undrafted ranks.

A similar situation could exist for offensive linemen, although two of the most successful offensive tackles developed by Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison were first-round picks in 2008: Duane Brown, by Kubiak's Texans, and Clady, when Dennison was in his first Broncos stint. Both became immediate starters. George Foster is another offensive lineman drafted in the first round while both were with the Broncos in 2003, but he did not become a full-time starter until his second season.

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What do you think are the odds the Broncos move up in the draft? I could see them moving up and picking a pass rusher like Randy Gregory, since his stock is falling fast, and then just drafting a tackle in the second. Or do you see them drafting for best available/need?**
-- John Jardine

If Gregory falls into the 20s, the risk-reward ratio could be right. That being said, he admitted to multiple marijuana tests in a March NFL.com report and probably needs to add at least 10 pounds for his best chance of success, so there is a projection, both in character and on-field pro readiness.

What's important to remember is that the Broncos don't have much proven depth behind outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, and Ware is in the second year of a three-year deal and is going into his 11th NFL season. And with Quanterus Smith coming off another knee injury that forced him onto injured reserve just before the divisional-round loss, the Broncos could use some edge-rushing depth. Gregory would fit that bill now, with an eye toward starting him in the future.

But as for the odds of moving up -- sorry, I don't do odds or chances or percentages unless there's hard data upon which I can make a prediction. It would not surprise me if the Broncos did move up, but after covering the NFL for so long, little surprises me anymore.

A follow-up question from Jay Knight on April 1, 2015. If the new NFL rules prohibit changing helmets colors during the season, when can we expect the Denver Broncos to finally switch back to the beloved burnt orange and blue scheme with the "D" on the helmet? The experiment to deviate into something more modern has been fun but it's time the Broncos switch back!
-- Neil Bhatia

Don't hold your breath. No uniform and/or logo change is on the horizon, whether it's to a throwback look or something new.

Do you see C.J. Anderson being the next Terrell Davis?
-- Dimitrie Lopez

Unless Anderson threatens 2,000 yards, it's unfair to him -- and to Davis, a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate -- to compare the two and say that Anderson could be the next T.D.

Based on last year's performance, being the first C.J. Anderson should be enough.


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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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