This is a terrific question, especially because I find myself ruminating on last year's finish and wondering, "What did I miss?" A few times on Orange and Blue 760 during training camp, I cautioned listeners to consider everything in light of where the team was weak and strong -- e.g., if the team was running the ball well during OTAs and training camp, it was doing so against a run defense that was one of the league's worst in 2016.
Of course, it turned out that the run defense was for real; it allowed fewer yards per carry than anyone else and also had the best first-down rate, allowing just one first down every 6.3 attempts. The issues were elsewhere.
I can compare this year to last year, though, and what I saw from the team this spring is more urgency, a quicker tempo and increased leadership and composed decision-making from the quarterback position. Given the hindsight of looking back on 2017 and comparing it to now, the difference is palpable and positive. That said, it's not an exact science. You can do everything right in the offseason, but then if you have two or three key injuries between training camp and the first quarter of the regular season, it all goes kaput.
Yes. In fact, perhaps the most memorable touchdown of the Broncos' 1977 run to their first AFC championship was scored by a kicker -- Ring of Famer Jim Turner, who caught a touchdown pass from Norris Weese on a fake field goal en route to a 30-7 win at Oakland.
(You can watch the play on the 1977 highlight film embedded below; the play begins at 6:22.)
In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was a more common for kickers and punters to play another position. Versatile Ring of Famer Gene Mingo, who kicked for the Broncos from 1960-64, scored 12 total touchdowns during his career with the team via rushes, receptions and returns. Punters Bob Scarpitto (1962-67) and Billy Van Heusen (1968-76) also played wide receiver; Scarpitto caught 24 touchdown passes and scored once on a run, while Van Heusen caught 11 touchdown passes and ran for one in his Broncos career. Quarterback Norris Weese (1976-79) also punted in 1976 (and once in 1977); he threw seven touchdown passes and ran for five more.
I think only a wave of injuries or an unexpected decline in form for the entire group once pads go on in August could lead to the addition of a veteran such as Murray.
"We're very comfortable with the group. It's a young group," Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said Wednesday. "But those guys are really developing and we're looking forward to them making a big contribution."
And yes, that is 2003 first-round pick and three-year starting offensive tackle George Foster. Great to hear from you, my friend.
On defense, I think that contributor will be first-round pick Bradley Chubb. Yes, I know expectations for him are high, but I think he has the capability to exceed them based on his versatility, maturity and the presence of Von Miller to set him up for one-on-ones that he can exploit. On offense, I like the ability of tight end Jake Butt to be a valuable inside threat who gives the Broncos a chance at improving their red-zone efficiency, which has been a trouble spot since Julius Thomas' 2014 injury issues and eventual free-agent departure the following spring.
I salute your optimism regarding the Three Lions, but mine has been beaten into a pulp by a lifetime of letdowns, near-misses and an Argentinian legend confusing a referee's incompetence with delusions of divinity. So I expect the 1966 World Cup champions flag in my office to remain lonely. Anything beyond advancement to the group stage will be a pleasant surprise.
My mother -- who is a native of Bradford, West Yorkshire -- and I have commiserated over the years about how our perspective on the English side is a bit more pragmatic than the fever that grips England, which seems to think the World Cup trophy is its birthright. So as we trudge in front of the flat screen here in the U.S., we hope for the best. We sit wary with the knowledge that England's soccer peers are not Germany, Brazil and Argentina, the perennial contenders whose elite status is written in permanent ink. The company England keeps is with the occasional contenders who have fairly barren trophy cases and a long-haul performance that can be all over the map -- Portugal, Uruguay, Mexico, Denmark and the Netherlands.
I think the English misperception of its chances was best summed up by the 2009 Sun headline that declared England's group at South Africa 2010 to be "EASY" (for England, Algeria, Slovenia and the "Yanks," obviously the U.S.). Then England trudged to a 1-1 deadlock with that mocked U.S. side.
England strode into the Cup 12th in the FIFA world rankings. They've been between 12 and 16 for two years, and the play reflects it. So I expect wins over Tunisia and Panama, a loss or draw to Belgium, and then I will simply hope that a knockout-round match doesn't come down to penalties.