Every so often I am tweeted questions for which 140-character answers are insufficient. That's where this piece comes in.
(Length of previous paragraph: 121 characters.)*
This is the first of regular question-and-answer sessions. Some will be through written answers; we expect some will be answered through video. If you want to send a question, you can tweet at @MaseDenver, and use the hashtag #AskMase.
Off we go ...
Everything depends on the health and availability of receivers. Latimer has been impressive to date. He uses his size well near the line of scrimmage, is as good a blocker on run plays as advertised, has the speed to get separation on go and deep post routes and catches the football with his hands. His straight-line speed could even get him a chance on kickoff returns -- which would not be unprecedented for a big, athletic Broncos receiver in his first year (see Demaryius Thomas, 2010).
But as promising as Latimer has been, the Broncos have a bumper crop at receiver. Demaryius Thomas is elite. Wes Welker's timing with Peyton Manning looks better than last year. Emmanuel Sanders shuffles the deck compared to last year with his quickness and speed off the snap. Andre Caldwell can play any receiving spot and has the experience and timing with Manning that Latimer has yet to learn. Talented as Latimer may be, if the Broncos keep their top receivers healthy, he will have to maximize limited opportunities. But it is reassuring to know that the Broncos could lose two starting receivers and still have multiple potent threats at their disposal.
It gets more real every day, especially since pads were donned July 26.
Austin was a prudent signing. He remains a high-ceiling talent who was added at virtually no risk to the team. He is quick at the snap, much like fellow North Carolina product Sylvester Williams, and as long as he doesn't get over-eager and draw offside penalties, is. Using him as rotational substitute could help keep his risk of more injuries down. (He's only played 11 games in three seasons as a result).
John Fox and Jack Del Rio also know what they want at defensive tackle, which gets them effective play from players otherwise discarded. One example was in Carolina in 2009, when the Panthers' defensive tackles were shredded by injuries. Fox and the Panthers plucked 35-year-old veteran Hollis Thomas off the scrap heap (he'd been cut by the Rams), and he started 13 games, plugged gaps, fortified the middle and even notched a safety. Last year's growth from Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams, and the continued contributions of Mitch Unrein and Kevin Vickerson showed that defensive tackles get better under the watch of this regime. Because of that, Austin's best chance might be in Denver, and he's practicing like his career depends on it -- which may well be the case.
You didn't mention Ronnie Hillman, who has usually been the second running back up behind Ball and has been effective so far in training camp. As I noted in recent editions of the daily Five Thoughts from practice, he's hitting the holes well. He's quicker and more decisive when there's a hole in front of him.
The competition is elsewhere. C.J. Anderson's experience gives him an edge, and he did well in the short-yardage period, because he can use his 5-foot-8, 224-pound frame to burrow his way forward for a yard or two. There appears to be a decent gap between the three experienced backs and the four newcomers. Brennan Clay has shown some flashes of brilliance, and appears to be the most complete back beyond the top three.
But you can expect Juwan Thompson, Jerodis Williams and Kapri Bibbs to get chances in the preseason games, when the deck could be re-shuffled. It would come as no surprise if at least one of the undrafted rookies sticks on the practice squad, and last year's decision to keep Anderson shows that the Broncos aren't shy about keeping an undrafted rookie running back on the 53-man roster if the situation is right.
First of all, Clady and Kuper's injuries weren't the same. Kuper fractured his fibula and tore ankle ligaments on Jan. 1, 2012. He suffered a further sprain in the area 10 months later, and had more surgery the following offseason. Clady had a Lisfranc injury, which is in the middle of the foot.
So far, so good for Clady. He's been under no physical limitations since the start of organized team activities. That's helped him knock the rust off. He looks balanced on his feet. His technique remains as sound as ever. The presence of DeMarcus Ware and the return of Derek Wolfe offers him a stern test on a daily basis.
For a position in which speed and cutting was more crucial, the Lisfranc injury can be transformative, and not for the better. Oakland's Darren McFadden is an example; he's never matched the production he amassed pre-Lisfranc. But for offensive linemen, it's a recoverable injury. A good example is Carolina center Ryan Kalil, who suffered a Lisfranc injury in 2012 but returned to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro selection a year later.
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