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Young players expected to take big steps

As the offseason run starts to wind down, the Broncos have to start thinking about who will be on the gridiron this fall. The current active roster boasts an average age of 25.8, according to, but the team's average age doesn't stand out at all on paper with the league average just a few tenths of a year lower at about 25.5. Compared to the other 31 organizations, the Broncos may be a little bit older than the median, but the coaching staff will still expect many of the young guys to make huge strides this offseason.

The impact the young players make is going be one of the major storylines throughout the season, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak can't quite put a finger on who has made the biggest improvement just yet. 

"You know, I don't know," said Kubiak. "I think there's a bunch of young players that are going to surprise people. Who's that going to be? You know, I don't know."

On the offensive side, the gaps up front have generated some strong competition this offseason. In his sophomore season, Matt Paradis has been going head-to-head against fourth-year C/G Gino Gradkowski who made his way over to Dove Valley from Baltimore with Kubiak this year.

"If somebody like Matt [Paradis] is going to step up he's going to have to beat out a really good player," said Kubiak. "So, we'll be a better team in the long haul because of those two guys going at it." 

After Pro-Bowl tackle Ryan Clady went down with a knee injury last month, rookie Ty Sambrailo has been seeing a lot more work on the outside on the left side, where Clady had been.

"First off, you didn't know you were going to see this much of him this early and through our situation we've seen a lot," said Kubiak earlier this week. "He has been very impressive for a young man to go out to that spot and handle what he's handled.

"Mentally—those types of things—he's practically been through a training camp," he said. "So, it won't be his first rodeo come August. But, we've been very impressed with how he's worked and we know we're asking a lot of him and it's our job as coaches to make sure that we keep him taking the right steps to keep him comfortable."

On the defensive side, Shane Ray has been slowly making his way into practice after coming off of a toe injury in his final game at Missouri. The first-round pick has been working with the Broncos' head athletic trainer Steve "Greek" Antonopulos during the offseason to ensure the rookie is ready to go come August.

Shane Ray arrived at Dove Valley for the first time as a Bronco after being selected with the 23rd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. (All photos by Eric Lars Bakke)

"You know, the biggest thing with him is he was so behind on his rehab process and so we stopped and said 'let's get that under control and then we will move on with the football'," Kubiak said. "But he's very bright. It's important to him. He's very competitive and he's going to be a nice fit with those other two (OLBs Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware)."

Since the ins-and-outs are still up in the air, the team isn't sure exactly who will be stepping up going into this season, but Kubiak believes a major part of the competition will be coming primarily from the young players.

"I mean we're going to be young up front but I think we've gotten some guys that have gained a lot of confidence through the course of this month," he said. "You never know in this league. You've got to get everybody ready to play, but I think we'll have some young guys step up."

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