This time of the year, every four years, the biggest sporting event on planet Earth, the World Cup, gives us a plethora of stories, side-stories, sub-stories, and stories we didn’t even know could exist. When it comes to writing about the United States brand of football at this point of the calendar year, the stories are harder to come by. This time last year, however, the Denver Broncos did their best to give us plenty of fodder. The off-the-field shenanigans of Von Miller, Tom Heckert, and Matt Russell did not look favorably upon the organization, but did give us something about which to write during an otherwise slow time of the year. To the credit of these three men, they have seemed to straighten things out and are back to being organizational assets. Here are a few things that have me optimistic the 2014 version of the Broncos, three weeks ahead of the opening of training camp.
In 2014, it’s been all quiet on the western front. The Broncos and first round pick, Bradley Roby came to terms on a contract, which means the 2014 rookie class is all signed, sealed, and delivered (I’m yours…that’s a little Stevie Wonder reference if you didn’t know). Everybody who was able to participate showed up for OTAs, by all accounts, the workouts were solid, everybody kept their noses clean (more tissues ordered for Dove Valley, I guess), and there seems to be a renewed enthusiasm on Broncos Planet.
(Relative) Health and Happiness:
Denver endured injuries all throughout 2013 to key starters and still made it to Super Bowl XLVIII. Despite a result less than desirable for us, I believe we had a successful season. That said, 2014 should see the following players back on the field and hopefully in the opening night game against the Indianapolis Colts (sorry Baltimore, it’s still as hard for me to type as it is for you to remember March, 1984).
Von Miller suffered and ACL tear last year, in week 16 against the Houston Texans. Miller had surgery in January and progressing toward getting back on the field. His rehab is going well. Also, he is 20 lbs lighter, highly motivated after playing only 9 games in 2013, and has a great influence to help in his development both on and off the field in free agent signing, DeMarcus Ware.
“You’ve got a whole new look on what it means to play in the National Football League and what football really means to me,” Miller said. “I can play football 24/7 every day out of the year. This is my dream and I’m living the dream.”
Chris Harris also suffered an ACL tear, his happening in the divisional playoffs against San Diego. His surgery took place about a month after Miller’s. The silver lining here is that Harris and Miller have been able to create quite a bond comparing similar experiences and providing each other moral support. Harris is shooting for a week 1 return, but the team is not rushing it. And even though Harris is a competitor, he understands the real meat-and-potatoes of the season: the Super Bowl Run.
“That’s the goal is to strive for Week 1,” Harris said. “If I’m not ready for Week 1, there’s no negatives. This team, they need me December, January and February, when the big games come. If I’m not ready by Week 1, which I know I should be ready, then it’s no big hurt.”
Kevin Vickerson suffered, an extremely difficult injury to rehab, a dislocated hip (I know, OUCH!). Vickerson felt he would be ready for OTAs but the medical staff had other ideas. So he was held out and is expected to be ready for training camp, and subsequently, the season opener.
While Vickerson suffered an injury difficult to rehab, Rahim Moore was dealing with an injury difficult to survive. Seriously, Moore’s medical issue was a life and death matter. He developed a post-injury condition called Compartment syndrome. CS is a life-threatening condition of the limbs which occurs after an injury, when there is insufficient blood supply to muscles and nerves due to increased pressure within one of the body’s compartments, such as an arm, leg or other enclosed space within the body. Now for the good news. Moore had successful emergency surgery following a week 11 win against the Kansas City Chiefs and once the season ended in February, he got back to running and cutting and it took him very little time to feel like his old self again. So Moore looks like he’s a go for training camp.
Rahim Moore was not the only member of the orange and blue who suffered from a potentially life threatening medical condition. Defensive end, Derek Wolfe suffered a spinal-cord injury in a preseason game against Seattle on August 17th. He rushed himself back into the lineup, proclaiming himself fit to play and played well for 10 of the 12 games in which he participated. However, he didn’t play as consistently well as he did in his rookie year of 2013. He played through discomfort and didn’t tell anybody. That led to him suffering a stroke after the week 13 win against the Chiefs (I’m seeing a pattern here). He attempted to come back in late December but was feeling light-headed during practice and he and the Broncos agreed to shut him down for the season. As is the case with Vickerson and Moore, Wolfe is fit and ready for camp.
And then there is the most important person on the roster not named Peyton Manning. That would be the guy who protects PFM’s blind side, left tackle, Ryan Clady. While there is still no definitive timetable for Clady’s return, he is expected to be back somewhat early in the regular season. The Broncos should be able to tread water until his return. At that point, the offensive line will be much stronger than the one that took the field on February 2nd.
So without having to spend an extra dime, and as long as relative health is with our Broncos, we will have Von Miller, Chris Harris, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe, and Ryan Clady all back in the lineup. Not so coincidentally, all 5 of these guys missed the Super Bowl and man, we got whipped.
With a little luck:
This one might seem a bit innocuous, but during OTAs, several weeks back, there was a pass play over the middle whereby newly acquired wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders collided with Roby. Roby won that unexpected game of chicken. It was an accident as some feel that Roby was out of position. What wasn’t an accident was his physicality nor his passes defended throught OTAs. So what about this luck thing? After the collision, both Sanders and Roby got up without a scratch. In my thought process, since that type of collision happened during non-contact drills, and everybody was OK, it is a good omen. Additionally, Roby fell to us at pick #31 in the first round because of a misdemeanor arrest in the summer of 2013 which earned him a suspension for Ohio State’s season opener. Some of the experts that I have heard speak of Roby said that he should have been a top 20 pick. I’m not suggesting that it’s the Dan Marino situation in 1983 all over again, but we may have gotten the steal of the draft. And that would also be a stroke of luck.
A Defensive Sleeper:
Last season, Quanterus Smith was thought to be a diamond in the rough at the 2013 NFL Draft coming out of Western Kentucky. In the 2012 college football season, Smith was leading the nation with 12.5 sacks when a November ACL tear ended his season. It happened early enough for the Broncos to take him a flier on him in the 5th round. There was some thought that he could be ready for the start of last season but his rehabbed knee did not progress as hoped and he was placed on season-ending IR. He said that he feels great and the knee is all the way back. If he is what we thought he would be (in deference to Denny Green), we’ll have four guys who can really get after the quarterback in Smith, Miller, Ware, and Wolfe. Smith has a real chance to be a very special player.
The schedule: We play the NFC West, which sent two teams, San Francisco and Seattle, to the playoffs. Both of which made it to the NFC Championship game and one who raised the Lombardi trophy (something I’m still in denial over) . Additionally that division has an Arizona team that just finished outside of the playoffs at 10-6 and a 7-9 Rams team that is on the rise with a tough defense. Then, as always, we have six games in our division which sent two other teams to the playoffs. Throw in division winners in New England (and the rest of the AFC East), Cincinnati, and Indianapolis and it makes for the second hardest schedule in the league. So what makes me so optimistic about that? We were somewhat criticized/discounted for playing a soft schedule in 2013 and in hindsight, it may have been justified. Our mettle will most definitely be tested in 2014 so once the games in December thru February roll around, we should be battle tested and with the return of all the aforementioned players, should have plenty of bullets in the chamber…if, Heaven for fend, we don’t suffer the rash of injuries to key players like in 2013.
So just call me a “Glass-Half-Full” kinda guy because I love our championship prospects for the coming season. If we don’t, it’s all good because win, lose, or draw, we’re Broncos fans and there are none better.
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