Get excited football fans. The NFL is back. And it’s about time. The Denver Broncos will host the Indianapolis Colts on the first Sunday night game of the season. Everybody knows Peyton Manning will be looking to have a big game against his former team. The expectations are high for other all-pros on the team like Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller as well. At this point, the entire Bronco roster is starting to look like a team that could compete against the NFC’s best in the Pro Bowl and have a shot. But no matter how many superstars a team has, they still have x-factors. Let’s break down some players to watch early this season.
A familiar name, but your first thought may be off-base. The Denver Broncos parted ways with the star wide-out years ago; however, they have another starter on the roster with that same name. The replacement in Danny Trevathan’s absence will have his work cut out for him. Last year, Danny was an incredible player for the Broncos and a leader for the Denver defense. Marshall may not be able to completely fill his shoes, but he could get closer than many people think. The University of Nevada product has worked hard over the past two seasons to put himself in the position to make an impact. His coverage skills need some work, but Marshall is a hustle-player and has a nose for the football. In fact, he shared a team-lead in tackles his first start ever earlier this preseason. Don’t be surprised to see #54 in on a lot of plays through the early part of this year.
The fifth round pick from a year ago is healthy and ready to make a difference for the revamped pass defense of the Denver Broncos. He may not get a lot of opportunities this Sunday, but when he’s out there, the Colts best take notice. Smith showed excellent quickness in his first four NFL games this preseason, and he looks to have the potential to be a great pass rusher in this league. He was particularly impressive against the athletic quarterbacks for the Seattle Seahawks. He didn’t come away from the game with a lot of sacks, but his speed made things very difficult for the Seahawks to be comfortable- even when scrambling. That kind of speed is becoming increasingly important for pass rushers in this league. Demarcus Ware has been leaving his impression all over the place for Denver, and was rewarded as a captain for this upcoming season. If my belief in Smith isn’t enough to sell you, maybe Demarcus Ware can get the job done. Earlier this offseason, he had plenty of praise for the second year player: “When you think about the guy who has all the talent and is really a great player, that’s what I think of with Quanterus. It’s all about iron sharpening iron. That’s what I am doing. Helping him out as much as I can. I know what type of player he can be. I want to turn that light bulb on for him.” The guy is oozing raw talent, and it shouldn’t be long before Denver fans see him making an impact on the field.
Another undrafted rookie finds his way onto the Denver Bronco roster. A number of people, including in myself, wouldn’t have expected Burse to make the roster early this preseason. Jordan Norwood was having an excellent camp and looked primed to make the roster as one of the final receivers and returner. Unfortunately, Norwood saw his season end due to an unfortunate ACL injury. Fortunately for the Broncos, the next man up looks capable. Isiah didn’t wow during the preseason with any huge returns, but he showed something Denver fans hoped to see a little more last year- ball security and good decision making as a returner. After an excellent season in 2012, Trindon Holliday struggled often during the 2013 campaign. His inability to hold onto the football and failures in getting the ball out to the 20 yard line on a number of returns (including the opening return in the Super Bowl) were inexcusible. Poor decisions like that can turn the tables quickly in terms of momentum during an emotional NFL football game. Burse has shown confidence and a strong burst in his minimal opportunities thus far. He has the quickness and ability to make some exciting plays this year for the Broncos. If he can continue to make smart choices, there’s no reason he can’t be a quality returner in the league.
The man of the hour. Okay. So maybe he isn’t that far under the radar. Everyone in Bronco Country is excited to see this guy in action. Considered a steal in this past spring’s draft, the rookie could get more playing time than expected early in the season. Wes Welker is staring down a four game suspension after violating the league’s PED policy and, with the possible exception of this Sunday, won’t see the field again until October. Enter Cody Latimer. With Welker out, the second-rounder will find himself as the 3rd or 4th receiver on the roster, and playing time will come along with that. It’s hard to say if Latimer will have an immediate impact for this team, but he’s a big receiver with strong hands. During the preseason Cody showed that he is a viable target, good route runner, and an excellent blocker. Denver fans are ecstatic to see this guy play on Sundays, and he should see the field early and often in his rookie campaign.