Under team president John Elway, the Broncos have gritted their teeth through events that would shatter the momentum of a lesser franchise—the surprise split with a successful coach, the decline of a Hall of Fame quarterback, the Tim Tebow mirage—thanks to a singular focus on fielding a Super Bowl champion. Winning a third title at last did nothing to change that blunt approach: Elway let quarterback Brock Osweiler walk to leave a gaping hole where Peyton Manning once stood, then only broke the bank for Super Bowl MVP Von Miller after months of public posturing.
How Denver handles its subtler off-season question marks in August will determine the fate of its repeat bid. The Broncos are counting on unheralded players like Todd Davis and Vance Walker to fill the shoes of leading tackler Danny Trevathan and playoff hero Malik Jackson, two key free agency losses along their lethal front seven. It remains to be seen how four new projected starters along the offensive line will jell around incumbent center Max Paradis. And who is going to play quarterback? The Miller extension took some drama out of training camp, but the defending champs are never far away from their next aggressive move.
The Rookie: The Broncos matched Miami’s offer sheet for starting running back C.J. Anderson and brought back Ronnie Hillman on a one-year deal, then turned around and drafted Devontae Booker in the fourth round out of Utah, a further sign that the post-Manning offense will revolve around the ground game. Booker arrives as a polished prospect coming back from a torn meniscus, and he could grow into a star in Gary Kubiak’s system as his workload increases.
Position Battle Spoiler: Get ready to hear a lot about Trevor Siemian this month, because Mark Sanchez is not at a point in his career where he can win a starting quarterback job going away. Still, with the team outwardly set on a redshirt year for first-round pick Paxton Lynch, Sanchez can at least be counted on to replicate the inconsistent, unremarkable quarterback play that the Broncos won a Super Bowl with last year.
The Stat: 9.4, yards per completion allowed by corner Bradley Roby in 2015, the fourth fewest in the NFL last year, according to Broncos p.r. If Aqib Talib is slow getting back from the gunshot wound he sustained in early June, Roby is ready to slot in across from Chris Harris Jr.
Preseason Watchability Guide: The 49ers’ trip to Denver for joint practices and a preseason game will offer a glimpse at what might have been had the teams found common ground on a Colin Kaepernick trade this spring. Those wishing to dwell in the here and now should circle the next weekend as a chance to study extended playing time for first-round quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Jared Goff when the Rams come to town on Aug. 27.