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Broncos still looking to stoke the fire on the depth chart

5/2/2015
The Broncos have selected tough players like Jeff Heuerman with their first three picks of the draft. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have made three picks thus far in the NFL draft with a theme in mind. And truth be told, the groundwork for what the Broncos have done was firmly put in place the moment John Elway announced a coaching change this past January.

That's when the Broncos general manager said he believed the team had not gone out of the postseason "kicking and screaming" the past three seasons.

The Broncos opened their draft business when they traded up to take a chance on Missouri outside linebacker/defensive end Shane Ray in Thursday's first round. Elway's scouting report was simply "he plays like his hair is on fire." Friday, the Broncos made two more picks with that theme in mind, selecting Colorado State tackle Ty Sambrailo in the second round and Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman in the third round.

And when it was said and done on the draft's second night, Elway was asked about where Sambrailo would play.

"[He'll] compete at the right tackle position right away," Elway said. " ... He's a tough guy. The thing we're real thrilled about with the three draft picks that we've got so far is they're all really tough guys. They play with the right mentality and they compete well."

There's that word "mentality" again. Elway says it a lot, when he's talking about football and trophies.

This isn't to say the Elway and the Broncos coaching staff don't like the team's roster -- they like it a lot. They like how the team is put together, like how its won four consecutive AFC West titles and put together three consecutive 12-win seasons along the way.

They like the potential of a defense with Pro Bowl players all over the depth chart, including three in the secondary alone. They like what the new offense will be with Peyton Manning at quarterback to go with the familiar faces at wide receiver all of the potential at running back.

What they haven't liked is the last three playoff exits in particular. Two have come in home games, including this past January's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and the other was a 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Can three rookies, to go with six potential picks Saturday to close things out, really be the difference in how things go for the Broncos in 2015? Realistically, Ray is getting on the field in some fashion, he has to; as Sambrailo will get a chance to compete for the right tackle spot and Heuerman is in a rotation at a crowded position the Broncos already made a priority in free agency as well.

But the Broncos need something to take final step in whatever becomes of the Manning era. What they're doing hasn't been enough and status quo from last season to this one likely wouldn't get it done either.

So, the Broncos changed the coaching staff, changed the playbook and have made it clear in both word and contract deed they want to dial back the finesse and bring a little something different to the table with any and all of the new guys they bring in.

Sambrailo was a competitive skier in his youth, Heuerman was an accomplished hockey player before starting his football career as a freshman in high school.

"We always like athletic guys," Elway said. "The more they can do ... makes them better players. Usually guys who are athletic are competitive, the reason why they're competitive is you have that ability to play a lot of different sports. Athletic background, you're always looking for that type."

After all the Broncos don't have too many roster spots open this time around, but they'd like everybody to have to fight to keep the ones they have.