<
>

Broncos will start offseason program with much turnover among pass-catchers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos had three pass-catchers named to the Pro Bowl last season and just one of them will be in attendance Monday when the team starts offseason workouts.

Of the four players who led the team in receptions last season, only Emmanuel Sanders will be on hand at the Broncos' suburban Denver complex when they start workouts. It all creates one of the bigger uncertainties among position groups that Denver has to figure out in the coming weeks and months.

Demaryius Thomas, who was designated the team's franchise player and the unquestioned leader at the position, spends much of his time in Atlanta right now. His representatives continue to try to work out a long-term deal for Thomas, but he has not yet signed his one-year tender for $12.823 million and said earlier this month he will not attend the team's offseason program while the two sides negotiate a new deal.

Tight end Julius Thomas left in free agency, to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Wes Welker is an unrestricted free agent the Broncos have shown little interest in re-signing.

And for a quarterback like Peyton Manning who talks repeatedly about the time and effort needed to build consistency and chemistry between the passer and the catchers, the Broncos do have questions at the position these days.

Sure, the Broncos believe, when all is said and done, they can get a deal done with Thomas that works for both sides. They believe Cody Latimer is ready for far more than the 37 snaps on offense he played last season and is poised for impact.

They believe Owen Daniels' arrival can lessen the impact of Julius Thomas' departure and believe Virgil Green, in an expanded role that Green hopes came with his new contract, can help that cause as well. And the Broncos believe Sanders can once again turn in something close to the 101-catch, 1,404-yard season he had in 2014.

So, at first blush, the impact of the turnover could be minimal. But as they work into Phase 2 of the offseason workouts -- in the fourth through sixth weeks of the program -- they'll get their first on-field look of the decisions they've made. In Phase 2, position groups can work in drills with their respective coaches -- Phase 1 is simply conditioning work with the team's strength and conditioning staff.

By all accounts Latimer has worked hard already in the offseason with an understanding of the opportunity in front of him. And Latimer's and Green's presence at Duke University last week for some work with Manning gave them both a needed head start on things.

But toss in Jacob Tamme's departure in free agency as well you have a significant makeover for the team at one of the primary skill positions. When the Broncos gather Monday for the first official time of the new season, those who caught 217 of Manning's completions last year -- 111 of those from Demaryius Thomas -- will not be on hand.

That's 54.9 percent of those completions and the group remains one of the biggest questions to answer as they put in the new playbook.