- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have now wrapped up their offseason program, worked through their OTAs and even had everybody in the house for their mandatory minicamp -- or as head coach John Fox put it, "we've had 100 percent attendance all the way through, so that's not a surprise.''
In short, they now cross their fingers and hope they can avoid the non-stop off-the-field drama that had arrived with summer last year, a rattle-the-franchise list that included two personnel executives arrested for DUIs and linebacker Von Miller’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse.
No, so far all has been fairly quiet on the defending AFC champion’s front.
On the field the Broncos, even in the offseason’s low-impact work, showed themselves to be a deeper, faster and committed team plenty worthy of being in any Super Bowl discussion. And in the end here are some takeaways from the past few weeks:
Still looking for right choice at RT: They have answered one major question in the offensive line, but still have a significant one remaining.
Orlando Franklin will be a powerful presence at left guard and it will be a surprise if the Broncos are not a more efficient running team on the inside this season, especially in the scoring zone. And if they can force defenses to commit more resources to defend the middle of the field, quarterback Peyton Manning will have more room to pick away on the outside in the play-action game.
But the right tackle job still looks plenty open. Veterans Winston Justice and Chris Clark got most of the looks with the regulars in the open sessions of the OTAs and minicamp. It still remains to be seen if the Broncos are going to give the rookie a shot – third-round pick Michael Schofield – once training camp begins.
Think big with Sanders: The Broncos, in both player evaluation and in finding him a spot in the offense, were right about wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. He fits what the Broncos do in their scheme, has the versatility to line up all over the formation and has held up his end of the bargain by putting in the extra time with Manning.
If he stays healthy and in the lineup, he’s a quality bet to have his first 1,000-yard season.
Ball looks the part: Running back Montee Ball is ready for a starring role in the run game. And the part of his game that showed the most improvement in recent weeks was as a receiver.
He has consistently shown he’s ready to participate in long-yardage situations as a receiver, even having snared an over-the-shoulder scoring grab or two in red zone drills. And while the jury remains out in pass protection until they put the full gear on, he’s shown better footwork in the workouts and has positioned himself where he needs to be.
Learn on the job: First-round pick Bradley Roby has shown plenty of athleticism in workouts, but he has plenty of learning curve to travel. In the weeks and months leading up to the draft, some scouts were concerned about Roby’s concentration and focus in coverage at times.
And granted there’s getting your feet wet and then there’s diving in against a Manning-led offense that constantly pushes the envelope and the pace, even in practice. But Roby was caught trailing the play at times, especially down the field.
For his part, however, he continued to battle and showed himself to be more aggressive in red zone work when the offense didn’t have quite as many angles or as much room to disperse the receivers. He's got the goods to be sure, but he's got to hit the books -- and video -- in the coming weeks. The Broncos want, and need, him to be ready play in the nickel at minimum.
Do a deal: It would be good for the Broncos' front office to hand out some home cooking. While certainly every player has enjoyed the fruits of signing Manning in 2012 and they certainly like their chances to be in the title mix when they sign free agents like Sanders, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib.
But in terms of locker room chemistry and the message it would send, it would be a good thing for the Broncos to lock up either Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas to a long-term deal before training camp. Both players are two of the team’s draft picks who have gone on to be named to the Pro Bowl and Demaryius Thomas is on the league’s short list at his position.
The Broncos don’t have the salary cap wherewithal at the moment to get both done long term, but to sign one in the coming weeks would work with the possibility of using the franchise tag on the other in 2015 to allow some time to clear some cap room off the books. But to sign one of their own homegrown players with the same aggressiveness they signed their unrestricted free agents, much like they did with left tackle Ryan Clady in 2013, would be met with approval among their rank and file.
Miller Lite is better: Miller has shown, in word and deed so far, he intends on returning to the lineup far closer to the 255-pound mark, where he has said he was during his 18.5-sack season in 2012, than the 270-plus pound mark, where he was when he returned from his suspension last season.
Miller, who is working to return from ACL surgery, has looked like he did when he was at his best. The Broncos are confident he could, at minimum, be ready for spot duty in the pass rush by the start of the regular season and perhaps more if things go well in the coming weeks.
But a lighter, leaner Miller is what they want to see back in the lineup and that will only help him in his quest to return to his former level of play. Miller has responded to the veteran Ware's presence and the two should give the Broncos the kind of pass rush they were missing at times last season, even before Miller suffered his season-ending injury in Houston.