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Shane Ray's draft-day slide pumps up Broncos' offseason grade

6/23/2015
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Broncos end offseason training with uncertainties

ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold explains why Demaryius Thomas' uncertain contract affects the team's offseason grade.

With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps a few weeks away, we assess the Denver Broncos' offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.

Best move: Up until the draft, coach Gary Kubiak's ability to hire defensive line coach Bill Kollar away from the Houston Texans when Kollar was still under contract would have gotten a long look. Kollar is one of the best in the league and the Broncos need that position group to improve. But when Shane Ray took a draft-day plunge down the board -- he had been cited for marijuana possession just before the draft -- the Broncos were able to move up five spots to No. 23 and take the player they had as No. 10 on their draft board. That is certainly a best-player-available situation and Ray, who missed much of the offseason program as he rehabbed from a toe injury he suffered in his last game at Missouri, already has a prominent spot in the team's pass-rush plans.

Riskiest move: The Broncos believe in their ability to coach their zone-blocking scheme. They want an offensive line made up of young, homegrown players who can then stay together for an extended period of time. Already, rookie Ty Sambrailo is at left tackle after the season-ending knee injury to Ryan Clady; Ben Garland, who spent two years on the Broncos practice squad, is at left guard. Matt Paradis, a second-year player, is pushing hard for the job at center and second-year tackle Michael Schofield has a chance to push his way into the lineup at right tackle. If they're right, the Broncos will have a group they can mold from the ground up in a system the coaches have consistently made productive for linemen and running backs alike.

Eye on the negotiations: When the Broncos slapped the franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas the expectation, from team officials and Thomas himself, was that a long-term deal would be hammered out before the July 15 deadline. The Broncos want to keep Thomas and he wants to stay, but it's always about the (guaranteed) money in these situations. The team's attempt to spread things out over the life of the contract isn't helped by the fact they asked a Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning to shave $4 million off his salary in the second-to-last year of his deal. For a team that has said it wants to draft and develop its own Pro Bowl players, it could be a locker room issue if the Broncos don't step up and re-sign a player like Thomas, who has been a captain, performed at the highest level at his position and has played hurt.

Training camp outlook: The Broncos adjourned their offseason program feeling good about Manning's health and ability to find a comfort zone in the new offense. And that new offense should feature one of the league's best run games and that, in turn, should help Manning. They also have plenty of team speed with five returning Pro Bowl players on defense. The Broncos need the offensive line to mesh quickly and get Thomas back in the fold, but this is a team still in the AFC Super Bowl conversation.