ENGLEWOOD - How’s the adage go?
The players are in the locker room.
With their eight draft picks and 15 undrafted free agents – watch out for nosetackle Tyrique Jarrett, safeties Jamal Carter and Orion Stewart and linebacker Deon Hollins – the 2017 Denver Broncos are pretty much set.
After going 9-7 last year, the new additions should help the Broncos go 10-6 in 2017. And if they’re 10-6, they got a chance to win a playoff game.
For now, don’t expect more from these Broncos. Considering their rugged schedule – the NFL’s toughest, at least on paper -- and young quarterback situation, 10-6 and a first-round playoff win would be considered a good season.
“You never know how the young guys are going to come in and react,’’ said Broncos general manager John Elway, who has just completed his 90-man roster with the understanding it’s subject to change. “What I’m really excited about? I’m really excited about Vance Joseph. I think he’s done a tremendous job. I’ve really enjoyed working with him in the first four months he’s been here. I think he’s going to be a tremendous head coach. He’s done a tremendous job with his staff, as good a staff as we’ve had here in a long time with a lot of veterans, a lot of experience.’’
Joseph is new at this head coaching business. If Paxton Lynch happens to beat out Trevor Siemian for the quarterback job – that may not be the way to bet, but let’s just suppose -- the Broncos will enter the 2017 season with a first-year head coach and first-year starting quarterback.
Not to mention all those first-year players the Broncos picked up the previous three days.
“Obviously, the young quarterbacks have to continue to improve,’’ Elway said in an interview with 9News following the draft. “With (quarterbacks coach) Bill Musgrave getting his hands on them, I think he’ll do a tremendous job.
“The NFL, it’s a tough business. You look at our schedule, it’s a tough schedule when you look at last year, but you know what? We’re ready for that challenge. We’ve got the staff, we’ve got the players to go out and be successful, but it comes down to everybody’s got to work and it starts off the top with the offseason program. I’m excited about where we’re heading. I think we can be good and have a good year.’’
Elway’s primary focus this offseason was to fortify his fronts. Until Friday, it was his only focus. The top four free agent signings were left guard Ron Leary, right tackle Menelik Watson, nosetackle Domata Peko and defensive lineman Zach Kerr.
Then in the first round of the draft, the Broncos took left tackle Garett Bolles. That’s three new offensive linemen. In the second round, Elway snagged defensive end DeMarcus Walker. That’s three new defensive linemen.
And then starting with the third round, the Broncos attacked their second priority – adding speed to the offense and special teams.
Carlos Henderson is a speedy receiver. Brendan Langley is a speedy cornerback. Isaiah McKenzie is a speedy returner.
“That’s what we wanted to do, we wanted to get faster,’’ Elway said. “We were able to do that especially on the offensive side with Henderson and McKenzie, the two wide receivers. Another big thing we wanted to do was get a returner. We were able to do that, McKenzie can do it, Henderson can return, Henderson’s a great kickoff returner. McKenzie can do both.
“And Langley also is a fast corner that’s raw but is going to continue to work, but he’s also a returner. We’ve been short in finding a returner the last three years. We got that handled. We added speed.’’
Two of the bigger names in the Broncos’ draft went in the later rounds because they are coming double ACL injuries. Tight end Jake Butt, a two-time All American and Mackey Award winner, suffered two ACLs to the same knee in the last three years. Quarterback Chad Kelly, who in two games against Alabama (a 43-37 win and 47-43 loss) threw for a combined 762 yards, 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, is also coming off two ACL surgeries in three years.
Butt and Kelly emphasize how far the sports world has come in recovering from torn ACLs.
“We really have,’’ Elway said. “Medical stuff is so much better now. With Jake, it’s the second ACL but our medical staff and Greek (Steve Antonopulos), they do such a great job and we trust what they say and we believe Jake is going to come back as strong as ever as well as Chad.
“Chad, his ACL is doing well. He hurt his thumb (during his Pro Day workout). His thumb is going to take a little longer than his ACL. But with the medicine we have today, we know the chance of recovery is so much greater than it used to be. That’s why we’re fortunate we have a good football team so we can draft those guys that slide in the draft because of injuries and we can patient with them and give the time to get healthy.’’
Butt is expected to be cleared to participate for the start of training camp, but he may not be game-ready until the second month of the season.
Kelly, the last pick in the draft, and Bolles, the Broncos’ first pick, will add attitude to the Broncos’ offensive meeting rooms. Which was the Broncos’ third priority this offseason.
Kelly and Bolles have both got in their share of scrapes.
“But they’re good guys and they play hard,’’ Elway said. “They’re tough guys and great competitors. We’ve had that edge on the defensive side. We want to create a little bit of that edge on the offensive side. We were able to do that. Henderson’s a tough guy, does a great job after the catch. Obviously, we know about Garett and what he’ll do. Hopefully we can create that edge on the offensive side like we have on that defensive side. It was addressed with the type of mentality we drafted with today, yesterday and the day before.’’
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