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Offseason analysis: Kubiak, Broncos take long look at young players

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A final workout Thursday morning brought an end to the Denver Broncos’ offseason program, concluding four weeks of OTAs and minicamp practices that represented a stark contrast to recent years.

Never in recent Broncos history have so many young players received such a high percentage of on-field repetitions. Never had key, Pro-Bowl caliber veterans received so few snaps in team and 7-on-7 periods.

It was clear through every drill that new head coach Gary Kubiak had a mandate of change, and he followed through on it.

“It was lighter when you think about time, because usually OTAs and (minicamp) are about an hour and 15, an hour and 30 minutes,” said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, one of the veterans who was given regular respites the last four weeks.

“You’re continually going through each session — if it’s red zone, if it’s short yardage.

“But now, (Kubiak) is coming out with a bang, having practice that’s about 30 or 40 minutes, and you go through a really intense individual (period). It’s more competition, going against each other and starting fast.”

And that leads to what the Broncos want out of a season that could be Peyton Manning’s last at quarterback: a fast start from a team built to withstand the inevitable injuries over the course of a season.

To maintain a high level after players succumb to fatigue, the Broncos have to develop their young talent and give it more opportunities earlier.

That’s why backups such as quarterback Brock Osweiler, rookie guard Max Garcia, wide receiver Jordan Norwood and outside linebacker Lerentee McCray all rotated onto the first unit when core players like Manning, guard Louis Vasquez, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and outside linebacker Von Miller were given respites.

With wide receiver Demaryius Thomas not at OTAs while his franchise tender remained unsigned, second-year wide receiver Cody Latimer saw plenty of work with the first team before suffering a slight hamstring injury during minicamp.

But the Broncos didn’t want as extensive of a youth movement as they ended up having. That’s because they had no intention of moving on without left tackle Ryan Clady.

When Clady tore an anterior cruciate ligament during the first OTA session May 27, the Broncos’ plans for their offensive line changed. No longer could they slowly develop second-round pick Ty Sambrailo behind Clady and right tackle Chris Clark.

Instead, the Broncos opted to insert Sambrailo at left tackle. A Super Bowl-or-bust season could rest entirely on whether Sambrailo is up to the challenge of protecting Manning’s blind side.

Ware said he saw progress from his one-on-one duels with Sambrailo.

“The first day I went against him, you know, a rookie’s going to be a rookie,” Ware said this week. “But he’s getting a really good comfort level in his play

“For him to pick up the offense and know what’s going on, but also be able to be effective and have the confidence that he’s had, I really compliment him on that.”

Denver’s defense had a good spring in adapting to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ simpler scheme, and showed signs that it will be more aggressive than it was in the past, emphasizing man-to-man coverage from Pro-Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., which will allow safety T.J. Ward to creep into the box and attack more often.

That defense, which features five Pro Bowlers and two elite edge rushers, might have to carry the Broncos during the early season as the offense adapts to a new scheme — and an offensive line that is very much a question mark.

Its answers will determine whether the Broncos can win their fifth straight division title, and then succeed where they failed under former head coach John Fox.


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