On Saturday, just a few days before their opening pre-season game against the Chicago Bears, the Denver Broncos have signed safety Jim Leonhard. The team placed second year receiver D’Andre Goodwin on the reserve/injured waiver wire, so I anticipate they are hoping to return him to the team for next season. Still, that is a disheartening development for the speedy youngster.
As for the man who replaces Goodwin, Leonhard is a feisty safety who is smallish but packs a punch and has performed at a high level wherever he has played. His career began as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin with the Buffalo Bills, and he played one year for the Ravens as well as a couple of years for the New York Jets. Leonhard is recovering from an Achilles injury, but he will be 30 this season and hopefully in his prime. The Broncos have a couple of good looking young safeties in Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, but they are obviously concerned about the veteran depth at the position.
Incumbent special teams ace David Bruton may be on the outside looking in after this move, though I hope he is not because he has been a solid special teams player for the Broncos. Still, Leonhard offers more versatility on special teams as well as defensively than Bruton, and he could very well be the fourth or fifth safety the Broncos keep along with veteran Mike Adams, Moore, Carter (who is currently nursing a two week injury), as well as potentially David Bruton.
I have also been at Broncos camp on Thursday and Friday, and while I have been battling a very annoying, painful, and seemingly unstoppable head cold, I have some observations to share.
- Compared to other years, this year’s Broncos camp was extremely crisp, and the only other way I can think to describe it is “professional.” The Broncos know that Manning is the boss, and he showed off his field general skills by directing all sorts of players from the tight ends, backs, and of course receivers. The most notable thing Manning brings to the table is his leadership, in my opinion. Obviously Tim Tebow was a great leader, but the Broncos never went into camp with him as the guaranteed starter. There is no QB competition in Denver this year, unlike previous years. The last guaranteed opening day starter was Jay Cutler in 2008, and he was not a good leader at that time, in my opinion. Manning knows when to yell at someone, get in their face, or pat them on the back. He also knows when it’s time to joke around, and when it’s time to be serious. He is a pro’s pro, something Broncos fans have not seen since John Elway roamed the sidelines.
- Speaking of Elway, it was a star-studded affair at Broncos camp 2012. I was able to sit about 15 yards away from the Broncos’ legend, the first time I can really remember seeing him in person.
- Much of camp went like this. The Broncos changed it up a bit this year, and unless you were sitting up high, you really couldn’t see the players practicing. My brother and I, as you will be able to see in the photo I have shared (I am the one in the tank top, he is the one snapping a shot with his camera phone) were sitting five yards from the sideline and Manning was literally right in our face. He played a prank on the young man sitting right next to my dad by unscrewing the lid to a water bottle and telling him to chug it. Water was all over the kid’s face, but it was worth it in the end, because Manning threw him one of his wristbands.
- From what I could observe on the field, which was admittedly limited, the Broncos’ passing game is looking great. I don’t mean that just because Manning is better than any QB that has graced Dove Valley’s practice fields in more than a decade, I say it because it’s true. Thanks to hard work this offseason, the Broncos are clearly already have great timing, and the way I described it as I sat there was “precise.” Manning knows where to get the ball, and he puts it there on time and where no one else has a chance to get to it but the receivers.
- As for the Broncos’ new rookies, DT Derek Wolfe received some first team nickel defense reps at defensive tackle. That spot was previously held by former first round pick Robert Ayers who has not impressed the coaching staff enough to even keep his starting DE spot. QB Brock Osweiler was inconsistent with his accuracy, but he can really sling it and he seems like a quick learner. I liked what I saw from him. RB Ronnie Hillman was out both practices I was at with a hamstring injury, which was disappointing. Fifth round pick Malik Jackson was out of sight as far as I was concerned for most of the practices, and on the other side of the line, center Philip Blake was working with the third team. Early reports indicate that CB Omar Bolden is a keeper, but again, because defense was on the other side of the field, I didn’t get a good look.
- Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker should be primed for big seasons. In fact, the Broncos’ wide receiver group is going to be tough as a whole. Thomas and Decker are the two studs, but Andre Caldwell and Brandon Stokley run great routes and will be valuable on the money downs. I was also impressed with what I saw from new pickup Cameron Kenney, recently claimed off of waivers from Seattle. Kenney was sure-handed and has good quickness out of his breaks, and gives a heck of a lot of effort on every play. I also liked what I saw out of Gerrell Robinson, who is as big as advertised and does a good job of catching the ball away from his body, using his great length.
- Champ Bailey still has “it,” whatever that is. He made no shortage of big plays on short, intermediate, or downfield throws.
- Denver’s first team offense features these 11 players: Manning, McGahee, Chris Gronkowski (when FB was used), Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen (when two TEs were used), Thomas, Decker, Ryan Clady (LT), Zane Beadles (LG), J.D. Walton (C), Chris Kuper (RG), and Orlando Franklin (injured, but starter at RT). The OL is the same exact line from last season.
- The first team defense featured: Elvis Dumervil, Justin Bannan, Ty Warren, Jason Hunter, Von Miller, Joe Mays, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey, Tracy Porter, Rahim Moore, and Mike Adams. They are also a good-looking group. The player Jack Del Rio (D-coordinator) is raving about the most is Jason Hunter, whom he says is one of the hardest working players he’s ever worked with. Hunter has taken over former starter Robert Ayers’ spot at strong-side DE. In his career with the Broncos (picked up on waivers in 2010), has had an impact when in the lineup, but has been more of a rotational player. Maybe entering his prime, Hunter will be able to kick it up a notch, especially with Miller/Dumervil drawing so much attention.
- Here is the photo I previously spoke of: