*Around the NFL's season preview continues with the AFC West *
Change we can believe in
Can upgrades in the coaching staff make up for losses on the roster? That's the question Broncos fans are asking following an offseason where VP John Elway made a smart, bold decision to axe coach John Fox and his staff. New Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has brought a proven offensive system with a strong running game everywhere he's coached. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an even bigger upgrade and has an extraordinary amount of talent to work with. Phillips usually takes a below-average group and turns them into a top-five unit. The Broncos are already a top-five group and it's up to Phillips to make them the NFL's best.
While the coaches look better, the roster quietly lost a lot of talent: Tight end Julius Thomas, guard Orlando Franklin, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, and safety Rahim Moore left in free agency. Left tackle Ryan Clady was lost to a torn ACL during the offseason, with recent pickup at guard Evan Mathis the biggest name to sign with Denver this offseason. This is a loaded roster built to win now, but it's not as loaded as it was a year ago.
Peyton Manning's arm didn't look any stronger this preseason. His comfort level in Kubiak's offense is an even bigger issue. Kubiak's offenses historically don't use the shotgun formation much, and often line up two tight ends or a fullback. That's diametrically opposed to what Manning has been running lately, and the transition to a run-based offense could be tricky for both Manning and Kubiak. Two experienced pros should be able to meet in the middle, but it's fair to expect some bumps along the way.
The offensive line is the most worrisome aspect here. It's usually the bedrock of a Kubiak offense, yet the Broncos only have one starter returning. Adding Mathis at left guard will help. Rookie Ty Sambrailo will be at left tackle, untested second-year pro Matt Paradis is at center, and journeyman Ryan Harris is at right tackle. Manning was hit a lot in the preseason.
Training camp surprise
Some of Denver's recent high draft picks on offense aren't panning out. Running back Montee Ball, the starter early last year, is off the team. Ronnie Hillman has stepped up and could be option 1B behind C.J. Anderson. The team also seems to be hoping second-year receiver Cody Latimer takes a big leap, but there isn't a lot of proof that it's happening.