Denver Broncos are title contenders in transition

The Broncos occupy a rare spot for an NFL franchise. They are in a do-or-die season with a first-year head coach. They have experienced a great deal of change this offseason, yet own a top-five NFL roster.

They are absolutely Super Bowl contenders, yet they are undeniably in transition. And it's a transition that might only last a year before Peyton Manning retires. That puts a lot of pressure and attention on getting up to speed fast.

"I'm going to tell you one thing I am not: I am not bored in the least bit," Manning said this week. "I am stimulated by studying. I feel like I'm engaged in trying to learn something new from Gary Kubiak (and offensive coordinator) Rick Dennison."

Manning loves football on an intellectual level and perhaps this last challenge in his career is just what he needs. There's no doubt in my mind the Broncos upgraded schematically by exchanging former offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive chief Jack Del Rio for Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

"Instead of being stymied by any type of change, be stimulated by them," Manning said. "That's been true for me, and that's been a real positive, to tell you the truth."

We don't know how Manning's arm will look in December, but don't be surprised if the Broncos have one of the best offenses in the league again in September. It's just going to look different.

With Denver's minicamp wrapping up Thursday, here are some other takeaways from their offseason of adjustments:

  1. The Broncos are resting Manning in practice more often under Kubiak. Fourth-year pro Brock Osweiler appreciates the extra reps, and the additional time on the sideline is a reminder that Manning's career is very much year-to-year at this stage.
  1. Kubiak admits that he has a "little concern" about the team's ability to find a nose tackle for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. Vance Walker, 2013 first-round pick Sylvester Williams, and Marvin Austin are all options. Williams is the most likely player to essentially replace Terrance Knighton, but it's a different role for him to learn. Still, the Broncos have a quietly promising defensive line with Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe candidates to improve.
  1. First-round pick Shane Ray has barely practiced this offseason because of turf toe and then a quad injury.
  1. With Ryan Clady out for the season, the Broncos have already settled on rookie second-round pick Ty Sambrailo as their starting left tackle. The rest of their starting lineup: guard Ben Garland, center Gino Gradkowski, right guard Louis Vasquez, and right tackle Chris Clark. Perhaps they could be a candidate to pick up free agent guardEvan Mathis?
  1. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas didn't show up for mandatory minicamp, and he's not expected to be at training camp either without a new deal, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. These situations usually work themselves out by mid-August, but the spate of receivers wanting new contracts -- including Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green -- could slow things down as Thomas waits for someone else to make the first move.
  1. With Thomas out of the mix, second-year pro Cody Latimer has had a chance to step up. He's going to be the team's No. 3 receiver this season.
  1. While C.J. Anderson received positive reviews this offseason, it's notable that he continued to split first team reps with Montee Ball throughout minicamp.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast welcomes Jeff Darlington to discuss minicamp stories, and Conor Orr calls in for the debut of a new segment. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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