NFL Denver Broncos

Five Storylines to Follow During Denver Broncos Training Camp

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Five Storylines to Follow During Denver Broncos Training Camp

peyton manning
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos found immediate success in 2012 with new quarterback Peyton Manning. They quickly became an efficient offense that could put up points in a hurry. They finished the season 13-3, winning the AFC West and earning the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. They had all the pieces in place, it seemed, to make a Super Bowl run.

But an unlikely overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens ended the season with a disappointing thud. The Broncos have worked to regroup this offseason to make another run at a division title and deeper run through the playoffs. There are some key areas of concern that the team needed to address as training camp opens up, and how well they answer these needs could make the difference in their season.

Denver will once again be a heavy favorite to win the AFC West next season as they return a loaded roster with a serious chance to make a deep run. Any imperfection can rear its ugly head and trip them up, however, at any point and the window won’t stay open forever with an aging roster leading the way. The team must seize the opportunity in front of them while it is there.

To do that, they will need to minimize their weaknesses and emphasis their strengths. Working through those weaknesses during training camp will go a long way in figuring out just how far this team can go. With that in mind, we look at five storylines to follow during the Denver Broncos' training camp.

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5. Replacing Dan Koppen

dan koppen
Chris Humphreys - USA TODAY Sports

Following the veteran lineman’s move to injured reserve after his season-ending ACL tear in camp, the Broncos face questions at the center position. Immediately after Dan Koppen was carted off the field, Manny Ramirez stepped in and took over the snapping duties. He’s been taking most of the center snaps during Denver’s offseason practices but had some struggles filling in at right guard last season.

With the offensive line ranks thinned out already, Denver signed free-agent center Steve Vallos on Sunday. Vallos is a six-year veteran with stops in Seattle, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Jacksonville with nine career starts. Neither option is as solid as Koppen, whose teams have gone 108-28 in games he started, so the team also coaxed Ryan Lilja out of retirement to bolster their ranks. Will they be able to patch a line together to protect Peyton Manning?

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4. Cohesiveness of Wide Receivers

eric decker
Chris Humphreys - USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos were already the No. 5 passing team in the NFL last season with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker at wide receiver. Now, Denver has added Wes Welker to the mix giving Manning three legitimate pass-catchers who can break open a game with their playmaking ability. All three finished 2012 in the top 20 in receiving with more than 1,000 yards each.

But there’s still just one football to go around. Manning found a way to keep both Thomas and Decker satisfied last season, but the No. 3 receiver in Denver last season (tight end Jacob Tamme) had just 555 yards. Will Denver be able to find more yards for the three-headed pass-catching monster next season or will one of these elite pass catchers need to satisfy themselves with less in 2013?

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3. Establishing a Running Game

montee ball
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Denver may have the reputation of a passing team, but the running game was critical to setting up the play-action pass and keeping things rolling in 2012. Willis McGahee is gone after leading the team in rushing last season with 731 yards and four touchdowns. The Broncos need to figure out how their running back rotation will sort out in 2013 to give their offense some much-needed balance.

Rookie Montee Ball has been impressive thus far and has an excellent shot at winning most of the early-down carries for next season. Even if he does, though, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno figure to feature prominently in the offensive rotation. All three of them have taken reps with the first team offense so far in camp, but finding the right balance to fuel the running game next season will be critical.

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2. Concerns in the Secondary

quentin jammer
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

You would be hard-pressed to find a Broncos’ fan who doesn’t remember how the 2012 season came to an excruciating end with Rahim Moore back-pedaling and falling into infamy. Many of the same faces are back for 2013, including longtime fixture Champ Bailey, but the team hopes that the results will be better next season. They may need to be as Denver figures out what it will do about its pass rush (more on that later).

One reason that Jack Del Rio is optimistic about his chances of improving the secondary is that the team has added some nice versatility to the group. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer join the team to add valuable experience at both corner and safety in rotational roles. Likewise, Chris Harris has shown the ability to play multiple positions in the secondary. The defense is relying on that versatility to raise the bar for the whole unit.

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1. Finding a Pass Rush

quanterus smith
Chris Humphreys - USA TODAY Sports

Denver did an excellent job getting to the passer in 2012, recording 52 sacks. But nearly 57 percent of those sacks came from Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Dumervil is playing in Baltimore now and Miller could miss the first four games of the season. With neither readily available, the Broncos need to find another option to step up.

In Miller’s absence, Denver could turn to fifth-round pick Quanterus Smith. While Smith has nice upside as a pass rusher, he would likely be best served in a rotational role early in his career. Shaun Phillips was added in free agency, but the 32-year old linebacker has likely seen his best days as a pass rusher pass him by. Robert Ayers will need to become a bigger force in the pass rush from his defensive end position as well, but the biggest boost may come from inside. Second-year defensive tackle Derrick Wolfe is looking like a beast in the interior this offseason and could provide a nice push up the middle.