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(Graphic by K.J. Rigli/Bonneville Denver)
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Mile High Monday: Putting a bow on the Broncos offseason

(Graphic by K.J. Rigli/Bonneville Denver)

It’s a Mile High Monday with the Broncos on a break. Mandatory minicamp wrapped up last week, and Denver even got the final day of workouts off in favor of a team field day.

That was a nice changeup from head coach Vic Fangio. Now, the team is off for about five weeks before the start of training camp.

I like this time of year because it’s what I call vacation time – although that’s not for a couple of weeks for me personally. The Broncos players just need to stay out of trouble, stay in shape and get ready for things to get real in mid-July.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ. The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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Not Coming Off .500

After watching this team all offseason, I have not yet changed my expectations for this season. The Broncos look like an 8-8 team to me.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen out at rookie minicamp, offseason training activities and mandatory minicamp, but that does not mean I’m changing my prediction for the Broncos win total in 2019. Simply put, the Broncos should have looked like what we’ve seen this offseason.

Joe Flacco is an upgrade over Case Keenum, and likely a bigger one than some think. He’s a Super Bowl MVP and has been a starter from the first day he came into the league. The understanding he has of the position is leaps and bounds greater than what Keenum had as a journeyman quarterback of backup caliber that was just trying to learn what it means to be a starter.

The defense looks great under Fangio. Several pieces were already in place for the new head coach, with guys like Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Chubb (to name a few) capable of playing at an incredibly high level. Fangio’s reputation as a defensive guru is well-earned, and now with these tools on the Broncos roster it should lead to defensive improvements in 2019.

Flacco and Fangio are two of the biggest acquisitions for the Broncos this offseason, but the impact they’ve shown this offseason should not come as a surprise. These key pieces have a history and a reputation that has showed during practice. Simply put, the Broncos aren’t currently exceeding realistic expectations.

I was filling in for DMac last week on “The Drive” and was arguing with Tom Nalen about what the Broncos record should be this season. Nalen thinks they could win 10 or 11 games, but I simply can’t put that total there yet.

Going with a .500 record is not a copout; I’ve studied this team closely and first hand all offseason long.
I give them a chance to get back to their winning ways and perhaps even competing for a wild card spot in the playoffs, but we have to see more.

Right now, this looks like an improved team, but not one to go from the cellar to near the top of the charts. Maybe I’ll get a better feel about what this team’s record could be when the preseason gets here.

***

Good To Go For Camp

The Broncos got to see their starting five offensive linemen together during mandatory minicamp. This was only the second time in more than a month of workouts that all five starters were on the practice field together. It’s a great sign that Denver’s offensive line is getting healthy with training camp coming up in five weeks or so.

One of the most important players who is now healthy is starting guard Ron Leary. An Achilles’ injury ended his 2018 season after just six games. Now at full strength, Leary is moving from the position he played last year (left guard) to the spot (right guard) where he played for the Broncos in 2017.

Medically, he’s been fully cleared. And he seems ready to go.

“I’m doing everything out there. I’ve been cleared by the doctors,” Leary said. “I feel great. I haven’t had any setbacks. Like I said, I’m doing everything and feel great out there.”

Undrafted out of Memphis in 2013, Leary has only played one full 16-game season in his pro career – and that was when he was a rookie with the Cowboys. In fact, the lineman has only played in 17 games during the last two seasons for the Broncos. Talent is not a question whatsoever with Leary, but he needs to stay healthy and prove that he’s still capable of being a quality starter.

***

Ahead of Schedule?

Some of the best news we received during minicamp was about wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. We learned earlier this month that Sanders might actually be ahead of schedule in recovering from the Achilles’ injury that cut his 2018 season short.

Fangio gave us some insight about the veteran receiver.

“I think Emmanuel is doing well physically. I’ve got no medical basis for this, but I think he’ll be back earlier than people think,” the Broncos head coach said.

I don’t think Sanders will be at full strength when training camp opens in mid-July. However, I do think the team will ease him back into action as training camp and the preseason rolls on. The Broncos have five preseason games to see plenty of their younger receivers during that time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sanders only plays in one of those games, perhaps sparingly, as he continues to work back from this Achilles’ injury.

***

To Slot or Not to Slot

The Broncos signed one of the best slot corners in the league when they acquired Bryce Callahan earlier this offseason. Callahan played 640 snaps in 13 games for the Fangio-led Bears defense last season. Out of those snaps, 580 were from the nickel formation with Callahan lined up as the slot corner.

With Chris Harris Jr. likely to play on the outside for the 2019 season, I thought that free agent addition Kareem Jackson would be lining up opposite of him. That does not seem to be the case after watching these offseason practices. Jackson is going to play much more safety than corner in 2019.

In fact, Jackson looks to be the favorite to play the slot corner when the Broncos are in a nickel look. That means Harris and Callahan are the primary outside corners for the Broncos this season.

I’ve got zero concerns about Harris, as he should be tasked with stopping an opponent’s top receiver each week. Harris is an outstanding slot corner, but he’s incredibly capable of playing on the outside and blanketing receivers of all sizes and athletic ability.

I do have concerns about Callahan, however, if he’s not playing the slot. Callahan is a small player, measuring in at 5-feet-9-inches and 185 pounds. In the slot, he is not going up against larger receiver – but that will be much different outside. Callahan has the speed and quickness to shadow any receiver he’s up against, but larger players will be able to easily use their size as an advantage.

Fangio obviously knows what he’s doing, so that does assuage my concern about Callahan playing on the outside. I like the versatility from this secondary, but initially assumed Harris and Jackson would be their outside corners in 2019. After watching offseason workouts, that’s just simply not the case.

***

Ford v. Ferrar

I have always been a Ford man. My dream car for years has been a Shelby Mustang, and two years ago I was able to purchase a 2007 (my favorite year) Shelby GT. In fact, I have the No. 7 car built that year and it’s a car that one day I will pass down to my son.

I love the story of the legendary Carroll Shelby. He was one of the greatest minds in car racing and what he did for Ford Motor Company in battling against Ferrari was legendary. The stories say that Shelby told Henry Ford II that “Ferrari’s (butt) is mine” when first hired by Ford to build cars that would beat Ferrari in the 24-hour LeMans race. There was a great debate at the time who hated Enzo Ferrari more, Henry Ford II or Carroll Shelby (for various reasons).

Now, Hollywood has made a movie out of that tale. Simply put, this movie trailer puts a big smile on my face.

The word is they moved this movie’s release date back for award season and it certainly looks like it could pull in quite a few honors with it’s star-studded cast. “Ford v. Ferrari” looks like a must-see movie in my opinion, and I can’t wait to see it on opening night.