ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos open their mandatory minicamp Tuesday, and that three-day affair will formally close their offseason program.
When Thursday rolls around there will be the requisite missives tossed around about the “good work" that got done or how “we got better." That indeed happened in many ways, but the Broncos will still adjourn with questions to answer.
That makes the next three days the last look -- until July -- at some front-burner items like:
Where do things really stand at quarterback? Broncos coaches have kept a keen eye on what Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch have done since players returned to work in April, but the real on-field competition for the job will begin in training camp.
Though few inside the team's complex would publicly acknowledge it, Siemian is still ahead. He sees the field better, especially between the numbers, throws on time more consistently and does better work in between the big splash plays folks seem to notice more.
That said, Lynch’s arm and athleticism are intriguing to the team’s decision-makers and he carries that first-round selection with him. Around the league some competing personnel evaluators wonder if Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, as well as the Broncos coaching staff, would want to jam Lynch into the lineup to make that first-round selection bear fruit sooner.
However, the Broncos have Lynch potentially signed for five years, if they eventually pick up the fifth-year option, so there is no real hurry there, and Elway has vowed “I don’t want to play him if he’s not ready." Quarterbacks win jobs on trust, and all of the athleticism in the world cannot push a quarterback into the starting lineup if the people making the decisions don’t believe that quarterback will make the right choices when it’s a little more than a middle-of-the-week 7-on-7 drill.
Will rookie Garett Bolles be the starting left tackle? The first-round pick is headed that way and his work in the coming days could even put him in position to open training camp with the starters.
The Broncos opened OTAs with Donald Stephenson at left tackle and then Ty Sambrailo moved in with the starters. In recent weeks the Broncos really like what Bolles has done -- he’s has stood up for himself quite nicely against one of the league’s best defenses -- and has shown the expected athleticism in pass protection.
Bolles has also shown the study habits, the wants-to-be-a-pro attitude coaches love to see. If he can show some consistency working out of a three-point stance in the run game, he could edge out Sambrailo for the starting job.
Will the Broncos defense stop the run? Look, they finished 28th last year, so there is almost nowhere to go but up there. That said, opposing offenses were able to essentially mute Von Miller down the stretch last season -- Miller had no sacks in the final four games -- because those offenses could run the ball largely whenever they wished.
The proof will always be in what happens when the pads go on, but Broncos look far more physical up front -- Domata Peko and Zach Kerr were quality additions. That should enable their linebackers, especially Brandon Marshall, to have a little clearer path to the ball-carriers.
Beyond Bolles, what other rookies figure to have impact? It’s tough to fool your teammates if you’re a rookie, especially in a locker room like the Broncos' that includes plenty of Alpha players. They’re going to know who has put in the time and who hasn’t, and patience will be hard to find for those who are more interested in telling people they're in the NFL rather than staying there.
To that end, second-round pick DeMarcus Walker has come in and quietly gotten down to work. He figures to be in the rotation, especially in some pass-rush situations.
Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie could well be the team’s kickoff and punt returner respectively, while running back De'Angelo Henderson (a sixth-round pick) could have a more difficult time getting opportunities given a crowded depth chart but gives the team real speed and short-area quickness.
Unless there is unexpected progress over the next month or so, Jake Butt and Chad Kelly will open training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, given both are still recovering from knee surgeries. Kelly has a hand injury he’s been getting treatment for as well.
Butt will move into the rotation at tight end as soon as he’s healthy.