DENVER -- Gary Kubiak became a grandfather this offseason. It was a delightful diversion for a man whose month-long break before the opening of training camp included breaking down film on OTAs.
“Obviously, I spend time back home and with family,” said Kubiak in an exclusive interview before the team exited in late June. “But you never really get away from football as a coach.”
The Broncos experienced a turbulent offseason. They enter training camp as the first defending champion to lose their top two quarterbacks in 16 seasons. And their best player, outside linebacker Von Miller, missed workouts while going through a challenging contract negotiation. And yet, Kubiak, buoyed by last year’s title won despite injuries and a quarterback carousel, enters with more confidence than concern.
“When you go back and think about the short period of time our guys had off from the last game of the season to say we had 99 percent of our players here everyday for the offseason that’s all you can ask for as a coach,” Kubiak said. “Obviously we have questions to answer, but they can only be answered when you start playing football. That comes next. We have had some guys put themselves in position to be the answer to some of the questions we have. But they have to do it.”
The vacancy at quarterback demands the most attention as the Broncos seek a replacement for the retired Peyton Manning and departed Brock Osweiler. Veteran Mark Sanchez is considered the slight front-runner, though Kubiak has yet to declare the starter in a competition with Trevor Siemian. Kubiak will use preseason games and practice against the NFL’s top-ranked defense to determine the winner with an eye on “consistency.”
Regardless of the winner in the derby, the quarterback will begin the season under center with an reshaped offensive line. That should not be discounted as the Broncos undergo a transition at the league’s most important position. When the Broncos went under center with Osweiler a year ago, they became a top-10 rushing team over the final seven weeks. Kubiak believes the Broncos will be stronger following the offseason additions of left tackle Russell Okung (shoulder), right tackle Donald Stephenson and the move of Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) to right guard and Max Garcia set to take over at left guard.
“I am not going to use the word improved. I think we have a chance to be really good upfront. We have a center (Matt Paradis, who played every snap last year), who I think is becoming a great player everyday I watch him out there,” Kubiak said. “I think Max has a brilliant future. I feel really good about bringing Donald in and when we line up on the first day of camp they should all five be ready to go because Russell should be fine.”
Kubiak’s offense, when operating at optimal potential, boast strong tight ends. It is a position Kubiak watched remain unsettled during OTAs because of injuries to starter Virgil Green (finger) and Jeff Heuerman (hamstring).
“It’s a position not many people have asked me about. In theory our No. 1 and No. 2 haven’t practiced one time. I am little concerned about that,” Kubiak said last month.
Little bothers the Broncos about their defense. Even with the loss of defensive end Malik Jackson (Jacksonville Jaguars), linebacker Danny Trevathan (Chicago Bears) and safety David Bruton (Washington Redskins) in free agency, the Broncos feature fangs. It begins with a pass rush anchored by Miller and veteran DeMarcus Ware. Miller has become the face of the franchise with his new six-year, $114.5-million contract. Ware, in the twilight of his career, will be used differently to prevent flareups with his back injury.
“You want all your guys working. But if Von was here (in offseason workouts) and DeMarcus was healthy I would have probably only worked them only seven out of the 15 days anyway. I am excited about DeMarcus because I think we have finally settled down on the things that were bothering him. So we’ve made some progress here,” Kubiak said. “With Von, we know what he’s capable of. We will have to bring him along the right way.”
Jared Crick and Vance Walker will look to replace Jackson, Todd Davis is the leader to take over for Trevathan, and the Broncos drafted safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks. The Broncos face the possibility cornerback Aqib Talb (gunshot wound in leg) will require patience in his recovery, while the league continues to investigate whether the incident will result in discipline.
“Defensively upfront we have a chance to be very, very good. I think we are deep. We went and got (Jared) Crick. If those guys come through like we are counting on them, we should be six deep. If (defensive lineman) Phil Taylor comes in and is a good player we are seven deep,” Kubiak said. “With Aqib obviously we have to get him healthy. That’s the most important thing. We have to remember that (Bradley) Roby is here for a reason. He’s a top-notch draft choice and probably had as much to do with us winning the Super Bowl as any single player on the team. You go back and look at some of the plays he made. I have a lot of confidence in him.”