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Questions facing Broncos as OTAs hit stride

Will Wilson rebound? Is depth required at OLB? Who is the kicker?
Broncos Football
Posted at 3:15 PM, May 24, 2023

DENVER — When the Broncos were good, the offseason brought intrigue through sprinkles on desert. Would Wes Welker produce magic in Denver? Would Peyton Manning throw 50 touchdown passes? Can Von Miller deliver 20 sacks?

The mission of new coach Sean Payton goes back to basics — creating a new culture. It bears repeating: He did not leave New Orleans, he brought New Orleans with him to Denver.

Payton did not take this job to lose or spend five years rebuilding. He doesn't care about posts and likes on social media. As such, he has engaged in a makeover that features everything but the Property Brothers and Coach Prime.

There are a lot of new faces, several with ties to his days with the Saints. The Broncos began OTAs on Tuesday, practiced Wednesday and will have one day of media viewing on Thursday. It will be our first chance to see the full squad.

What happens in May doesn't decide a game in September, but it can create an impression worth filing away. So, before heading out to practice at Centura Health Training Center, it's time to look at questions facing the team:

What will Russell Wilson look like with Payton?

Wilson has leaned out. I talked with him at the airport a few weeks ago, and he was in a good place mentally and physically.

Last season proved humbling. It was a worst-case scenario across the board from his performance, injuries, social media pushback, and criticism from former teammates. After finishing with career lows in touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (60.5), Wilson has welcomed Payton's arrival.

Payton will coach with discipline and structure, while designing plays that maximize Wilson's abilities and mobility. Will we get a hint of that on Thursday?

Are McGlinchey, Powers the right fit?

The Broncos need stability at right tackle. They have had a different regular one for nine straight seasons — 10 if you count Mike McGlinchey.

McGlinchey is a physical player for a team looking to become tougher, meaner, and stronger. Left guard Ben Powers didn't allow a sack last season. Will his career ascension continue?

Is Garett Bolles healthy?

Left tackle Garett Bolles has gone from penalty-riddled to a franchise cornerstone. The one constant was his health. However, last season Bolles, who turns 31 on Sunday, played only five games before breaking his leg/ankle. Will he look the part on Thursday of a guy trending upward as we get closer to training camp?

The Broncos provided cover if not by bringing back Cam Fleming on a one-year, $4-million deal as a swing tackle.

Are the Broncos covered at outside linebacker?

Payton believes they have enough, but the Broncos need some things to happen that did not transpire a year ago.

First, Randy Gregory must play at least 12 games. He is disruptive and effective, and his knee is healed after last season's surgery. He only appeared in six games and was not himself in the last two.

A healthy Gregory with an improved Baron Browning — he's expected to add leg strength in his second year at the position — and an emerging Nik Bonitto and Christopher Allen would suffice. Will that play out? Is it realistic?

What will the RB rotation look like?

Javonte Williams could be cleared for training camp just 9 1/2 months after ACL surgery last October, according to Payton. In the meantime, Samaje Perine projects as the top back. He is a brutish runner and an accomplished blocker and pass catcher on third down. However, he has not rushed more than 95 times in a season since 2017. Will undrafted free agent rookie Jaleel McLaughlin, a record-setter at Youngstown State, force his way into the mix? Or does Denver need to add another veteran for protection?

Who is the kicker?

The Broncos released Brandon McManus on Tuesday after nine seasons in Denver. The next day, they worked out three kickers: Brett Maher, Elliott Fry and Parker White.

Maher, who kicked briefly for Payton in New Orleans, made 29 of 32 kicks for Dallas last season before careening into a ditch in the playoffs by missing five of six extra points.

Fry has limited pro experience and White has never kicked in a regular-season game.

Maher is expected to remain in the mix after Wednesday with the Broncos keeping their options open.

Is the secondary as good as advertised?

Cornerback Pat Surtain II is Denver's best player, and plans to be a more vocal leader in his third season. Free safety Justin Simmons ranks as the team's second best. That's a great place to start in the secondary. Cornerback Damarri Mathis put together a promising rookie season.

Will rookie Riley Moss push him for the starting job? Can nickel back K'Wuan Wiliams stay relatively healthy? And how much does strong safety Kareem Jackson, one of the team's most respected players, have left? Where does that leave Caden Sterns?

New boss Vance Joseph should enjoy mixing and matching with this group to disguise coverages and create turnovers.