5 Players Turning Heads at the Denver Broncos' Training Camp
Training camp is huge for young and new players, and there are some key members of the Denver Broncos already turning heads just a few days into the 2014 camp.
Oftentimes, camp acts like a springboard to bigger and better things for some players. A guy trying to make the team catches fire and takes his game to the next level. Others will even build off of this early momentum to have an incredible season.
In a lot of ways, it's the same as how a team fighting to make the playoffs will often go on a run after it's managed to scrape its way into the postseason. The team will fight and claw through the last weeks of the season, doing everything possible to make it to the postseason, and this battle lights a fire under the players. They start playing the best football they've played all year.
Not to say that anyone in Denver's camp is complacent, but some of these rookies and fringe vets are going to have to fight a bit more if they want to make it through the final roster cuts. They have to play with a chip on their shoulders, and when they finally get a chance during the regular season, they'll be able to play their best and really show what they can do.
There's no guarantee that any of the following guys will make the team, but that they have been turning heads so far this summer is beyond dispute. I've ranked them from the most likely to make it to the least.
Cody Latimer is already on the team as far as I'm concerned. There's no way that this guy, who is a combination of a big-bodied red-zone target and a formidable deep threat, is going to miss the cut. If he hadn't hurt his foot before the draft, he probably would have gone late in the first round.
There's incredible upside here.
The problem for Latimer is that Denver has a number of targets in the passing game. Demaryius Thomas. Julius Thomas. Emmanuel Sanders. Wes Welker. Even Andre Caldwell. Peyton Manning is the king of spreading the ball around, so those guys are going to see plenty of touches, especially the top four.
Latimer knows it, and he's been working hard to make sure he's noticed, whether he's catching a deep bomb from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler or catching a ball from Manning along the sideline. When he has a chance, he's making it count.
He even made a one-handed goal-line snag with three defenders around him.
The future is very bright for this kid, and it's awesome to see it already starting, even though he was so recently injured. He'll make a name for himself before long.
I screamed at Ronnie Hillman. Well, more appropriately, I screamed at my TV. Hillman was on the screen, though, and I was directing the screams at him.
He'd just fumbled the ball against the Indianapolis Colts, and I could just feel that Denver, trailing in the game at the time, wasn't going to be coming back. Until that point, I hadn't been that nervous that the team was behind. It just seemed like Denver would be fine in the end. The Broncos always were.
The drive leading up to the miscue even had that look of inevitability. The Broncos started at the 8-yard line and drove almost 90 yards, getting right to the doorstep of a touchdown that could have changed everything.
Then Hillman fumbled—and didn't see the field for weeks.
It really cost him his shot last year. He fumbled against both Jacksonville and Indy, and that was pretty much it for a long time.
Now, the coaches are raving over him, and he looks to be in the driver's seat to be the second back behind Montee Ball. He has competition, notably from C.J. Anderson and Brennan Clay, but it'd be surprising if he wasn't the second-string back with the way he's been playing.
Quinton Carter will be entering his fourth season, but he doesn't have a lot of experience. He came on hard at the beginning on his career, picking off both Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in playoff games. That was in 2011, his rookie year, when he actually started most of the games, making a name for himself as a huge hitter who also had ball skills.
Then he blew out his knee. It wasn't even in a game but at practice instead. He'd been playing deep coverage, and there was a soccer goal near the end of the field. He awkwardly tried to avoid slamming into it, and his knee was torn apart.
He hasn't played since.
This camp has been great for Carter, though, as he finally looks to be coming back from the microfracture surgery needed to repair the injured knee. T.J. Ward has seen limited snaps due to his own minor injuries, and Carter has been playing with the first-stringers, according to The Associated Press (h/t Fox News). He's been out there for both base and nickel defenses.
Ward's going to start, but don't sleep on Carter. Certain packages could even use both safeties.
At the end of the day, taking enough time off to really heal may have been in Carter's best interests, as he can slide easily back into a high-impact role.
I'll forgive you if you're not sure who Kenny Anunike is, because he did play at Duke. No offense to Duke and its proud basketball tradition, but it has never been a football powerhouse. On top of that, Anunike wasn't even drafted. Denver brought him in as an undrafted free agent later on.
That being said, the defensive end dominated at times at the collegiate level. He was the best pass-rusher on Duke's team. He notched six sacks, but his overall total of 13.5 tackles for loss was even more impressive. He totaled 67 tackles, a forced fumble and blocked kick.
Word out of camp is that this mentality is paying off. Anunike is going as hard as he can, getting to the quarterback time and time again. Sure, you can't hit the QB in camp, but according to both David DeChant and Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com (h/t Sayre Bedinger of SI.com), he'd be getting knockdowns and sacks if it were live action.
Mason even pegged him as one of the camp sleepers.
The biggest hurdle might be that Denver has a number of impact players at the defensive end position already, from DeMarcus Ware to Derek Wolfe to Malik Jackson. However, the team is by no means stacked to the point that it couldn't use more young, athletic talent.
Marvin Austin's career hasn't gone exactly how he hoped it would. The New York Giants took him in the second round of the 2011 draft, but a torn muscle derailed his chances with the team, and the Giants let him go. He passed through Miami and Dallas without making much of an impact.
Now he's in Denver, and this team could be the perfect fit for the young defensive tackle. Scotty Payne on his Mile High Report said as much, citing the way that Denver had handled other defensive tackles—such as Brodrick Bunkley and Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton—who weren't seen as game-changing impact players when they first came aboard in Denver.
Knighton even has his own commercial now in which he discusses food.
That sounds stupid, but it's not. Well, maybe. But the point is, this guy really turned his career around, going from someone most fans had never heard of to a storyline in the playoffs to a guy who gets paid to talk about his favorite food.
Could Austin be next?
It's impossible to know, but the word out of camp looks promising. Kevin Vickerson has been limited, so it's given Austin some chances, and he's playing with the fire and strength that can make for a dominant tackle in this league. It's clear that he's battling to turn his career around, just like those before him, and he's on the verge of doing so.
If he can get it done, the team would have an excellent rotation in the defensive line. And you've just got to pull for a guy who may be on his last stop with a chance to finally turn his career into a productive one.