5 - Britton Colquitt
Last year, Colquitt was a Bronco until the final roster cuts, when the team released him and handed the punting job to Brett Kern. Colquitt was waived and signed to the Dolphins' practice squad. Denver did like what they saw during the preseason of 2009, so they signed him back to the active roster on December 30th. While his preseason performance was not enough to get him the job last season, this year the competition ended on June 15th when the Broncos released fellow punter A.J. Trapasso. Colquitt, who has 3 relatives who were successful punters in the NFL (brother Dustin, father Craig and uncle Jimmy), has shown a lot of improvement compared to last year, when his punting average was 41 yards. This season his average is up 10 yards, to 51. Like last year, his punts have great hang time, which makes it harder for opposing teams to return them. Colquitt has a solid grip on the punting job, and can establish his name in the NFL alongside his family members with a breakout season.
4 - Knowshon Moreno
It should not come as a surprise that 3 of the 5 breakout players on this last were drafted in 2009, the first draft of head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders. While this year’s draft class has gotten fans excited, after strong preseason performances by Perrish Cox, Syd’Quan Thompson and of course the rookies on the offensive line, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding last year’s picks. Knowshon Moreno started last season as the number one running back, but he wore down as the season progressed, and so did his rushing average. Though he has shown to have to have the skills for an NFL back, a full offseason of workouts and conditioning should make the upcoming season a breakout season for Knowshon. Not only should his numbers improve (a 1000+ yard season as well as his first of hopefully many games with 100+ yards rushing), so should his pass protection. Like last year, Moreno was plagued by an injury that kept him out for most of training camp. His ability to stay healthy could be a key to his breakout season, as well as to the Broncos’ success in 2010.
3 - Richard Quinn
With Tony Scheffler traded to the Lions, the Broncos are relying on Quinn as their second tight end going into the season. Mainly known for his blocking skills, Quinn played in 15 games last year but did not record any catches. Though Quinn seemed to struggle a little early in training camp, he has become more consistent in both blocking and passing as training camp went on. Quinn will likely see more targets now as the second tight end on the depth chart, and can hopefully start to show why the second round pick the team spent on him was justified.
2 - Robert Ayers
Robert Ayers joined the Broncos in 2009, being selected 18th overall after a strong senior year at Tennessee (leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss), and an even more impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, earning defensive MVP honors. A defensive end in college, Ayers was asked to move to outside linebacker by the Broncos, a move that took Ayers a while to adjust to. He played in fifteen games in his rookie season, only starting one. The most memorable play came against the Steelers when he returned a fumble for a touchdown, but he failed to record any sacks in his first year. This season, after Dumervil’s injury, Ayers will be counted on as the primary pass rusher and his performance in the preseason has shown he has definitely progressed, recording a half sack against Detroit and two sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though it will be tough for Ayers to match Dumervil’s production, he has shown he is on his way up, and will be counted on by the team to have a major impact pass rushing this year.
1 - Jarvis Moss
If I had not followed the Broncos during the offseason, the news that Jarvis Moss was the first player in line to replace Elvis Dumervil after he got injured during training camp would have worried me a lot. But the Jarvis we’ve seen this year is different from the Jarvis we have seen in previous seasons. Drafted with the 17th overall pick in 2007 by Mike Shanahan, Moss has not lived up to the expectations that come with being a first round pick. Totaling 24 tackles and 3,5 sacks over 2 seasons, Moss left training camp in 2009 while contemplating retirement, but decided to return to the team after 2 days, and many people were surprised he made the 53-man roster at the start of the season. Now, one year later, Moss has been one of the most impressive players during the off-season, and is said to have increased his effort in the weight room and the conditioning program. With Elvis Dumervil out, Moss will see a lot of playing time opposite of 2nd year linebacker Robert Ayers, and both players will have to step up if the Broncos want to be successful in pass defense like they were last season. Though Moss broke a bone in his right hand during training camp, he played in two of the three preseason games, with the sack and forced fumble against Detroit being the highlight of his preseason. He looks a lot more comfortable when he is on the field, and faced with extensive playing time, he looks to be poised for a breakout year, and to finally show of the skills that Denver fans have wanted to see from the former Gator since he arrived in the mile high city.
Photos in this post were used courtesy of Paul Cloud, and the Associated Press.