Monday, April 23, 2012

Denver Broncos Safety Brian Dawkins Retires

After sixteen accolade-filled seasons of playing professional football, veteran safety Brian Dawkins is hanging up his cleats for good.  At age thirty-eight, Dawkins played with a super hero-like mentality, defying age and all obstacles while acquiring the nickname Weapon X as his alter ego.

"The Lord has blessed me (by allowing me) to play in the NFL for sixteen years," Dawkins Tweeted on Monday morning.  "I would like to thank everyone that believed in me. Along with the fans for helping make my career one that I have enjoyed tremendously."

Throughout his career -- from the time he was drafted in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles to the time he retired in 2012 as a member of the Denver Broncos' secondary -- Dawkins had two lockers.  One of them was his, the other, belonged to Weapon X.

Dawkins' teammates and coaches describe him as a quiet and friendly Christian man that loves his family and the game of football.  Every player that faced Dawkins on the football field met a different man -- a player who transformed into a super human before the first snap of the ball and maintained that energy until the final whistle blew.

And that's how Dawkins went about his business for sixteen years.  He was a leader and friend in the locker room and a terrifying warrior on the football field.  In his career, Dawkins recorded more than 1,000 tackles, 26 sacks, defended 98 passes, intercepted 37 passes and forced 28 fumbles.

"I would like to thank all my teammates and coaches that I have been blessed to go to battle with," Dawkins said.  A nine-time Pro Bowler, Dawkins is considered a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

“Brian Dawkins is one of the best to ever play the game, a future Hall of Famer who changed the way his position is played," Head Coach John Fox said in a statement Monday. "In many ways, he helped my job as a coach with his great leadership and preparation. He brought so much to the table and was such an enormous asset to our football team.

"It’s been an honor and a privilege to coach Brian. Although I will miss the positive impact he had on our team, I congratulate Brian on a tremendous career and wish him and his family all the best going forward.” 

Thanks for the memories, Brian.  We'll see you in the Hall of Fame in 2017.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brands: Five Broncos Who Need a Good Spring

April 16th. The day that marks the start of the offseason workouts, and for many Broncos players their first opportunity to meet with quarterback Peyton Manning. However, under the regulations of the new CBA, off season workouts are much more limited in scope than in previous years.

Teams with new head coaches, such as the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins, started their workouts two weeks ago. For the rest of the league, players will be returning to facilities today. For the first two weeks, only strength and conditioning coaches can work with players on the field. Not until after the NFL Draft are coaches allowed to take players through limited football drills.

While the players will be spending less time on the field, there will be plenty of time for personal improvement. The Broncos have shown to be all in by the acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning, and this means it is time for some of the younger players to step up in order for the Broncos to reach their goal: A Super Bowl win. The trend in the list of players who need a good spring? Most players will be going into their second season in the NFL and can blame their early career struggles on missing the off season due to the lockout last year.

1. Rahim Moore

Entering the 2011 season, the Denver Broncos had high hopes for second round pick Rahim Moore, the free safety from UCLA. Moore went into the season as the starting free safety, but found himself on the scout team by week 14.

Many will remember Moore for his hit on Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones during the preseason, and the rookie had a solid camp. However, he suffered a concussion after colliding with cornerback Andre Goodman, and though he returned to practice three days later, he never reclaimed the starting job. Some in the Denver media seem to have entirely given up on Moore, but it is too early for that. Nevertheless, the Broncos brought in Mike Adams to play free safety, so Moore has his work cut out for him if he intends to reclaim his position as a starter.

2. Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas was no doubt one of the most impressive players in training camp last season, but the former college basketball player saw his first year hampered by an ankle injury that ruined his rookie season. While some players would have bounced back from a sprained ankle in a week two, Thomas has struggled to make the transition to the NFL after only one season of college football. Thomas recently underwent surgery to repair ligaments in his ankle and this should limit him when the Broncos take the field for offseason workouts starting Monday.

With the acquisition of tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, Thomas seems to be buried on the depth chart, together with fellow second year tight end Virgil Green (who is facing a four-game performance enhancing drug suspension, which he is appealing). However, while tight ends were not frequently used in the offense that we have seen over the past few years, Peyton Manning traditionally likes throwing to his tight ends, so if Thomas can continue to work on his technique, there should be plenty of balls to go around to all four tight ends if Denver chooses to keep that many on the roster.

3. Nate Irving

One of the more incredible stories of the 2011 NFL Draft was that of Nate. Irving, the North Carolina State linebacker who was forced to miss the entire 2009 season after being severely injured in a car accident. He came back for the 2010 and recorded 92 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and six pass breakups that season. Joining the Broncos, many expected Irving to be the starting middle linebacker at the end of camp, but he was beaten out by Joe Mays for the position and mostly played on special teams during his first year in the NFL.

With an off season to work on his skills, Irving will again head into training camp with the expectation of becoming the starting middle linebacker. Shawn Zobel described Irving as "an aggressive, downhill defender in the run game with a non-stop motor and feisty attitude that simply can't be coached," which will all be great qualities to have on the field as Denver looks to improve the run defense. Unlike last year, Irving has several months of OTA's to go into training camp prepared for the new defense that Jack Del Rio will run.

4. Orlando Franklin

Orlando Franklin was somewhat of a surprise pick in the second round last year, but the offensive tackle held up well during his first NFL season. He proved to be a great run blocker, playing an important role blocking for Willis McGahee and the rest of the NFL-leading rushing attack that racked up 2,632 yards on the ground.

However, having to protect Tim Tebow's blindside in 2011, Franklin struggled at times, giving up eight sacks and multiple penalties. With Peyton Manning under center, the blindside responsibilities will return to Ryan Clady, who is in a contract year. With his success in the running game, Franklin should spend the majority of the offseason working on his pass blocking in order to become an all-round solid right tackle in the NFL.

5. J.D. Walton & Zane Beadles

Unlike the previous four players, Walton and Beadles were taken one year earlier, in the 2010 NFL Draft. Walton has started every game at center since joining the Broncos, and Beadles only missed two starts during his first season, though he was moved around several times until settling at the left guard spot this season.

Walton was graded by Pro Football Focus as the worst center in the league, allowing four sacks and 23 quarterback pressures this past season. There is no doubt that Walton struggled his rookie year, especially when Beadles settled in at left guard; the two were often faced with double A-gap blitzes and stunts. They improved at the end of their first year, but could not work on technique during the offseason, so some of the struggles continued in their second year as pros.

While I believe both players can be solid offensive linemen, the start of their third year will prove to be critical for their future success. It remains to be seen how long veteran guard Chris Kuper will be out after his horrific injury suffered in the regular season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. Until then, Walton and Beadles will be counted on to solidify the interior of the line to protect Denver's ninety million dollar man.

Bert Jan Brands is a Broncos Zone contributor, follow him on Twitter: @bertjanb.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nike Reveals Denver Broncos New Uniform in N.Y.C.

The NFL and Nike revealed the new Elite 51 uniform designs for all thirty-two teams today in New York City. Judging from the photos released by Nike and what the players are saying, the changes in the uniforms will be much more noticeable to the players than to the eyes of the fans on Sunday afternoons this fall.

Nike is taking over as the on-field and sideline apparel provider of the NFL, a position which was previously held by Reebok. There were no dramatic changes made to the Denver Broncos' uniform design, with the collar area of the team's jersey being altered and the main jersey color changing from blue to orange.

"The Denver Broncos have chosen to take full innovation in the Nike Elite 51 football uniform," Nike said of the new technology utilized in the uniform. "The Broncos design aesthetic will stay true to years past while updating the color-blocking in the neckline in order to accommodate the Flywire technology to reduce weight and provide a lock-down fit over the pads."

Cornerback Champ Bailey represented the Broncos at the event, displaying his No. 24 jersey. "These new uniforms are going to be nice," Bailey Tweeted a few moments before Denver's uniform was unveiled earlier today.

The team's formerly blue collar is now blue half-way and orange towards the tip and the orange jersey appears to be a slightly different shade of orange from the team's 2011 alternate uniform. While the appearance of the uniform hasn't undergone any big changes, the feel has. The uniform is 30% lighter than the team's 2011 uniform and has a better range of motion, according to Nike.

"My jersey fit like a glove,” defensive end Mitch Unrein told on Tuesday. “There is no extra material on them. It’s just boom, fits perfectly on the pads."

"Designed and engineered from the inside out, the new uniform focuses on creating a system where the base layer, padding, jersey and pant work in concert," said Nike. "A few of the new innovations include increasing sleeve articulation for better range of motion and integrating new four-way stretch fabrication to provide a streamlined shrink-wrap fit."

The new design was created to make players faster by giving them less resistance and helping them to perform to the best of their ability. According to Unrein, the tight-fitting jerseys will also help him try to slip through offensive lines.

"The fit helps you out a lot if you’re a defensive lineman because it has that nice cut around the arms, so those offensive lineman can’t hold on to you as much.”

The team's alternate uniform is expected to be the same design as the main orange uniform design, with blue being the main color. White is expected to be the main color of the away design.

More images of the team's new uniform can be viewed on Broncos Zone's Facebook page. Video of Bailey talking to NFL Network about the new uniform can be viewed on the team's official website.

The new jerseys will be available for pre-order on April 15th and will begin being sold on the first day of the 2012 NFL Draft — Thursday, April 26th.