Monday, August 5, 2013

The Broncos are the true Boys of Summer

When I was in the sixth grade, I can still remember being incredibly jealous when a few of my buddies would lug their football bags, complete with their shoulder pads draped atop the bag, to class with their practices coming after the school day. I'm still not quite sure if it was my jealousy of my football playing buddies or my fandom of John Elway that led me to the gridiron.



My football ties growing up were strong. When I was in elementary school in Conifer, CO Broncos linebacker Tom Jackson visited for a special assembly. My mom took a picture of the Broncos great and me and it was legendary, but not in a good way. Being just four years-old I was lacking in height and my mom snapped the picture with me in the frame and all of Jackson - except for his head. At least I still have the sweatshirt I was wearing, that he autographed.

My family has had tickets in the South Stands since 1976 - true Mile High faithful. Before I was able to go to games, I would spend most Sunday afternoons at my Nana's house. I'd play catch in the street with my dad and Jack (our family friend that shared tickets with us) before they'd leave for the games. I can still remember wanting to throw the ball to them like Elway and pretending to catch passes from No. 7 himself. We would have Super Bowl parties at my house growing up and the haunting memories of the Broncos vs. 49'ers game are still with me to this day.

I played soccer, baseball, and basketball growing up. The draw to play football began to grow in the sixth grade, but my folks held out until I was in seventh grade to allow me to play. I remember shopping for my helmet, shoulder pads, cleats, and mouthpiece. I can still taste the warm plastic when I molded each and every mouthpiece to a custom fit. I played football all the way through my senior season in high school, but I use the term "played" loosely as I was a terrible offensive lineman.

But what I remember most is joking with my friends between drills and sweating. Lots and lots of sweating. As my football career wore on, during high school, the summer became more about getting back into shape for football above all else. We participated in summer training programs and then when August rolled around, we were out there on the practice fields, in the heat, and in full pads. I would easily drop 20 pounds during our two-a-day practices that lasted a couple weeks. Even though football became torture for me, it also became a summer tradition.

When training camp starts for the Broncos, I still relate it to my experiences with the game. It's ridiculous to do, as, again, I was terrible and this is the NFL, but the memories are still there. The memories of my own injuries are still even there. When I think of football I can still recall having my hand caught in a facemask and giving my tendons a run for their money, having forearms so black-and-blue my mom worried about blood-clots, and the hits to the head ...

The injuries the Broncos are currently suffering are piling up. With Super Bowl expectations being the norm at Dove Valley, let's hope that there are some guys still standing when the real games begin. One of the latest guys to go down is tight end Joel Dreessen. As Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today reported, Dreessen is expected to miss the rest of camp with a second knee surgery since June. Along with Dreessen, fellow tight end Jacob Tamme has missed time with a quadriceps injury and Julius Thomas has had injury issues of his own, in the past.

Dreessen didn't miss a game last season and had 41 catches for 356 yards to go along with 5 touchdowns. Tamme also didn't miss a game and had 52 catches for 555 yards and 2 touchdowns. The TE spot was a productive one if you consider Dreessen and Tamme combined for 93 catches, 911 yards, and 7 touchdowns.

If Thomas can prove to stay healthy, he will give Peyton Manning another weapon in what should be a very potent offense. We shouldn't expect any one TE to come out and lead the team in receptions or garner much bigger numbers than Dreessen and Tamme put up last season, but another weapon for Manning, at a position he has shown a knack for throwing to, will make those Super Bowl aspirations more of a reality.

News that Ronnie Hillman, who I thought showed promise last season in his 85 rushing attempts and 330 yards, looks better than ever, have the backfield looking strong. Rookie Montee Ball has been said to be looking a little underwhelming in practices, but let's wait and see how he performs in the preseason. By all accounts, Ball has the talent and the pedigree from the University of Wisconsin to be a stud. My colleague Ross Martin will tell you that running backs can be formed by committee, but having a stud or two to hand the ball to will go a long way.

But the true studs of the offense will be Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker - in no order. Will we see somebody step up that isn't on the radar? That's a bit what the preseason is about - spotting the diamonds in the rough.

It's easy to name the names of the guys that should stand out, but it's also exciting to think that football is once again around the corner. I can't wait to see these guys back on the field and seeing training camp highlights is just a cruel teaser.

The Broncos, the boys of summer.




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