ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos rode a dominant defense to the Super Bowl title last season, but this year the offense wants to carry its share of the responsibility.
It seems improbable after Peyton Manning retired and his backup, Brock Osweiler, signed as a free agent with Houston, but the players believe this year’s offensive unit is stronger than last year’s. Denver netted 5,688 yards, its lowest total since 2011.
“We’re better as a group,” running back C.J. Anderson said. “We don’t want to rely on defense too much. We got too comfortable with that last year. We want to do our part on this team.”
Quarterback Trevor Siemian gets a chance to prove the offense is better when Denver faces the Los Angeles Rams’ strong defense in Saturday’s preseason game. Siemian was a full participant in Thursday’s practice after being limited Wednesday with a sore right shoulder. He will start for the second straight game.
Coach Gary Kubiak said he will decide Friday whether Mark Sanchez or rookie Paxton Lynch will serve as the No. 2 quarterback against the Rams.
Uncertainty at quarterback wasn’t the case the previous four training camps. Manning was the clear No. 1 until injuries compromised his play last year. He was inactive for six games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot but returned in the final game of the regular season and started all three playoff games.
Manning’s 18 seasons of experience have given way to Siemian, who took one snap as a rookie last year. That inexperience hasn’t worried the rest of the offense.
“He’s been doing great, I think he’s ready to go,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “I knew he was a hard worker from last year. He earned my respect as a rookie.”
Siemian has benefited from a year in Kubiak’s system, which gave him an edge over the veteran Sanchez and Lynch entering training camp.
The rest of the offense also feels more comfortable in its second year in Kubiak’s offense. Anderson said the offensive line is stronger and the offense is more cohesive than it was a year ago, which tailored its style to fit Manning.
“The jump, the leap we have is just non-explanatory,” Anderson said. “It’s just amazing where we’re at right now. I told (running backs) coach (Eric Studesville) I’m happy where we’re at this year than we were last year. We know the system better.”
Kubiak’s system will feature the running game more this season. The Broncos averaged 141.5 rushing yards a game when he was Denver’s offensive coordinator from 1995-2005 before becoming Houston’s head coach for eight seasons. That included Terrell Davis’ 2,008 yards in 1998.
Denver’s offense has been heavy on the pass during the first two preseason games to give the coaching staff a better chance to evaluate the quarterbacks. The Broncos plan to run the ball more against the Rams
“Our main focus right now is getting the running game going,” Thomas said. “Once we get the running game going the passing game will come. I think it’ll be better than what we had last year.”
Kubiak will continue to evaluate his quarterbacks against the Rams.
“I’m looking at what’s taken place the last six months,” he said. “How they’ve handled themselves, how they’ve handled the team and how they respond to things.”