The Denver Broncos of 2008 have been hit by injuries like few teams in recent memory.
It has been unusual, to say the least, to watch the number of players on the Broncos’ injured reserve list reach double figures.
But you have a schedule, and you have to keep playing, and every time a player goes down it gives an opportunity to another, and in this case, a younger player.
Denver’s young player’s contributions have been tremendous this year, and couple those efforts with the team’s first place standing in the AFC Western Division and you get bright promise for future seasons.
No position has been exempt from the development of young players.
The offensive line has the two youngest starting tackles in franchise history, and the two youngest currently active in the entire NFL. And both Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris are playing great. Clady certainly is a candidate for Rookie of the Year honors, and is an obvious choice for the All-Rookie team.
Of course, quarterback Jay Cutler, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler are just third year players, but another young weapon is rookie receiver Eddie Royal. Royal is making one of the biggest splashes in the NFL rookie pool this season.
Royal figures to break virtually every Broncos rookie receiving record and is tearing into the total yardage marks as well. Royal has had two 90-yard plays in as many weeks. Setting himself up for a touchdown against Miami and breaking off a 94-yard touchdown against Cleveland.
Punter Brett Kern is a rookie and placekicker Matt Prater is technically in his second year, but just barely, having seen virtually no action before this season. Both have done a great job on special teams.
Speaking of special teams, rookie linebacker Wesley Woodyard made his mark there before moving into the starting lineup with a great 10-tackle game against Cleveland.
Fullbacks Spencer Larsen and Peyton Hillis both have drawn raves from fans and coaches for their hard hitting.
Elvis Dumervil has been the Broncos’ best pass rusher over the past three seasons and is just now in his third year, while fellow defensive lineman Marcus Thomas is starting in just his second year.
While the defensive backfield has been led by the always brilliant Champ Bailey — now injured — and a crew of veteran players, rookie Josh Bell has come on to provide very aggressive play as the starter in Denver’s nickel package. Third-year man Karl Paymah also had a big interception in a starting role at Cleveland, playing in place of the injured Bailey.
Youth is always exciting.
It makes some mistakes, but the mistakes of youth often are tempered by infectious enthusiasm that spills over to teammates and to the fans as well, and every play gives each player more experience and another chance to improve.
So right now the Broncos wish they had a better won-loss record, but the team remains in first place in a season long battle with the San Diego Chargers, and the 2008 Broncos are giving proof to the axiom that in sport as in life — youth must be served.