We are just one day away from the first official Denver Broncos football game of the year. Are you excited? I know I am. The pre-season gets a bad rap because a lot of people feel it's worthless since the starters don't play much anyway. I, on the other hand, disagree. The pre-season is the perfect opportunity to evaluate your roster from your #1 guy to the 53rd best guy. With the rate of injuries in this game, it is crucial to have back up players who can step in and contribute. The Broncos know this all to well after losing Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers to injuries last year.
This year, we hope things are different. We have a decent team on paper and it's about time to see if the team we see on paper exists in an actual game. On Thursday night we face the Dallas Cowboys. The starters are only going to play 12-15 snaps, or roughly two drives for offense and defense. So there will be a lot of time to evaluate the 2nd and 3rd team players. Here is a list of players that I will be watching very closely on Thursday night.
Let's just get this one out of the way. Kyle Orton is going to start, but when he gets taken out this game is going to turn into a Tebow vs Quinn battle. Quinn has reportedly looked better in camp, but he will need to beat Tim during a live game if he wants to move up the depth chart. It will be important to notice what defense Tim and Brady face off go against, but it should make for an intriguing battle nevertheless.
Running Back Battle:
Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee are going to be Denver's primary running backs. Knowshon has continued to make plays as a receiver, but it is McGahee who is making noise in the running game. They are both locks to make the team. This leaves 4 running backs vying for 2 positions.
Lance Ball has done some good things in camp, but he is far from a lock to make the roster. He is a tough guy who has been fighting hard to stay on the roster. Jeremiah Johnson is a name to look out for folks. Every report I have read is mentioning his name. Jeremiah is displaying great instincts, and could be a really nice complementary player if he can stay healthy which has been an issue for him. LenDale White has gotten a bad rap for his past, but he has really cleaned it up since coming to Denver. He is down to mid 230's and is working hard to stick with this team. He has really nice footwork and continues to find holes to run through. I watched this guy back in his years at USC and he could be a real weapon at the goal line. He's a touchdown machine. He will need to prove it since Willis McGahee has a similar style of play. Brandon Minor has had an up and down camp. He's made some plays, but he has little chance of making the roster. He is likely fighting for a practice squad spot. The same can be said for the recently signed CJ Gable.
Wide Receiver Battle:
This is a battle that I am really looking forward to watching. Eddie Royal sat out today so he could rest his hip. Brandon Lloyd also had some swelling in his knee. I would be pretty surprised if either played significantly if at all on Thursday. This means that there will be a lot of snaps for these wide receivers along with Eric Decker. Brandon, Eddie, and Eric have 3 roster spots locked down. This leaves 2-3 spots open for these wide receivers.
Matt Willis was put on the 2nd team behind Brandon Lloyd on the depth chart so that presumably gives him the edge. However, David Anderson has reportedly been impressive in getting open at camp. Mark Dell and Britt Davis continue to make plays during TC, especially Mark Dell. Eron Riley has also made some plays and is currently higher up on the depth chart then Dell or Davis. This is definitely a situation to monitor and it should be fun to see who comes out on top. Either way, Denver looks to have a very deep WR corps this year. Can you imagine how dangerous we would be if Demayrius Thomas was ever healthy?
Tight End Battle:
However, that is not what the depth chart will be come opening day. Daniel Fells is likely a lock. He is a strong blocker, but can also make an impact in the passing game. He is already penciled in as the starter despite being here less then a week. Julius Thomas is also a lock. Despite his depth chart placement, the kid has been lighting up training camp. He's got some serious buzz around him. He's definitely a lock for the roster.
This leaves us with 4 tight ends fighting for 1 or 2 spots. It should make for an intense battle. Richard Quinn was drafted to be Denver's starting blocking tight end, but was never able to take the job from Daniel Graham. He has reportedly been inconsistent so far in camp and he was just injured yesterday. When Denver traded Alphonso Smith for Dan Gronkowski, many hoped Gronk would be Denver's "do it all" tight end. He was a great blocker last year, but failed to make any impact in the pass game. He hasn't had the best training camp; displaying inconsistent hands. Dante Rosario is a free agent pick up who is fighting his way onto the roster. Dante is more of a pass catcher then a run blocker. He needs to show that he can block well enough and then let his receiving skills take over. Finally, Virgil Green is Denver's 7th round draft pick. He was drafted to be a "move" tight end and to make plays up the seam. However, he has had some struggles in camp dropping easy passes and is very raw in blocking. Denver may try to sneak him onto the practice squad, but I don't think that will work. Virgil will have to prove he is worthy of being on the opening day roster.
There isn't any real position battle going on here. These three players are more then likely going to be starters come opening days. However, all three have had up and down training camps. According to Cecil Lammey, J.D. Walton has been pretty brutal when it comes to picking up blitzes. This is something to look for this week as the Broncos face a good Dallas defense and a defensive coordinator who is not afraid to blitz in Rob Ryan.
Zane also has had an up and down camp. There was some question as to if Zane could convert into a zone scheme so keep your eye out for him this weekend.
Last, but certainly not least, we all need to look out for Orlando Franklin. However, that likely won't be too difficult. Franklin reportedly is an absolute beast in the running game. I've read reports where he's pancaked Robert Ayers, Von Miller, and Elvis Dumervil. However, he also has definitely had problems in pass protection. With the incredibly immobile Kyle Orton behind center, this has to make one concerned.
Defensive Line Battle
Let's start with the defensive ends.
Elvis Dumervil is back after missing all of last year. He will undoubtedly be on the roster. Robert Ayers is trying to convert back to his 4-3 ways after spending the last two years miscast as a 3-4 OLB. Both will be the opening day starters. Behind them is where things get interesting.
Derrick Harvey and Jeremy Jarmon were picked up over the last two weeks. Harvey was a former 1st round pick who got a bad rap as a bad locker room guy who had a lousy work ethic. Jarmon, on the other hand, was miscast last year in Washington's 3-4. Both of them have something to prove and both have been doing pretty well in training camp, per reports. Jarmon especially has been getting mentioned. It is unknown how many defensive lineman Fox will take. The smart guess is 4 or 5. That means Jason Hunter, Jeremy Beal and David Veikune could be on the outside looking in, but it would not surprise me if Hunter stays on as a 5th DE.
With the Defensive Tackles, it is fairly easy to see who will start. Denver traded for DT Broderick Bunkley. He will likely start as the team's nose tackle. Denver also went out and signed Defensive Tackle Ty Warren. He will likely play the other DT spot next to Bunkley. This leaves 2 or 3 spots behind them. It is not too hard to see who those two players should be. Marcus Thomas and Kevin Vickerson played well for Denver last year and are much better then the other players. Still, it will be interesting to see how they play now that they are in the 4-3. I think we will likely keep 4 defensive tackles and 5 defensive ends since a player like Jason Hunter can play special teams.
The two starters we know for sure are DJ Williams and Von Miller.
Joe Mays has had a nice training camp. He has reportedly showed the physicality that made us love him, but has also improved in coverage catching multiple interceptions in camp. He is probably very close to a lock as the starter. The lockout has definitely hurt Nate Irving who has had an up and down camp as he continues to try and learn one of the most difficult positions in the NFL.
I think we can assume that DJ Williams, Von Miller, Joe Mays, and Nate Irving are locks to make the team. I think Wesley Woodyard and Mario Haggan are locks to make this team as primary backups and an excellent special teamers. Mike Mohammad is another guy I think will make the team. He has been on the field a lot at training camp and can be a nice versatile back up. That gives us seven linebackers. Fox kept 9 on the roster in 2010 so let's assume he does that this year. Of the remaining players, Lee Robinson and Braxton Kelly look to stay on the roster. Lee was surprisingly high on the depth chart coming in above rookie Mike Mohammad. Braxton has had a decent camp and has delivered some very nice hits. For those two players, they are going to have to prove their worth via special teams. So make sure to keep an eye out for them during the kick and punt returns.
Defensive Backs Battle
Champ Bailey is the man. That is all.
Andre Goodman played very well in 2009, but really struggled in 2010 thanks to a bunch of injuries. Denver is hoping he will stay healthy and be the starting corner opposite of Champ this year.
Cassius Vaughn is one of the main people I will be watching this pre season. The undrafted free agent from last year has been making a ton of noise in training camp and there is some talk that he could start over Goodman. He is definitely someone to look for in the pre season. He will get extensive time playing with the 2nd team on Thursday. Syd'Quan became a bit of a fan favorite last year after he had a terrific pre season and make some nice plays during the year (Houston interception for the win). He has repeatedly gotten interceptions in training camp and looks to be a contributor in the nickel and dime packages.
Perrish Cox is a guy who had an up and down year in 2010 starting opposite of Champ. It also doesn't help his cause that Perrish got into some big trouble in the off season and is currently rated below Cassus Vaughn on the depth chart. His future in Denver could be very bleak. He is a player we might try to "Alphonso". By that I mean, we could try to give him extensive playing time in the pre season and then ship him out of here. If Perrish doesn't stay in Denver, it likely means that Nate Jones will stay on for depth. He was pretty awful last year and I haven't heard any good reports about him in training camp, but he does play CB and S so it is what it is.
Brandon Bing and Chris Harris are two undrafted rookies who have been decent in training camp. Bing is a guy I think we could hold onto the practice squad since he has made some plays and he is capable of being a return guy.
Behind them is an interesting battle. Last year's undrafted free agent Kyle McCarthy is currently rated above Quinton Carter and David Bruton. Darcel McBath is also in the mix backing up Rahim Moore.
Fox kept 10 defensive backs in 2010. Champ, Goodman, Dawkins, and Moore are the locks. I also think Quinton Carter is a lock. So that leaves approximately 5 spots open and 9 players fighting for them. Once again, special teams will be key. Last year, Cassius Vaughn made his impact on special teams, worked hard during the off season and now looks to be a big contributor. That is the way to do it in the NFL so pay attention to which players in this group perform the best on special teams.
Prater will win.
That was your position by position look as our Broncos head towards the first pre season game. There are still a lot of spots open and a lot can happen in the pre season. So get your DVR's ready because Bronco football is back baby.