GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 01: Quarterback Richard Bartel #2 of the Arizona Cardinals throws a pass pressured by defensive tackle Ryan McBean #98 of the Denver Broncos during the preseason NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Broncos 26-7. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
If it weren't for the injuries that have this position up in the air, this would be the biggest non-battle of Thursday night. But the starting DT/NT rotation of Kevin Vickerson, Marcus Thomas, Ty Warren and Broderick Bunkley is dinged up across the board. Warren is out the majority of the season with a triceps tear, though he is rumored to be kept on the active roster. Thomas has a strained pectoral muscle but is expected back for the opener. Bunkley has a strained knee and is also expected back for the opener. Vickerson appears to just have a typical preseason practice bumps and bruises and is expected back for the opener. On the one hand everything is pretty much ok, but on the other hand, it can get worse in a big hurry.
The Broncos could keep up to eight total DL, with 4 DEs and 4 DT/NT, or they could carry an extra DT and one fewer DE, or even 9 total DL. They also have a built in adjustment with Ayers as a 3 tech DT, despite being listed as a DE.
With that in mind we can expect that there might be future roles with the Broncos for several of the battling DTs from Thursday night, even if there technically isn't a spot open for them...
Projected number of DT/NT roster spots up for grabs: 0
- Mitch Unrein: Hustle player of the game award goes to Unrein, who pushed the pocket relentlessly and got upfield to make tackles on wide receivers. That kind of effort really turns the heads of coaches, and I don't doubt it worked for Unrein. He racked up 3 solid attaboys, 1 against the run and 2 against the pass, and showed non-stop grit all evening. Projection: If the Broncos find a way to clear room for additional short term or long term DT help, then Unrein may have earned a spot.
- Ryan McBean: Not exactly everyone's favorite Bronco (dare I say, facemask?) McBean nonetheless had a solid night, with 3 attaboys, 2 in the running game and one versus the pass. He plays primarily 1 tech, which means it will get crowded at his spot if both Vick and Bunkley are good to go. My eyes say it is time to move on, but my gut says that McBean isn't going anywhere just yet. Projection: Denver finds a way to keep one extra DT/NT for early in the season. I have no idea how.
- Ronnell Brown: I really like Brown's effort throughout the preseason, but he really lacks polish inside and can be cleaned up even by 2nd and 3rd string OL. His effort and flashes really make him an upside player for the future. Projection: Waived on cutdown day, priority to the practice squad.
- DeMario Pressley: The backup DL racked up 7 attaboys over the course of the game Thursday, and Pressley accounted for zero of those. His effort was also nowhere near the level of the rest of his linemates, though he does show good natural push in the pocket. An undermotivated, underacheiver? We may never know. Projection: Waived on cutdown day.
Bottom line, I don't think Denver has room, nor the urgency to keep more than 4 DTs, which is how many DTs they currently have slotted. I can't shake the feeling that they will move the pieces around a little bit there, I just don't know how they plan on doing that. With Warren on the roster, they will very likely go into the season shorthanded on the DL, the question is whether they try to be flexible at DE, or at DT. So I expect them to go into the season with Vickerson, Bunkley and Thomas, with Warren added at some date in the far future. In the meantime, I think they will try to find a way to keep McBean around, though I think I would prefer they keep Unrein.
But this is just my guess. How do you think this mess will shake out?