Aug. 30, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back (26) Beanie Wells is upended by Denver Broncos linebacker (59) Danny Trevathan in the second quarter during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Well, the last game is in the books, and now the final cuts are merely hours away. The last game of the preseason gave a number of players a chance to shine, and a number of players cemented spots on the upcoming roster.
Unfortunately, some good efforts weren't enough, with roster math crushing hopefuls along the defensive line and among the offensive skill positions. Even so, a few lucky ones will get another shot with the upcoming practice squad assembly.
With that said, lets take a look at a possible scenario based upon the performances turned in during last nights game, with the understanding that it is sure nice having to cut good players, a sure sign of franchise health.
There isn't any need to rehash the starters and solid #2s, so we will go straight to the relevant battles from game four. Offense had fewer position battles than defense did, with approximately 21 slots already sewn up. Of the most importance was sorting out the backup QB situation, culling 2 additional skill position players from a solid pool, and rounding out the OL situation.
QBs: I believe the Broncos have every intention to stash Weber on the PS again, and that the plan for the backup is to rely heavily on a two back offense and a heavy dose of playaction. To this end, I think Osweiler moved ahead of Hanie last night, with more confident throws and better placement. They both moved well, but Hanie showed an inclination to tuck the ball far too early in his progressions, on an evening where the OL did a better than expected job. Osweiler, on the other hand, showed a tendency to stare down receivers and telegraph his throws, including an INT that could have been tracked down by a one-legged strong safety. But, in the end, I give the overall edge to Osweiler due to the ratio of mistakes each QB made in the passing game, whether inaccuracy or fundamentals. I clocked Oz at a 1 to 3 ratio, mistakes to positive plays, while Hanie logged a 4 to 3 ratio, significantly worse. Based on the whole preseason and training camp, I would rate the battle as extremely close, however I believe that last night showed us what we need to know to build the roster: we can count on Oz going forward, and Hanie can be expendable. Expect a waiver wire pickup to nab another vet for the regular season.
Skill Positions: For fans the toughest cuts usually come from this group. In consideration we have Moreno, Hillman, Johnson, J.Thomas, Hill, Orton, Robinson, Ingram, Caldwell, Willis and Greeen. Of this group we can only really keep 3, or 4 counting Green's suspension. Green himself played very well, and is definitely the #3 TE on the roster now.
The RBs definitely put on the best show for us, and both Moreno and Hillman made cases for themselves both receiving and rushing, inside and outside the tackles. Both showed drive and elusiveness, both gained tough yards and made great cuts. Moreno showed some of his old verve with more stiffarming, spinning action, while Hillman showed he had some jets. Jeremiah Johnson, too, showed some great runs, and on top of everything, none of the three backs made any errors in passblocking or running, with adequate to great grades on every rep. To further muddle the waters, Ball was brought in in spot relief for several downs, including a couple of blitz pickups that he muffed. Could blocking in the backfield be a surprise reason to cut Ball at this late stage, after he has spent the preseason relatively unmoved at the 1b spot? Feel free to get your hopes up.
At other skill positions, Willis was tested out in the punt return game, where he was consistent, while Cladwell seemed to get back to being himself after some poor showings in the first three preseason games. The Broncos didn't seem to be testing him much, and I am confident that he is ready for the 53, and that any lingering issues from the big hit he took shouldn't be an issue. Robinson also turned in a solid performance, with a couple of great grabs and only one significant error, while Orton came up big on a couple of plays, but also drew a penalty on STs and dropped an easy catch. I believe both guys are slated for the practice squad. Thomas was given more blocking work than catching, which was probably a coaching point, and with Ingram's lackluster showing I expect that Thomas may grab the final skill position slot on the 53. Unfortunately I feel that Hill really hurt his chances with this game, and being PS ineligible, he may have seen his last reps as a bronco.
In the end I keep Moreno AND Hillman, as well as Thomas.
OL: I think Grant did some damage to his stock as the next man up behind Ramirez, but in the end that may prove beneficial, as Davis was solid at C and kicking Blake out to LG seemed to give him new life. Blake struggled as often as he succeeded, but it would be great to keep developing him in the background, and the ability to swing around on the interior of the lineup would be a great addition to his toolset.
While the 53-man roster OL is probably already set, I think Grant and Blake will be the PS additions, with Harris, Clark and Davis rounding out the "9".
Defense was much more unsettled on the backend compared to offense, with at least 8 available slots to be determined. The best battle of the night was the inspired play along the defensive line, where tragic cuts are forthcoming. Some of the best plays of the night came from the LB hopefuls, and in the defensive backfield, great effort was the highlight of the evening.
DL: Jackson has to have made the 53 at this point, with 7 backfield pressures, 1 batted ball and only one significant mistake. He stacks and sheds like a vet and showed that he is at home on the end as he is inside. He will make the team as Doom's backup. Vick and Unrein got limited reps, just enough for the coaching staff to see that they were making the right call in keeping them, while Ayers got a significant number of reps with a solid execution rate and 1 penalty. I have Siliga as a surprise candidate to join the team during DJ's suspension, as he had an all around solid night with some big plays. Beal and Garland turned in the next best performances, though both players are hitting a limit in terms of pure strength and power vs. opponents the last two weeks. However they both have the kind of all out effort that should have them earmarked for the PS. Lastly, Blatnick was solid all evening, but with only one standout play, he wasn't able to keep up with the others.
LBs: We needed to cull 2 LBs from the group of Mohamed, Johnson, Trevathan, Franklin and Brooking. By far the standout of the group was Danny Trevathan, who I marked down for positive plays more than any other Bronco, offense or defense. His biggest error of the night was a backfield whiff when he came free on a weakside blitz, but other than that he was making plays all night. His presence will be a welcome addition at the Will where new faces will need to start emerging. Mohamed played inconsistent, like always, and he will be kicking himself for the plays where he gets caught looking confused, because they are going to cost him a spot at the very thin ILB slot. Johnson was up and down like Mohamed, however he came up with two solid attention grabbing plays, one on special teams and also in forcing a fumble. He will be PS bound for sure. Brooking got a few reps, but then pulled his pads and was standing with the coaches on the sidelines. I think they just wanted a measure of how he felt, not really a performance grade, typical of a Fox veteran acquisition.
DBs: We needed 4 DBs from a hotly contested group that included Bush, Carter, Thompson, Leonhard, Florence, Bolden, Ihenacho and Bruton. Carter got some reps early, but it seemed to be more about getting him additional reps, more than testing him. Regardless, he was where he needed to be, when he needed to be there, so his slot wasn't endangered. Bruton has a spot locked due to special teams play, though it is always good to grade his defensive performance, which was adequate to poor, like usual. It is also worth noting that he got penalized as a gunner on STs, a reminder, along with Paxton's dismissal earlier in the week, that STs doesn't create guarantees for anyone.
Overall, only Leonhard turned in consistently solid work on the evening, and he likely sewed up his roster spot. Out of the rest, inconsistency was the word of the day, however, several still managed to standout. Bolden struggled early but came on strong late, including capitalizing on his chances in the return game with a 103 yard TD return on a kickoff. He was 50-50 in coverage, but made some great plays on the positive side, and will need to work on anticipation on the negative side. Carter also performed better in this game than he has in a while, including two great back to back pass defenses in the 4th quarter, but gave up a TD and was out of place a couple of times. Bush was adequate, but never really stood out. Ihenacho came up with a big hit, and will likely continue on to the practice squad. Florence came up with an INT on a 3rd string QB's errant pass, but was penalized for a long gain, and failed to tackle well or stand out. I have a hard time believing that Denver signed him only to cut him before the season, but that seems like the proper course of action to me at this point. Finally, fan favorite Squid had the second INT of the night on a bad route by the receiver, but couldn't hang in coverage with faster receivers, and consistently was out of position to make plays. He looked like one of the new SAF/LB hybrids out there, which is unacceptable coming from a true corner.
Final 53-Man Roster
QB: Manning, Osweiler, Unknown Vet
RB: McGahee, Moreno, Hillman, Ball
WR: D. Thomas, Decker, Stokley, Willis, Caldwell
TE: Tamme, Dreesen, J.Thomas
OT: Clady, Franklin, Clark, Harris
G/C: Kuper, Beadles, Walton, Ramirez, Davis
DT/NT: Warren, Bannan, Unrein, Vick, Siliga
DE: Doom, Wolfe, Ayers, Jackson
SLB: Miller, Irving
MLB: Mays, Brooking
WLB: Woodyard, Trevathan
CB: Bailey, Porter, Harris, Bolden, Carter
SAF: Moore, Carter, Adams, Leonhard, Bruton
K/P/LS: Prater, Colquitt, Brewer
Homegrown Practice Squad
Sad Face List