Welcome to week three of the Preseason. The only week of the preseason that really matters to me. This week is considered as the "Dress Rehearsal" week. Teams usually game plan and spice up the play calling a bit in week three. Some more than others of course. In week three the starters usually play into the third quarter of the game. It's the closest to the regular season as we'll get until the real thing kicks off in 13 days.
Now on to the position battles. A few battles have already been settled. The Middle Linebacker spot is now occupied by Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan moves to the Weak Side spot, and Nate Irving shifts over to the Strong Side spot. It also appears that Duke Ihenacho has locked up the strong safety spot. He has started the past two preseason games, and if he starts again Saturday night he should start week one. Now lets take a look at the position battles that are still on going...
Current Starter: Ronnie Hillman
Hillman has started the past two games, and it's safe to assume he'll be starter again Saturday night. Hillman hasn't had a great preseason thus far. Hillman has carried the ball 16 times for 43 yards. That averages to be 2.7 yards per carry. Yuck. Hopefully he improves on that per carry average. Hillman also put the ball on the ground twice last week. He recovered one, and the other went 108 yards the other way for a touchdown. If he wants to be the starter he has to not put the football on the ground.
Now in Hillmans defense he went against two of the best run defending defenses in the league. The Niners and the Seahawks both are physical and deep/talented defenses. While the Rams don't have the same caliber defense as those two they feature a very good defensive front. So again this week Hillman will face a tough test.
What Hillman needs to do this week:
I believe this might be Hillmans last chance to prove he can be a starter. As i noted above, Hillman has struggled thus far. I'd love to see Hillman break a big run or two, and have his YPC around 4-5 yards per carry. If he averages a 3 or lower YPC he's out of there. At least i think so...
I liked what I saw from Ball as a runner last week. He's clearly a much bigger back than Hillman. He also showed good vision and cut back ability while running. After two preseason games Ball has totaled 37 yards on 11 carries. That averages out to be 3.4 YPC. While Balls stat line might not look the best, he has been the best looking back out of the bunch thus far. What may keep Ball off the field is his run blocking. Ball blew a blocking assignment last week which lead to Manning getting hit. If you let Manning get hit, you will be off the field.
I'd love to see Ball have a breakout game this week. Some solid runs and a good YPC could do the rookie wonders. If Hillman slips up, and Ball has a good game, he may end up being your starter week one. It will be an interesting battle to watch.
Moreno may benefit the most if Hillman and Ball continue to struggle. Moreno is a proven veteran who showed last year he can handle the job if needed. Moreno bulked up this year, and looks ready to carry the load if called on. Now the big question with Moreno is his health. He missed last weeks game with a knee bruise. If he stays healthy he has a real chance at being the starter week one if the cards fall in his favor.
It will be interesting to see how much of Moreno we'll see Saturday night. With his injury history there's no good reason for him to get a ton of carries in the preseason. Keep those legs fresh for the season. If we do see Moreno it will interesting to see if he gets carries ahead of Hillman or Ball. In the preseason opener in San Fran, Moreno came in after Ball and Hillman. So that will be something to keep an eye on.
Current Starter: Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez still is your starter at center. Last week he did alright. A few really bad plays stuck out to me. Overall though he seemed like a passable center option for the Broncos.
Again this week he'll be facing a tough defensive line. St. Louis has one of the most underrated Defensive Lines in all of Football. Kendall Langford and Big Michael Brockers figure to challenge our interior front. I expect them to attack out weak link(Manny). So this should be a good test for him.
Manny should keep one eye over his shoulder though...
Lilja hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup just yet. He is working his way back from retirement though. I really didn't keep an eye out on how he did. It will be interesting to see if he gets any first team work this week.
Kuper is my favorite to play center. He seems to be on a crash course of learning the Center position. The acquisition of Guard John Moffitt supports this claim. Some believed Kuper was snapping the ball to get comfortable with it so he could be a valuable Guard/Center backup. However when the Broncos acquired John Moffitt who is strictly a guard in the NFL, it made things clearer. The Broncos want Kuper to win the Center job, and Lilja, Moffit and Manny will be your interior reserves. A healthy Chris Kuper is a major upgrade over Manny or Lilja. Our own Ian Henson brought this up, and I agree with him on this. We'll see how this plays out though.
I have no idea if we'll see Kuper Saturday night. He just came off the PUP last week, and hasn't participated in any football activities all offseason. No need to rush him out there just yet.
Current Starter: Julius Thomas
Thomas has continued his strong offseason throughout the preseason. So far on the year Thomas has totaled 8 receptions for 105 yards. Thomas has shown great chemistry with QB Peyton Manning thus far. Thomas did have one costly fumble last week, and didn't look great as a blocker. If Thomas wants to stay on the field he will need to improve his blocking skills.
I look for Thomas to continue his strong preseason against the Rams. I know it's only the preseason but Thomas has looked dominate thus far. It would do wonders for him if he continued to dominate Saturday Night. Also coming away injury free would be great as well.
Dreessen has recovered quicker than expected from his surgery, and there's a chance he could play in the Preseason finale. If healthy Dreessen expects to be your starter come week one. He is the best blocking TE on the roster, and that is why he'll be your starter.
The Curious Case Of Jacob Tamme:
I have a hard time seeing what the Broncos will do with Jacob Tamme. The signing of Wes Welker and the emergence of Julius Thomas has made Tamme expendable. To make things worse for Tamme he has missed time with a injury. I do not believe Tamme has played at all during the preseason either.
All of this begs the question. What will the Broncos do with Jacob Tamme? His contract isn't cut friendly(1.6 million in dead money). Will they trade him? Teams like Miami and New England are looking for Tight End help, or will they just keep him on the roster? It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming days.
Backup Defensive Backs:
The big question here is the number of Cornerbacks and Safeties that are kept. There's a few scenarios that could play out. The total number figures to be 10 or 11 defensive backs.
Who Is Safe At The Cornerback Position:
Carter seems to have locked up a roster spot. When DRC got hurt he was next in line to take over on the outside. Carter seems to be your 4th corner right now. If Champ Bailey misses week one Carter would play outside on three cornerback sets, and Harris moves inside to cover the slot. So it's safe to say he has a spot locked up.
The Broncos 3rd round pick is also safe. He has looked good so far in the preseason. Webster came away with a interception against the Niners. He makes the team because teams very rarely cut rookie 3rd round picks.
Who Is On The Bubble:
Last years 4th round pick could be in trouble. Bolden hasn't looked all that great in coverage, and has been beat a lot. Bolden needs to have a strong final two weeks to secure a roster spot. His saving grace could be special teams play. I have noticed Bolden downing a punt inside the 10 yard line many times last year. If he keeps that up it will only help his chances. At this point I wouldn't be surprised If Bolden was cut or made the roster. I would hate giving up on a guy entering his second year, but the numbers game can be tough sometimes. I hope he stays though.
On The Outside Looking In:
Aaron Hester and Nigel Malone:
I'm bunching both into one. Neither has a realistic chance at making the roster. Both Hester and Malone could be potential be Practice Squad additions If they finish strong. . Both have been pretty bad during the preseason though, so we'll see. These final two weeks will be critical for them.
Who Is Safe At The Safety Position:
Adams the veteran of the group figures to make the roster as the Broncos third safety at least. He could still push Duke Ihenacho for the starting spot though. Either way Adams makes the roster.
Bruton makes the squad because of his elite Special Teams play. I'm not a fan of Bruton as a safety though. I think he sticks as the 4th or 5th safety(if they decide to keep five safeties).
Who Is On The Bubble:
It's a shame that Carter Is on the bubble. Carter enjoyed a solid rookie campaign, but since then has struggled with injuries. Carter missed all of the 2012 season and barely has practiced this offseason. If he isn't healthy i have a hard time seeing him make the roster. Carter cannot start the year on the PUP because he practiced during camp. The Broncos may decide to IR him and get him ready for the 2014 season, but only time will tell. Ideally Carter would get healthy and see some time on the field during the final week of the preseason
On The Outside Looking In:
Many pegged Jammer as a starter or at least a reserve when he signed. I did not. I viewed Jammer as veteran insurance in case Bruton disappointed, or if Carter wasn't healthy enough to play. Unfortunately both of those happened, but the emergence of Duke Ihenacho really hurt Jammers chances of making it.
Who the Broncos Keep?
It seems the question is do the Broncos keep 5 cornerbacks and 5 safeties, 6 cornerbacks and 4 safeties or 6 cornerbacks and 5 safeties. If that's the case the final cuts may come down between Omar Bolden, Quinton Carter and Quentin Jammer. How do you guys think this plays out?