The Broncos' fourth pre-season game of 2009 may seem unimportant to many fans. In fact, some of the top authorities in the NFL have rendered it so unimportant, they have proposed removing it and another pre-season game to add extra regular season games.
For the bubble players in the NFL, the fourth pre-season game is arguably the most important game they will ever play. Not that the Broncos have a ton of roster spots open to the guys on the bubble, but it only takes one play for someone to really stand out.
Some of the roster spots are already set in stone. The Broncos have 74 players on their roster as I write this article, so that means at this point in time, 21 players will have to wait to realize their NFL dream.
Yesterday, John Bena pointed out some reference points as to what the Broncos kept on their 53 man roster last season, and here is that layout:
QB-3, RB-4, TE-3, WR-6, OL-9, DL-7 (2 DT, 5 DE), LB-9, CB-4, S-5, ST-3
I don't think that template will be too far off of what the Broncos keep this year, but using that as a rough outline, let's try and project the Broncos' field of 53.
I think this one is probably the most obvious. I don't know that Brady Quinn has really earned a roster spot on the field, but he is still learning the offense. Kyle Orton wasn't quite as nervous looking last pre-season after just learning the offense, but I see a lot of similarities in their pre-season play.
It seems very likely that the Broncos will keep three quarterbacks on the roster.
(1-Kyle Orton, 2-Tim Tebow, 3-Brady Quinn)
Running Back-4 (7)
Last year, the Broncos only kept four running backs, and I would think that included Spencer Larsen at fullback. The Broncos didn't really use two back sets a lot last season it didn't seem, but so far in the pre-season we have seen quite a few plays where Larsen is in the backfield with the other runners.
I think Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter are locks to make the roster along with Larsen. Those are the clear-cut top backs on the team. The last spot is more up for grabs. It seems that Lance Ball has played his way on to the roster for the start, but LenDale White fits more of what the Broncos need in terms of a short yardage power back. Yes, he can't do much else, but they need someone who can gain two or three tough yards, and White proved that he could still do that in the game on Sunday.
White is out for the first quarter of the season because of suspension, so he will go on the reserve/suspended list. I think in his absence, the Broncos will keep Lance Ball around, and Ball could wind up seeing significant carries if the Broncos' other backs are not healthy yet. When White's suspension is over, the Broncos will decide whether to keep Ball and cut White or keep White and let Ball go.
(1-Knowshon Moreno, 2-Correll Buckhalter, 3-Lance Ball, 4-Spencer Larsen; LenDale White-Reserve/Suspended)
Tight End-3 (10)
This position, though it might not seem like it, has quite a bit of stability if the players can just stay healthy. Daniel Graham and Richard Quinn are both fantastic blocking tight ends, and the Broncos clearly need their help in the running game. It looks like the Broncos are at their best running the ball to the outside, and those two will only make that better.
Marquez Branson has done a great job emerging this offseason as the receiving threat at the tight end position, and it appears as though the team is quite high on him. Nathan Overbay, Riar Geer, and Kory Sperry are getting looks to be the receiving tight end as well, but nobody else has recorded a reception. Geer has made some nice plays on special teams, but Overbay has done very little from what I have seen, and Sperry is brand new to the team. He could emerge in the fourth game.
(1-Daniel Graham, 2-Richard Quinn, 3-Marquez Branson)
Wide Receiver-6 (16)
This position has the best competition out of any on the offensive side of the ball. From top to bottom, the Broncos just simply have a very good unit, and it doesn't look like they are going to hurt THAT much from the departure of Brandon Marshall. Obviously, losing someone with his reputation as a pass catcher and a guy who attracts that much attention is going to hurt a little, but it appears as though the Broncos have plenty of help at this position to replace his production.
With great competition comes the disappointment of cut day, where unfortunately the Broncos are going to lose a good player. They could explore a trade to a receiver starved team, but who knows if that will work out. It certainly could.
I think Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal, and the two rookie receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are locks for roster spots. That leaves two spots left, and the guys battling right now for those two spots are Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Stokley, and Matthew Willis.
Willis has been the star of the offseason. No question about it. From OTA's, to training camp, and through the pre-season, he has proven to be a valuable piece to this team. He could be the fastest player on the team, he has shown great field awareness, good hands, deep play ability, and he can contribute on special teams. And he's only 25. I think he will make this team undoubtedly, and if he doesn't, then it's solely based on Brandon Stokley's merit as a leader and role model to the other players, because he's been out-performed this offseason.
Brandon Lloyd has been a fireball of energy on the sidelines, and has actually been the Broncos' starting receiver opposite Jabar Gaffney. He has great chemistry with Kyle Orton, is a shifty playmaker, and has big catch abilities.
Stokley is a fan favorite, and last year made the most incredible catch and run of the 2009 season. He also proved to be very effective for the Broncos as a situational guy, and is a great leader in the locker room. He is also the Broncos' most accomplished receiver in terms of Super Bowl championships.
This is going to be a tough decision. Stokley is currently listed behind Eddie Royal as the Broncos' primary slot receiver backup. Neither he or Brandon Lloyd contribute on special teams.
I think if I had to, I would make the move on Brandon Stokley. It pains me to say it, because I love him as a player and I respect him greatly as a person, or what I have seen anyway. Stokley has struggled with concussions over the last couple of years, and I think the Broncos have to move on at some point or another.
(1-Jabar Gaffney, 2-Eddie Royal, 3-Demaryius Thomas, 4-Eric Decker, 5-Brandon Lloyd, 6-Matthew Willis)
Offensive Line-9 (25)
We have seen a lot of guys get a lot of chances this pre-season due to the massive amount of injuries along the Broncos' offensive line. Ryan Clady and Chris Kuper have both been out, Ryan Harris is just getting back into the swing of things, and two rookies are going to be starting for the Broncos this year.
We have seen Tyler Polumbus try and fail at the left tackle position, and he was let go. D'Anthony Batiste wasn't much better blocking Orton's blind side, and he seems a better fit as a reserve interior lineman. Stanley Daniels did a fine job as the left guard in the last pre-season game, but that doesn't speak well for Seth Olsen, a fourth round pick in 2009.
Either way, it appeared the Broncos found a winner as the backup left tackle in rookie Zane Beadles. Beadles is worlds better in pass protection than anyone else the Broncos have thrown out there. That said, that also leaves a void at left guard. The ideal is going to be for the starting five to be Clady at left tackle, Beadles at left guard, rookie J.D. Walton at center, Chris Kuper at right guard, and Ryan Harris at right tackle.
Aside from that, it's an open competition. Russ Hochstein has battled injuries but is a valuable reserve lineman. I think the Broncos will give Stanley Daniels a long look as a developmental guard, because if Clady goes down, I think Beadles is his primary backup as of now. They will have to have a solid on-call left guard. Hochstein can be that guy as well, but the Broncos have some young guys out there too.
D'Anthony Batiste is currently listed as the backup left tackle as well as the backup right guard. I don't think Eric Olsen has done enough to warrant a roster spot this year, but he should clear waivers and make it to Denver's practice squad.
(1-Ryan Clady, 2-Ryan Harris, 3-Chris Kuper, 4-Zane Beadles, 5-J.D. Walton, 6-D'Anthony Batiste, 7-Stanley Daniels, 8-Seth Olsen, 9-Russ Hochstein)
Defensive End-4 (29)
The Broncos spent a lot of money on the defensive line this offseason, and they have gotten some decent production out of their holdovers as well. I think from last year's lineup, you will see both Ryan McBean and Marcus Thomas return. Those guys have done solid jobs in the pre-season. Jarvis Green and Justin Bannan were both given big money deals this offseason and are expected to make an impact.
I think Le Kevin Smith could be on the roster bubble, but the Broncos might view him as too valuable to cut because of his 3-4 experience. Time will tell. The coaching staff really likes Ben Garland, but for as much as they have talked him up, I have not seen anything from him yet. Jeff Stehle has made a couple of plays, but he will clear waivers if the Broncos want him on the squad at some point.
(1-Justin Bannan, 2-Ryan McBean, 3-Jarvis Green, 4-Marcus Thomas)
Defensive Tackle-2 (31)
This position is probably the easiest to project, given the Broncos are content moving forward with the three guys they currently have. Jamal Williams was signed this offseason from San Diego and is expected to make an impact. Ronald Fields is last year's holdover, and hasn't played great in the pre-season but he provides size and depth.
Chris Baker is the only question mark here. The coaching staff obviously liked him a lot last year, but I have yet to see anything from him in the pre-season to warrant a ton of playing time. I think the Broncos would lose him on waivers, but they might be able to keep him at some capacity. I just don't think he's done enough to warrant a spot on this roster, but I could be wrong.
Baker is practice squad eligible, but I'm not sure he'd pass waivers.
(1-Jamal Williams, 2-Ronald Fields)
The Broncos could have had arguably the best linebacker crew in the NFL had Elvis Dumervil not gone down with an injury. With D.J. Williams in the middle alongside veteran Mario Haggan and Robert Ayers poised for a big season on the outside, that unit was looking great.
With Dumervil's injury, this group has taken a major hit, but the Broncos will rebound as best they can. Jason Hunter was brought in to provide some pass rush, and Jarvis Moss has showed flashes this season of why the Broncos drafted him as high as they did in 2007.
Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays remind me a lot of the Bash Brothers from the Mighty Ducks movies, and I simply love the intensity they bring to this group.
The team will likely tie up a roster spot in hopes that Dumervil can return at some point this season. He is that good and that important. Darrell Reid is also injured right now, and will start the season on the PUP list after offseason surgery.
Some pass rushing specialists were given an opportunity to shine this pre-season and didn't take advantage. Seventh round pick Jammie Kirlew showed flashes at camp, but didn't translate it to the field. Kevin Alexander was given multiple opporunities and has very intriguing size, but he has been outplayed by Hunter.
The Broncos also brought in D.J. Williams' younger brother Worrell for some competition at inside linebacker, and his name has been called a few times in limited action. Johnny Williams has seemingly disappeared after a solid first game.
Baraka Atkins has a sack, but hasn't done a whole lot other than that so far this pre-season. I think a guy like Atkins will make the roster and be given a chance to provide a pass rushing spark, and then be waived when Darrell Reid is again ready to play.
(1-D.J. Williams, 2-Robert Ayers, 3-Mario Haggan, 4-Jarvis Moss, 5-Jason Hunter, 6-Wesley Woodyard, 7-Joe Mays, 8-Baraka Atkins, 9-Elvis Dumervil)
Two guys have roster spots in the bag. Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman are the starters, and they might be the best duo in the NFL at their position. They are very good, and despite their age, they are going to be very productive. This position is very much a strength for the Broncos.
Perrish Cox has more than earned a roster spot this offseason, and is proving why some people thought he could be a second round pick in the draft. He is a fine player who can contribute as the nickel back right away and on special teams.
Alphonso Smith has not raised any eyebrows, but he has been solid at times. He has also made some bone-headed plays. He is considered on the roster bubble, but there is a spot for him on this team. He will be given another chance to prove why the Broncos invested so much in him.
Another player who has earned a roster spot is Syd'Quan Thompson, who has proven to be very shifty in the return game, and better than his draft spot indicates in pass coverage. He batted down a pass in the end zone on Sunday against the Steelers, and took an interception to the house. He also had a huge punt return that would have gone for six if someone would have blocked the punter and not made him change direction.
Cassius Vaughn has been a solid special teams contributor, but he has lacked in coverage. If he clears waivers, he will be on the Broncos' practice squad.
(1-Champ Bailey, 2-Andre' Goodman, 3-Perrish Cox, 4-Alphonso Smith, 5-Syd'Quan Thompson)
Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill round out what I believe to be a top two or three secondary in the NFL. This unit is very good, very tough, very experienced, and they are probably the best unit on this team.
Behind Dawkins and Hill are David Bruton and Darcel McBath. Both players are expected to have an impact this year. Bruton is already a special teams captain, and McBath has shown great ball skills and intensity at the free safety position. He is the future leader of the defensive backfield.
Nate Jones doubles as a safety and cornerback, and he is also valuable on special teams.
Kyle McCarthy should have a spot on this team next offseason to compete for a backup role yet again.
(1-Brian Dawkins, 2-Renaldo Hill, 3-Darcel McBath, 4-David Bruton, 5-Nate Jones)
Special Teams-3 (53)
Matt Prater is this team's kicker for a long time. Hopefully. Prater did very well last season, and is having a good pre-season. He has a booming leg, and is one of those guys who is hard to find in the NFL today. He is very accurate from long range, money from short range, and he can absolutely crush the ball on kickoffs. For some reason, he struggles in the 40-49 yard range, but hopefully that will improve this season.
Britton Colquitt appears to be Prater's kicking mate for the next long while in Denver. He is absolutely booming the ball in the pre-season, averaging over 51 yards per punt. If he can keep it up in the regular season, the Broncos have a very valuable weapon there.
Lonie Paxton is probably the best long snapper in the NFL, and is another underrated part of this team.
(1-Matt Prater, 2-Britton Colquitt, 3-Lonie Paxton)
- WR Brandon Stokley
- RB Bruce Hall
- TE Kory Sperry
- TE Nathan Overbay
- WR Britt Davis
- OT Paul Duncan
- DL Le Kevin Smith
- DL Jeff Stehle
- LB Johnny Williams
Players Waived (Practice Squad Candidates)
- DL Chris Baker
- CB Cassius Vaughn
- DE/OLB Jammie Kirlew
- TE Riar Geer
- LB Worrell Williams
- OL Eric Olsen
- WR Alric Arnett
- OLB Kevin Alexander
- S Kyle McCarthy
- DL Ben Garland (Reserve/Military)
The Broncos are also allowed to make waiver claims on players from other teams to put on their practice squad, which they usually do. I think of the players on the list above, you will see maybe four of them at most clear waivers and make the Broncos' practice squad.
**Again, this is in no way what has actually happened. It is simply a prediction by me of what could happen.