It has come down to this. 75 men remain. 53 will last.
There is one last preseason games for players to leave their mark, and uncertainly still rests across many positions. Keep in mind that over 600 football players are about to become available as teams make their final cuts. Some of these position battles aren't with teammates as much as the pool of cuts coming Saturday.
Is there a deeper position on the team? Is there a deeper position on a team in the division? I'm not an expert on the 75-man rosters of the Raiders, Chiefs, and Chargers, but it's hard to imagine there is. There are six men here who could heavily contribute or start on many NFL teams, and the Broncos will likely have to cut two of them.
Behind Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams, the Broncos are looking at Kevin Vickerson, Marvin Austin, Sione Fua, and Mitch Unrein. We'll glean some of what the Broncos are thinking by how these players line up on Thursday, but this is one position battle that is still way up in the air for me, and I'm looking forward to one last showing to sort my thoughts.
Backup strong safety
Behind T.J. Ward, there is only one full-time strong safety on Denver's roster in Duke Ihenacho. But Ihenacho has fallen far from his status as training camp and preseason darling a year ago; he's been anything but that this year. There are two free safety/strong safety hybrids on the Broncos roster right now who could push Ihenacho for his job in Quinton Carter and John Boyett. Carter had a killer practice on Tuesday; Ihenacho may be playing for his job.
Sun Tzu said: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." In Zac Dysert's case, he is his own enemy. There's no one to battle for a roster spot but himself.
But despite Sun Tzu's advice, if I'm Zac Dysert, I'm a little afraid right now.
I said last year that the Broncos didn't need to keep Zac Dysert on the roster, and that they could sneak him on their waiver wire. Some have argued that again this year. We all know that Brock Osweiler and Dysert will get extended looks during the Broncos' fourth preseason game; in Dysert's case, he's likely playing for his job. This team is too talented to automatically justify three quarterbacks, even if that's what John Fox has always done. I'd like to see Dysert earn his spot with some good quarterback play Thursday.
The backup running backs
As far as I'm concerned, Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Juwan Thompson have pulled away from the pack and are the sure-thing backups to Montee Ball. But there's still a fourth preseason game for someone to make a play and make themselves indispensable. I'm looking at you, Kapri Bibbs.
There are seven offensive linemen definitely making this team, in my opinion: Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez, Chris Clark, Will Montgomery, and Michael Schofield. The Broncos typically carry nine, but I've argued they could get away with eight this year. Either way, there's some settling of the depth chart to do on Thursday.
Slot receiver/punt returner
Is it a coincidence that the three guys who were listed at slot receiver on Denver's official depth chart were also the three guys listed at punt returner? Nope. With Wes Welker questionable and Jordan Norwood out, Isaiah Burse has emerged to be potentially playing a huge role for the Broncos on opening day. Hell, he could start.
But there are a number of returners who have hit and will hit the waiver wire. Burse has become Denver's default punt returner, but that doesn't mean he has earned the job. John Elway won't be satisfied by that. Burse needs a good game, and preferably a standout game, on Thursday to lock down a roster spot. He's competing against the odds that among the 600-plus men about to be waived, a better punt returner/slot receiver can be found.
Other battles: Bradley Roby and Kayvon Webster will be fighting for that nickel back position, and may even start outside if Chris Harris Jr. isn't full go... The linebacker group still bears watching, even though Brandon Marshall has separated himself from Lamin Barrow in my eyes... All eyes are on you the next seven weeks, Brandon McManus.
Which position battle are you most looking forward to watching Thursday?