In a meaningless preseason game that meant a whole lot to 22 players fighting to make the last round of cuts, the Broncos' 22-20 loss to the Cardinals certainly solidified the fate of one former CSU Ram while likely giving an edge to another.
"48 continues to stand out to me," Gary Kubiak said of outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who has been filling in as the second-stringer behind Von Miller after an injury to Lerentee McCray. "He's had a great preseason."
And Barrett had a great game last night - save two mistakes that carried untimely penalties - leading the defense with six solo tackles and two sacks. And those numbers against the Cardinals only made his entire preseason statistics that much better - four sacks, eight hits on the quarterback and 10 solo tackles.
For the presumed third-stringer, those are good numbers - even in preseason. And they parallel the dominance the Broncos' defense has shown in its four preseason games, posting 20 sacks from 14 players.
"It felt good. I came out there and did my job, just did what the coaches knew I could do and knew what I could do," Barrett said, adding that he's still "bummed" about getting the penalties, especially at inopportune times. "I'm just trying to get off the ball. It just hurt the team too much. I've just got to be more mentally focused than that."
Admitting that the penalties would probably be what he heard about most from his wife and family, Barrett said his focus in a game is always to come out hard.
"I'm pretty confident I can beat the tackle once a game," said the 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker. "If I can beat him once and get a sack on it, that'd be a good accomplishment. I just came out there and gave my most 100 percent effort and it happened."
But despite appearing as the No. 2-graded outside linebacker from Pro Football Focus behind Khalil Mack, Barrett said after the game he is hoping his effort was enough to stay with the Broncos.
"I feel good about the situation, but I've still got the butterflies and still worried also because you never know what's going to happen," Barrett said. "They might go in a different direction. I just don't know so I'm just staying by my phone in case I get a call, but hopefully I don't have to get it."
For fellow Ram Kapri Bibbs, the preseason performance was not nearly as dynamic but may have been enough to stay on the team.
Statistics from the Cardinals game would tip the needle toward Kapri Bibbs, who took better advantage of his limited touches by averaging 4.5 yards on just six carries, compared to Ball's 27 yards on 16 carries, a rather dismal 1.7 yards per carry average.
And Bibbs did show some serious tackling aggression on special teams.
Kapri Bibbs on Trevor Harman trying to hurdle him: " I don't know what he was thinking. I was standing straight up." pic.twitter.com/X1jRT9SHt7— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) September 4, 2015
But Kubiak wasn't particularly impressed with either in last night's run game. Noting that Ball's "numbers aren't good," the head coach wanted to take a closer look at the film today.
"We didn't run the ball a lick in the game," Kubiak said afterward. "I've got to look at the big picture. I don't know how many fair opportunities [Ball] had. I know he played hard. He played on special teams. He did everything he could do."
The head coach also pointed out needing to be fair to Bibbs' production.
"Kapri came in and did a few nice things, like I said. Let's be fair to him, too," Kubiak said. "You've got to have room to run scheme-wise. We'll go back and look at the big picture."
Given the leaks that there are trade talks in the works for Ball, it would appear Kubiak didn't like the film much more than the game.
Multiple teams in the M Ball discussions, including Houston.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) September 4, 2015
Part of that "big picture" for Kubiak may also include some decisions on quarterback Trevor Siemian, who continued to show the poise the head coach has raved about but was unable to save the game with another fourth-quarter comeback win.
Despite those lack of heroics (which would have been darn near impossible behind an offensive line that allowed three sacks to the QB), Siemian says he feels good about where he stands on the roster decisions.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "I mean, there's definitely stuff I need to work on for sure, and I'm still learning, like I said, so just learn something new every day and get a little better each day. And I think I've done that."
Aside from Brock Osweiler's magnificent 78-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell in the end zone on the first play of the game, the backup quarterback's night was mostly pedestrian. Osweiler went 7 of 12 for 108 yards, but taking away the first touchdown play, he was 6/11 for 30 yards. Not an overwhelming performance but still a capable one.
And that touchdown was pretty as Osweiler connected with Caldwell for the second time this season on a huge score.
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"I love the way this offense is set up for a lot for big plays, big chucks down the field. And it showcases my ability of being the speed guy," said Caldwell, who might have done as much for his stock on the team as anyone this offseason.
"It's going to be very stressful. Everybody's working hard, competing every day, and it's like a dream-killer, so it's tough on a lot of guys," Caldwell said of the team needing to cut wide receivers. "I wish them all well, and I'm hopeful that I never have to be in that position."
But the Osweiler-Caldwell duo is going to take a rest now as the backup quarterback prepares to sit behind Peyton Manning as the regular season gets underway in earnest.
"Without a question, it's going to be hard," Osweiler said of taking a backseat. "To get out there and be able to play with that first unit, obviously, it keeps you very eager to want to be out there and play more, but that's not my role. Right now, my role is to be the backup quarterback, be prepared every single week to play if something happens to Peyton and then, obviously, get our No. 1 defense ready by running a great scout team each week."
No doubt playing against the Broncos' No. 1 defense will be worthy preparation. Just ask rookie edge rusher Shane Ray, who believes this defense is going to continue to dominate just as it has in the preseason.
"Honestly, we just have to give a lot of credit to our coaches. [Wade] Phillips puts in a really good position all around on defense to be aggressive, make plays and get sacks," he said. "I think preseason and what we've done is just a reflection of us taking coaching and being a good football team."
Ray, who contributed one of the Broncos' three sacks last night, is definitely ready to bring on the regular season.
"My confidence level is at a high, which is key, especially for a young player going through what I went through," Ray said. "I've taken a lot of steps, but now, I feel like I'm where I need to be to be successful and now I'll get ready for Baltimore."
Yes, bring on Baltimore; bring on the games that count.