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Broncos at Rams: 4 Things to watch for

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In a battle of the backups these things stand out as items we should watch for during the Denver Broncos game against the Los Angeles Rams.

NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp
Can Rypien fight his way onto the active roster?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, Broncos Country. Oakland is 17 long days away. In the meantime, the Broncos have the second game of a 3-game 10 day stretch tonight. As I mentioned in Mile High Report’s roundtable, the most important thing is to exit the game relatively unscathed.

But there’s some other things to watch for. Here’s what intrigues me.

1. What “starters” play?

Vic Fangio has made it clear “Most of the guys that you’re referring to as starters will not play in the game,” which of course leaves the door open for some to see the field.

In what amounts to an extended tryout for guys fighting to claw their way onto the roster, are there any starters who’ve left the coaching staff queasy enough to risk injury for reps?

If Bolles plays tonight, it says a lot.
Casey Barrett / Mile High Report

2. Snap count watch

I’m not so far gone that I’ll sit back logging every guys reps during the game tonight, but keeping an eye on who plays and for how long offers a glimpse into where guys stand with the coaching staff.

For example, did you realize Tim Patrick played all of 10 snaps last Monday? That’s less than Emmanuel Sanders. When you add that to his play and all of the reports out of camp it paints a pretty clear picture that the coaching staff is comfortable with his role and place on the roster.

I looked over the PFF snap count charting and a few of the guys fighting for their NFL lives really jumped out at me from the game with the 49ers:

  • Jake Rodgers logged 34 snaps at right tackle. 23 of them were pass plays. According to PFF’s scouting number, he held his own here. Their grades lack the any sort of matchup context, and he did play in the second half, but it is all notable given his past with Mike Munchak.
  • Fred Brown played the most snaps of any receiver with 33. Kelvin McKnight came next at 25. To date Brown hasn’t been a factor as a returner, which suggests his chances at the roster hinge at least in part on another player stepping into the role. I wrote this about McKnight in Thursday’s film review:

Last week, a source told me Nick Williams and River Cracraft had the inside track, and neither did much to soil that Monday. Still, I believe Kelvin McKnight offers the most upside in both phases and hope the coaching staff stashes him on the practice squad if nothing else.

  • Devontae Jackson paced the running backs with 25 snaps. David Williams logged 11. Williams logged quite a few snaps against Seattle, but looks like he’s the low man on the totem pole now. He needs to make up for two separate plays where a pass hit him in the hands and flew elsewhere. Jackson’s a guy I could see on the practice squad, as the diminutive runner’s flashes solid vision and lateral mobility.
  • Linden Stephens played the most snaps among all of the second and third team corners. There’s been some speculation that the Broncos could go as light as four cornerbacks this year as Kareem Jackson offers the flexibility to play either spot at a high level. It seems far more likely Stephens sneaks his way onto the back end of the roster.
Could McKnight find his way to WR6?
Casey Barrett / Mile High Report

3. Is Zach Kerr fighting for his job?

Mike Purcell played 23 snaps, while Zach Kerr played 21. Both were getting snaps in the second, so it wasn’t against vastly different competition. Both profile as big bodied nose tackle/1 technique players in the Eddie Goldman role for Fangio’s D.

They had very different paths to the Broncos’ training camp. Zach Kerr played 743 snaps the last two years under Vance Joseph, while Mike Purcell fell out of the league after 2016 with the 49ers and probably got his last best chance at the NFL because of his past history under Fangio.

Judging strictly off film, it’s hard to tell which one signed a 2-year $5 million contract this past spring.

Mike Purcell has quietly looked very good.

4. Can Brett Rypien challenge Kevin Hogan?

I would be floored if Joe Flacco sees the field. It shouldn’t take any focus off of the quarterback position.

When news of the severity of Drew Lock’s injury first broke, it looked like the Broncos were destined to carry three quarterbacks. While carrying one healthy quarterback may fly in everyone’s favorite football game, no NFL coach wants to put an entire team through punters under center.

After Thursday’s practice the Broncos’ head coach admitted that Lock’s injury could potentially lead the rookie quarterback to a stint on injured reserve. If that happens, two quarterbacks on the active roster remains a possibility.

Unless Brett Rypien makes that an impossibility.

Without delving so far down the rabbit hole that I’m confused for an MHR-QB3 truther, it’s been curious watching how the Broncos’ coaching staff has handled Rypien’s playing time this preseason. He didn’t look particularly good in the Hall of Fame game, and hasn’t played since.

Is that because he’s been so bad, or....?

One thing is clear, Kevin Hogan was losing the QB2 competition with Drew Lock. This wasn’t necessarily because Lock looked like the second coming of number 7, either.

With Flacco and Lock on the sidelines, Brett Rypien will get his chance to show the Broncos and league what he’s got. I liked him enough coming out of Boise State to rank him ahead of the Giants’ Daniel Jones. Tonight’s his first real chance to make me look really smart, or dumb.

If Rypien shows out over the next two games, he’ll make it a lot harder for the Broncos coaching staff to hide him on the practice squad. Of course, if he falls on his face while Hogan looks like a pumpkin, Elway may be forced to pick through the waiver wire with a fine toothed comb.

What do you think Broncos Country?