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9 things I noticed in the Broncos loss to the Rams

Here’s what we learned about the Denver Broncos from their 6-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

NFL: Denver Broncos-OTA
Did the Brett Rypien conspiracy die in L.A?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The battle of the backups in the Broncos’ 4th preseason game was overshadowed by news from that other horse team. When Adam Schefter tweeted out that Andrew Luck was retiring from the NFL it was a stark reminder as to how injury luck can alter any teams fortunes in short order.

The loss of Luck ends the Indianapolis ColtsSuper Bowl aspirations in 2019. If everything breaks right they’ll fight for a playoff spot, but teams like the Patriots and Chiefs look like they’re leading the way again.

Anyways, here’s what we learned from the game on the field tonight.

Jake Butt played

If you’re anything like me, you were hyped when the Broncos grabbed Jake Butt out of Michigan. Looking back now it’s a bit of a bummer because Elway passed on George Kittle out of Iowa for a guy recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the Orange Bowl. Unlike guys like the Cowboy’s Jaylon Smith, Butt’s injury woes carried over into the league and have lingered through camp.

Personally I hope this is the first of a bunch of action for him this year, but keep guys like Butt in mind when NFL draft hopeful’s skip their team’s bowl games.

DeMarcus Walker with more good film

It’s going to be hard to cut DeMarcus Walker with the way he’s looked in the Fangio defense this Preseason.

Mike Purcell continues to impress

I mentioned how the battle between Zach Kerr and Mike Purcell may be an underrated one with both fitting a similar role in the new system. Purcell played mostly nose while Kerr was repping Derek Wolfe’s left end spot. That versatility probably helps Kerr, but Purcell continues to look too good to let go.

At this point I’m starting to wonder if Fangio will carry seven defensive linemen.

Khalfani Muhammad makes the most of his reps

Prior to the game Broncos’ Insider Andrew Mason reported that Devontae Booker wouldn’t play. This seems to indicate his spot on the roster is already decided, for better or worse. I expect him to make the cut with Theo Riddick sidelined, but that means Muhammad and Devontae Jackson are probably fighting for a practice squad spot.

Before tonight I would have told you Devontae Jackson currently leads that race, but Mo did all he could to make it muddier tonight.

Two defensive rookies show promise

Last week I got accused of being too harsh on Dre’Mont Jones after pointing out how badly he struggled against the 49ers’ run game. While it looked like he had a couple of plays where he got sucked up inside against the Rams, he looked a lot better tonight.

Justin Hollins also had some better reps against the Rams. There was the snap above on 4th down, but Hollins also had a couple of good rushes against the pass as well. I know he’s playing against backups and he didn’t notch any big time sacks, but I’ll definitely take the pressure he’s generating.

Secondary observations

As the tweet above hints at, it sure seems like Shamarko Thomas crashed back to Earth after a really strong performance against the 49ers. De’Vante Bausby also allowed a big play in the early 1st quarter, and Trey Johnson continues to look like he’s on borrowed time in the NFL.

One corner who flashed play on both ends of the spectrum tonight was Linden Stephens. He allowed the games’ only touchdown on an in-breaking route, and I do wonder if he was supposed to have more help. Regardless, he also showed off the sturdiest tackling of any corner playing tonight as well as some tight coverage on a few different spots where the camera followed action downfield.

It’s no sure thing Elway and the Broncos don’t sleuth through the waiver wire as they continue to seek secondary help, but as of now I’d bet Linden Stephens is the fifth corner.

Offensive line observations

Elijah Wilkinson played a ton of snaps at right guard against the Rams. Up until this point he’s worked as a tackle for the Broncos, most notably as a left tackle with the second team offense. I suspect his time tonight was to help him prepare in the new system if Ron Leary isn’t ready for Oakland.

With Garett Bolles out tonight and Wilkinson busy, Jake Rodgers played the left tackle spot. It was pretty uneven. That said, the fact that Munchak and the coaching staff gave him a chance there after playing so much right tackle ‘til now speaks volumes about his place on the bubble.

I didn’t notice Sam Jones outside of a couple nice blocks, which probably bodes well for the Broncos guard. He’s one I’ll keep an eye on when I get to reviewing the tape.

Colby Wadman shanks a punt

I’ve been holding out any judgement on Wadman this preseason. Ever since the Broncos let Justin Vogel go it’s looked like they settled on Wadman as the guy, yet I can’t quite lock him in. Given the advantage Denver’s altitude gives kickers he was pretty underwhelming last year, and I’d personally like Elway to chase an upgrade. Tonight’s performance hopefully gets him considering it.

Rypien sees the field in the first half and plays all of the second

It seemed odd to me that the Broncos put Brett Rypien into the game for the two minute drive at the end of the first half. Purely speculating here, but perhaps they’d seen enough of Kevin Hogan. I know I certainly had.

More than once Kevin Hogan passed up open receivers and scrambled, or held on too long and made his line look worse. As I mentioned last week, in all reality he’s a QB3 playing QB2 because Drew Lock is hurt. While Preseason stats can mislead, it’s definitely notable that Hogan scrambled four times.

Rypien looked like a rookie playing his first game action in a few weeks. He mixed in some decent throws with some head scratching ones. I doubt he did enough to sway anyone’s opinion of him in either direction after tonight. If you liked him coming out of Boise State, you still do. If you’re convinced he’s just another Kyle Sloter, you will have just enough evidence to continue with it.

Realistically, I think Rypien looked like a young backup quarterback learning the ropes. It certainly seems like Denver could sneak him onto the practice squad to season this year, but he didn’t do anything to dissuade me from the opinion that he’s still got a chance with some time to hammer out the kinks.

After all, Joe Flacco’s 34 and probably playing out one year in orange and blue. Drew Lock is going to get enough rope to make a lasso or a noose next year, and Kevin Hogan is... well. Kevin Hogan. With the Broncos QB long term QB situation still a big question, it’s good to keep an open mind.