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‘Sh*t just got real’ - players know cuts are coming and time is running out

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After three veteran players were cut ahead of final cut day, the other 87 know final cuts are looming.

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos moved on from three veterans Monday with Zach Kerr, Dekoda Watson, and Nick Williams all being released ahead of the official cut day later this week.

Head coach Vic Fangio discussed the moves among other things during his daily team presser, while players reacted to the news of things getting a bit real as preseason draws to a close.

Here were some of the biggest takeaways:

  • The depth at the defensive line position made the decision to move on from some veterans prior to the cut deadline. Fangio also wanted to give both Zach Kerr and Dekoda Watson some time to try and catch on with another team: “One thing was that to give them both an extra week ahead of the major cut down to possibly hook on with another team. We felt good about the other guys at those positions.”
  • In their places, Fangio felt really good about DeShawn Williams and Mike Purcell inside, but also DeMarcus Walker who has seemingly come into his own after struggling under the previous regime. Fangio: “In the d-line, I think [DeShawn] Williams and [Mike] Purcell have done well for themselves, so we’ll see how it goes. [DeMarcus Walker’s] done well for himself also.”
  • Joe Rowles of Mile High Report took notice of Purcell weeks ago, and it would seem he and Fangio are seeing the same from Purcell, who could be a name to watch in the defensive line rotation. Fangio: “He can play anywhere along the line. Because he can do it mentally, he’s strong enough. He’s not ideally suited to be an end, but he can do it in a pinch.”
  • We’re probably going to see some starters playing on special teams this year. Fangio also alluded to the team keeping at least two quarterbacks: “That’s still a possibility. It will become more of a possibility once we’re down to 53, that goes to 46, that includes two quarterbacks at least, a punter, a kicker and a snapper. So, yeah it becomes more viable and possible for the regular season.”
  • After 11 snaps last week, Jake Butt is back to feeling sore and will miss some practice time. It’s tough to see a player struggle so much to overcome an injury. Fangio: “He came out good after the game. Just a little sore right now. He’s had some residual effects, which I think it’s to be expected to a degree. He got 11 or 12 plays the other night at a full speed tempo, which I don’t think he had practiced more than 20 plays in the couple of days he had practiced. I was expecting some of that. We probably won’t see him practice today, give him an extra day off. Normally after a game you get two days off, although they’re here but you don’t hit the field. We’re going to give him that day right now.”
  • There is no determination at quarterback behind Joe Flacco and Drew Lock. Fangio wants to see more separation from Kevin Hogan and Brett Rypien: “We’ve got one more game to do that. That remains to be seen. I’ve seen some good play. I’ve seen some not so good, so I don’t know the answer to that just yet.”
San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Justin Hollins

  • Broncos’ fifth-round pick, Justin Hollins, has worked his tail off trying to get up to speed under the Fangio system, and he hasn’t disappointed. Hollins: “I feel pretty comfortable playing inside. Out here in practice, I’m getting a lot of reps. Coach is throwing a lot at me and we’re always going over what to do and constantly staying in the playbook, so I’m feeling real comfortable.”

Alexander Johnson

  • After a long absence from football, Johnson has spent most of that time trying to get back to being who he was 3.5 years ago: “I’m trying to get back to being who I was on the field when I was playing in college. I feel like, each game, I’m getting a step closer to playing how I used to play.”
  • Right now, his life has been about learning. Each practice sessions, each game, Johnson has more tape of himself to study and dissect. It’s hard not to like his attitude and the opportunity he has been given: “Pretty much just learning as I’m able to get more film on myself now, so I’ll be able to see where I need to get better and just little things, staying shuffling here and there just trying to stay crisp on small things like that and just trying to pick everything up as I go. Just played my fourth game in a long time and it felt pretty good, so just trying to pick up get better each game.”

DeShawn Williams

Williams takes this time of year personally and for a lot of players the release of three veterans on Monday really did “make shit real” for them. From May 2015 when Williams was first signed by the Cincinnati Bengals, he has been cut/re-signed/waived/re-signed 22 times, including four times between Sept. 1-11, 2018, by the Broncos. To say it was rough would be an understatement.

“I have a story that has to be told. A lot of people don’t know but it was a lot. This past year, my wife and I, we’ve been through a lot especially after leaving here last year which I didn’t want to because I felt like it was home. With the Indy situation and Miami and going through a long period of time not hearing any phone calls, you start to question are you good enough. It’s a lot that a lot of people don’t know that goes on.

“I think that’s why I play the way I play because I know every day is not promised. Look at Zach [Kerr]. That kind of hurt, walking in seeing one of your fellow guys that has proven that he can play and he’s not here. That’s set in I think everybody today, excuse my language, but shit just got real. I just want to make sure I just play hard for Vic [Fangio] because he brought me in. He didn’t know me from a can of paint and brought me in.

“I just want to do everything I can for him and Bill [Kollar] because those are the two guys that brought me in and told me to be me. I appreciate them just giving me the opportunity.”

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Atlanta Falcons vs Denver Broncos Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Juwann Winfree

  • Winfree was a sixth-round pick by the Broncos, but you would think he was undrafted with how hard he has worked to get into this final 53-man roster conversation.

Winfree: “I felt I made a good progression throughout camp. This week my focus was to get better and to continue to show why I deserve to be out here. I’m still not where I need to be, but I feel I’m getting there in each game throughout the preseason and that’s what I want to continue to do, continue to thrive and continue to get better, so it’s been a learning process.”

  • An area that will make the decision easier for Fangio is what Winfree has done on special teams. He made a big time play last week and if he continues to show what he can do then a roster spot is surely his on Saturday. When asked how important making a special teams place is, he added, “It’s just big. That’s one of things I’m trying to thrive at wherever I’m at on the field, special teams, blocking, receiving. I want to have that impact and third down where a play we needed or special teams where it’s a big stop that we need. I want to be that guy, wherever it’s at.”