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Who is winning the Broncos’ roster battles?

Where do things stand with 20 days ‘til opening night?

A late open to training camp and lack of preseason games makes it easy to overlook, but there’s a huge time crunch happening across the league. The Broncos open their regular season against the Tennessee Titans in less than three weeks. The time crunch means Fangio and the coaching staff are tasked with balancing reps for everyone with prioritizing snaps for those who are likely to make the roster.

With that said, it’s as good a time as any to take another look at the roster. What have we learned from the reports and news out of camp?

Specialists

Barring something really weird, the Broncos’ kicking positions are settled. Brandon McManus had the time to pretend he was a ref last week, and Tom McMahon and Vic Fangio have praised Sam Martin.

We’ve heard next to nothing about the battle between Wes Farnsworth and Jacob Bobenmoyer. The rookie long snappers are competing to take over for Casey Kreiter, who is now with the New York Giants.

Look safe

Sam Martin, Brandon McManus

Battle to watch

Wes Farnsworth vs. Jacob Bobenmoyer

“It has to start with accuracy. Number one, you can’t have your punter moving from side to side. If the ball gets out of his framework it really makes it hard to punt. Number two, do they have velocity because you’re always going against Father Time. The big thing with both of these young guys is they’ve never protected in real-life football.

We’re going after them every single day. Every single chance we get we’re getting our veterans to rush them singles. From a protection standpoint, we’re having a rush period every single period. From a field goal standpoint, it kind of goes unsaid how important that part of it is.

Again, number one is accuracy. Number two is laces. You always want the laces when the holder catches it to be facing forward toward the goalpost. If they’re always behind or they’re at 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock you have issues there. It really comes down to the accuracy part of it, the velocity part of it, and they have to be able to protect.

For me we’re looking for a guy that can cover. That’s a big thing in this league right now. There’re about six guys out there that you have to actually block. It’s different in the NFL now than it was back before when you could cover those big snappers up. You need a guy that can get down and cover. If you do have one it makes it really hard on a punt return unit. You have to block that guy. You never had to block him before.”

- Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon

Defensive Back

If the season started today, it looks like A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, and De’Vante Bausby would make up the starting nickel personnel. The coaching staff has said Bausby is battling with Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris, so things could change regarding CB3. Over the off-season Fangio mentioned a desire to play with more defensive backs on the field, so it isn’t a surprise that he believes the defense needs two of the three to really emerge.

“Those three guys are tight. I can honestly say none of them have pulled away from the other two yet. It’s a real tight battle. We’re going to need at least two of those guys to surface and be a good part of this team and not just be part of the team by default. That’s going to be critical for us.”

Michael Ojemudia’s quad injury all but insures he’s out of the running for starter minutes week one. After hearing so little about Duke Dawson I made sure to ask KOA’s Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright about him on this week’s Cover 2 Broncos. There’s still time left, but it sounds like he’s clearly on the bubble. They also spoke highly of undrafted rookie Essang Bassey, who the coaching staff seems high on. This doesn’t mean he’ll make the roster, but I’d bet he’s got a spot on the practice squad.

Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are obviously the starting safeties. The battle to back them up is one of the more difficult positions to predict right now because the way reports come out, you rarely hear about them. Trey Marshall made it onto the the field last year so I lean towards him at the moment. On Sunday, the Broncos’ own Aric DiLalla spoke highly of Alijah Holder, but Ed Donatell hinted that performance on special teams will be important.

“Everything they do in special teams will have a part in our final decisions.”

Look safe

A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, De’Vante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom, Michael Ojemudia, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson

Battle to watch

Alijah Holder vs. Douglas Coleman III vs. Trey Marshall

Linebacker

It’s a shame Todd Davis is going to miss the majority of another preseason. One silver lining may be how it provides extra reps for the coaching staff to evaluate the depth behind him. With the veteran’s contract set to expire after the year, the exposure could eventually help the Broncos determine how big a need linebacker is next off-season.

Justin Strnad’s own injury carries no silver lining. The rookie fifth rounder had fought his way to the second team and was performing well, so hopefully he can get right for 2021. Ed Donatell touched on what he brings to the linebacker room earlier this week:

“He’s a little longer, a longer player that can matchup with the length tight ends that he might be in coverage with. He’s just learning. He’s trying to keep up. All these days are critical. He’s responding and advancing.”

Unless Justin Hollins can make the most of his move back to inside linebacker, there isn’t a player on the current roster that offers a similar skill set as the injured rookie. Last year at this time, the 2019 fifth round pick was logging snaps at both inside and outside linebacker. When he played in games off the ball I thought his height hurt him at the point of attack, which could cap his playing time if it hasn’t improved.

On Cover 2 Broncos, Edwards made it clear that when Josey Jewell has been on the field, Pat Shurmur and the offense have gone after him in coverage. While I expect him to get the first crack at real playing time if Davis or Johnson can’t go, he’s a clear downgrade. Vic Fangio tends to carry four off ball linebackers. The injuries to both Davis and Strnad could push that number up this year.

Look safe

Todd Davis, Alexander Johnson

Battle to watch

The field

Edge

Neither Von Miller or Bradley Chubb are going anywhere. Malik Reed has gotten a run with the first team when Miller sits out, which hints at the Broncos’ thoughts of him. Vic Fangio spoke glowingly of Jeremiah Attaochu a few weeks ago as well.

“When he came last year after we lost Bradley—he came in and did a good job quickly of learning what we’re doing. By the end—last third of the season there he played a significant amount of snaps for us and was playing well. I think he had his best season that he’s had in a while in the NFL. I’ve noticed already that he’s picked up where he left off. I expect him to be a big part of the team moving forward at our outside linebacker position. We really like him. He’s the right kind of guy. He plays hard, plays tough, very prideful and a great teammate. We’re happy to have him.”

Fangio tends to carry four or five edge rushers on the roster, so the lack of news until now about Justin Hollins is a bit concerning. Fangio mentioned he’d need to grow up on Monday.

Coming out of Oregon he was a project who needed some seasoning. His ceiling looked highest on the Edge, but he needed to get stronger and add moves to improve on his rookie season. To see the Broncos leaning on his versatility once again hints that it’s valuable enough to help him stick to the team, but Fangio mentioned that he’d need to improve.

He’s a smart guy. He recalls the stuff he was learning last year at that position. I think we’ll find out if he’s grown at all and is a guy capable of that. He does have some good length. He can run. He’s just got to learn to play with more explosiveness and decisiveness because things happen quicker and more things happen at inside linebacker.”

Look safe

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jeremiah Attaochu, Malik Reed

Defensive Line

This group looks like one of the most treacherous for a bubble player to crack. There are currently five stone cold locks for the group barring injury, and Christian Covington started games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. I expect him to make the roster, but if a younger lineman outplays him he could make sense as a veteran player to keep on the practice squad.

Look safe

Jurrell Casey, Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, Dre’Mont Jones, McTelvin Agim

Battle to watch

Christian Covington vs. the field

Wide Receiver

If the Broncos carry six receivers as I expect, the battle for the last spot will be fascinating. DaeSean Hamilton looks like a heavy favorite right now, especially after earning a praise from Pat Shurmur for the help he’s provided rookies.

“I’ll give [WRs] Courtland [Sutton], DaeSean [Hamilton], Tim [Patrick]—I’ll give those guys credit. They’ve really put their arms around the young guys and they’re trying to bring them along. That’s a very important piece. This season—we talked about it yesterday as an organization—it’s very important. It’s very important that the older guys help lead the younger guys.”

Before camp opened I thought Juwann Winfree would become standout, as he has the kind of size and speed to really blossom with experience, but an early injury hasn’t helped him. The signing of Cody White on Sunday suggests this remains a wide open competition on the back end of the roster.

Look safe

Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler

Battle to watch

DaeSean Hamilton and Diontae Spencer vs. The field

Offensive Line

I’m confident in three of the spots barring injury. Over the remainder of the preseason Lloyd Cushenberry’s status is worth keeping up with. Fangio has talked up his experiences at LSU and I’d think he’ll eventually find his way to the starting job, but after first team reps on Sunday he was back with the twos on Monday.

Right tackle looks like it’s going to be problematic all year once again. Elijah Wilkson is playing through pain after coming off the PUP list, while Demar Dotson has reportedly struggled with the altitude. He’s new enough to the roster that it could be precautionary as the former Buccaneer gets up to speed with the playbook, but we’re at a point where it looks unlikely he’ll push Wilkinson for playing time.

Look safe

Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Elijah Wilkinson, Netane Muti

Battles to watch

Calvin Anderson vs. Demar Dotson

Austin Schlottmann vs. Patrick Morris

Tight End

Albert O has created a buzz with his highlight reel grabs, but both KOA’s Benjamin Allbright and DNVR’s Andrew Mason have talked about his issues blocking. Mase went as far as to mention the rookie from Missouri could have trouble seeing a substantial role this year, which puts pressure on the other tight ends who make the team to stay healthy and perform.

Noah Fant and Nick Vannett are obvious locks due to their draft status or salary, if nothing else. With Pat Shurmur’s desire to play more 12 personnel, it will be fascinating to see if the Broncos carry four or five tight ends. Four would mean a real battle between Andrew Beck and Jake Butt. The latter has been blowing up camp while the former offers the versatility to play along the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.

Look safe

Noah Fant, Nick Vannett, Albert Okwuegbunam

Battle to watch

Jake Butt vs. Andrew Beck

Running backs

The rampant speculation that Freeman could get moved seems to have passed now, and he’s settled in as the backup to both Lindsay and Gordon. I could see both LaVante Bellamy and Jeremy Cox as candidates for the practice squad.

Look safe

Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman

Quarterbacks

Over the off-season, I looked at Pat Shurmur’s past rosters to get a hint as to what he tends to carry and found he’s had three signal callers each of the last three years. Add to that the necessity for testing to bring any outside player onto the roster and it’s unlikely the three arms the Broncos have in camp are going anywhere. Drew Lock will be the starter and there’s been no sign Jeff Driskel will lose his job to Brett Rypien just yet.

Look safe

Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien