The Denver Broncos begin their 2022 preseason later tonight when they host the Dallas Cowboys. The two teams held a rather chippy joint practice on Thursday which the Broncos won easily, and now will play for real tonight.
It is unlikely we see a lot or any of the Broncos' key starters during this game. However, this will give the Broncos' rookie, backups, and bubble players a great opportunity to prove themselves to the coaches with live bullets flying.
So, I am going to give you five things to watch during the Broncos' preseason opener vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
Josh Johnson vs. Brett Rypien
Leading things off with a Broncos quarterback competition once again. Thankfully, this is for who will have the honor to be Russell Wilson’s backup quarterback.
Johnson who has played for 17 different professional teams throughout his legendary journeyman career has the best shot to win the backup quarterback job. He was signed by the Broncos during free agency and was likely someone the Broncos’ coaches wanted to work with. He hasn’t had a great camp, but he has turned it up as of late and has shown off his deep ball skills on occasion.
Josh Johnson with a 50-yard BOMB to Jalen Virgil down the right sideline. Virgil made a great adjustment in the ball and caught it over Ojemudia.— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) August 8, 2022
As for Rypien, he is likely the fan favorite of the two. He has flashed some potential during his time with the Broncos and has had some noteworthy plays during Training Camp. However, Rypien is a John Elway and Vic Fangio draft pick. Both men are gone and a new GM and coaching staff are in the fold. So, Rypien has lost his potential support where it matters the most. So he will likely need to outperform his expectations to win the backup job.
I think we’ll see Johnson start the game and play the first half while Rypien will play the second half. The Broncos only have three quarterbacks on the roster so we’ll see plenty of these two during the next three preseason games.
Neither is a lock to make the team so the pressure will be on both quarterbacks starting tonight.
Montrell Washington and Brandon Johnson
Montrell Washington was the star of Broncos camp and was an unexpected one at that. The fifth-round selection wasn’t a popular selection and was viewed as a receiver-only sort of player. However, that perception quickly changed during camp when Washington ended up being a standout player each and every practice. He even ended up getting some first-team reps as well. So, Washington has a chance to carry over that momentum into the Broncos' preseason opener.
I think we’ll see Washington start probably in the slot for the Broncos while also handling kick and punt return duties as well. So, we should see plenty from the explosive and exciting rookie.
Broncos’ first-team offense again wins in a two-minute scenario.— Aric DiLalla (@AricDiLalla) August 6, 2022
Offense drives down the field, keyed by 35-yard catch by Brandon Johnson, to set up go-ahead McManus field goal with no time left.
One surprise UDFA who has been turning heads during training camp is wide receiver, Brandon Johnson. The former Central Florida player worked out with Russell Wilson during the offseason and ended up having a pretty solid training camp. He was outshined by Montrell Washington, but he has also made some key plays in camp and also with the first-team offense.
With Tim Patrick out for the year with an ACL injury, the Broncos have snaps to be had by someone. These two will have their first big chance to prove they are worthy of potentially getting these reps and for Johnson’s sake at least, making the Broncos' 53-man roster.
Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto
Probably the two players I am excited to see the most tonight are the Broncos' two young and explosive edge players. Those players are Baron Browning and 2022 second-round pick, Nik Bonitto.
Will the #broncos defense take a step back? If the pass rush holds maybe not. I’ve been watching Baron Browning for a while. They’ve moved him to edge after playing LB during his rookie season. The bend is real. No joke. My report on @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/SwHmdOjtv5— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) August 4, 2022
On the defensive side of the ball, Baron Browning is likely their biggest breakout player they have had so far. The former third-round selection who played inside linebacker last year was moved over to edge rusher this offseason. His blend of elite athleticism, size/speed/strength, and natural bend have Browning looking like a potential starter for the Broncos' defense.
He will be going up against the Cowboys' backup tackles who were getting worked during the joint practice, so we should see Browning getting after the quarterback early and often. I feel like he’s going to be the player we’re all hyping up after tomorrow night's game concludes.
As for Bonitto, he had his best practice of the summer during the joint practice where the explosive rookie totaled four sacks against the Cowboys. This wasn’t live bullets of course so these were assumed sacks, so we’ll see what he can do when he hits the field later tonight.
I am excited to see his explosion off the snap and hopefully get after the passer at a high rate once again later tonight. How he handles the run game will also be something key to watch. His size makes him a potential liability in the run game so it’ll be interesting to see how he fairs.
Probably the most competitive roster battle to watch during the preseason will be for the 4th, 5th, and potentially 6th cornerback spots. There are about four or five realistic players on the roster who are fighting for these roster spots.
With Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and K’Waun Williams all likely sitting out, look for Michael Ojemudia, rookie Damarri Mathis, and slot corner Essang Bassey to be the starting three corners.
As of right now, those three appear to be ahead of the pack but veteran Bless Austin, rookie Faion Hicks and the rest of the Broncos corners try to push for those roster spots during the preseason.
I am really hoping to see a strong showing out of Michael Ojemudia during the preseason. He had some hype during the spring and needs to carry that into the summer. Right now, he’s the Broncos' number four corner, but rookie Damarri Mathis is right on his heels. I have high expectations for the Broncos rookie corner and think he has a chance to be the “star of the game” on the defensive side of the ball as well.
As for a potential dark horse to watch for, the seventh-round pick, Faion Hicks has stood out at camp at times and should see plenty of playing time in tonight’s game. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him play well and start making his push for a roster spot.
Sam Martin vs, Corliss Waitman
In what might be the most underrated roster battle on the team, the Broncos' punting battle will be an interesting one to watch. Veteran Sam Martin is the favorite for the job but Corliss Waitman has been booming kicks in camp and could serve as a cheaper option for the Broncos this upcoming season.
Corliss Waitman got cheers for dropping a punt inside the 5. He had a terrific punt period, including a blast of what looked like 57 yards (with 4.96 hang time) with the line of scrimmage at the 1. Sam Martin had some good punts, but also a shank off the side of his foot.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) August 9, 2022
The Broncos have put an emphasis on special teams play this offseason and that carried over into the summer. I believe this is a legit roster battle and with a new coaching staff with the team, they have no real commitments to the veteran Sam Martin. Also, Waitman is a few million dollars cheaper and the financials usually matter in these tight roster battles.
So, while Martin appears the favorite for the job, it will be interesting to see how Waitman does during tonight’s game. If he booms a few punts and downs some inside the 20-yard line, we could be having a larger conversation after tonight’s game.