Thursday’s preseason matchup was the ultimate job interview for the couple of dozen backup players vying for one of the 53 spots on the Broncos’ final roster.
And several of them provided solid resumés, showing top performances even if lack of experience is an issue.
Interviewing for the top job, Kyle Sloter proved it’s not always how you start a job, but instead how you finish.
And he finished strong.
Despite an opening drive that lasted three plays and included a sack in the end zone for a Cardinals’ safety and a very uneventful second drive, Sloter showed the resilience we’ve come to know from this undrafted rookie by hurling a couple of long passes downfield to Jeff Heuerman and Kalif Raymond before a dropped ball from Jordan Taylor forced a 52-yard field goal from the ever-so-consistent Brandon McManus. The following drive ended in another sack at the one-yard line.
But it was the fifth possession where Sloter’s job performance finally matched the job description - “lead team, drive down field, don’t turn the ball over, score points.”
Throwing back-to-back 32-yard passes - first to Sunshine and then to Anthony Nash on a rollout - Sloter marched the offense into Cardinals’ territory before Stevan Ridley took over. Ridley scampered for four yards before hammering out a 27-yard play to set up his three-yard touchdown on the next touch.
“I think we both got in a rhythm, we got some plays that I was more comfortable with and then we were able to open it up a little bit once I saw the ball go into the receivers hands a couple of times,” Sloter said about working with quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave throughout the game. “It was a rough start and I have to be better there, no excuses on that, but it’s a learning experience. I’m just going to hopefully continue to get better.”
A 58-yard pick-six by Dymonte Thomas gave the Broncos some nice breathing room and a 17-2 lead with just over a minute to go in the first half.
John Fox-ian play calling was nowhere in sight as the Sloterhouse drove the Broncos 50 yards in under a minute to set up another three points from McManus just before the half.
The second half would be more of the same.
The third quarter saw the Broncos start with a three-and-out but finish with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped off by another McMoney three. The Broncos’ last scoring drive of the game came in the middle of the fourth quarter via a 21-yard pass to tight end Steven Scheu.
Sloter - who had just 21 yards, zero third-down conversions, a sack and a safety to show for his first quarter - bounced back with a vengeance, finishing the night 15-of-23 for 220 yards, 1 TD and two sacks for a 110.8 passer rating.
Head coach Vance Joseph called Sloter “impressive.”
“He’s played very well. He had a slow start tonight with the safety and taking a sack backed up, but he came out of it and had three 80-yard scoring drives,” Joseph said. “He’s a young, poised quarterback. He’s very intelligent. I’ve been impressed with Kyle.”
Joseph had said before backup Paxton Lynch got injured that the team would carry only two QBs on the roster, hoping that Sloter would clear waivers and be able to stay on the practice squad.
But with Lynch out another two to four weeks, that move would leave no quarterback currently on the roster who could fill in for Trevor Siemian should he get banged up against the Chargers or Cowboys.
Sloter’s poise under pressure, ability to bounce back after a bad start, and the confidence to go big or go home, likely got the former UNC Bear an NFL job somewhere last night.
“I’m in the same boat as everybody else,” Sloter said about the waiting game for cuts, which must be done by 2 p.m. MT on Saturday. “I’m just hoping that everything works out, hoping for a break that shakes my way.”
Sloter, an undrafted quarterback out of University of Northern Colorado, has learned to deal with having the stacks against him.
And it’s never bothered him because he has confidence he has the ability to play at this level.
“I’ve always believed in myself. I’ve always thought that I have the talent,” Sloter said, noting the great position coaches put him in to thrive in camp. “They let me get equal reps in OTAs with Paxton and Trevor. For the most part in camp before the games, they gave me equal reps ... I wasn’t near the player that I am in this offense now so I’m just grateful the coaches gave me that opportunity to get better.
Hopefully that’s with the Broncos.
“Like I said, I want to be here in Denver more than anything,” Sloter said after the game. “I love the fans, love the coaching staff, love the players and there’s not much to not like about being in Denver. This is where I want to be.”
A few other resumés looked pretty good too as the game wound down and running backs Juwan Thompson and Stevan Ridley had solid numbers to show for it.
Thompson ran for 56 yards while Ridley ran for 51 and a touchdown.
“Truly amazing. I have to say I’m just thankful, thankful the lord gave me another opportunity just to come out here,” Ridley said. “It’s been a long grind with camp and the big boys have been working upfront and pushing all preseason, finding some holes in there for us to run through. Tonight was just a night that things were going well for me so I’m just thankful that it happened when it did and things came together.”
It’s likely neither Ridley nor Thompson will make the 53 as the Broncos are expected to keep four running backs - C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson - but Joseph noted that both backs played well enough to be playing somewhere.
“It’s tough when you have five or six backs in the room that should make the football team, and you are only going to keep four or five,” Joseph said. “But for those guys to play well tonight, it is going to help their chances if they are not here to move on somewhere else.”
Really nice work by Brendan Langley against the run. Clearly taking his cues from Chris Harris Jr. & Aqib Talib in his work against the run.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) September 1, 2017
Several rookie defenders also turned in solid performances. Corner Brendan Langley logged four tackles, including one for a loss, plus a batted-down pass. Rookie safety Jamal Carter continued his impressive preseason with seven tackles (four solo) and a pass defensed.
“I think I did great,” Langley said about his night. “As a gunner, I think I did great, and as a corner hold-up man. I wish I’d had the opportunity to return a kick tonight, but we pitched a shutout, so I’m happy with that.”
The coolest defensive play of the game came from rookie safety Dymonte Thomas, who is a likely candidate for the practice squad if not the final roster.
Intended for Ricky Seals-Jones, Thomas noticed an overthrow and took advantage, grabbing the ball and sprinting 58 yards for the score.
“I saw an overthrow and Coach always talks about getting your hand on the ball and that’s how you make your money,” Thomas said. “My eyes got really big because I got excited, and once I caught the ball, all I saw was grass and I just took off.”
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