Happy Football Thursday, friends. As the preseason comes to a close, we’re left to ponder the value of tonight’s game, which begins after my bedtime. All I can really think of is that it gives the underdog lovers something to get all excited about.
I’m continually interested in how fans latch on to some late or undrafted player, based on a play here or there, or his name, or where he went to school. That underdog is going to be a major player, maybe even a star! He’s a diamond in the rough, and I’ve been down since Day 1. When the IAOFM crew was chatting during the Bears game, we were having a laugh about how Xavier Omon hysteria was about to be upon us when he made a few good runs against third-stringers. Well, it came, and it went. No other third-string defensive line that the Broncos played was sorry enough to be blocked by the Broncos' third-string offensive line.
For the Broncos, the value is that it gives them a chance to make a last-minute decision on who makes the team, and maybe more importantly, the practice squad. For the most part, the decisions have most likely been made on the larger body of work, though. If you think about it, tonight’s game is going to end around 2am Eastern. Cuts to 53 have to be completed by 9pm Eastern time on Friday. That leaves very little time for deliberation.
Andrew Mason has been predicting the final 53, but I’m not too interested in doing that. Predictions have no value as soon as the actual event happens, and I don’t like to clutter up my archives with too many of them. What I’ve decided to do is to stratify the current roster, and see how it looks.
There are 27 players I consider starters, including the three specialists, a nickelback, and a slot receiver. The following are those players:
The next group, I’d call Locks, and I have eight of them. Robert Ayers, Nate Irving, and Manny Ramirez are obvious key reserves, whom I expect to play a good number of snaps. The rest are recently drafted rookies, some of whom will play, and some of whom will be on scholarship in 2012.
That brings us to 35, with 18 spots to fill. My next group is called Likely, and includes nine players. It includes veteran reserves, and one rookie who got off to a strong start, has been banged up lately, and thus hasn’t shown anything in a while.
We’re up to 44 players who I expect to see on the roster, with nine spots to go. At this point, it’s a good idea to take stock of the counts at each position grouping, and compare it to expected targets:
|POS||Accounted For||Ideal Count||Need||On Bubble|
What I’m getting at here is that there are 29 players on what I’d call the bubble, who fit into two categories – players who are trying to earn an open spot, and players who are trying to bump somebody out of the first 44.
Players competing to fill openings
Players in the mix: Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson, Chris Gronkowski
The reporter types, like Andrew Mason and Jeff Legwold, seem to be assuming that Gronkowski is a lock as a FB. I’m not making that assumption, because I think the better approach is to cut Gronk the Least, and use Joel Dreessen or Virgil Green as the FB when you want to use one. Both have proven to be able to play that position.
If I’m making the call, based on the football I’ve seen, Moreno and Johnson make the team, and Ball and Gronkowski get cut. I just don’t see what there is to really like about Ball.
Players in the mix: Julius Thomas, Cornelius Ingram, Virgil Green (facing four-game suspension)
I think the play here is to keep both Thomas and Ingram heading into the regular season, and then cut one of them when Green becomes available. Ingram is an excellent athlete, who was recruited to Florida as a QB, and then switched to TE when they signed Tim Tebow. He was the original Aaron Hernandez in Urban Meyer’s offense, and probably would have been a secon-round pick if he hadn’t missed his senior year with a torn ACL. I liked what I saw of him in the preseason, and I think I’d keep him to be Jacob Tamme’s backup, and let Thomas go.
In all probability, Thomas stays and Ingram goes, though, since this regime drafted Thomas in the fourth round just last year.
Players in the mix: Chris Clark, Adam Grant, Ryan Harris, Tony Hills, C.J. Davis, Wayne Tribue
I consider offensive line depth to be the biggest weakness of the Broncos, and none of these players excites me in the least. I used to think really highly of Harris, but he’s been a shell of his former self since he had his back injuries.
I think Clark is very probable to make the team, and I think I’ll keep Hills after him, since he can play both guard and tackle. Unfortunately, the Broncos have a good backup lineman named Zane Beadles, and they’re forced to start him.
Players in the mix: Jeremy Beal, Jamie Blatnick, Ben Garland, Sealver Siliga, Mitch Unrein
I’m lumping all of the defensive linemen together in one group, because in Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, the Broncos have two guys who can swing between DE and DT.
My preference here is to keep one DE and one DT, and only three of the five players have looked good to me this preseason. Those three are Beal, Blatnick, and Unrein.
If I had to make the call right now, it’d be Beal and Unrein. I would give Blatnick a legitimate chance to beat out Beal on the field tonight, though. I’ve seen little out of Garland or Siliga, and I think they’re most likely candidates for the practice squad.
Players in the mix: Keith Brooking, Jerry Franklin, Steven Johnson, Mike Mohamed
Mohamed hasn’t shown much of anything in his season plus, so I think his scholarship is about to end. Franklin and Johnson have both had some good moments and bad moments this preseason against scrubs from the Broncos’ opponents.
One question for tonight’s game will be whether either of them can show enough to outweigh the known steadiness of Brooking. I think the answer is probably not, and that Brooking should probably make the team as the sixth LB.
With ten defensive backs, four tight ends, Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard, and Matt Willis, the Broncos can live with having a backup LB who doesn’t play special teams. The question is whether the Broncos welcome D.J. Williams back in a couple of months, when his suspension(s) end. I’m thinking probably not.
Players needing to bump other players
QB: Adam Weber - Likely to be on the practice squad once again. It’s doubtful that Caleb Hanie is bumpable as the primary backup at this point, since Brock Osweiler has looked like he isn’t ready to play NFL football.
WR: Jason Hill, Greg Orton, Gerrell Robinson - Any of these three could conceivably beat out Andre Caldwell or Matt Willis (less likely, due to his special teams play) tonight if they have a big game. All the Broncos receivers need to quit dropping passes, which was a problem last year too. The word is that the Broncos like Robinson, so watch for him specifically.
CB: Tony Carter, Syd’Quan Thompson - Thompson’s best path onto the team was as a punt returner, but I suspect that he didn’t impress enough in that role to make it. A guy like Jim Leonhard can handle that job, while being part of the solution of covering the pass on the inside of the field. Carter has had some good moments this preseason, but he’s been called for some ticky-tack penalties. I think both of these guys lose the numbers game.
S - Rafael Bush, Duke Ihenacho - Bush shows some interesting man-to-man coverage ability, but he lacks some other key safety skills. Ihenacho has looked like he’s a not-quite guy, who will be in a few camps, but never make a team.
That's all I have for today, friends. Let's see what happens tonight, and hope for a better performance than we've seen lately from the second- and third-string guys.