The Denver Broncos final preseason game is upon us. As per usual, August blew by in a whirlwind and the start of the NFL regular season is little more than a week away. Over the last couple of days, the Broncos have cut their roster down from 90 players to 75.
They'll have to trim it even further to the final 53-man roster by Saturday at 2 p.m. MST. The players at the bottom of the depth chart left standing after the first wave of roster cuts are under the gun. They'll get what could be one last opportunity to prove themselves to the coaches.
Tomorrow night's game vs. the Arizona Cardinals might just be a preseason game, but it still matters, especially to those players at the bottom of the depth chart fighting to keep their NFL dream alive. The drama is high. The muss will be intense. It's football, baby.
Here are a few key storylines to watch tomorrow night.
One Last Look At The Quarterbacks
Peyton Manning and the rest of the first-teamers will sit out the final preseason game, which means Brock Osweiler will make his second start of 2015. The fourth-year quarterback out of Arizona State isn't fighting for a roster spot, but his performance tomorrow night will be key in sealing the front office's evaluation of him.
Osweiler is in the final year of his contract. As a former second round pick, the Broncos do not have the prerogative to hit him with a fifth-year option. That option is reserved only for first rounders. With Manning under contract through 2016, John Elway would like to avoid letting Osweiler—the player Elway perceives as the future franchise QB—hit the open waters of unrestricted free agency.
There's never been a question as to whether the Broncos want to extend Osweiler or keep him around. The question has revolved around how to valuate an extension, without him ever having started a regular season game.
That's one of the reasons Manning has received more rest this summer and why Osweiler's reps are at an all-time high. Osweiler has played very well this preseason, going 37-of-56 for 376 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a quarterback rating of 87.9.
He's looked capable of leading the team, should the onus fall on him. And he's taken to Gary Kubiak's system like a natural. However, he needs to seal his 2015 preseason body of work with one more exceptional game. With the start, he'll get the opportunity to do just that.
As for rookie seventh round pick Trevor Siemian, he's fighting to just make the final roster. He's overcome the hurdle of rebounding from an ACL tear late last season at Northwestern. And he's already beat out an incumbent veteran in Zac Dysert, who was waived on Monday.
But the Broncos don't need to carry three quarterbacks on the final roster. At the same time, with how well Siemian has played in preseason action, they're also reticent to expose him to the waiver wire and potentially risk losing him.
Siemian can make their decision easier by playing lights out in the second half on Thursday.
Which Running Back Will Step Up?
Kubiak said Tuesday that both players will get plenty of touches to ply their wares for the coaches and front office. While Ball has failed to do much with the handful of touches he's received in the preseason, Bibbs has yet to carry the ball.
With a phenomenal performance, Bibbs could seal Ball's fate with the Broncos. Conversely, the front office is looking for any opportunity to keep thier former second round pick, so if Ball plays well and nets a healthy yards per carry average, he'll likely remain a Bronco.
If both players fail to impress, the Broncos could choose to keep three RBs and cut their losses. Ball and Bibbs both have practice squad eligibility left.
How Will The Secondary Depth Shape Up?
Here are the players in the secondary guaranteed a roster spot in 2015: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., Bradley Roby, T.J. Ward, and Darian Stewart. We should probably count David Bruton and Kayvon Webster among them.
That leaves a heated battle for one, maybe two, cornerback spots and one safety spot, among a multitude of players, including 2015 draft picks. For the last two years, fans have expected the veteran Tony Carter to get his walking papers, but he always finds a way to stick.
This year, however, he's competing with two rookie draft picks in Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon. A fifth round pick, Doss has received more preseason playing time than his fellow Tulane teammate Nixon. And Doss seems to have done more with his opportunities.
How these young corners perform, compared to Carter, on Thursday night should tell us how the chips will fall when the Broncos make their final roster cuts. Don't expect Carter to go quietly into that good night, however.
As for the fourth and final safety spot, the battle likely comes down to Omar Bolden and rookie seventh round pick Josh Furman. Bolden has the upper hand, not only because of his experience, but because of his versatility.
Bolden can play safety or corner, as well as special teams. He has been the team's top kick and punt returner and that could seal his value to the team. Furman has improved his play over the last couple of games. His advantage is that he's the only true strong safety on the roster, besides Ward—who is suspended for the opening game.
Wide Receivers Still Battling It Out
Like Tony Carter, Andre Caldwell manages to stick around, despite a preceived lack of impact. The truth is, Peyton Manning likes him. And more importantly, Manning trusts him. As much as many Broncos fans don't want to hear it, it would take a great upset for Caldwell to lose his roster spot.
Including Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Latimer, Norwood and Caldwell, that makes five receivers. With the kick return situation being unproven and unresolved, the Broncos could choose to keep six receivers, with the idea being that the last man is kept for his abilities as a return man.
Bennie Fowler deserves a roster spot. But the Broncos already have viable outside receivers on the roster. At the same time, waiving Fowler opens the team up to losing him on waivers. Roster politics being what they are, the way I see it is Fowler would have to beat out Caldwell to make the final squad. He'll get his final shot tomorrow night.
Jordan Taylor and Corbin Louks are still in the conversation, although Louks has the better odds of making the final squad, because of his skill-set as a returner. Taylor has a higher ceiling, but it wouldn't hurt him to spend a year in development on the practice squad.
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