As far as the NFL Preseason goes, Week 3 is absolutely electric. The starters typically play for the whole first half, and for the first time, you can get a picture (albeit a somewhat foggy one) of the regular season on the horizon.
There are still starting positions that aren't set in stone for the Denver Broncos, who face the unenviable task of declaring a starting quarterback less than two weeks in advance of their September 8 opener against the Carolina Panthers.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p...And of course there's always the high-stakes drama of the 53-man roster. College standouts become NFL filler and have to distinguish themselves in practice and in the game tape in order to make the team or be invited to the practice squad. With the first cuts coming this week, tonight's duel with the Los Angeles Rams becomes all the more important.
There's so much more to see here than in your run-of-the-mill exhibition game. Competition will be at a premium for players looking to crack the starting lineup or just to last another week in the most unforgiving league in professional sports.
Here's a few things to keep your eye on tonight when the Broncos host the Rams:
No one, including myself, was expecting this prior to training camp. There were whispers that Trevor Siemian was keeping up with Mark Sanchez in OTAs, but the idea of him actually winning the starting job seemed like a pipe dream at best. But here we are on the 27th of August, and despite last week's extremely uneven performance, essentially all he has to do to win is hand the ball off, throw short passes, and sit on his hands.
But he shouldn't. Siemian should adopt the mindset that he needs to win this job by force. I want to see him attack the Rams' secondary, go down the seam to Virgil Green, take a shot or two deep to Emmanuel Sanders, and give Demaryius Thomas a chance to go up and spear a touchdown in the redzone. If he can't crack 7.5 yards-per-attempt (it was a measly 5.4 last week), that's just not good enough.
More often than not last week, Siemian was locking onto his first read (which was often open) and pulling the trigger. And more often than not, it was a comeback route. He needs to erase that history of predictability tonight and take some calculated shots down the field. He certainly has the arm, but the bravado is in question.
Another thing I'd like to see is Siemian's ability to attack the middle of the field. Most of his passes last week were outside the hashes, and it became easy for safeties to sit on routes. No more. Green can be a matchup problem and it's time Siemian used each third of the field.
Sanchez is undoubtedly in the trailing position, but he's still in this race to some extent. The name of the game is simple for him; eliminate the turnovers. It's still the fatal flaw in his game. Sanchez looked poised to win the job last week until he fumbled deep in 49ers territory and lost his groove, tossing near-picks and fumbing once more in his stint as quarterback.
One thing that doesn't concern me is Sanchez's ability to efficiently move the ball. There's no doubt he runs the offense smoothly, as long as the ball stays in the right hands. If Siemian falters. he'll get one last shot.
Last but not least, rookie Paxton Lynch has the chance to ascend tonight. He started slow last Saturday, but started to figure things out on the fly and put together a solid outing. If he wants to leapfrog Sanchez and challenge Siemian, he'll need to skip the poor start and go straight to firing lasers and evading tacklers.
Which ever quarterback causes Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams to drop the most F-bombs on Hard Knocks has my vote.
Stay tuned this week for Gary Kubiak's announcement.
Piecing the Offensive Line Together
The first-teamers did the job well enough to keep Siemian clean and open up big holes for C.J. Anderson last week. The Rams defensive line is another challenge entirely. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see Virgil Green or Jeff Heuerman stay in and help the right tackle on a few passing downs.
They'd also be wise to avoid any missed assignments on bootlegs that leave an unmanned lineman in the quarterback's face. Sure, it worked last week, but let's not make it a staple of the playbook.
The position with the most mystery surrounding it is right guard. There's a few candidates currently; Ty Sambrailo, Michael Schofield, and Connor McGovern. The job would probably belong to Sambrailo if he could get on the field, but he's still rehabbing an elbow injury, and he's not expected to be ready for the season opener.
That leaves two. Schofield has showed well at left tackle the last couple of weeks, but he might be even better-suited to play inside at guard. Schofield has been the butt of many a joke since the Khalil Mack debacle, but he's held his own since then.
Then we have the rookie, McGovern. There's no question he'll be in the mix for playing time this year, but whether or not he should start is a different matter. He showed exceptionally well last week, earning the right guard spot on Pro Football Focus' Team of the Week. I'm skeptical that he can repeat that against better competition, but I'd love to be proven oh so wrong.
Running to Stand Still
The first two running back spots are locked up and C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker threw away the keys. It's unclear how many back Denver will keep, but with an extra fullback spot, there's no guarantee it'll be more than three.
The real battle is between Ronnie Hillman and Kapri Bibbs. Rumors have been floating that the Broncos have been eager to let go of Hillman in his fifth year, but he's been too good to get rid of so far (averaging seven YPC last week). Hillman isn't suited for the role of feature back, but he's absolutely worth keeping on a roster as the satellite back who gets a few touches on the edge and in space each week.
Bibbs also ran well against the 49ers, picking up 23 yards on three carries (most came on a 16-yard sprint). He cuts a similar mold to Hillman, but Ronnie has proved it to the tune of over 800 yards last season. Hillman is more expensive, but he has the pedigree. The difference may ultimately come down to a big play in the passing game or special teams tonight.
Keep an eye on the pass-protection abilites of Bibbs against LA. If he can hold up, it'll be hard to keep him off the roster.
Also, he's not a running back, but watch Andy Janovich on special teams. He looks like he wants to hit someone and it's going to happen sooner rather than later.
Can They Kick It?
If this was my roster on Madden, there's a strong chance I'm keeping Dixon and he racks up 250 rushing yards in a season, but alas, this is reality.
The bottom line is this: Colquitt is the better punter as it stands this season, but he's also counting $4 million against the cap this year. It's truly a decision between value and performance. There's also a chance they could ask Colquitt to take yet another pay cut to stay.
There's not much new to glean from Colquitt, but it's all about consistency for Dixon. See if he can keep that hang time over 4.4 seconds twice tonight.
Almost every year, one undrafted rookie makes the Broncos roster. This season, there's a few worthy candidates to crack the squad.
Right now, my money is on Henry Krieger-Coble to edge out Garrett Graham for a tight end spot. HKC took a shot last week and still hung onto a Paxton Lynch bullet pass, proving his mettle and toughness.
There's also something to be said for establishing chemistry with a young quarterback; more often than not, tat will at least buy you a shot on the practice squad. Look for a few more connections between HKC and Lynch tonight.
Another guy with a decent shot to make the squad is Kalif Raymond. He took a little bit of a step back last week in the return game, but if he can put one or two decent returns on tape tonight, it'll make a big difference come roster cuts.
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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.