The Denver Broncos are entering their final preseason game Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals. While this game won’t mean anything in the win/loss column, it will matter to several players looking to continue their NFL dream with the Broncos or with another team.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, here are five storylines to monitor.
Paxton Lynch’s First Start
Head coach Gary Kubiak has come out and stated that the final game will be handed to the rookie from Memphis in it's entirety. This is a move made out of both necessity and caution as the team won’t be looking to put newly-anointed starter Trevor Siemian in any kind of danger of injury, while giving Paxton Lynch as much time facing the “live bullets” of NFL defenses as possible.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1701711-broncos-at-cardinals-wher... The coaching staff isn’t looking for Lynch to go 27-of-30 with over 300 yards passing and a couple of touchdowns. It wouldn’t be disappointing if he did, but realistically, the team will be looking to see if Lynch is progressing accordingly in his development.
What that means is seeing him lead the team on sustained scoring drives, getting off to a good rhythm early on in the game, along with looking more comfortable in the pocket and in command of the huddle.
Battles for the Last Roster Spots
The last preseason game will be tension-filled for players like Kapri Bibbs, Jordan Taylor and others. With the last round of cuts looming at the end of this game, players are, understandably, nervous in getting ready for a game that could be the start of a career or the ending of one. Frankly, this would be the worst time to have a bad game.
There is a log-jam at the back of the wide receiver pool, with Taylor and the rising Mose Frazier looking to make their case for the 53-man roster. Bibbs has all the motivation he needs to produce in this last contest, after seeing his main competition, Ronnie Hillman, have a good game against the Rams Saturday night.
The same sentiment goes for undrafted rookies like Kyle Peko on the defensive line and Vontarrius Dora at linebacker, as they look to continue to make their respective statements for being on the team.
The final preseason game is the last chance for the coaching staff to evaluate and review the talent on the field. In combination with this, the goal is to leave the game relatively healthy in preparation for the Carolina Panthers on September the 8.
It may seem like an arduous task to try and not get hurt in such a brutal game like football, but it’s also worth the while for the Broncos, and every other NFL team, not to send in starters or critical backups for this last game.
With season-ending injuries to Vance Walker, coupled with significant ailments for wideouts Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, and offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo, the team will look to do everything possible to minimize the risk of injury. This means the coaching staff will be moving players around quite a bit and rotating men frequently.
Will a Returner Please Stand Up?
In Game 3, the Broncos went away from the rookie tandem of Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison returning kicks and gave most of the work to veteran wideout Jordan Norwood, with both rookies only seeing action later in the game.
Between all three players, none of them have taken the job by the horns and solidified their case for being the team’s primary punt returner.
It was a bit of a surprise that Addison did not make the first round of cuts this past week, so the stage has been set to have either Norwood or Raymond be the man come the start of the season.
Raymond looks to be the homerun hitter of the two, with Norwood having advantages in the receiving department. Even a player like Shiloh Keo could throw his name in the ring as someone who can be reliable in returning punts as well.
Each player will be looking to set themselves apart and nothing would hammer that home more than taking one to the house or making a big return.
The last preseason game is for the depth guys to play themselves on or off the team. With that in mind, the Broncos will still need to take the field tomorrow looking to play aggressively, but under control. On the flip side of that would be to come out looking sharp, without succumbing to listless play.
Players will need to enter this game with the mindset that making a big hit in the open field is great, but going over the edge and hitting a guy late or out of bounds, and getting penalized in the process, is just as bad as not playing well.
Playing fast and loose will be key, but missing assignments and hanging teammates out to dry is also something to avoid. It will be interesting to see which players can play with the necessary caution, and at the same time, not be careless.
This is the last stop on the road to the regular season. With the Panthers looming just one week away, the final tune-ups are being made to put the best team possible together. The Broncos bid to "chase the next one" is soon to begin.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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