Making Call on Denver Broncos' Hardest Remaining Cuts
The Denver Broncos have some tough decisions coming up. They are holding joint practices right now with the Houston Texans, and on Saturday they will play their third preseason game. The starters should play at least half the game for the Broncos, and this will give a limited opportunity for the players behind them.
After that game, the Broncos will cut at least 37 players and play a final preseason game to determine who makes the 53-man roster. According to Jeff Legwold from ESPN.com, the salary cap could influence some of the Broncos’ cuts.
There are multiple question marks on the roster that must be answered over the next week or so. The Broncos want to win the Super Bowl this year, so every roster decision is of the utmost importance.
Here are some possible answers to those tough questions.
The Denver Broncos are going to have a cramped roster, and they might only choose to carry two quarterbacks to make room at other positions. Second-year pro Zac Dysert is currently their third (developmental) quarterback on the roster.
Dysert has a rocket arm and the athleticism to keep a play alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. His consistency and accuracy have been problems in practice. However, when the lights come on during a game—Dysert looks good.
So far this preseason, Dysert has played in only one game. In Week 2 of the preseason against the San Francisco 49ers, Dysert went 8-of-11 for 63 yards and one touchdown. This performance has been praised by the Broncos, and it is certainly a performance that other teams will notice as well.
Mike Klis from The Denver Post told me Tuesday in an interview on my ESPN Denver radio show that he felt the Broncos could not sneak Dysert through to the practice squad. With the way he’s performed so far this preseason, there would almost certainly be a team that jumped all over his services if he became available.
Dysert is a player the team has put time in developing behind Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. While Osweiler is only under contract for the next two years, both Manning and Dysert are under contract for the next three years. If the team were to lose Osweiler after the 2015 season, then Dysert would be the primary backup behind Manning.
The running back position for the Broncos is partly composed of three undrafted free-agent rookies. Among that trio is Kapri Bibbs, a former running back for Colorado State.
Bibbs rushed for over 1,700 yards last year, and he became only the third running back in FBS history (Barry Sanders, Montee Ball) to rush for over 30 touchdowns (31) in a single season. He runs with fantastic balance, which makes him tough to bring down between the tackles. Bibbs only caught eight passes for CSU last year, but he’s shown well as a receiver out of the backfield with the Broncos.
Peyton Manning knows this is a big week for the running backs at the bottom of the depth chart. “This is a big week for a lot of guys. I know the coaches are evaluating, and tough decisions have to be made, so you pull for all those guys to have a chance to make this team. When all those guys have been called on to have an opportunity—[RBs] Brennan [Clay], Juwan [Thompson], Kapri [Bibbs]—those guys have done some good things.”
Bibbs is currently fifth on the depth chart behind fellow undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson. During the preseason, Thompson has been looking good as a power runner and receiver. Unless Thompson struggles over the next two games, he’s likely to make the final roster as the fourth back.
This leaves Bibbs out of the picture. However, he’s looked good enough to at least keep around on the practice squad.
At the start of training camp, there weren’t many who thought Jordan Norwood would make the final roster. Norwood was signed late last year to a futures contract in a move that largely went unnoticed.
He began his career in 2009 with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State. Norwood has been on four different teams (including two stints with the Browns), and he’s played in 17 games during his career. This means he does not have any practice squad eligibility remaining.
Norwood needs to make the final roster if he wants to stay in Denver.
He’s making a great case for himself during practice and in the preseason. Norwood runs crisp routes, and his sure hands make him a favorite target of any quarterback throwing him the rock.
In the first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Norwood finished the game with three catches for 51 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown was a beautiful 34-yard throw from Brock Osweiler, and Norwood showed strong hands by catching the back half of the football for the score.
In the second game against the San Francisco 49ers, Norwood only had one grab for three yards. However, that one catch came with the first team as he was targeted by Peyton Manning.
In addition to showing well as a receiver, Norwood has also been a reliable return man on special teams. His emergence on offense and special teams has almost ended any discussion about undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse making the team.
The first move the Broncos made in free agency was to add strong safety T.J. Ward. This addition sent a message to Duke Ihenacho. He started for the Broncos last year, but Ihenacho struggled to make plays in coverage at critical moments.
We’ve seen the safety position get even more cramped with a healthy Quinton Carter back in action. Carter can start—and star—at both free and strong safety for the Broncos. He’s missed most of the last two seasons due to a knee injury that required microfracture surgery.
If the Broncos are going to keep an extra linebacker or defensive lineman, then perhaps they would only keep four safeties total. Ward and Rahim Moore are locked in as the starters for the Broncos. David Bruton is a special teams ace, and he’s a virtual lock to make the squad. Carter is a superior (and more versatile) talent to Ihenacho, and he’s looking good in training camp.
Ihenacho knows the added talent at safety is making for a tougher competition.
“We have a lot of good players. So you kind of just have to get in where you fit in. Guys are working hard, and guys are fighting for spots and fighting to get on the depth chart however they can. The coaches are doing a good job of moving us around and making sure everybody can contribute, so that’s why you see a lot of different packages and guys moving in and out of certain packages.” Ihenacho concluded, “You kind of just have to take it, and so far it’s going well.”
The addition of Ward and a healthy Carter could push Ihenacho off the final roster. If released, the young hard-hitting safety would certainly draw interest from another team.
The Broncos have a talent-rich defensive line. Adding free agent DeMarcus Ware gives them strength on the edge and another pass-rusher to get pressure opposite linebacker Von Miller. In many packages, Miller plays defensive end for the Broncos.
This will cramp the number of defensive linemen the Broncos will keep.
The team is likely to keep eight defensive linemen. Ware, Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams and Derek Wolfe should be the starting four. Behind those guys, players like Malik Jackson and Quanterus Smith give the Broncos a fine rotation.
Earlier this offseason, the Broncos made a move that drew little attention when they added free-agent defensive tackle Marvin Austin. The former second-round pick (2012) had failed to live up to his top-10 potential, and he’s bounced around to four teams. Austin has been a standout player in training camp and the preseason for the Broncos, and now he has almost cemented a spot on the 53-man roster.
This means players like Mitch Unrein and Kevin Vickerson could be competing for one spot. Vickerson is still recovering from the hip injury that knocked him out last season. He’s a seasoned veteran with a nasty attitude and a team-first mentality.
Unrein is a favorite of the staff. He has a blue-collar work ethic, and he’s willing to do whatever the team needs him to do. Unrein can rotate in on the defensive line, and he’ll get push as a pass-rusher while also playing strong run defense. He can also get on the field when the offense is out there as the team’s fullback. Unrein can block, run the ball or even catch a pass when the team is near paydirt.
His versatility and lower salary-cap number ($2.2 million for Vickerson, $1.4 million for Unrein) could help him make the final roster in 2014.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.