Denver Broncos' Biggest Preseason Disappointments So Far
The Broncos will have to release about 20 more players by Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
Players have been making a name for themselves in the preseason. The Broncos have had several players splash onto the scene this preseason. Guys like Juwan Thompson and Emmanuel Sanders have made plays that Broncos fans fondly remember.
Other players have struggled to play up to their potential. Some of these players are going to get cut. Others are valuable starters who have yet to “hit the switch.”
Here are the biggest disappointments of the preseason for the Broncos so far.
The fan-favorite safety has struggled to make an impact this preseason, and there’s a chance that Duke Ihenacho doesn’t make the final roster.
The big hitter was a starter at strong safety for the Broncos at the beginning of last season. He looked good for a limited time until injuries hit. Ihenacho played through some nagging injuries, but he wasn’t the same.
He can make plays as a run-stuffer, and Ihenacho arrives at the ball-carrier with natural violence. However, even at full strength, the young safety struggles as a coverage player. He was constantly picked on last year by opposing quarterbacks.
That game plan has carried over to this year.
We are once again seeing Ihenacho out of position and failing to make plays in coverage. Ihenacho has been moved down the depth chart, and now he’s getting reps at the end of preseason games.
He’s currently listed as the second-string strong safety behind starter T.J. Ward on the Broncos' latest depth chart. That list is somewhat inaccurate, and it doesn’t reflect where he’s truly at in the pecking order.
Ihenacho will come into the game as a third-string player behind Ward and second-string free safety Quinton Carter. After missing most of the last two seasons due to a knee injury that required microfracture surgery, Carter is healthy and standing out almost every time he’s on the field.
A healthy Carter has changed the outlook for Ihenacho. He’s already been replaced as the starter by the team’s first move in free agency (Ward), and if he doesn’t come through with some big plays against the Cowboys we could have seen the last of Ihenacho in Denver.
The Broncos added Will Montgomery earlier this offseason in free agency. The veteran guard/center is a ninth-year player who appeared in 90 career regular-season games (63 starts). He was originally a seventh-round pick by the John Fox-led Carolina Panthers in 2006.
His experience was supposed to be an asset for the Broncos. Montgomery was thought of as a player who could push Manny Ramirez for the starting center job in 2014. That has not happened, and Montgomery has certainly failed to play up to expectations.
Instead of pushing for a starting job, Montgomery has played so poorly that he’s unlikely to make the final roster. He’s getting pushed around by backup defensive linemen, and Montgomery hasn’t done any favors for the quarterbacks he’s been protecting (Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert) during training camp and the preseason.
When the Broncos signed him, Montgomery received a one-year $1.33 million payday. However, none of that money is guaranteed. This means the Broncos can feel free to release Montgomery, and they won’t have any dead money from the contract left over.
Earlier this year, the Broncos moved Gerell Robinson from wide receiver to tight end. Coming out of Arizona State in 2012, Robinson has been a practice squad player with developmental upside.
The team wanted to see if he could make the transition to tight end this year because Robinson is a bit lumbering as a wideout. During the team’s rookie minicamp, Robinson was the lone tight end in practice. During this time, he received one-on-one coaching with Broncos tight end coach Clancy Barone.
Robinson has long-established chemistry with second-string quarterback Brock Osweiler, dating back to their playing days together at Arizona State. Osweiler certainly trusts Robinson, and he will look to him when the heat is on. Robinson has made a few plays here and there during training camp, but he’s also been plagued by drops and inconsistent play.
During the preseason, Robinson only has three catches for 16 yards. Every catch came in the game against the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, Robinson left the contest with what was diagnosed as a hyperextended knee.
Robinson has not been practicing this week, and he’s unlikely to play in the preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys. At this time, Robinson is more likely to reach some sort of injury settlement than he is to make the 53-man roster.
This offseason began with promise for Robinson at his new position. It appears that his offseason will end with disappointment.
The Broncos were forced to trade for a kicker because of the four-game suspension of Matt Prater. After the suspension was announced, Prater declined to appeal the decision. It was later revealed that Prater was originally facing a year-long suspension, but his attorney, Harvey Steinberg, negotiated it down to a much smaller penalty, according to Mike Klis from The Denver Post.
Trading a seventh-round pick for kicker Brandon McManus led to the release of rookie backup kicker Mitch Ewald. During Prater’s suspension, we’ll see McManus as the starting kicker for the Broncos. He lacks experience but has a strong leg and has made a couple of big kicks this preseason for the New York Giants.
Prater has looked off this preseason. He admitted after his suspension was announced that the punishment was weighing heavily on his mind.
“It definitely has [affected his performance]. Like last game, I obviously didn’t have my best game, it’s been on my mind, it affected me. It’s just one of those things it’s hard when you have that hanging over your head and you’re waiting for it to come out and then when it does come out it obviously affected my performance.” Prater concluded, “Now I am glad it’s over with and hopefully get past it and continue to have success here.”
Every game matters, and home-field advantage during the playoffs may come down to the outcome of an early-season game. The Broncos are hoping McManus can provide them with solid kicking while Prater is out.
One of the gems of free agency for the Broncos was their acquisition of veteran cornerback Aqib Talib. He’s a shutdown corner who plays press-man coverage as good as most anyone in the league. Talib is big, physical and likes to take chances on the football field.
During training camp, Talib has gotten burned a few times. Of course he’s covering Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders on most plays, and both of those guys are difficult to match up with.
However, there have been some plays in the preseason where Talib has gotten burned—or nearly burned in coverage.
In the game against the San Francisco 49ers, Talib was almost burned for a touchdown by Brandon Lloyd. The veteran receiver has a ton of experience, but he was out of football last year, and he may not make the final roster for the 49ers. A player like Lloyd should not be getting past Talib so easily.
The veteran corner notes the attitude of the secondary this year is going to be toughness. “We’re going to try to be a tough group. That’s the goal. We’re going to try to be assignment sound, and we’re going to try to be physical.”
I interviewed Sal Paolantonio from ESPN on my ESPN Denver radio show earlier this year during the joint practices between the Broncos and the Texans. He said he had “major concerns” about Talib on this Broncos defense. When I pressed Paolantonio on his answer he was frank with his answer.
“He has a switch that he turns on and off. When he’s motivated, and that switch is on, he’s one of the best in the game. When that switch is off, he doesn’t look very good—even against a second receiver like DeAndre Hopkins.”
That week of joint practices, Hopkins was able to get open for a score more than once against Talib. Maybe his switch was “off” that day (likely), but it is a concern for the Broncos.
Talib has never played a full 16-game season during his five-year pro career. He needs to stay healthy and motivated if he’s going to play up to his potential with the Broncos.
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.