Making Call on the Denver Broncos' Hardest Remaining Cuts
The Denver Broncos have plenty of talent on the roster.
They are thin at some positions, but other spots on the roster have an overflow of talent. The Broncos are looking to assemble a well-rounded roster, so there will be some quality players who will be let go.
General manager John Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak are going to have to make some tough calls. They’ll go through the training camp film every day to find the best prospects. The preseason games will also help determine which players are going to make the team.
In this article we'll make the call on the hardest remaining cuts for the Broncos.
The Broncos have running back talent falling out of their pockets. One back who may get pushed out in the numbers game is second-year pro Kapri Bibbs.
The Broncos added Bibbs as an undrafted free agent last year after he starred for one year at Colorado State. Bibbs did not make the 53-man roster, but the team liked him enough to keep him around on the practice squad in 2014.
Bibbs has looked good on the practice field in almost every way.
He runs low to the ground and can change direction on a dime. Bibbs has good balance, and he’s a natural fit for the zone-blocking system the Broncos are employing this year. He’s looked good as a receiver out of the backfield too.
However, Bibbs is struggling in pass protection. Every back on the roster except Bibbs received carries against the Seattle Seahawks in the first preseason game. Pass-blocking is an important skill for young backs to master. So far, Bibbs is still working on that part of his game.
Bibbs wants to showcase his all-purpose skill set in training camp.
“[I’m] just trying my best to be all around and [be] able to catch the ball out of the backfield. I know there are a lot of people who said I couldn’t catch. I just think that is absolutely false, so I just go out proving to everybody that I can catch the ball.” Bibbs concluded, “I want to be the best option that we have coming out of the backfield catching on the depth chart or roster.”
C.J. Anderson is the clear-cut starter. Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball are competing to be the primary backup and/or change-of-pace back. Juwan Thompson has the most power of any back on the team, and he has the versatility to play fullback if needed.
Unfortunately for Bibbs, the Broncos may not have enough room to fit him in.
With so many young wide receivers on the roster, the toughest decisions are arguably at that position. One player who could be on the roster bubble is veteran Andre “Bubba” Caldwell.
This is Caldwell’s fourth season with the Broncos, and he’s worked hard to earn the trust of Peyton Manning during his time in Denver. Caldwell might still be the fastest player on the roster, but that’s only in a straight line. Caldwell has shown difficulty in changing direction while maintaining speed.
His hands and concentration are inconsistent during practice and games. Caldwell had 15 targets last year, but was only able to haul in five passes for 47 yards and no touchdowns. Even though he’s fast, Caldwell only averaged a paltry 9.4 yards per catch.
The veteran is now working to prove himself to the new regime.
After the second week of training camp wrapped, Kubiak complimented Caldwell.
“I think early it started a little slow. He's hung in there. Bubba has not hung his chin or anything on that. He's just stayed the course. He's a veteran player that knows all positions and he plays special teams.” Kubiak emphasized, “That's a valuable commodity in this business. Those guys last. He's doing a good job.”
Caldwell is just trying to fight for his spot.
“Yeah, I'm still here," Caldwell said. "[I am] still fighting every year. I just go out there and compete, try to put my best foot forward and hope everything works out for me at the end.”
After the top three (Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer), the Broncos will have two or three more receivers to add to the depth chart.
Bennie Fowler is making a strong case to make the final roster. He has the strength to rip away contested passes from defenders, and he’s tough to bring down after the catch. Jordan Norwood looked like he was going to make the roster last year until a knee injury ended his season. He’s back healthy this year, and he’s showing well as a slot receiver and return man.
Jordan Taylor is an undrafted player out of Rice, but his size makes him an intriguing target. He has a large wingspan and can play “above the rim” in the end zone. Solomon Patton is lightning quick and can make defenders miss after the catch or in the open field as a return man.
It will be difficult to cut Caldwell. He’s a sound veteran, but perhaps these other players can provide more upside as developmental players.
Sometimes the hardest workers don’t make the final roster. Every day at UC Health Training Center, left guard Ben Garland is the first player on the practice field. Garland is also one of the final players to come off the field each day.
A converted defensive tackle, Garland has worked hard to develop as an offensive lineman over the last two years. He has the strength to hold his own at the point of attack, and Garland shows good quickness for a big man.
Garland’s character and work ethic is beyond question, according to Kubiak.
“He’s the greatest kid in the world. He works harder than anybody. He’s the first one here, last one to leave. I’ve never been here when I haven’t seen Ben here at 5:15, 5:30 in the morning.” Kubiak emphasized, “He’s a wonderful young man and it’s a great opportunity for him right now with what’s going on with us up front.”
Garland started this offseason as the first-team left guard. The team gave him a long look during minicamp and OTAs, but his real test was set for training camp. When the pads came on, Garland was only with the first team for the first five days. After the Broncos came back from a day off, Garland was moved to the second team.
He was replaced on the first-team offense by rookie Max Garcia. Like Garland, Garcia is powerful and aggressive. However, with the experience of playing at every position on the offensive line, Garcia looks better on the practice field.
In addition to Garcia, the Broncos still have veteran free agent Shelley Smith. They added Smith earlier this offseason in free agency, giving him a two-year contract to compete for a roster spot. Smith has seen no reps at left guard, but he looks good as the second-team right guard. If needed, Smith could step in and start on the left side.
Garland is a team-first guy, but at the end of the day the Broncos just have better talent inside at guard. With the number crunch to find the best 53-man roster, Garland may not make it.
The old saying “you can’t make the club in the tub” rings true when considering the future of Marvin Austin. He's been fighting nagging injuries for almost the entire offseason, and that’s prevented him from participating in practice.
Dating back to OTAs earlier this year, Kubiak has been concerned with the talent up front.
“We had a little concern over the nose position and how we’re going to go about it," Kubiak said. But I think [DE Vance] Walker has made a lot of progress. I think ‘Sly’ (NT Sylvester Williams) has had a really good offseason. [NT] Marvin [Austin Jr.] has been nicked a little bit and has missed some time. So there’s been a little concern on how we’re going to do that.”
Williams is the starter at nose tackle, and the team is looking for a lot from their 2013 first-round pick. He needs to play strong in the middle of the defense so the guys on the edge can get after the quarterback. It would be nice if Austin could rotate in from time to time.
It’s easy to make the argument that Austin is the most naturally talented nose tackle on the team. He plays with more suddenness than Williams, and Austin’s big enough to stuff the run.
Talent has never been a question with Austin, but dating back to when he was a 2011 second-round pick for the New York Giants, he’s always seemed to be bothered by the injury bug. Austin did a good job last year as a part-time player, and he was able to stay healthy. This year, Austin can’t even get on the field to practice.
Add in guys like Antonio Smith and rookie Darius Kilgo, and the Broncos have other options inside at tackle. Austin is very talented, but there’s no guarantee he’ll make the final roster.
The Broncos are going to feature an aggressive defense this year, and they’ll need quality reserve pass-rushers behind superstars Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. One of the players the Broncos could be counting on is Lerentee McCray.
He was a talented but oft-injured star for the Florida Gators in college, but we’ve yet to see McCray put it all together as a pro. McCray will tease you by flashing on the practice field (when healthy), but he struggles to make a consistent impact because he’s getting banged up often.
The only time Kubiak has discussed McCray this year is when he’s going over the players missing practice.
The Broncos have one reserve spot filled by first-round pick Shane Ray. While he hasn’t shined in practice every day, Ray is learning and getting better. He’s the future starter opposite Von Miller, and Ray could get double-digit sacks this year as a part-time player.
Meanwhile, guys like Shaq Barrett are starring in practice and in the preseason. McCray is falling behind in the pecking order, and it may be too late for him to make a run at the 53-man roster. Throw in players like Danny Mason and Gerald Rivers at outside linebacker, and the spot may be too cramped for a player like McCray—even though he’s more naturally talented.
McCray has talent and the athleticism to be a quality pass-rusher as a part-time player. However, injuries that plagued his college career at Florida have not let him play that role as a pro.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information was provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats were via ESPN's employees-only database.