ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It’s always a bit startling for any team’s first-year class to see the first round of roster cuts.
To that point their knowledge of everyday NFL life is that of a 90-man roster, cruising through the offseason workouts into training camp as one big happy unit. Then suddenly things go to 75 players like they did this week and the threat of another 22 players getting the turn-in-your-iPad speech is hanging over them.
So, Thursday’s preseason finale, in which few, if any, Broncos regulars are scheduled to play, is the last chance to make a lasting impression. With that in mind, here’s the rookie report on offense, a weekly check-in with how Denver's first-year class is doing:
Running back Montee Ball: After Ronnie Hillman had one of his fumbles returned for a touchdown for the second consecutive week this past Saturday, the Broncos moved Ball into a more prominent role with the starting offense in Monday's practice. There are certainly carries to be earned in the Broncos offense by the first back who hangs onto the ball and understands pass protection. Ball is the one whose missed block in Seattle resulted in perhaps the biggest hit Peyton Manning has taken in his time with the Broncos and he also coughed the ball up in practice Monday when Wesley Woodyard ripped the ball out late in a carry. Ball also dropped what might have been a sure scoring pass against the Rams, so while he’s currently at the top of the depth chart, his name isn’t chiseled there. In the end Ball played 38 plays on offense and had 14 carries against the Rams. For the preseason he has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on 25 carries.
Wide receiver Tavarres King: King continues to work with the second-team offense. He finished with 15 plays on offense against the Rams. He likely sits in the fifth spot at wide receiver, behind the top three and Andre Caldwell looks to be the No. 4. They’re pushing King hard out on his route running and they want to see a little physicality when goes up for the ball, they want him to consistently win the possession in a jump-ball situation. King should get plenty of work against the Cardinals and it will be a chance for him to show some consistency on his routes and make some plays.
Tackle Vinston Painter: Things are crowded on the offensive line, especially if the Broncos elect to carry both Chris Kuper (ankle) and Ryan Lilja (knee) on to the 53-man roster despite the fact they are not currently participating fully in practice because of their injuries. If they do, Painter could get squeezed in the cutdown and would be a practice squad gimme at that point if the Broncos believe they can get him through waivers. He’s played as the second-team right tackle. Painter did not get any snaps on offense against the Rams, an indication the Broncos may want to get him through waivers to get him on the practice squad. He’s shown plenty of athleticism, but still raw in his pass sets.
Quarterback Zac Dysert: Dysert did not play against the Rams and with the Broncos expected to keep just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster Dysert is likely headed to the practice squad as well. He will get some work against the Cardinals Thursday night and the Broncos like his ability to make some plays, so they may give him a chance to move around a bit.
Running back C.J. Anderson's knee injury turned out as expected, a six-week issue so the Broncos will have to make a decision on him having seen him in just one preseason game. He showed enough to be a practice squad player, and the Broncos have traditionally kept a back on the practice squad.
Wide receiver Lamaar Thomas got some work with the second-team offense at times in practice and consistently has shown the ability to be where the quarterbacks expect him to be. He has good hands with some ability to separate. He’s another at a crowded position who could be a quality candidate for the practice squad.