ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos wrapped up their preseason Thursday night with the same major revelation they opened it with – that there isn’t much room on the depth chart for surprises and the land of opportunity is actually just a sliver of ground with room for a new backup or two to go with some special-teams players.
The Broncos are likely deeper than the team that lost Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points as well as, front to back, top to bottom, more athletic as well.
Whether or not that translates into another shot at the title remains to be seen, but here are some final takeaways from the Broncos' summer work:
It’s often difficult for rookie to carve out meaningful snaps on a team like the Broncos, but if the preseason is an indication the Broncos are going to get quality time from cornerback Bradley Roby (first round), wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round) and linebacker Lamin Barrow (fifth round) while Michael Schofield (third round) nudged his way into a backup tackle spot. Roby will get plenty of work in the team’s specialty packages and perhaps his best attribute beyond his obvious height/weight/speed numbers has been when the Broncos offense picked on him in practice, he kept his head, kept lining up and battling. The fruits of those labors will be in his playing time, because he showed the kind of mental toughness some had openly wondered he had before the draft. And Latimer will, and should, get some premium work in the offense. His routes still need some polish, but put him in a contested situation, as in the red zone, and he fights for the ball with tenacity. Barrow’s athleticism will get him on the field in some of the Broncos’ specialty work, especially until Danny Trevathan returns from a fracture at the top of his tibia.
No shock, but the Broncos are going to put up the points. The starting offense scored on six of 10 possessions in the preseason and against the Houston Texans, the group put up two touchdowns in the span of 62 seconds. It is unreasonable to believe they’ll reach the 600-point mark again – after all, the 2013 Broncos are the only team to reach that milestone in the league’s history – but early returns say they’ll have a few surprises, especially in the run game, that they haven’t shown in a game just yet. They showed some heavy formations – three- and four-tight-end looks – and in the preseason finale, even trotted out backup guard Ryan Miller, at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds. In the passing game, new additions Emmanuel Sanders and Latimer give the Broncos the ability to create more difficult matchups in more places in the formation. They can run more players out of slot positions in the formations, out of a bunch look, and it will make it more difficult for defensive backs to disrupt their routes.
When the Broncos held plenty of folks out of Thursday night’s game, some of those “DNPs’’ are worth noting simply because it was an indication of their standing on this roster. Ronnie Hillman, who has clawed his way back into good graces after last season’s trek from starter to game-day inactive, did not play and is solidly in the No. 2 running back spot behind Montee Ball. Roby was also held out, as was cornerback Kayvon Webster, so your top four corners will be Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Roby and Webster, which is how the team has practiced in recent weeks since Harris returned to full participation. Also worth noting, in what has been the tightest position battle on the roster, the Broncos played defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson 39 snaps and Mitch Unrein 30 snaps in the fourth preseason game. Both players often worked with the starting defense last season.