The list of guys who have started at quarterback in the final Broncos’ preseason game in recent summers, a list that includes Caleb Hanie, Tom Brandstater, Darrell Hackney (twice) and Alex Van Pelt, is not one filled with long-term starters for the team, but it’s one Brock Osweiler is still happy to join these days.
That’s because it means he’s expected to be behind center to open Thursday night’s game with the Arizona Cardinals. And that means some significant playing time, another chance to run the show, and another chance to see where he is on the developmental curve.
“There’s no replacement for game reps,’’ Osweiler said following Wednesday’s practice. “So, I’m really looking forward to getting more (Thursday) night and trying to make the most of my opportunity.’’
Peyton Manning and most of the other Broncos regulars won’t see the field against the Cardinals, so it will give some of the other folks on the depth chart the chance to dive into a game situation. Zac Dysert, a seventh-round draft pick in this past April’s draft, is also expected to get his first significant game action of the preseason when he follows Osweiler into the game.
Dysert, who projects to the Broncos' practice squad during the season, played briefly in the preseason opener in San Francisco.
“(I’m) very excited for the opportunity to get out there with the guys in a game-like environment and just show people what I can do,’’ Dysert said.
For their part, the Broncos like what Osweiler's done with his game over the past year, but they want to see him manage the offense Thursday night, work through some pre-snap audibles and make good decisions with the ball. He has been under siege at times, having been sacked eight times in just three preseason games behind some shaky line play, but the Broncos want to see him work through things without fumbling a snap as he did last week against the Rams, or throwing an interception when he forced a ball against St. Louis as well.
“The interception, we can put that on both of those guys (quarterback and receiver),’’ said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “ … But he has to protect the ball, he knows that’s his number one priority.”
Center Manny Ramirez has been the starter since offseason workouts opened. And since he has seen the team sign three centers -- Dan Koppen, Ryan Lilja and Steve Vallos -- and Broncos coach John Fox has been asked almost daily if Ramirez is still the center. But Ramirez is still on the job and plans to keep it that way when the Broncos' offense opens against the Ravens and beyond. “That happens, even without injuries, you never wish injuries upon anybody, especially here where the offensive line is so close, but they're always going to bring guys in, no matter what,’’ Ramirez said. “So, even without the injuries they might have brought some centers in, I’m always here for competition and put my best foot forward, and if the other person beats me out, he beats me out, but I’m going to give it all I got. And right now it’s my position to lose, and I don’t see myself letting that go, no matter what people say.’’ Ramirez has not started a regular-season game at center in his career, but he is a powerful player in man-on-man blocking situations. He has struggled at times in passing situations if he loses his base and gets caught leaning a bit. He had a holding penalty early on in the preseason when he didn’t beat the defender to the spot in the zone run game. “But I’ll keep working, keep my head down and continue to work and grind it out,’’ Ramirez said. “That’s my approach."
Osweiler got the opportunity to run the starting offense during team drills in Wednesday’s practice. Manning was given the day off essentially as the Broncos face a quick turnaround after Thursday night’s game. The Broncos, because they play in the Sept. 5 regular-season opener, will begin their formal game-week preparations for the coaches on Friday, to go with the bulk of the roster cuts to get to 53 players, while the players will come in Saturday to start their game week.
At least publicly, Broncos coach John Fox only ruled out linebacker Stewart Bradley (wrist), cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) and running back C.J. Anderson (knee) for Thursday’s game because of injuries. It remains to be seen how much somebody like Lilja, who missed several practices with knee pain/swelling, or running back Jeremiah Johnson, who missed an extended time because of a knee injury, play against the Cardinals. Johnson, who is out of practice squad eligibility, is in a bit of a squeeze on the depth chart at running back.
Fox on telling a player he’s been cut; “Most everybody, whether you’re in NFL football or just a fan, you’ve either been fired or had to fire somebody. It’s not easy. It’s an annual thing, this cut … it’s hard on the players, it’s hard on the coaching staff."