ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – With a smattering of roster moves this week, the Denver Broncos have given a glimpse into where they stand, at least for now, at some of their question-mark positions of the preseason.
Overall, the Broncos are a deep team with plenty of difficult decisions on the horizon – the cut to 53 players must happen by Sept. 5 – but at three of the spots in which things were a big work in progress, the Broncos have moved things around a bit this week.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of tough decisions,’’ said executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway this week. “We have a lot of good football players and this is always the hardest time of the year … but we’re fortunate in the fact that we’ve got a lot of tough decisions. Hopefully we can make the right ones.’’
Elway has consistently said nothing is etched in stone after any move, but the Broncos showed their hand a bit at kicker, on the offensive line and at punt returner this week. Brandon McManus, who lost the place-kicking job last November, has won it back after adjusting his footwork.
McManus, who did not miss a kick in 11-on-11 drills in the two days’ worth of practices with the San Francisco 49ers this week, blasted a 70-yard kick in a two-minute drill during practice earlier this month.
And the Broncos saw enough to release Connor Barth. The Broncos want either their punter or kicker to kick off as well – they do not want to carry three kickers because they want the roster spot elsewhere – and McManus was far better there as well.
Barth was released as the Broncos answered another question as well. After saying for much of the month that they hoped to keep their group of young starters in offensive line – left tackle Ty Sambrailo, left guard Max Garcia and center Matt Paradis – after watching things unfold in practice and in the two preseason games, the Broncos stepped up their pursuit of a veteran guard.
And the timing was right as Evan Mathis, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was amenable to a deal with $1.5 million in potential incentives on top of a $1.5 million base salary and a $1 million signing bonus to join a title contender. Mathis will displace Garcia, whom the Broncos still see as a potential starter, but also the player among the three youngsters who still needed a little more time to find his way.
Barth was released when Mathis was signed and Mathis was immediately tabbed as the starter at left guard. He is expected to practice in some team drills this coming week.
And then Friday, as the team approached its third preseason game, the Broncos added another tight end – rookie Dan Light – and released wide receiver Solomon Patton. Patton, who flashed early in camp on offense and was squarely in the hunt to be the punt returner, did not maintain his momentum.
His release is a sign safety Omar Bolden and wide receiver Jordan Norwood are in the mix as returners. Bolden is a possibility as both the punt and kickoff returner while Norwood has appeared plenty with the starting offense in three-wide formations in recent practices with Emmanuel Sanders held out with a hamstring injury. Light, at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, is another big-bodied player at the position.
Asked this week if he liked the construction of the current roster, Elway said;
“We’re getting there. I think it’s still a work in progress. We have to see. We have to get through these next two games, but I think we have a lot of tough decisions. As I said, a work in progress.’’