Midweek Musings: The Roster Spot Battles As Training Camp Nears

Here we are, a little more than a week away from the start of Denver Broncos training camp. I figured a good topic for this week’s Midweek Musings would be to examine the Broncos’ roster entering training camp and a few things everyone can keep in mind as camp gets underway.

All roster information was taken from the Broncos’ website. I’ll get special teams out of the way first, because we’ve discussed most of them several times before, and then get into the offense and defense.

Special teams
Long snapper: Aaron Brewer
This is one position battle that’s already settled.

Punter: Britton Colquitt, Karl Schmitz
Kicker: Connor Barth, Brandon McManus

We’ve discussed this before. I think everyone knows that the ideal situation is for Schmitz to win the punting job and let the chips fall where they may at kicker.

Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian

We know that Manning and Osweiler should be the top two QBs. The questions is whether or not the Broncos want to keep a third QB on the active roster. The Broncos did keep Dysert two seasons ago, after Dysert impressed in the preseason and the Broncos likely expected they might lose him if they tried to slip him onto the practice squad. Dysert didn’t impress as much last preseason and the Broncos got him on the practice squad. I would expect the Broncos would prefer to have their third QB on the practice squad, so that’s what Dysert and Siemian are likely competing for.

Running backs: C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs, Jeremy Stewart

I did not break out fullbacks separately, and I’ll get to that shortly. Assuming nobody is lost to injury, I would expect Anderson to be a roster lock, and I believe the Broncos expect Ball to split carries with him. Thompson is being tried at fullback, but he could just as easily make the roster as part of the RB rotation. It seems likely the Broncos will keep four RBs in the rotation, so that leaves one roster spot for the other three to compete for. I have previously mentioned that Hillman could be trade bait if he impresses in the preseason, unless neither Bibbs nor Stewart stand out, in which case the Broncos would just keep him. I know Bibbs is a favorite among former IAOFMers, but he will need to earn the spot. Stewart seems to be a long shot at this point.

Wide receiver: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Norwood, Isaiah Burse, Bennie Fowler, Solomon Patton, David Porter, Jordan Taylor, Kyle Williams

Thomas, Sanders and Latimer are givens. Norwood looked good last preseason, but an ACL injury means he’ll need to impress again. I imagine the veteran receiver spot is between him and Caldwell. The Broncos have a lot of young receivers competing for other spots. The first question is how many receivers the Broncos plan to keep (I would expect five or six). The reports I read about offseason activites indicated that Fowler impressed the coaches. If that carries over into training camp and the preseason, Fowler could make the final roster. Burse struggled last year as the punt returner, but perhaps he has learned a few things. At any rate, I’m betting on Caldwell, Norwood, Fowler and Burse to be the top candidates to take the final WR spots. But there’s always a chance one of the others can impress in training camp. One thing is certain: There’s no shortage of competition at this position.

Tight end: Owen Daniels, Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Marcel Jensen, Dominique Jones
Tight end/fullback: James Casey, Joe Dan Duncan

The Broncos list Casey and Duncan as TE/FB on their roster, so that’s how I’m treating them. At first glance, it would appear these two are competing for the fullback spot, but Duncan could make it as a pure tight end if the Broncos plan to keep three. However, if Duncan really impresses, the Broncos may decide to let Casey go and roll with Duncan. As for the “pure” tight end spot, Daniels and Green are safe bets to make the roster. Heuerman is still on the active roster for this reason: If the Broncos place him on injured reserve now, he must first pass through waivers. And we have seen the New England Patriots claim such players off waivers the past few seasons when teams tried to place them on IR before final cuts. When final cuts are made, though, the Patriots have not made such a move. Thus, I believe John Elway wants to ensure he doesn’t lose Heuerman through waivers, and will wait until final cuts to make the move, so other teams don’t get ideas. Finally, there are Jones and Jensen, who appear to be practice squad candidates at this point.

Offensive tackle: Chris Clark, Ty Sambrailo, Ryan Harris, Michael Schofield, Connor Rains

Clark and Sambrailo are currently projected as the starters. This leaves Harris and Schofield to compete as backups, though either one could emerge as a starter during training camp and the preseason. I’ll talk more about the entire offensive line picture after going over the other positions.

Offensive guard: Louis Vasquez, Ben Garland, Shelley Smith, Andre Davis

Vasquez and Garland are the current starters. Smith still has a good chance to make the roster as a backup, because he could play either the left or right guard spot, which would be invaluable if a starter is injured.

Center: Gino Gradkowski, Max Garcia, Matt Paradis

Gradkowski and Garcia can line up at either guard or center, which makes them candidates for the final roster. Paradis is an interesting case. Reports from OTAs is that he has looked good, but his lack of versatility could work against him. He may need to show he can play guard if he wants to make the final roster.

Looking at the O-line as a whole, I would expect the Broncos to keep no more than 10 linemen, but would prefer to keep nine so they have plenty for depth elsewhere and special teams. Account for whoever you think will be the five starters, and that means no more than five backups, and more than likely four. Assume they keep nine, the current five starters stay the same, and the Broncos intend to keep Garcia. That means Harris, Smith, Schofield and Paradis are left to battle for three spots. So prepare yourself for the possibility that a player you think should make the final roster will be cut.

Defensive end: Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Antonio Smith, Vance Walker, Kenny Anunike

Wolfe, Jackson and Walker all should make the final roster. Smith’s status remains up in the air. The Broncos could keep four defensive ends, so if Smith misses too much of training camp, that’s an opportunity for Anunike to seize a roster spot. Of course, if Smith’s legal situation is cleared before training camp, Anunike may be vying for a practice squad spot.

Defensive tackle: Sylvester Williams, Marvin Austin, Darius Kilgo, Chuka Ndulue

One would expect Williams would enter as the favorite to be the starting nose tackle. The Broncos should keep at least one other DT, which leaves the other three to battle for that spot. The Broncos could keep two of the other three if two of them really impress. That’s not guaranteed, though, because Walker can play nose tackle if needed.

Outside linebacker: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, Lerentee McCray, Danny Mason, Gerald Rivers, Chase Vaughn

OK, so we know Miller, Ware and Ray are roster locks. I’m thinking the Broncos will keep four OLBs. McCray and Barrett both have experience on the Broncos’ regular-season roster and enter as the likely favorite to battle for the final spot. If both impress, though, both could stick around.

Inside linebacker: Brandon Marshall, Danny Trevathan, Todd Davis, Steven Johnson, Lamin Barrow, Corey Nelson, Zaire Anderson

I would think the Broncos would like to keep five players, with the expectation that at least two will contribute to special teams. Nothing would indicate that Marshall and Trevathan are anything but roster locks, and with Davis generating a lot of praise, he seems a safe bet to make the final cut. It appears it will be down to Johnson, Barrow and Nelson to claim the final ILB spots.

Cornerback: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster, Lorenzo Doss, Tony Carter, Tevrin Brandon, Curtis Marsh, Taurean Nixon, Josh Bush

You probably noticed somebody is missing, and we’ll get to that in a minute. Talib, Harris and Roby are givens to make the final cut. Webster and Carter have experience and Doss could be a potential hidden gem. I’m thinking the Broncos will keep five CBs, and those three appear to be the frontrunners for the two spots up for grabs. Carter seems to be the more likely player to be trade bait, should he impress, but the same could be said for Webster. This should be another interesting training camp battle.

Safety: T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Omar Bolden, David Bruton, Josh Furman, Ross Madison

The Broncos list Bolden as a safety, so that’s how I’m listing him. He, Ward, Stewart and Bruton are likely to make up the four safeties the Broncos will keep. Furman and Madison appear to be practice squad candidate for the moment. But who knows what will develop.

I’ll open it for discussion as to who people expect to be the training camp and preseason surprises. Right now, my bets are on Fowler, Davis and Doss, based on everything I have read thus far. Who are yours?

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.