Key Roster Battles And Practice Squad Primer

Hello, Bronco fans! Hard to believe that the first game of the season is just two weeks away. Of course, everyone following preseason action is watching some of the battles for roster spots and starting jobs and a few have already made predictions about the final roster.

I’m going to examine some of the most notable battles for starting jobs and roster spots and when I expect head coach Gary Kubiak will make his final decisions.

Starting quarterback
The contenders:
Trevor Siemian, Mark Sanchez.
The key moment for the decision: The third preseason game.

I don’t think Kubiak will want to wait until the final preseason game to make a decision unless it’s truly “too close to call” after the third preseason outing. I think he’ll want to get this decision settled as soon as possible.

Right now, Siemian getting the start for the second straight preseason game indicates he has the edge. That doesn’t mean Sanchez is out the door; the Broncos will still want a veteran to be the primary backup and there just aren’t that many good options likely to be available after final roster cuts.

Meanwhile, don’t expect the Broncos to roll out Paxton Lynch as the starter any time soon, though I would expect him to take the bulk of the snaps in the fourth preseason game so Kubiak can have as a large sample to evaluate Lynch’s progress.

No. 3 running back
The contenders:
Ronnie Hillman, Kapri Bibbs
The key moment for the decision: The fourth preseason game.

Bibbs holds the edge mostly because he will command a lower salary, but that doesn’t put Hillman out of the running just yet. The two will get the bulk of the touches in the fourth preseason game, in which I don’t expect CJ Anderson will play and that Devontae Booker will get few, if any, touches, given that he’s locked up the No. 2 RB job.

If Hillman wows everyone in the fourth preseason game, he’ll get the spot. If he doesn’t distinguish himself from Bibbs, who has been solid this preseason, the Broncos may go with Bibbs to save some cash.

Juwan Thompson might get some touches in the fourth preseason game, but he’s a long shot to make the roster. Kubiak seems settled upon Andy Janovich as the starting fullback. (By the way, the Broncos will only keep three RBs because the fullback will be, for practical purposes, the fourth RB, although his touches will be limited to short-yardage situations.)

Final wide receiver spots
The contenders:
Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor, Kalif Raymond, Bralon Addison.
The key moment for the decision: The fourth preseason game.

The question is whether the Broncos will keep five or six receivers, though I would expect they will go with the latter, particularly if they want multiple options at punt and kick returner. Addison and Raymond have received most of the opportunities in the preseason, but that’s not surprising. The Broncos know enough about Norwood, so they are letting the two have more chances to see if either could fill that role.

Addison has shown more than Raymond during the preseason, but if the Broncos keep a sixth receiver, it could easily be Taylor, who has had his moments in training camp. I think this comes down to whether or not the Broncos want more than one option for a returner. If that’s the case, Norwood is a lock and it will be whichever of Addison or Raymond shows more in the rest of the preseason. I don’t imagine the Broncos want to have Emmanuel Sanders as their only returner option after Norwood.

With that said, Taylor has two more games to make his case that he should make the final cut, even if he’s not used as a return man.

Third tight end spot
The contenders:
John Phillips, Garrett Graham, Henry Krieger-Coble, Manasseh Garner.
The key moment for the decision: The third and fourth preseason games.

Phillips has looked good, while Krieger-Coble has shown he has plenty to learn but enough potential to be a practice squad candidate. Graham has missed too much time with injuries and Garner has been around simply to keep another player in the mix with Graham out. At this point, I think the third game will be the moment when the Broncos will decide whether it’s time for either Graham or Garner to be let go. Then the fourth game will be when the Broncos let the remaining three get all the reps and make a final decision from there.

Starting right guard
The contenders:
Michael Schofied, Darrion Weems
The key moment for the decision: The third and fourth preseason games.

Weems will miss the third preseason game, which gives Schofield a chance to secure the starting job. A good showing likely means he’ll start to open the season. If he doesn’t impress, though, and Weems is cleared for the fourth game, that’s his opportunity to claim the job.

Ty Sambrailo isn’t expected to play in the preseason, but the Broncos will monitor his injury status and could look to him later in the season if they think he will provide an upgrade at right guard. Or he might get some snaps at tackle if a starter is banged up. I suspect Kubiak will be more comfortable with him on the left side than Schofield because Sambrailo at least had a few starts there last season. If Schofield starts at right guard, Kubiak might prefer to put Sambrailo at right tackle should the need arise.

Rookie Connor McGovern is not likely to start to open the season, but Kubiak could give him a few snaps during the season if others are banged up or miss time with injuries. That’s what he did with Max Garcia when Louis Vasquez and Evan Mathis had knee problems last season.

Fifth defensive end
The contender:
Billy Winn
The key moment for the decision: Whether an open spot will be available.

The signing of Henry Melton makes it clear that the Broncos want him to be part of the defensive end rotation with Derek Wolfe, Jared Crick and Adam Gotsis. However, Shiloh Keo, who has played well enough to make the final roster, will be suspended the first two games and that might leave a roster spot open for Winn, depending on what happens with other positions. If Winn does make the final cut, he’ll have two games to impress the coaches enough to stick around.

Backup nose tackle
The contenders:
Darius Kilgo, Kyle Peko, David Moala
The key moment for the decision: The third and fourth preseason games.

Kilgo and Peko are in a close battle for this spot, while time is running out on Moala. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Broncos part ways with Moala after the third preseason game unless he wows the Broncos. From that point, the fourth game will decide whether it’s Kilgo or Peko who makes the final cut. Whoever doesn’t make the final cut, though, will likely make the practice squad. (Yes, Kilgo is eligible because he has just one accrued season.)

Sixth cornerback spot
The contender:
Taurean Nixon
The key moment for the decision: Whether an open spot will be available.

The Broncos may be more inclined to keep a sixth cornerback while Keo serves his suspension, which could open the door for Nixon. He’s shown more than the other cornerbacks when it comes to a case to make the final roster. If he doesn’t, though, expect the Broncos to want to add him to the practice squad.

Fourth safety spot
The contenders:
Shiloh Keo, Will Parks, Brandian Ross, Antonio Glover
The key moment for the decision: The third and fourth preseason games.

Keo appears to be a safe bet to make the roster, but his looming suspension means the Broncos will keep another safety after the final cut (remember, Keo will spend the first two weeks on the reserve/suspended list). Parks appears to have the inside track, so Ross and Glover need to impress in the third game. I suspect at least one of the two will be let go in the first roster cutdown, while the other will get one more chance to impress.

Once a final decision is made and Keo serves his suspension, the Broncos will have another decision to make. Do they keep five safeties or let one of them go? So keep in mind that whoever does make the final cut isn’t guaranteed a spot after two weeks.

The contenders:
Britton Colquitt, Riley Dixon
The key moment for the decision: The fourth preseason game.

Indications certainly point to the Broncos wanting Dixon to win the job, but Dixon has had some issues and Colquitt has been a steady performer. Expect this battle to come down to the last game before the Broncos move forward.

I’ll have my thoughts on the final roster next week.

Who Is Practice Squad Eligible?

For those wondering which players have practice squad eligibility, I have listed them below, but limited the list to those who are not in line for a starting job or haven’t shown enough to secure a roster spot.

This is merely for reference and nothing indicates nor implies who is more likely to make the squad. Teams may add 10 players to the practice squad and may have up to four players who have two accrued seasons in the NFL, and as many with one or no accrued seasons as they wish.

RB: Kapri Bibbs, Juwan Thompson
WR: Jordan Taylor, Bralon Addison, Khalif Raymond, Mose Frazier, Durron Neal
TE: Henry Krieger-Coble, Manasseh Garner
OT: Cameron Jefferson, Justin Murray, Kyle Roberts, Lars Hanson
OG: Robert Myers Jr., Mathu Gibson, Aaron Neary
C: Dillon Day
DE: Lars Koht, Calvin Heuertelou
DT: Darius Kilgo, Kyle Peko, David Moala
OLB: Eddie Yarbrough, Vontarrius Dora, Sadat Sulleyman
ILB: Dwayne Norman, Darnell Sankey, Kyle Kragen, Frank Shannon
CB: Taurean Nixon, B.J. Lowery, John Tidwell
S: Will Parks*, Antonio Glover
P: Riley Dixon#

* I added Parks because it’s possible the Broncos could move him to the practice squad once Keo returns from suspension. That all depends on whether the Broncos plan to keep five safeties or if somebody they keep at another position impresses the Broncos enough that they chose to move Parks to the practice squad.

# It would seem unusual to keep a punter on the practice squad, but I won’t rule it out, especially if the Broncos believe Dixon is a better choice than a player at another position.

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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.